The Picture

“I brought it off an auction today.” Her husband said, and by the sound of his voice, she could tell the acquisition of this painting was a huge prize to him. “It’s there, right above the mantel place.”

“Describe to me what it looks like?” she asked. Over years of verbalising perception, her husband had become attuned to painting a picture on the canvas of her mind. “There’s not too many words for this one” He sighed. “It’s… a portrait. Of a lady. Think of it as a modern Mona Lisa. Except she’s ..Korean. Her hair is flowing. She has large, beautiful eyes. They exude this peace but they’re… menacing at the same time. They look like they know one too many secrets about you. I don’t see how something could look so enchanting yet hollow at the same time.” He paused. “Yeah. Her eyes stand out the most. If you stand directly in front of it,” he moved his wife a step towards his right, directly in front of the painting, “you can find her looking right in your eyes.”

She was suddenly standing in front of the painting and her heart paused. She was terrified. It was something about being in that spot, and the knowledge that something inhumane had it’s eyes at her that sent a shiver through her spine. She was afraid. The blind woman couldn’t see the girl in the painting, but she felt her eyes on her own skin; a piercing, almost human gaze that made her feel naked. For a person who relied on sensation to gauge visual input, she became impatient to somehow touch it. The strange unfamiliarity between person and object would be broken then.

“Where is it from?” The wife asked, and the man’s face lit up. “That’s the twist. You see, it was found in the middle east. Surprisingly, it’s been signed in japanese ” He chuckled at me. “And now here it is.”

The woman’s impulse to touch the painting drove her out of the bed later that night. She had not been able to sleep, and was flooded with the sensation of having a stranger in her house. She went down the stairs silently, as if spying on someone in an alien land; as if she was not in her own house.

Downstairs, she found herself standing a few feet behind the spot where she was standing earlier that evening. She could instinctively guess she had rightly placed herself in front of the painting, because she was gripped with a sudden, unknown fear.

She inched closer. Her heart quickened. Her arm lifted itself, and her fingers reached out. She finally found contact with the surface of the painting, and heaved a sigh of relief. A calm took over her and she smiled. Then suddenly, her hand got sucked in, and the painting swallowed her whole.

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Haze

“What happened exactly?” your therapist asks you.

The image sketches itself in your brain. For each day you had worked at the post office, she showed up to send a letter. Picked a stamp. Addressed her letter and deposited it. Three simple steps. You had been enamoured by her. You exchanged glances each time she visited, and she smiled at you. It made your heart flutter. You came to believe that she came there only to see you.

“I saw her again yesterday.” You find a shiver in your voice: a fear sewn into its frequency.

“Go on.” Your therapist provokes you, but you scramble for words. There is no way your thoughts will translate into words sanely.

“She came in and… did the usual. Deposited the letter. Smiled at me before turning away to go. But after days of gathering up courage,  I’d made up my mind to talk to her yesterday. She’d been on my mind all the time. I wanted to see if she felt the same. It was worth a shot. That’s what I thought.”

“I think that’s great.” he tells you. “But, when I walked up to her, she-” you stop. “Yes?” “She disappeared. I mean… she disintegrated. Completely. Her shape and structure ceased to exist. She completely vanished.” Your therapist is calm upon hearing this, not shocked or surprised. He keeps his pen and notepad down.

He gazes at you intently, then disappears.

Werewolf

A dingy and shattered house, tucked away in a slum. Inside, a little boy cowers beneath his bed, hiding from the monster above. He kneels in the darkness. If I make myself invisible, maybe it’ll go away. He pushes his hands against his ears. Absence of sound is better than that sound. Darkness is better than the sight of it. He feels its presence. Slow, manipulative, hawk-like. A werewolf. He knew it’s movements, he knew how it smelled. It stank like tangible fear. Only ten steps away, its feet resounded on the floor. Angry steps. Then it came. Demonic growling that originates from the core of a beast’s throat. Bellows that spit fire. A silence persists. Glass shatters. The boy contracts his body, making himself small. Maybe tonight, he’ll come for me. Beneath the bed, the boy prays for magic to avert the impending danger. Above the bed, his mother shudders under the wrath of his alcoholic father.

