ALTERNATORIAL: Where creative writing meets visual art
Senior ANDY Editor
Pacific 1967, Alex Colville
The following account is told from the perspective of a fictional character and was directly inspired by a painting from Alex Colville, a highly influential Canadian artist who died this past summer.
A girl I used to love once advised me to imagine my eventual demise at least once a day. She explained that it might make my mortality feel tangible, and I could then more fully appreciate this living, breathing life. That evening I imagined myself being hit by a car as I crossed that same quiet street I cross everyday. Then I thought about a disease, an incurable, relentless disease that would consume me – slowly, painfully – organ by organ. After that I began seeing myself murdered in a hostage situation at a supermarket. I would be trapped with four other unlucky individuals (a single mother, a pimply cashier, an elderly man who had wandered in by mistake, and a small child who had run back in because his father was tired and had scolded him particularly harshly a few moments earlier). And when I carefully reached for a large soup can to throw at the murderer’s head, she turned around and pulled the trigger without regret.
It was strange that eventually, the perpetrator in each case became the girl who offered me this innocent advice. I saw her sharp green eyes widen and her slender arms flail frantically as her car came at me – the last blow. I smelled her sweet, earthy sweat as she visited me day after day in the hospital, but soon less and less, until she was gone and I was gone. I heard her quick inhale that might actually have been an exhale as she whipped around and shot me dead somewhere in the “beans and rice” aisle.
She would use the gun in this painting. She said she loved this painting, but I sometimes wonder now if she was lying. I visit it regularly and I have never seen her in or near the building. But I feel inclined to stand guard, to watch and wait and check that she has not yet taken the gun. Our brief encounter was entirely pointless. She came and went with the frivolity of a little bird taking flight. I was an accidental landing. She mistook me for a bird feeder. But I had no seeds, no nourishment to offer. And so she flew, and as the leaves turn from green to yellow, she must be flying south now. Surely she would stop for the gun on her way.
I’ve considered taking the gun myself. If I reach out far enough, I could probably steal it soundlessly from the table. The crashing of the waves would mask any noise I do make in the process. The shirtless man would never know. Where is his shirt anyway? I can see the bones in his back and I feel unnerved. I always need to reach behind and feel my own bones. I need to be sure that they are there. The longer and harder I look at this man and his sharply sculpted back, I feel myself fading away. The painting is the reality, and my world, my silly little world, is a poorly done artwork that has aged, tarnished, and will soon be disposed.
If I took the gun, I could hold it and have it and soon enough she would come find me in my home. And in the moments before my eventual demise I would look at her, look at this terrifying girl who had been the silent storyteller in the visions of my own death. In that moment, everything would be motionless and she too would turn into a temporary painting. And I would drop the gun so that I could put my finger on her face, and trace it down from her forehead, to her nose, to her cheek, and then touch the beauty mark under her right eye. I would see a tear forming, falling, and finally trickling down my finger with more poetry than all the greatest paintings every painted. But she would be swift, and she would swipe the gun, and with her tear on my finger, I would meet my eventual demise.
She would return the gun to the shirtless man. They would walk along the sandy shores of the grey-blue waters together. And perhaps once, before her own inevitable death, she might come visit the painting that was my death. Maybe then too, a tear would fall down her wrinkled face and she would marvel at the wound she had inflicted. I hope that there will be fear and sadness in her heart as she looks upon the violent scene that had unfolded in the loneliness of my quiet apartment. She might realize that her advice had gone astray.