Written for the first anniversary contest at Beginning Writer, with the theme of “A Creative Person”. Sadly it didn’t win, not unexpected for a first try. I’ll do better on my next attempt I’m certain.
The sun had barely begun to clear the rooftops on a sticky August morning, when Elizabeth Sharpe woke with an ache she could feel in her entire body. The sort of bone-deep need you can feel in every cell.
She felt as if she had been sleeping for days. Possibly she had.
With some effort, she swung her legs over the side of the cot. She could feel the concrete under her feet, clammy with condensation in the damp heat, as she made her way to the makeshift kitchen. There were no clean glasses, but her desperation would not wait. Drinking as deeply as she could to satisfy at least part of the aching want inside, she became distracted a flashing light at the edge of her vision.
Liz set the glass down, suddenly no longer of interest. Her phone, muted for what may have been weeks, now captured her attention.
Far too many new messages, she thought, who has time for all that? Where Are You…I Miss You….Please Call… Liz scrolled past a long list of similar subjects before the title WORK! URGENT! caught her eye. She opened it to find her agent in a panic, reminding her of the looming deadline for her new work. She checked the date. Only four days remaining.
Her eyes darted to the cluster of near-finished canvases waiting in the centre of the room. Plenty of work left, she thought. Definitely too much for a normal schedule. But one way or another, she had to do it. There was a public waiting for Liz, and what only she could provide.
She reminded herself that this was not quite true. She, the Mundane Liz, skinny and stinking of sweat, was worth nothing to them. Nobody cared about her. No, it was the creative genius Liz Sharpe, the one with the clear, bright visions, that they wanted. Practically begged for.
Through hard experience, Liz learned that there must be two of her. First the star, the sought-after talent. The one who could work for days without rest and saw things far beyond the norm. Then came her Mundane self, to recover afterwards and sleep off Creative Liz’s excesses. Possibly to handle some more mundane tasks when there was less of a rush. Such as reading emails.
Today was just such a rush. If her agent went so far as to send urgent reminders, then she could waste no more time. She knew there would be a hard crash at the end. Putting on a big push so soon after recovering from her last work binge carried a price. But she was left with little choice.
Liz opened one particular cabinet and moved a number of paint containers to reveal a nondescript tackle box, the sort a fisherman would use. Inside were many small compartments, which would normally house lures, bait and other specialized gear.
This box was different however, filled instead with a variety of pills, capsules, and other substances in every colour imaginable. There were also tools for the administration of said substances. Spoons and syringes, knives and bowls, lighters and rolling papers, plus more. All the aspiring artist could ever need.
With practised hands, she plucked a capsule out of the box. It was a deep red on one end, like old blood. The other was a transparent orange which revealed many tiny beads, each containing in turn a minuscule amount of the medication she needed to make her transformation happen.
Liz placed the capsule in a small, shallow bowl, and upon retrieving a razor blade from the case carefully cut it open, spilling the beads out. She discarded the casing and proceeded to tip the bowl gently into her mouth, careful not to lose any. This she chewed while she selected a handful of other pills, then replaced the case and its camouflage.
It was an old trick, learned long ago, a way to bypass the time release mechanism of the drug and increase its intensity. She sipped a bit of water to clear her mouth, then drank down more with the rest of the pills. She retired to her bedside and lit a joint. She took a long, slow drag, letting the smoke settle in her lungs. Nothing to do now but wait.
It was not long before the world began to come into sharper focus. The canvases in the centre of the room seemed to call to her, although for a short while she resisted. Soon the craving to work would be joined by the altered awareness necessary to produce the desired visions. Like a fog rolling in, obscuring all unwanted distractions, she realized that Creative Liz had arrived at last. She stood and crossed the room, eager to begin. Picking up the closest brush to hand, she attacked the canvas with vigour, throwing what she was beginning to see at the fresh space, building a world there bit by bit. Nothing else mattered now, so long as she could continue painting.
It may well have been days she was like this, although likely only hours, when a series of loud bangs intruded on her perfectly focused world. She tried to ignore them, assuming they were of no importance. But they refused to stop.
“Dammit,” she muttered. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Presently the sound stopped. Liz’s relief was short, as there followed a brief scratching sound that she knew to a key turning in a lock. Irritated, she turned to see the large studio doors open, admitting a tall woman with long hair. She marched up to where Liz stood, unmistakable anger clouding what would otherwise be a strikingly beautiful face.
Something about the woman seemed familiar, but Liz could not place it. In fact she did not want to. Enough that she was keeping Liz from her work, which was far more important.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“What do I want?” the woman shot back. “I’ve been trying to contact you for days! Phone, email, nothing! I’ve been worried sick about you.”
Liz tried to think, but her head was too focused on painting to admit anything else. “Sleep probably,” she mumbled, half to herself. That sounded right, at least. “Few days now. Behind schedule, got to work now.”
She began to turn away, but the woman grabbed her shoulder.
“Look at you,” she said. “You’re wasting away. You’re going to wreck yourself if you keep this up.”
Liz glared at the woman and tried to shake the hand away, but didn’t really have the strength for it. Annoyance grew inside her, the novelty of the mystery woman already faded. How dare she get in the way like this, and then start criticizing her.
“Look,” she said. “I’m busy. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care. Go away!”
With this, the woman released her hold and stepped back. Her eyes widened. “You…don’t even know who I am?”
A grunt and shrug were her only reply. She wanted desperately for all this to be over with and to get back to painting. She didn’t have time for this nonsense.
The woman just stood there, not saying a word. But her face was active as a number of expressions Liz could not identify played across her features, finally settling on rage.
“That’s it….that’s the end,” she spat. “I can’t take this any more, you’re going to destroy yourself and me too if I keep this up. You can just go to hell for all I care!”
The woman reached into her pocket and threw something at Liz, hard. Something small and hard that stung when it hit her face, then fell to the floor. The woman turned on her heel and stalked out, clearly in tears. Doors slammed behind her as Liz stood there, dumbfounded. Despite herself, some instinct compelled her to bend down and retrieve the object.
A ring. An ornate band of what seemed to be gold, with a tastefully modest cluster of diamonds. Nothing cheap about it, certainly not the sort of thing to be throwing at people. Liz stood looking at the ring, both caught up in the design and undecided how to feel about it. There was something familiar there, like there was something familiar about the woman.
Something inside her shifted then. Some bit of her mind as yet untouched by the drugs, that somehow knew what it all meant, even though her conscious self did not. She felt it well up in her, and for a brief moment she was filled with the deep sorrow of loss.
Then it was gone, like a late summer shower. The swirling imagery inside her head washing away any trace of what she felt, or why. Only she was left, staring blankly at a ring she didn’t fully recognize.
In time, she broke away from the rut of fascination. There were paintings to complete, and buyers waiting for her vision.
In the end, that was what really mattered.