Freebie Mondays: A Moment of Perfection (Story 4 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: A Moment of Perfection (Story 4 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea). This time, one of my main characters does appear in the short. But he isn’t narrating and is just kind of in the background, so I figure that fits the ‘rule’ (loose though it is).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: moments of perfection are rare.

It takes place in the same universe as the “As if This Was Going to Work” prompt.
. . .

He was lying on the couch in her studio, his head tilted slightly away from the desk where her art supplies sprawled. He must have wandered down the stairs seeking the cool air and an escape from the unrelenting dampness that seemed to cling to the earliest days of summer.

It was clear he hadn’t meant to fall asleep. It was written into the unusual disarray of his position. One hand was folded across his chest, rising steadily with the cadence of his breathing, while the other had fallen carelessly beside him. His hair was unbound, a rare sight indeed, and it cascaded over the edge of the pillow that supported his head like a tiny, frozen waterfall.

But the thing that caught her most was his expression. Rarely had Elsie ever seen such serenity on the face of her husband. It was a side effect of marrying a soldier, she supposed.

Domerin Lorcasf was a man of hard angles and stern lines, always serious, almost to a fault. She understood that there was a constant stream of unrelenting pressure on his shoulders, and that this no doubt contributed to his seeming lack of humor. But she would have liked to see more of him like this – content, untroubled, relaxed.

No sooner had she taken in the sight than did her fingers twitch.

She had to draw this – and quickly, for the spell of Domerin’s serenity would be shattered the moment he opened his eyes.

Luckily for her, her studio was always ready for art of any kind. Her easel was propped in one corner with a fresh canvas leaning against its base and an array of paintbrushes waiting for selection. She even had a small tub of clay ready for working, should she desire to get her hands dirty.

But today, it was charcoal she reached for, a fresh black stick with a neatly sharpened point. She grasped it firmly between her fingers and pressed it to a large, cream-colored sheet of sketchpad paper she pulled from the bottom of a haphazard pile.

She traced the rough outline of the figure before she even thought to properly clear her desk of clutter, revealing the straight edges of the page that had been slightly buried when she chose it as her canvas.

She did not have time for a proper tidy. And indeed, Domerin’s ears were so sensitive, she was lucky the shuffling of papers didn’t rouse him. He must have been exhausted indeed. But the charcoal made only the barest ghost of a sound as it caressed the paper, and it wasn’t long before she fell into the quite rhythm of creation.

People often asked her how she could spend hours lost in her projects, barely lifting her gaze to glance elsewhere, even forgetting sometimes to eat or drink. But her answer was always the same: it never felt like hours. To her, it seemed only a few moments passed before she had sketched the soft lines and folds of the couch structure. She would block in the cushions later. At the moment, her main focus was on capturing the figure sprawled across the couch.

The true artistry was in the nuances, in capturing the small arch of the figure’s back and the gentle carelessness that represented total relaxation. In some ways, it was far harder to capture relaxation than it was to capture motion, because motion gave logical form to its expression. The muscles tightened or shifted, and one could trace their expected trajectory within the form. But many people slept in positions that would prove uncomfortable upon waking, and carelessness was not written easily into the physical form. The body protested, as did the lines, forcing her to make tiny adjustments to each depiction’s trajectory.

Often, she felt the urge to smudge the lines entirely, to smear her charcoal darkened fingers across her progress and blot it out entirely, forever blighting the failures of the figure. But she resisted these temptations rigorously.

This moment would not come again. Had she been a wiser woman, she would have captured it eternally with the singular click of a button. But had she allowed a camera flash to light the dim corner in which her husband slept, no doubt that, too, would have roused him, and the rest of this short span would have been lost in the shadows of history.

She wanted this to last, this quiet stillness through which only her charcoal moved. She could spend the rest of her life listening to the soft, steady rhythm of her husband’s breath and remain forever content. For in this sheltered haven, nothing that troubled their lives beyond her studio door could touch them. Here there were no bills to pay or phones to ring with the announcement of conference calls or emergencies. There were no awkward pauses amidst their conversations, no tensing muscles to interrupt their physical contact. There was simply the perfection of the moment and the joy of etching it onto paper.

She spent some time on the folds of his clothing, using them to convey the freezing of the moment, the memory of motion come to rest. She took special care to mark the wrinkles caused by the fingers resting against his chest, as if he had fallen asleep in the process of making a fist.

His hair required the utmost attention, a series of delicate lines defined most by their interaction with the objects surrounding him. Getting it to look right required adding shadow and light to the couch’s armrest and the pillow scrunched against it by her husband’s back.

