"Selective Hearing" by Chloe-Amelie Aikman

Brandon Lovinger

I stared at the painting of the doll with defeat. The canvas was still glossy, wet with paint, but that only seemed to taunt me. My brush dropped into a metal can of water staining it a dark brown. I felt the anger continue to build up within me like sediment on a mountain, gaining mass over time, turning my treasures of the past into fossils. For the past three years, each painting seemed to lose the spark that was once there. My vibrant flowers had wilted into deformed petals and weak stems.

I shifted to look at the newspaper plastered on a wall with the headline “University Student Katrina Rahler is Showcased in Steltzkin Gallery.” Below the title was a photo of me a few years back in front of the gallery holding my masterpiece.

Three years ago things had been different, I had my painting in galleries, showcases, and on social media. I had been making duds my whole life, and out of nowhere, I seemed to strike gold. At the time, it never occurred to think about the future, I thought that I’d be able to paint a new masterpiece. I believed that once that gold had been stuck, I’d be pulling up a whole mine. Looking back now I feel idiotic, doomed to be forgotten with the many other one hit wonders, a goddess who had fallen back to Earth.

I still yearn for those days of fame, which seem to vanish as the days pass by. The painted doll’s smirk looked at me, mocking me, as if she knew that I’d never be anything more than the short lived fame I had.

“Stop looking at me like that,” I said to the doll, but she continued to stare.

“Stop looking at me like that,” I said again, but this time yelling. She was mocking me with her deformed frame, gaining pleasure in my failure. “STOP!” I grabbed the brush out of the water filled soup can and ran at the canvas. With all my might and anger I stabbed at the doll, feeling a release of endorphins at each rip. Tears began to fall as I ripped my efforts into nothing but mangled pieces of linen.

Once stopped, too tired to continued, I was covered in red paint from the doll’s red dress, which made it look as though it were the doll’s blood. My breathing had transformed into rough pants that hurt with each inhale. After a few minutes had elapsed I mustered the will to wipe my tears and get up. I picked up the remains of the canvas and dropped it in the trash done with it.

For the following couple days, I wandered aimlessly through my apartment. The television would play while my body stirred on the couch, thrashing in attempts to break from the agony provoking weight that seemed to press on my chest. I’d throw the pillows off and spend my time walking in circles staring at the door to my studio. Countless times I’d walk by it. Sometimes I even went far enough to hold the cold metal handle. I’d never turn it though, I never gave in knowing there was only anger within the room. At a certain point, my apartment felt like a prison. Open concept designs were my favorite, but now it felt bare and empty. After a while, I began to feel as empty as the room.

The next day I walked back into the neon pink studio and instantly felt the stress from the previous days disappear. Throughout my life, colors had that effect on me. I felt something special with each one. I’d see color in words, sounds, emotions, and days. Neon pink was associated with inspiration. I began to paint the first thing that came to mind, an apple. The idea was bland, but it was better to paint something rather than nothing.

I began with the background, deciding upon a mustard yellow. I slathered it on with my largest brush then let the wet surface sit to dry. Next came the green base of the apple, but the paint was missing. In place of where the green once was, was a gray. Strange, I had always kept my colors organized, and I had never bought gray before. The background dried and I decided to ignore the odd paint. I’d make the apple red then.

A sigh of relief came when the red was still in it’s designated spot. I colored the base and let it finish drying then added the details. Once done, I felt as though I had wasted time, making something that was less than great. Instead of throwing out the canvas, I decided to just paint over it again the next day. With a headache, I called it a night.

The next day I returned to the studio ready to be inspired again by the neon walls, but upon entry I noticed the walls were gray. My eyes widened in shock, had someone snuck into my house and changed the color? The alarm would’ve went off if that were the case. Distraught I went for the paint in the closet and was greeted by another surprise. Just like with the green, the pink had turned to gray. I must be going mad! With blue I went over the gray, illuminating the wall in color again. A sense of relief hit and I went out of the room exhausted leaving the apple painting resting on the canvas.

The next day the walls were still blue and I let my body relax. So it was just a fluke. It must’ve been the isolation going to my head. I turned to the painting of the apple ready to paint and then jumped. The apple was now gray.

The next day the walls turned to gray. The next day orange was gray. The next day purple. Maroon. Lavender. Mint. Every day a new color was gone until all that was left was a gray. Each color had disappeared from my life leaving nothing behind but dullness. Within a week, I lost my ability to distinguish color and everything began to simply merge into one bland shade of gray.

What’s happening to me? I tried working with the grays, but my failures from before had been reduced even more with this new disability. I’m losing my mind! My eyes grew glossy as I stared at the gray jars of paint scattered across the dark room. The anger returned as I saw my little anatomy figures lying around, the ones I used to model the painting of the mocking doll. I went around picking one figure up at a time dropping it into a jar of gray paint trying to just get it to leave me alone! Leave me alone! I’m not crazy! I’m not sad! I’m not lost.

In my fit, I knocked over one of the jars spilling the colorless paint on the table. One of the little dolls spilled out onto the paint. My heart felt heavy. I fell to my knees overwhelmed and sobbed.

Once the tears stopped, I picked up the drowning doll and watched its limbs dangle. I couldn’t help but relate to the small chunk of plastic, seeing my struggle within its frail form. I carefully positioned it to stand and couldn’t help but smile. Somehow I knew as I looked at the figure stand up, it was smiling back.