When Celia becomes obsessed with her grandmother's painting, she realises her life will never be the same again. How can she ever break free?
There was something about the picture that Celia didn’t like. It wasn’t the subject matter that disturbed her, nor even the way it was painted.
She could see nothing to irritate her eye in the simple country scene with corn meadows in the foreground giving way to rich green hills in the more distant perspective. In the middle of the painting stood two young people,: a boy and a girl, perhaps early twenties, both dressed in bright colours. Red and blue. They were walking towards the hills. The girl’s blonde hair streamed backwards in the breeze as her face turned sideways to the boy, and she was laughing.
The way the girl laughed made Celia’s heart beat faster. It wasn’t an outright joyful expression; the side of her mouth that could be seen was twisted downwards and she seemed to be gently mocking her companion.
Whether in seriousness or jest was impossible to tell; she couldn’t see the boy’s face, so could not judge what his response was supposed to be. She wished more and more strongly that her grandmother hadn’t bequeathed the picture to her. When the package had arrived at her door a month ago, she’d been pleased at the gift, even though the painting herself had not been to her taste. She preferred her art to be more austere. But she remembered the kindness of the woman who in her final hours had thought of her and had not been able to bring herself to place it into storage.
So she’d hung it on the stairwell wall of her two-up two-down house; it was not, to her mind, a piece of art she could put in a room and live with.
For a while nothing was different. Celia drove to work in the mornings, came home in the evenings, read a little and went to bed. But gradually she became aware of the space the painting occupied.
She could be passing the item in question on the way downstairs or heading up towards her bedroom to retrieve a book when, without warning, some lure in the colours or the way the light fell on the corn would make her pause and gaze at the scene. She would peer at it as if searching for someone or something she might have missed – another person perhaps, or an animal. But she could never locate anything new.
Of course. The useless search and the knowledge that she seemed unable to find the will to stop made her feel unsettled. It came to the point when she began to plan her day so that she would not have to use the stairs if she could avoid it; she brought all her books and papers downstairs when she first got up so she wouldn’t have to fetch them in the evening. She even left a cardigan in the front room so it would be a matter only of slipping it on if she grew cold.
When she had no option but to pass by the picture, she tried to avert her eyes, but always the scene would call to her and she would have to spend a few moments searching. For what couldn’t possibly be there.
It was at about that time that the girl in the frame began to move.