[by Travis Burnham]
Isolde sat, waiting into late evening while the candles burned low, when finally her boyfriend called to cancel. It was Valentine’s Day and she’d taken all afternoon to prepare her boyfriend’s favorite—boeuf bourguignon with a side of homemade egg noodles. It wasn’t the first time her boyfriend had cancelled. Jaw clenched, she quietly told him it was the last time. Tinny with distance, the boyfriend yelled, cursed. She hung up, then fought back bitter tears before chugging from the bottle of Malbec.
Gage, from inside the painting that hung on Isolde’s apartment wall, saw Isolde’s tears, the white Cabriole sofa in the living room, and a sliver of the orange-walled kitchen. He knew so little of his previous life. Who he’d been. Who he’d known. He’d been a tailor and maybe an artist, he thought. Lived near the ocean and loved dogs. This was perhaps, reincarnation.
His was a frozen moment in time when Isolde looked at him, freedom to move when she didn’t. His life was a cafe scene: a bouquet of linifolia tulips and cotton white calla lilies, a short stack of love poetry—Baudelaire and Rimbaud—next to him on an empty chair, a bottle of Bordeaux. And a canopy of burgundy and black stripes that fluttered in a quiet breeze when Isolde wasn’t looking.
As Gage watched Isolde’s misery, his heart swelled, ached, until he felt his heart could hold no more. Inside him, something snapped. The glass in front of him bowed like a soap bubble in the wind, then burst.
Isolde stood to dump dishes in the sink, then gave a tiny gasp when she turned back.
There on the kitchen table was a crystal vase filled with tulips and lilies, and a stack of Baudelaire and Rimbaud.
Gage, in astonishment, saw that they were missing from his painting. His world was drearier, but hers was brighter. She looked about, eyes bleary and muttering. She told Gage she must be going crazy and that she was just really and truly, far too drunk.
The next day Isolde’s boyfriend snuck into her apartment. He stole, among other things, her record player, and most of her clothes. Gage watched, angry but powerless, as the boyfriend carried out box after box.
When Isolde returned from work she sighed, dropped all her things and slumped on the couch, head in hands. “Such. A. Bastard.”
And with an effort, a flex of some unseen muscle, Gage’s Bordeaux was on her kitchen table along with a simple wine glass. Isolde walked to the kitchen, tilted her head at the bottle, then shrugged. “I don’t remember buying that, but thank goodness for small blessings.”
Every evening Isolde’s friends called her. Their voices coming from Isolde’s phone were thin and far away: she needed to get back in the game, to come out and mingle.
Always she replied, softly, “No.”
Isolde often talked to Gage and he became the silent recipient of her conversation. She even knew his name, somehow. Was his name on the outside of the painting? “Why do they pester me, Gage? And why do the worst boyfriends hurt the most?”
Gage wished Isolde could join him in the painting, but his world by now was rather cheerless and drab, the one bright thing remaining was the fabric of his canopy and a light breeze that fluttered when Isolde wasn’t looking. While once he spent his days with poetry and wine, his days were now just pacing the boundaries of his little domain.
He changed his mind. He wouldn’t wish this place on her.
After some weeks, Gage had an epiphany. He worked all through the day. He cut down the canopy, and found that his tailor skills, from wherever they’d come, hadn’t diminished. He even wove the breeze into the fabric of an evening dress that would reset the bar for all dresses.
Finished, he willed the dress to the back of her couch, where it waited until she got home.
She slid her hand along the dress, and that night when her friends called her to go out, she said yes.
Changing in her bedroom, she stepped back into the foyer and Gage’s heart stopped.
She redefined beauty.
Isolde left and Gage paced and circled, circled and paced.
She returned late that night and he could feel the pang in her heart, the loneliness.
There was nothing left in the painting to give her.
Or, perhaps, one thing.
With all his effort, he focused his will. A wind blew outwards from the frame. His body was all atingle and he felt lightheaded. His vision filled with stars.
And then he was in the living room.
She startled back, then stared.
And Gage retreated. His heart ached and he felt torn in half, wanting to stay to comfort her, wanting to leave to not frighten her.
“I should leave,” He looked back at his old home, the painting, and it was complete. It was odd to look at himself frozen like that, sitting at the cafe.
“Who the he–” Her brow furrowed. “You seem…familiar.” Slowly, she looked at the painting, and then at him. “Gage?” She gestured to the Baudelaire, the flowers that never wilted, her dress that gently fluttered in still air, the bottle of Bordeaux that never went dry.
“Maybe,” she said. “You can stay for just one glass of wine.”
Travis Burnham‘s work has found homes in Far Fetched Fables, Hypnos Magazine, Bad Dreams Entertainment, South85 Journal, SQ Quarterly, and others. He is a member of the online writers’ group, Codex, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. He also recently won the Wyrm’s Gauntlet online writing contest. Burnham has been a DJ on three continents, and teaches middle school science and college level composition. He lives in Upstate South Carolina with his wife, but grew up in Massachusetts, is from Maine at heart, and has lived in Japan, Colombia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.