She’s someone I can’t understand. It doesn’t mean our love is untrue. Our love is pure and powerful, but we don’t look at the world the same way. I look at the world through a lens I have to share with mostly everyone else. She is above it all. She doesn’t trip on the little things. I think it’s a good thing that we’re different.
She paints pictures. Or not pictures, exactly, but whole worlds on canvas. Her artworks are really something special. She has something different to the rest of us.
Her home studio faces the ocean, and her huge windows usher in the light and call her to look out at the unknown. Her routine is simple. She wakes early, and wanders the house with a slice of toast and cup of tea until it’s time to paint. Sometimes she’ll wear an apron, and sometimes inspiration calls too loudly, and she moves straight to the studio in her pyjamas, toast between her teeth. She smears colour across her canvas and never stops to deliberate her next brushstroke. She has vision. It’s fascinating to watch. You couldn’t learn her type of talent. It’s buried somewhere deep inside her bones.
She paints these imaginary deep-sea scenes unknown to our world, or to anybody else’s mind. You could search both the ocean and your subconscious forever and not find these images, but then she paints them, and they seem so real. Last year, she entered a competition with a painting full of these bizarre sea creatures. I’d always admired that painting. When she unveiled it to the public, the town was in awe. There was something tranquil yet unsettling about it. The memory of it will make them shiver every time their toes touch the ocean now. She won first prize and had her face on the front page of the paper, which I proudly clipped and kept.
The painting featured a finned creature, maybe a fish, yet different. It had feathered skin, and no eyes. Another creature was long, like a snake, but its scales glowed and its eyes might’ve been human. It all looked so real. She has an incredible mind.
Every evening, she runs along the beach. She bursts with energy, all bare feet and wild hair. She runs all the way to the headland and then disappears. I don’t even know where she goes. I’m not so adventurous. Usually, I just wait for her to reappear and return home.
Today, I want to go too. I let her run ahead, close enough to follow her path but not so close as to disrupt her process. As she approaches the headland, her pace only increases, as if excited, impatient. As if she’s meeting an old friend, or looking for something.
She disappears into a tiny gap in a haphazard stack of boulders between the beach and the headland, and I begin to run. I clamber up the boulders, and struggle for a moment to find the space she disappeared through, but then there it is, and I squeeze through.
As I descend into a cave, sea water pools around my ankles. Light filters in through the spaces between the boulders overhead. The glow of sunset finds the planes of her face, and her lips, and her hair, as she tucks it behind her ears. She’s angelic, other-worldly. I love her.
She kneels in the water, a smile on her face and fingertips dipping beneath the water. She hasn’t noticed me yet. As my eyes adjust to the dim light, I watch her hands. She lowers them into the water and strokes a feathered, blind almost-fish. A long, luminescent creature circles my feet, and the grand illusion of her incredible mind dissolves.
“What are you doing?” I frighten her. She jumps to her feet and the creatures flee. I can barely look her in the eye. She’s untrue. A fraud, and a liar.
She’s someone I can’t understand. I look at her, but can’t read her expression. When I step closer, she steps away and glances toward the exit.
She frowns. “Do I know you?”
Niamh Wood has a BA in writing and English from the University of New England, in Australia. In 2019, she completed the summer creative writing program at the University of Cambridge.