With my ongoing work taking up much of my time, I’ll be sharing some of my previously published work here on my site!
First up, let me share with you Painted Blue Eyes, which was published in eFiction Vol. 06 No. 04 by FictionMagazines.com
While helping his Aunt Beatrice prepare to sell her old family home, Gregory discovers one of his dead mother’s paintings in Beatrice’s attic. The painting is smeared with his mother’s blood, and only Aunt Beatrice knows the true story behind it. Gregory is forced to choose between his love of Aunt Beatrice, his only living family member, and knowing the truth behind his mother’s tragic death.
Here is the first half of the story – the second half will go up next week!
Painted Blue Eyes by TCC Edwards, Part 1 of 2
The painting filled my mind as stale air filled my lungs. I hadn’t seen her in ages – the fiery, unnamed girl who had watched my childhood mischief with her painted eyes. I couldn’t say why I felt those eyes on me again as I crept up the short ladder.
In the cramped space between ceiling and roof, I stepped around furniture older than any living relative. Rocking chairs and antique tables were hidden under filthy rags or tangled in cobwebs. I came to an ancient brown sofa, its seats bandaged many times over with duct tape. My breath stopped.
A painting sat in the center of the sofa’s worn seats. My eyes, still adjusting to the gloom, at last registered its faded colors. I let out a sigh. It was younger than the work that weighed on my mind. This one showed me as a freckle-faced 10-year-old – the first work Mom I had finished together.
In my memories, Mom sat behind me on the stool before the canvas, directing me with delicate hands. The day we finished, just as she was conducting my final brush strokes, I first saw the bruise under the sleeve of her shirt. When we worked on other paintings after that, I stole glances at small scrapes and bruises, hidden just under her sleeves or the collar of her shirt.
She never acknowledged my glances, and I never gathered the resolve to ask. How many wounds? How many scars? I wondered many times over the years, especially in the final weeks of Dad’s life.
I wondered still as I stared at my younger self, catching a tear in the corner of my eye. The memory left quickly, though, as the older image of the red-haired girl refused to be pushed aside.
I then found another frame, this one under a threadbare towel and sitting on a rickety easel next to the sofa. She’s there. Her painted eyes were waiting behind that towel.
“Young man, what are you doing?” Auntie’s voice jolted me, drawing my hand back from the towel. Behind me, framed in the light from the hole in the attic floor, Aunt Beatrice shoved clenched fists into her sides. “I told you to start with your old bedroom,” she said, “Did you look through all the old chests?”
“Yeah, I’m already finished,” I protested, “I wanted to see what’s up here. Looks like a lot of this old stuff is heavy or fragile.”
“I’ll deal with this old stuff when I’m good and ready. I put most of it up here just fine, I’ll have you know.” She smiled tightly, and spoke softly, “Had to make room for my little rascal nephew to run all over the place, didn’t I?”
“Well, we’ll have to do something about it before …” I caught myself as she glared again.
“Before I go to one of those dreadful homes?”
“Hey, I’ll find you a nice one, I promise. But we may as well go through this stuff now …”
I flinched. Her glower softened, but she kept me locked in her gaze for several heartbeats. It was the same glare she used when I was much smaller, the same one that struck fear into the heart of a child caught in mischief.
“Fine, fine.” I threw up my hands.
Then, as Auntie’s eyes relaxed, I felt her eyes on me. I turned my head to the towel, examining the outline of the frame beneath it. Before I could catch myself, I blurted out the question.
“What’s under the towel?”
“Never you mind, Gregory!” Even as she said it in her familiar stern tone, her glare shifted. There was the briefest flash in her eye. Fear? I couldn’t say why I pushed further – some subconscious knowing drove my mouth before my mind could fully approve the words.
“It’s her. The painting of the girl – red hair, sundress, big straw hat. She’s under there, isn’t she?”
“That painting – I sold it! I let it go at the flea market for a quarter!” She sighed, adding in a barely audible whisper, “Never knew what you saw in it.”
Her eyes shied away from mine. A floorboard creaked as I shuffled to her, clasping her shoulder. She turned a sad smile to me, speaking more softly.
“I’m a terrible liar.”
“That’s why the Lord loves you, Auntie.”
“Oh, but you shouldn’t, Gregory. I didn’t want you troubled by it.”
“What happened to it?”
She shook her head, gesturing toward the painting. She stared blankly as I pulled away the towel, neither flinching nor protesting further.
She was there. Her hands were clasped at her scrawny belly. Her straw hat was perched on her long strawberry curls. Those eyes, though – the bruise I should not have seen flashed in my mind. Dark blue, like those eyes were now. I could not linger in that dark revelation, though, for a worse blight drew my gaze down her face. Crimson brown was smeared over the freckles of the girl’s left cheek, twisting her once cheerful expression into a macabre half-smile.
“Blood.” My eyes darted to Auntie, and she answered with a curt nod.
“When she fell?”
“Aye. At the bottom of the stairs – damn painting fell on top of her.”
“She really did fall? Dad didn’t hit her?”
“Your father never hit your mother,” she said evenly.
I raised an eyebrow.
“He blamed himself, there’s no denying. He had his stroke and was bedridden not long after.”
I nodded. That was the story I had always known – one mother dead from a random accident, one father consumed by grief and left comatose after a stroke.
“I knew he and mom argued a lot,” I said, “I wanted to believe he didn’t hit her.”
“If only he’d let you know him better…” she looked down, leaving the thought unfinished.
“I asked him every time I visited the hospital. I hoped he’d wake up and tell me.”
I shook my head. I quickly gestured to the painting, changing the subject.
“Why’d you keep it?”
“It’s funny, you know. I got rid of nearly everything of hers – couldn’t stand to be reminded. But that picture – I couldn’t bring myself…”
As she trailed off, I saw unfamiliar distance in her eyes. My Aunt Beatrice never compromised, never gave ground. This woman before me looked down, her grey curls hiding her glare. With her hands clasped below the sag at the belly of her floral housecoat, her posture sparked a connection my mind had never realized.
“What?” Her eyes went wide. As she bit her lip, my mouth went slack. Slowly, I turned toward the painting, gesturing to the young girl.
“I meant,” I spoke slowly, “The painting is you.”
“Oh! Yes, of course! Didn’t you know?” Relief washed over her face, and she turned her keen eyes back to me. “Your mom worked from a Polaroid of me, way back before you were born. Surely I told you the story?”
“There’s more you aren’t telling.”
“What?” she snorted, “Are you a damned cop now?”
I shook my head as her glare pierced the dusty air. Creeping suspicion was now a certainty, rooting itself in my gut. I reflected her glare, steeling myself against it in a way my child self never could.
“I can’t …” she swallowed, “I … I wanted you to know. Maybe that’s why I kept the damned thing.”
“Wanted me to know what?”
She turned and ran down the stairs, leaving me alone before the girl’s eyes. I nearly followed her, but stopped. Somewhere in my confused thoughts I knew she would never tell if I pushed too far.
I turned to the painting, scanning its faded colors as my mind worked. My hands clenched and relaxed, my stomach churned. Finding no answers, I snatched the painting and stormed down the attic stairs.
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