The Painted Lady
John Martin had never been much of an art lover but his wife was. That’s the reason tonight found him in black tie and tails rubbing elbows with the city’s elite “upper-crust”. John had always felt more at home with a hard hat and boots. As the owner of one of the most prestigious building contractors in the state, he was more often than not, found walking steel girders.
His wife, Jilly, was the owner of The Gilded Frame, the most successful art gallery in the city. John was still awe struck each time he saw his beautiful wife courting the patrons of the arts. After ten years of marriage and two kids, they were as much in love as the day they were wed.
Just as John turned to look for Jilly, a painting caught his eye. As he stood there gazing at it, his wife slipped her arms around his waist and whispered, “She’s absolutely mesmerizing, isn’t she?”
John had been so engrossed in the painting that Jilly had startled him into dropping the glass of champagne he was holding.
“Who? Who is?”
“The Painted Lady of course! The dancer in the new painting. It came in today from a new artist that I am showing. Marvelous colors and textures. She almost seems to move.”
“Yes, yes, she does!” replied John, still staring at the Lady in the painting. It was as if she were speaking to him in some way, calling him to her.
John gave his wife an affectionate kiss and asked how much longer was he sentenced to wear his penguin suit.
With her lilting laugh, Jilly answered that the party would be winding down soon and they could go home. And off she went into the crowd.
As John walked away from the painting, he could almost have sworn that he saw tears in the eyes of the woman in the picture.
Shaking his head and thinking how absurd! He stopped in mid-air as he was reaching for another glass of champagne. Perhaps the wine was what had made him think he saw tears in the eyes of a woman on canvas.
Later that night, John’s dreams were filled with the lady of the painting. Only now she was very much alive. She and John danced the night away.
Night after night, the Painted Lady consumed John. He would wake up in the mornings exhausted. Dark circles formed under his eyes and he began to lose weight. John began to find excuses to go to the art gallery and would inevitably find himself in front of the Painted Lady. He could not seem to take his eyes off of her.
One rainy afternoon, John had left work and was at the gallery to take Jilly out to lunch. As usual, he was staring at the painting when Jilly said the strangest things were going on with that particular painting.
“I may have to take that painting down. Have you noticed the colors seem to be changing? Like the seasons are changing within the painting itself. And I know it is not possible, but I could swear that the figure of the woman has shifted positions from when it was first hung. I took a photograph of it when it first came in. When I get the time, I will take it out and compare it to the painting. Something very strange about this painting. Oh well, let’s go to lunch. I am starving and I have a lot of new art to catalog this afternoon.”
That same night, in his dreams, he made love to the Painted Lady, whom he now called Arabelle. He made mad, passionate love to her in a summer garden full of red, red roses.
The next afternoon, when he went to pick Jilly up, she was with two other people. One was Anne, Jilly’s assistant and the second person was a detective.
“What’s wrong, Jilly? Why are the police here? Are you alright?”
“Yes. We are all right. But it would seem that vandals have gotten in here somehow. Their target, for some reason, is the new painting.”
“Not Arabelle?” John rushed to where the painting had been hanging but it was not there. “Where is she?” he damanded.
“Arabelle? John who or what are you talking about? You mean the woman in the painting? You have given her a name? “ Jilly laughed. “Why are you so upset? The painting is not all that valuable.”
With that, she showed John where the painting had been placed. In the vault. In the dark. Jilly had put it there until she could contact the artist that had painted it to inform him that the painting had been damaged.
The funniest thing though, the vandals had only made it look as if there were dirt on “Arabelle’s” dress, grass in her hair and rose petals at her feet. Why they had done that to the painting was a real mystery to her.
Jilly shrugged her shoulders and went off to make the call to the artist. It would be up to him what he wanted to do with the painting.
John looked at Arabelle and brushed the tears away from her cheeks.
“Tonight, darling Arabelle, tonight. I won’t let them take you away from me.”
The next morning when Jilly awoke, John was no where to be found..
That’s strange she thought. He never leaves with out telling me where he is going. He sure has been acting strange lately. Maybe we need to have a nice long talk when he gets home tonight.
When Jilly arrived at the gallery, her assistant, Annie, was already at work. Jilly was surprised to find the detective back again. Annie’s eyes were wide with fright as she explained to Jilly that vandals had once again broken into the gallery. Annie told Jilly that she could show her what they had done better than telling her. She ushered Jilly to the vault and showed her the painting.
This time, the picture showed a beautiful lady dancing with a handsome man, arm in arm in a garden full of roses in full bloom.
John Martin never came home again.