Each detail was a triumph as it took form, a victory to be celebrated in the back of her mind while she moved on to the next challenge.

It had been a long time since the pressures of the outside world fell away like they did today. It was rare a project absorbed her so completely that it began to feel like a dream, a precious construct that might shatter into wisps should she move too sharply in any one direction.

Usually she worried about what she might make for dinner, or what mood Domerin would be in by the time he finished work for the day. There was almost always something hovering just on the edge of her consciousness, demanding a tiny sliver of attention she could not devote to her work.

But today, there were no distant voices. It seemed almost as if Domerin’s soft breathing kept them at bay. And bolstered by this absolute confidence in her current actions, her charcoal darted across the paper spread before her, recreating the vision in front of her.

If only she could scroll her emotions across the page in the same way she captured her perception. If only setting fingers against one of those smooth, clean lines would one day allow her to return to this moment, to recapture the memory of this simple bliss.

The longer she spent at her work, the more details that took form within the formerly blank space, the more aware she became of the fragility of this moment. It hadn’t occurred to her when she started this task to worry about what might happen if her husband woke before she finished her work. All of it had been composed with the simple certainty that she would achieve perfection before her vision could abandon her.

But as she closed in on the final details – the most important for the preservation of this grand event – she became increasingly aware of time slipping through her fingers like sand moving from one end of an hourglass to the other. She almost caught herself listening for the ticking of a clock, and tried to banish the very idea from her mind, lest it banish the bubble of serenity she had managed to gather about herself.

Just as this moment was unlikely to ever repeat, there was no way it could possibly last. That was the point of the drawing, of the tender care she paid to each aspect of it. The more she managed to preserve, the better she would be able to remember this time and space – and the easier it would be to revisit it in the future.

She desperately wished she could freeze time as she lifted her charcoal to survey her efforts. She would give anything to make this moment last forever, especially if she could curl against Domerin’s side and find rest herself.

Let the outside world stay beyond the door of her office. Let the simplicity enclosed within this space become the focal point of their lives. Let all the complications that troubled them fade into the shadows of history.

Damn it all – why did there ever need to be more to life than two people absorbed in the moment?

She had only the face left. She had to get it right, as the emotions expressed upon that gentle plane would define the atmosphere for the rest of the piece. It could mean the difference between the intensity of motion and the gentleness of repose. It would only take a few precious moments and, yet, her hand shook at the idea of failure when she hovered so close to the brink of perfection.

A sharp sound pierced the stillness. It was muffled by the distance and the closed door that lay between this tender moment and reality – but it was just loud enough to disturb her perfect moment. She held her breath, praying it would pass unnoticed, then cursed as her sleeping husband inhaled sharply.

He shifted when he came awake, seeking the source of the sound, and Elsie had only a moment to capture the expression that flitted across his face.

It was far from the serenity that grasped him moments before, but there was an artistry in it that Elsie couldn’t resist, that special intensity inherent in the moment one woke, before reality fully set in. When paired with the barely repressed sense of motion she had already drawn into his sleeping figure, it perfectly captured the moment he started into awareness – though that had not originally been her intention.

The sound came again, the incessant ringing of a telephone.

Domerin’s eyes locked with hers as she lifted them away from her drawing. She basked in the soft glow of accomplishment. She was tempted to lift the image and put it on display for its subject, but Domerin’s expression had already shifted to one of guilt and apology.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to disturb your workspace.”

She shook her head and said, “It’s fine, you didn’t prevent me from doing anything.”

Once more the phone rang. She wanted to tell him to forget about it – the words were on the tip of her tongue. But he was already on his feet, moving with more speed than seemed possible for someone who had just jerked from the depths of sleep. Within seconds, she heard the soft patter of his feet ascending the stairs, then the soft sound of his voice speaking to some distant soul.

It was hard not to feel sadness like the sharp stab of a knife as she glanced at the dark marks scrolled with careful haste across the paper on her desk. It was not exactly the moment she meant to capture, but sometimes the art had a mind of its own. And it certainly invoked the memory of its creation, the warmth and contentment that had consumed her throughout the brief process.

Already, that perfection had begun to fade, becoming a distant reflection of its original glory. If she added color to the piece, it would become one of her best. She might even hang it above the very couch it depicted so that the sharp eyes in the angular face would keep watch over her the next time she settled down to work.

No doubt she would tell herself every time she looked at it that she was not trying to return to that moment, though she knew her heart would always long for it.

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