Short Stories



Tick, tock, Tick, tock…. An echo of the past. Jenny held her paint brush in mid-air lost in thought, caught up with memories of her Grandma. There had always been a clock, ticking away somewhere in the house, whirring, proclaiming chimes on the quarter, half, and hour. Day-night-day. Where ever you were you couldn’t escape the metronome marking time. A reassuring rhythm. It helped Jenny fall asleep: it spoke of meals; it celebrated New year – memories of contented happiness.

But that was another life, another world. Jenny did not have a clock in her studio. It reminded her of deadlines, of pressure to complete commissions. Once she was immersed in her work, time could go hang. That was the theory anyway. Creativity was her master, her obsession. So why did the canvas, her latest work feature so prominently a clock? She pulled back the light gauze that protected the self-portrait. Acrylic was her medium. At least it had been for the last year. Time was her master like it or not. Twelve months to finish her body of work for the exhibition at the Academy. Jenny needed at least 40 examples of her work. She had 20 pieces stacked around the studio. Canvasses that were too personal, canvasses that had found a voice, emotional artistic highs and lows of her life – that set the quality apart from her main stream canvasses that she sold. It was just what the organisers had asked her for. It left a balance of 20 pieces of work to be produced in just under I year, 52 weeks: a little over two weeks for each one. She abandoned her oils, the timeline – that bloody awful construct -wasn’t going to accommodate her; drying time alone would make it impossible and water colours, well, she had never been satisfied with the results?

The invitation to show at the Academy was at one level a surprise based she suspected on her personal circumstances. But in her view the honour had been earned and was, well not to be too modest, long overdue. Jenny lost in thought once again, chewed on the end of the paintbrush and grimaced at the tints of varnish that soured her taste buds. Why the obsession with a clock? The idea for the final quartet of work had crept up on her. How to make a self-portrait theme different? Time was the thread that plagued her and resist as she tried her muse won the day. Time distilled the journey of life. Once the idea took root she could not shake it. Four stages of her life, each with a wall clock over her right shoulder in the background. In the youngest self-portrait the clock was small – time on the side of youth, inconsequential, irrelevant. The clock grew progressively larger in each subsequent portrait. Jenny had applied acrylic to each dial with a pallet knife, imposing subtle colour changes to the striations of paint that hinted at varying positions of the hands; to create the illusion – in changing light – of different times.

Each self-portrait was in the same theme. Jenny staring back at the observer as if from the opposite side of a transparent canvas, paint brush poised about to apply paint. Intensity and concentration; lips slightly parted; the tip of her tongue barely visible; eyes alive with a creative light; capturing a momentary and elusive countenance of bitterness – at fleeting time – the robber of life.

Jenny was excited to finish her last work on the trestle but reticent to complete the journey. Hesitation plagued her confidence, intimidating the final stage. Worried she would over-work it. Worried by the artistic license and lies she had told. She froze, shocked by a resounding buzzer in the next room. Ripped back out of her critical contemplation by a timer. Jenny shuddered and drew in a deep breath, turning to a small oak by her side, catching a stranger’s reflection in the French window to her studio. An unrecognisable skeletal, bald woman with dark shadow eyes – in harsh contrast to the bright white sclera – who stared back at her. A woman marked by a creeping death. Jenny reached down to the small jug. With a shaking hand she half-filled a tumbler with water before placing the first of two chemo pills onto her tongue. How was it possible that the woman on the canvas still lived within her?

Time waits for no one.

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