The Artist

Lars was out of breath from running by the time he had reached Gem’s house. Reaching an arm out to ring the doorbell, he left his palm against the door frame and hunched over, trying to catch his breath.

He’d dressed quickly after his girlfriend had called to say she had something important to show him and, as a result, was wearing the first pair of jeans he’d seen and a plain, white v-neck shirt. His short, brown hair was messy from just waking up and his eyes were just starting to lose their early-morning glaze.

As Lars was about to ring the doorbell for a second time, he heard a muffled thunk as the door immediately unlocked. It opened quickly, bringing Gem into view. She was wearing the overalls she normally wore when she painted. Among the dried paint stains were new blotches of a grey and silver that seemed to shimmer in the light of the early morning sun. Under her overalls, her faded red shirt bared similar marks and her face, exposed from her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, also had light spots and silver marks.

“Lars!” she cried, excitedly. She beckoned with one hand for him to follow her inside and whirled around to withdraw back into her home. “Come in! I have something to show you!”

Gem quickly disappeared into a back room as Lars was shutting the front door behind him. “Wait out there, will you?” she yelled. “Just for a second!”

Lars leaned against the back of the couch to wait, looking around the room. It was clearly the house of an artist. Personal paintings and decorations hung on the walls, strange sculptures stood on shelves, and a solitary easel occupied one corner. In front of the couch, a small TV was tuned into the news.

A reporter was speaking over a video of a pile of food. “Scientists are still unsure of how the food has appeared, and are urging the local residents to wait until it has been tested and ensured safe.” The scene on TV shifted to a small, African boy sitting on the ground; his ribs visibly protruding from hunger. “But food in an environment like this is a rare event, and already locals are stealing from the pile. No visible health repercussions have yet been observed from eating this mystery food.”

The TV turned off and Lars looked up to see Gem holding the remote in one hand. She had a silly, giggly smile and seemed to exude excitement as she set the remote back down and took a few steps towards Lars. His glances switched from her face to the hand she had behind her back, wondering what the surprise was.

“So,” Lars asked curiously, “what is it? I love seeing you, but why’d you wake me up this early?” He couldn’t help but smile a bit; the truth was that he enjoyed seeing Gem, no matter the time. “You said it was important?”

Gem’s only response was to smile wider and bounce on the tips of her toes.

“Well, go on then! What is it?”

From behind her back, Gem slowly withdrew her fist—clasped around some object. She held it out in front of her and opened her palm to reveal a thin, silver piece of mineral shaped like a small rod. Where it touched her hand, a light grey discoloring seemed to expand outwards, staining her skin. Her eyes were wide as if it were a million dollars and she were seeing it for the first time.

Lars raised an eyebrow. When no explanation of the material came, he asked, “What is it?”

“Graphite,” the artist said simply.

“It’s nice, dear, but why did you call me over so early to see it? Couldn’t it have waited an hour or two, when normal people wake up?”

Gem turned on her toes and picked up a piece of paper from beside the TV’s remote. Turning back, she handed it to Lars. “Here,” she said, handing him the graphite stick with her other hand, “draw something.”

Always eager to support his girlfriend’s art habits, Lars obliged. He leaned over and pressed the paper against the back of the couch and tried to position the graphite in his hand in a way that didn’t get too much grey residue on his skin. Slowly, he traced the laughable outline of a sailboat while Gem watched in anticipation.

Immediately after the sailboat’s final stroke, Lars felt a sense of power surge through the veins in his forearm. He shrieked, recoiled, and dropped the art materials from his hand. As the paper slowly drifted down to the floor, he watched in amazement as the sailboat he’d drawn began to detach itself from the stationary it had been drawn on. By the time the paper hit the floor, the boat was its own being, with its own sail and bow, sailing upwards in the air.

“What,” Lars shouted, pointing with a shaking hand. “What is that?”

The sailboat sailed gracefully around the room, leaving a temporary stream of blue and yellow sparkles in its path. As it flew in front of Lars, it hovered for a moment as if to model for its creator; Lars tentatively reached out to touch it but it dashed away, dancing around his hand.

Gem giggled at the boat’s eccentricity. “Amazing, isn’t it?” The boat swirled around her, seemingly drawn by her smile, and then flew over to circle around the television. Each time it passed in front of the screen, vague images flashed just barely enough to be visible. “The TV,” Lars started again, fumbling for words, “the food, the food appearing out of nowhere in Africa—was that… was that you? I mean, did you draw it?”

“No, it wasn’t me. Someone else.” Gem’s lively demeanor stiffened slightly and she added, “I’m not the only one that can do stuff like this. There were six of us. But wait, this isn’t even what I wanted to show you! Are you ready? Follow me!”

“Wait,” Lars said quickly as he dashed after his girlfriend. “Who else? Where?” The magical sailboat followed close behind Lars as he followed behind Gem.

She called back, “We can talk about that after I show you this! Come on!”

They both stopped outside the door to the studio and the boat swirled around their heads. Along the hallway walls were decorative paintings and sketches—things parents would be torn about whether to praise or punish for if their kids drew the same on their own walls.

“I’ve been working on this all night, but it’s not something I’m going to sell.” Lars began to speak, but Gem push a finger to his lips and smiled. “It’s a gift for you, Lars. And I wanted you to be here when I finished it.”

Lars smiled back and Gem removed her finger from his lips. He reached out and grabbed her hand and just held it as they looked at each other.

“We’re always talking about getting away,” Gem continued, “when we get the money. Off somewhere fantastic. England, France, Italy, the Carribean—wherever we find paradise. I know we don’t have the money yet, but that’s okay. We’re doing the best we can, and we have each other. That’s all that matters. Now come on, I want to show you this.”

With one hand, Gem twisted the doorknob and opened the door to her studio. The couple stepped inside—into a piece of art. The walls were lined with paper and on every wall was a landscape. A large forest lined two of the walls, stretching out into a clear, blue lake with a beautiful waterfall on the third. On the last wall a road led out to a busy city on the horizon, lights illuminating the twilight sky. Every detail was perfect, right down to the smallest of fish in the lake.

“It’s… amazing,” Lars said, lost for words. “You did this all in one night?”

Gem blushed. “Yeah, you were a pretty good motivation. But it’s not done yet. Take a seat right over there and let me finish.”

Sitting where his girlfriend had pointed, Lars watched as Gem brandished the stick of graphite from earlier. She reached out with one hand to a small spot of white paper in the midst of a tree where nothing had been drawn yet. Turning her head to her boyfriend, she asked, “Are you ready?”

Lars managed a nod and Gem drew in the remaining detail of the tree.

Suddenly, the sound of a roaring waterfall filled the room, booming against the otherwise calm lake. The sky turned to night and the room lit with the luminescence of the moon and stars. Lars stood up in amazement, trying to take the whole scene in at once. He heard a frog croak and a flock of birds singing, and looked back to the forest to see a beautiful, white dove in one of the branches.

Gem’s face seemed to glow in the moonlight as she walked back towards Lars. She took his hands in her own and gazed into his eyes.

Gem said, “Maybe we don’t need money to get away. I know my art hasn’t brought us much money, dear, but I think that I can finally do something special for the both of us. This is a paradise for us and only us. We can finally get away—we can finally get away and live happily ever after.”

You are reading The Giver — read more from this series:

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