Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I am taking a creative writing class. Our assignment was to choose a picture/photo and describe the details of the image and then write a narrative inspired by it. I chose a painting by Ivan Albright entitled "That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door)". I saw it for the first time, years ago on display in the Modern Art wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. It is an amazing piece of art that has stuck with me for over ten years now. Check it out if you are in Chicago.
First glance: There is a tall wooden door, which hangs a funeral wreath. An old woman’s hand can be seen holding onto the frame of the door.
An old woman’s hand.
A delicate lace handkerchief
Gnarled knuckles with oval well-manicured nails
The hand holds a sprig of tiny buds
Her sleeve reveals the fine needlework on the lace edging.
There is a fleshiness to her hands.
The ring finger has an intricate gold ring with floral engravings that looks like an heirloom
A dark wood paneled door.
The door has engraved woodwork that has nicks and scratches.
The knob is bronze that has engravings on it.
There is a wreath on the door with a pink tattered ribbon that has begun to fray.
The flowers are dying and starting to droop and darken.
The pink roses are fainting down and withering.
The white lilies are darkening and drooping downward.
The sprig that the woman holds is from the wreath.
The door is tall and the frame is solid wood.
The frame has engravings all around it. Intricate patterns.
On the cement in front of the door, there are some fallen roses from the wreath.
A wire on a nail hangs the wreath.
This door is very old. This wreath is very old. This woman’s hand is very old.
They told her it was time to go. The old woman nodded, her eyes glistening, as she understood that this time when she left, she would not be coming back.
“You can’t live in this house all by yourself,” they told her. “It’s too big for one person.”
All the voices of reason descended upon her like daggers. She knew it to be true. She did. She understood what all her children, now sensible men and women, explained to her. Her mind was not feeble. But still she wanted to stay. Just a few more moments. She didn’t understand why they had to rush everything. She breathed in the old house. Everywhere her eyes went, conjured memories that came to her like ghosts. She wanted everything to freeze.
Only one week ago, he was alive. He sat right there in the worn sofa across from her and smiled as he smoked his pipe. She could still smell the earthy tobacco in the upholstery. She remembered smiling back at that man she had married sixty-two years ago and still feeling such a deep love for him. And in that moment, a panic seized her by the throat. She knew that their time was coming to an end. This life they had made for themselves was losing momentum and that thought, that realization that one day she would not be able to look into that man’s eyes devastated her. She looked at him trying to etch every detail of his face into her mind.
“Nora, where did you go?” he asked as his head gently cocked to the side.
He always knew when she fell into her dark places and he always knew how to pull her out. Who would know to pull her out now? She looked at her children going around the rooms assessing what was to be kept and what was to be donated or sold.
She spent her entire life filling every room. No item was there without reason. Every rug carefully chosen, every vase placed with precision and every picture mounted with a discerning eye. She loved this house. She loved the life she helped to create here. Her shaking hand reached out for the teacup on the small table next to her. She needed both hands to steady the now warm liquid. She had added some brandy to her tea to help calm her nerves and winced as she felt it burn down her throat. She didn’t’ care for the taste but she liked how it made her feel.
“I haven’t even finished my tea,” she bartered as she took the tiniest sip. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her youngest son look at his watch.