Lost

An impulsive trekking trip has led you to the middle of an unnamed forest. The reception is bad, and your compass needle can’t make up its mind. You thank the longer northern hemisphere days for extended light. The dried autumn leaves crunch beneath your gait as you walk towards nowhere. Aided by nothing but a map, you seek an outlet. You want someone to be with you for help, yet you wish nothing shows up out of the blue in these strange circumstances. You pause. You listen for water. A few paces ahead, the noise strengthens. You hope for an escape. Ten steps. The sound is louder now. Closer, you listen to the sound. Revise the diagnosis. Fire. You inch closer. Flames. A body, burning. Your heart quickens. You smell smoke and trouble. You turn away, and decide to run. Behind you the sound of burning embers gives way to a scream. On your shoulder- a touch.

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

[Play me.]

9780008138301
Source: Google

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

-Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

All The Light We Cannot See, written by Anthony Doerr is a book that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015; and deservingly so. It is set against the backdrop of the Second World War, and the major plot develops between the years 1940 through 1944. The book leaps back and forward into time, and between the perspectives of it’s two protagonists: Marie-Laure and Werner Pfenning. The plot line develops slowly, beautifully and contains the charm to engage any mind willing to invest itself.

This story encompasses the worlds of Marie- Laure and Werner Pfenning, who are kids stuck in the ravages of war, dealing with it’s vulnerability face to face. Marie-Laure, the female protagonist lives in Paris with her father and loses her eyesight as she turns eight. Despite having lost her eyesight, she reads in braille, learns to navigate the city and easily solves the complex puzzles her father constructs for her on birthdays. Werner Pfenning, the male protagonist, lives in an orphanage in Germany. Destined to serve in the Nazi military at the age of fifteen, Werner discovers the wonders of a radio early on and is drawn to it’s mechanics. He goes on to serve the Nazis in their conquests, but as a mechanical engineer who intercepts radio signals between enemy camps. Both the protagonists are destined to meet, but the circumstances that lead them to each other are harrowing and full of struggle. Their stories intertwine in the French city of Saint Malo, where Marie-Laure and Werner exchange a brief, but beautiful encounter. 

“Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and it’s string might sail out of your hands forever.”

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

This book is a direct projection of what war does to people- how it injures families, and brings pain. We encounter the effects of war in all their dimensions- a mass exodus, food deprivation, secret messages being exchanged, armies imposing prohibition and curfew, inculcating fear, civilians being captured without any reason and women being raped. We see the homeostasis of an economy being disrupted. Yet, in the most empathetic way, this book beings out several nuances of people being good to each other in times of struggle.

“We rise again in the grass. In the flowers. In songs.”

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

For example, Marie-Laure’s dad writes her letters but never highlights the perils of being held captive by the German army- instead he writes about how they are feeding him delicious, lavish meals he so thankful for; he assures her that he is so happy and well fed, even though the reader, and Marie-Laure imagines that he is not. There are several instances that will make your heart fill with so much warmth you wouldn’t know what to do with it. This is exactly what happens when Werner finally meets Marie. 

The dual trajectories of the book’s beautifully layered characters will make you experience subjectively how and why they do what they do. The essence of a good book is their characters- how despite being non-existent they live and breathe on the pages. Doerr has made his characters in skin and bones. They develop slowly, gradually but beautifully, indeed. So much so, that as time passes, even though their decisions may be wrong, you understand why they do what they do. You get to walk in their shoes so much that empathy for them becomes empathy for yourself. 

The story pans out like a secret message slowly getting decrypted- inevitably, I found myself engaged. I cannot remember the last time a book made me feel so much. Anger, fear, disgust, adoration, goosebumps- all within the turning of pages; emotion after emotion, lined up to fall like dominos. This is the best thing about this book- you may not remember the words, but you will remember how it made you feel.

taking off.

|Play me.|

I am a plane standing at the tarmac. Without a pilot. Or propulsion. Or any fuel. Watching other planes take off and fly into the sky. Disappear among the clouds. Metal birds.

My feet remain grounded, literally. I question the reason for my being. Halt on my wheels. A paradox. Time of departure perpetually delayed. The cabin- already vacuum sealed. A creature with wings for hands, and adhesive feet. 

An irony.