A Brush With Life

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A Brush With Life is a novella that explores the creative process with a twist of magic-realism. The story concerns a reclusive representational artist named Gordian Fray, who discovers that whatever he paints soon fades from his canvas only to reappear as a solid and three-dimensional object. When he realizes these images are indestructible, he paints a self-portrait that will never grow old or die. He allows his doppelgänger to take over his life, while he lives vicariously through it and quickly becomes subservient to it. Enter Gordian's former love interest Anna Trang and a bizarre triangle soon develops that ultimately pits creator and creation against each other. Gordian draws the line (so to speak) at granting his doppelgänger, now known as Gord Fry, his one wish: to paint a portrait of Anna to be his life partner who will also stay eternally young. Gordian is horrified at what he has already created, while also being fascinated by it. While the life-like portrait rises in the world, the artist’s actual life goes to ruin, and yet the two are totally dependent on each other.

Excerpt from A Brush With Life

Inside the studio, he saw the naked figure still staring out the window, as if unaware that Gordian had entered. Was it deaf? “Please get away from there,” said Gordian. “In case anyone else sees you. Let me get you something to wear.”

The Figure still did not acknowledge him and for a moment Gordian felt like an intruder in his own home. He went to his closet and grabbed a couple of hangers with a shirt and a pair of jeans. When he returned The Figure still had not moved from its spot. Gordian went up to it. “Here,” he said and held out the hangers, as if he was a salesman in a haberdashery serving a nude customer who had inexplicably wandered in off the street.

It was only now that The Figure turned to acknowledge his presence. Gordian was astonished to see a living likeness of himself. It was an entirely different experience from seeing the other paintings of inanimate objects that had taken three-dimensional form, including the forget-me-nots. This certainly wasn’t what he’d expected, although he wasn’t quite sure what he’d expected. Gordian could not help looking over The Figure’s nude body, the same way he had studied the finished self-portrait before it faded away. The Figure did not seem embarrassed by Gordian’s attention. It glanced at the jeans and shirt on the hangers then looked at Gordian with a slight grin. Gordian wasn’t sure how to interpret the grin. It seemed to hint at some kind of self-importance, the kind a customer might feel when being waited on. The Figure took the hanger with the jeans from Gordian, leaving him to hold the hanger with the shirt. Its expression now belied genuine gratitude, the kind a naked person might feel when offered clothing. “Thank you,” it said.

Gordian was relieved to hear The Figure speak and introduced himself.

“Yes, I know,” said The Figure as it stepped into the pair of jeans and pulled them up. “You’re the artist. I take it this is your home.”

“It’s your home as well,” said Gordian. He removed the shirt from the hanger and handed it to The Figure. “You’ll stay here so we can get to know each other.”

The Figure put the shirt on, deftly doing up the buttons. Gordian was mildly astonished as he watched it perform this simple task and stopped himself short of congratulating The Figure, knowing how stupid and condescending he would sound.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” it said. “I’m an exact likeness of you. I would think we know each other inside and out.”

“You know what you are and how you were created?”

“More or less.” The Figure laughed. “I’d say I know as much as you do about how I was created. The mystery of how I came to be isn’t much of a concern for me. I’m much more interested in what’s out there.” Its attention turned once more to the window. “I think that’s where you and I differ. You’ve been out there, but I haven’t. I’m looking forward to finding out.”

Gordian was happy to hear that The Figure had a healthy curiosity, pretty much the same as himself. He mused that this might be like the pride a parent feels when a child displays a similar trait as the parent. But this was no child standing before him. Still, Gordian needed to know how mature this living figure was. Did it understand sex? Could it make responsible decisions in things such as money, people, how to behave itself in public? So far it displayed manners that would be categorized as adult. All the same, it would be better not to let The Figure go out unsupervised. When the time seemed right Gordian would take it out into society. This brought up the question of how they were to present themselves together. They were identical twins. That would be okay among strangers; they could pass themselves off as such. But what if they were to run into someone Gordian knew? Should he disguise The Figure somehow, get it to grow a beard (could it grow a beard?) or dye its hair? Gordian dismissed those ideas immediately. He didn’t want to alter The Figure in any way. He himself could always wear a disguise, a wig and glasses, or something. That didn’t feel right either. Gordian wasn’t sure exactly how to handle this situation, but he knew he would think of something.