His hand took over. His color began to disappear beneath the blue. He added white to the blue for highlights under the lamp. He added black to the blue for the shadowed areas.
He painted mechanically. No thought was necessary–he already had the correct tones worked out from the tones of his perfect color. He just copied them with the wrong color.
Within a short time, the background was done. His color was still present though–hidden in subtle reflections here–melting into subtle shading there.
A few more touches.
Blue reflections on the dime-store unicorn.
Blue mixed with red to show through on the bowl of plastic grapes.
And, just before it was time to clean up, he had finished.
No trace–not the smallest hint–of his color remained.
He didn’t even look at the painting after that. He left it against wall with the others for grading, ensuring that his was left on top because it was still damp.
“I liked the other color better, too,” sympathized one of his classmates.
He smiled at him, and left. His feet moved like heavy blocks of un-sculpted wood. He was nauseous, but hungry. Not much money. He stopped at a vending machine and bought the most disgusting sweet he could find–a chocolate covered, cream-filled cake thing. He didn’t even remember eating it.
A headache began to surface. It rose quickly, like dirty oil rising to the top of a water bucket.
He went home and flopped on his couch. Briefly. The chocolate was having a predictable effect on his stomach acids. His color–his perfect color–flooded his brain. It was all he could see. He opened his eyes. The room glowed sickeningly with the color.
He felt the bile rise in his throat and he rushed to the bathroom. He vomited violently. He took two aspirin and lay back down.
He had taken the aspirin too early. The chocolate was not finished with him.
He got up to vomit again. He stumbled back to the couch, already spent.
When he closed his eyes, colors–great hued whirlpools–swirled through his head. Not friendly this time. Now they ate into his soul like the acid in his stomach. Colors everywhere. No place to escape from them.
Conscious? Unconscious? He dreamed. He did not sleep. The colors in the pain were too intense. He dreamed of vacuous orange faces. He dreamed of icy blue sounds. He dreamed of callous maroon words. They all drifted in a maelstrom, like leaves and branches and colorful pieces of paper garbage blowing across his inner vision.
The faces were of no one special; no one that he recognized. The faces were not technically even real faces. More like statues. The hue, in itself, was meaningless. The faces were emotion without substance. They existed only to show expression; unpleasant, inane expression. Beneath their outer facade were only clay and more emptiness.
The sounds and the voices blended, neither distinct, neither recognizable–a melted crayon box. The few snatches of words he could catch were nonsense–meaningless–confusing–but somehow menacing. When more distinguishable, the voices would turn into distorted violets, bleeding reds, sickly oranges… The voices mingled with the sounds, and they vibrated collectively with muffled rhythms like an orchestra and a noisy city street thrown together, shaken in a box, and crushed under a lid made of heavy foam.
His throat spasmed. His eyes flew open and he ran to the bathroom to repeat the vomiting routine. Three times. Four. Stomach empty. Bitter bile. Five.
He was hyperventilating. Covered in sweat. He was weak–could barely lift his arms. His hands and feet began to tingle. He felt them becoming numb.
He closed his eyes. Exhausted. But sleep was not possible. Everywhere, clear, distinct, were the colors. His heart pulsed, and with each pulse the pain tore into his head like a great circular blade, and colors would burst across his internal field of vision; hues laced with the pain of the blade and the murmur of the voices.
And through it all, dissonant, uncoordinated with the pulses of rolling pain and boiling intestines, adding to the confusion of his mind, a single black phrase arose like the bile. It repeated itself again and again, louder each time, endlessly.
Is this what it feels like to be insane?
Eyes opened. Perfect compositions filled the room. Composition was easy–child’s play. But what colors would be the right ones?
He didn’t know anymore.
Food poisoning? Salmonella? How long had that noxious piece of chocolate been in that machine?
His brother came home.
“Are you all right?”
“Can I get you anything?”
Pause. His hands and feet were numb and tingled. He had never felt this way before. He was covered with icy cold sweat. The word salmonella flooded his brain. He was hyperventilating–couldn’t catch his breath–too weak to move.
“I want you to call an ambulance.”
Pause. “Are you serious?”
The ambulance came. Still hyperventilating–fear. They checked his vitals. He felt so weak. The lifted him up and strapped him in.
“He’s just scared,” he heard one of the medics say to his brother.
The nausea fell away from him like a silk blanket.
# # #
When he came home from the hospital it was late. He felt weak, embarrassed. He studied his physics for a while, and then fell asleep.
Somehow he managed to get through both tests the next day. He didn’t have art class until two days later.
He looked at the painting.
Technically, it was fine, but it was still dead.
A whole corner was vacant of life. It drained the life from the rest of the canvas. It drained the life from his stomach.
He did not let himself become nauseous again.
He got an A as his final grade.
Days later. Finals over. The painting sat again in his portfolio bag. He brought it out.
Maybe he could fix it? Maybe if he could repaint it to the correct color…
…the correct color…
What was the correct color?
What had it been? Brown? Red? Maroon?
He could no longer remember it.
It had died of neglect–killed like a firefly left in a jar too long. It had not even received a proper burial. It was now and ever more hidden by the technically correct and exactly incorrect blue.
He packed the painting back into his portfolio case. It would stay there for years. Eventually, he had the strength again to hang it on a wall. Others liked it.
Technically, it was fine.
It had just been Art 101, after all.