Eye of the Beholder

An artist tasks a man with finding something she’s sure he’ll see.

“I keep forgetting about this place. What’s it called again? House of..Casinos, or something?”

“House of Scientists, one of the hottest tourist spots in Lviv,” came the answer from a voice with only a hint of a Ukrainian accent, mostly lost among many years of jetting across the globe, only kept based on still living there.

“Used to be a casino a long time ago; don’t know where the ‘scientist’ part came from.”

“Yeah, this place is supposed to be like really classical and fancy. Saw the brochures with the wicked library I always meant to visit.” The man’s Brooklyn-born accent stood out in the Ukraine, something he didn’t bother hiding with his Ukraine-born cousins he stayed with before he found a place of his own. They thought him crazy for moving out of the US for a while, but he promised himself he would live abroad someday; never expected it’d be the Ukraine, or that the country was modern and interesting enough to broaden his experience and make him want to stay for a while.

“Yeah, painted a few pictures of it in college.”

“Hopefully as good as the ones you’ve got now.”

“Aren’t you the flatterer?”

His cryptic smile was the only answer she got, a small means of payback since she seemed adamant to keep him right in the lobby area for some unexplained reason.

“So…what am I looking at?” the question was directed at the artist behind him.

“What do you think you’re looking at?” The artist cryptically asked the man accompanying her.

His question being answered with another question was more confusing than annoying. He could already tell that he was asked to find something in the spot she had him sit in, solving some brain teaser or magic eye puzzle perhaps. She never told him where they were going, just “someplace special, to take your mind off things.”

Given how they met, he was curious enough to see exactly what she had in-mind for making amends. The artist was the neighbor he’d never really met, the ‘always-out-of-town’ kind, who happened to be in-town the day he was moving old furniture out of his apartment. He needed all the help he could get with it, but had to settle for the cousin barely stronger than him to remove the couch. They had to stop in-front of the neighbor’s open-door apartment as the relative adjusted the weight so he could get a comfortable grip. The open-door revealed the inside of the elusive artist’s life. Rather sparse on the furniture side, relatively clean, filled with canvases and completed, framed works of hers. The one that was front-and-center was some kind of hybrid, multi-hued spiral, catching the neighbor’s attention right away.

Usually his focused mind was made to avoid ambiguity and find the problem right away, the innate skill of a mechanic. The way it was composed, it seemed like it would take a closer look to notice the spiral hidden, but it was clear as day to the man who fixed and looked past things for a living. The longer he looked at it, the more lost he was in it, appreciating how ingenious and structurally sound it was, with a liberal use of faded yet vibrant splashes of colors crossing dark lines. He searched for any other hidden tricks within it, never realizing he searched along the bands of the spiral, following the path all the way to the vortex. The closer his eyes made it to the center, the more the mechanic thought it was beautiful, and pleasantly distracting. It was pleasant up to the point where the ends of the couch he held slipped from his fingers and the bottom landed on his foot, making him yelp loudly in pain.

The moving cousin and the artist within the apartment quickly came to the neighbor’s aid. A few people there had to help move the couch back into the apartment, and the injured party was taken to the hospital. Hours later, coming home in crutches, the artist neighbor caught him in the hallway and asked what happened. He was hesitant to mention what it really was that caused the accident to lay blame on her, but she guessed right anyway.

“My painting distracted you?”

The explanation was veered away from the word ‘distracted,’ politely describing what a nice painting it was, for what little he knew about art, and for what he felt when looking at it. The artist seemed impressed with his assessment from a car-guy’s point of view; the kind of feedback she was hoping for, she told him, minus the heavy couch. They laughed.

The artist told him she had to run, for another trip, but she hoped to make it up to him when she got back. He agreed, not imagining she would come up with a trip to a live work of art of sorts, let alone a conditional one. He wasn’t 100% recovered yet, but finally rid of crutches, he wanted to walk around the beautiful locale and take in everything about the place, to see how much of it was shiny and exorbitant. He wondered at all why she kept him sitting about ten feet away from the staircase of the hall, or what she wanted him to see there. He wasn’t so used to being so hands-off with things he studied, but he chose to play along.

“What sticks out?” was asked in earnest.

“Um…”

“I promise there’s something there, I’ve been to this place a few times, and noticed something right from where you’re standing. The way you perused one of my paintings the last time, I wanted to know if you could see the same. I think of anybody I’ve met, you just might get it too.”

“I wish….can I get a hint?”

“Art imitates life.”

She spoke so unbidden, so surely, his curiosity couldn’t pique any higher. It left him with more questions than answers, but also with more determination.

“What is it, like a magic eye?”

“You know, you could say that in a sense. You’re going to get it before you know it.”

“You’re asking a lot of the artistically-challenged, you know?”

“Am I? If never told you to look around here, what’s the first thing that might catch your eye?”

“I guess the lighting.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s daytime. Daylight might pour into the room soon once, if those clouds part.”

“That’s…really observant.”

“What?”

“Even I never noticed that. This place has great indoor lighting, but how different would it look if sunlight came through, like the outside world look in with a whole different perspective than what you see, a whole different window to a soul.”

His eyes went up, imagining how sunlit this place could look, how much more golden or blinding it all could be, and he stared at the glass dome for longer than he expected to, almost stuck there, wondering what he was seeing, unsure if his mind could parse the what.

“Now I know you should keep looking. Don’t look away; you’re bound to see something significant. In fact, I would bet money right now that you’ve already got your eye on it. Don’t even worry about telling me what you see, just see for yourself right now. If you want another solid hint of what might be here, I might suggest looking up at to your right with your eyes to help. I’ve heard somewhere that the right side of the brain is the creative side, the fiction side, the interpretative side. And looking up and to the right is where a lot of people have gotten lost in themselves and found something they never expected, often something wonderful. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if what you were looking for was already up and to the right?”

It was all so foreign to him, like someone asking him to inspect and fix a car ten feet away. Short of dents or obvious signs of a car crash, all he could do was listen to the engine see if that made a difference. The only thing that qualified here was the artisan’s voice, which “purred like a kitten,” as some grease monkeys might say. And she knew how to make her voice purr, building momentum in her whatever she was talking about.

“Maybe it’s there, just waiting to be seen in the right perspective, in the right frame of mind. If that’s really the case, then patience should be your ally, waiting to see what you can. And don’t you feel lucky that you’ve got all the time you’d ever need? You’ve graciously set aside time for this place for me, and it’s so quiet and peaceful here. You can feel so undisturbed here, so at peace, so focused so intently up and to the right. You can literally ignore everything else around you. If someone would suddenly enter this place, their voice or presence wouldn’t matter, because you’re so focused. My presence doesn’t disturb you in the slightest because I’m on your side, as happy as you are to focus and relax now; my voice is like pleasant, soothing background music, unintrusive, in-fact welcomed as it matches the gentle, exquisite, almost bewitching tone of this place.”

“Your breathing is taking care of itself, slowing as much as it needs to to match how calm and relaxed you feel. Your muscles are taking care of themselves, resting, no need to move, saving energy or giving it to your head so it can stay still, energy directed toward the small muscles around your eyes so they can stay fixed, your mind correctly limiting itself to the right side, creative thoughts. You’re so focused on this that you can’t remember the last time you’ve felt not good, those times don’t even exist here. Pain doesn’t exist here, only relaxed pleasure. Fact is irrelevant here, when your creative side is so engaged. Nothing matters more except everything that will lead you to your intended perspective, this place, your eyes, my voice, our focus. Nothing else matters.”

Listening to the “engine” running for so long produced slumped shoulders and body, an almost lazy pulse, a melodic voice like low, classical music, and an inherent need to stare up and to the right; the current make up of the the mechanic’s existence. Nothing else about the room, the daily happenings before they arrived or what was planned for after didn’t bother him at all, not even the small, active sounds going on behind him. The artists words seemed so sure of his finding what he was supposed to. He felt some accomplishment in seeing what others apparently missed in that first painting of hers, and even after her words ceased to mean much to his focused mind, the encouragement from them and the sound of her encouraging voice kept him motivated enough to search for it. The way her voice changed from pleasantly droning to purposefully patterned didn’t go unnoticed, but it didn’t change his state. Something in her voice signaled to him that he was getting closer.

“What do you see?”

He thought her voice asked him.

“What do you see?”

He didn’t know what he saw.

“What do you see?”

In the space of up and to the right his eyes searched, and swore they saw something.

“What do you see?”

A shape, maybe? A circle, or an oval?

“What do you see?”

The sky in the shape was blue.

“Do you see?”

The mechanic neighbor saw blue.

“Do you see?

Blue like his artist neighbor’s eyes.

“Do you see?”

His neighbor’s eyes.

“Do you see?”

Neighbor’s eyes.

“Do you see?”

Eyes…eye? Excitement rose up in him, not enough to wake him, but enough to rouse his senses and make his skin flush with happiness.

“I…s-I”

“You see,” the voice matched the happiness he felt.

“Ye-I”

“You see,” her voice continued to congratulate, not questioning, invigoratingly confident.

“I…” he sighed.

“You see,” a hint of something like seduction poured into the tone of her voice.

“……” He failed to speak

“You see,” confidently seductive encouragement repeated.

“….” He failed again

“You see,” seduction flowed as if directly into his ear.

“..” He stopped trying

“See.”

The voice spoke simply, he obeyed just as simply.

“See.”

He saw.

“See.”

He saw like a window to a soul similar to his.

“See.”

He saw an eye staring up and to his right.

“See.”

He saw himself.

“See.”

He saw himself obeying her, doing as the voice that filled his machine-minded head asked, and he felt himself loving it.

“See” was the command that felt strong like a steel car’s hull, consistent and all too persuasive, like a honeyed lullaby spoken to someone on the very cusp of sleep.

A highly-arrested attention was relatively fixed in more ways than one. Between the echoed “see” commands, words oblique to his understanding helped him to his feet, feeling no pain for the first time since he carried his old couch. The back of his mind reasoned that a higher authority had spoken to the nerves that bothered him in his legs and feet, agreeing that he deserved a break. The total lack of pain made it easy to stand, to feel strong and relaxed as he did so. On his feet, he was most physically in-tune with that iris of the eye-dome looking more like it was rolling back into his socket; were it not for the artist’s suggestions to try to keep his eyes fixed still, he would’ve helplessly followed suit.

The artist behind him praised him with more pleasure of suggestions, whispering “see” to him, drawing the word out like a predatory serpent might. She didn’t mean him any harm though, just needing him to stand still for a little while as she painted behind him. The potential duality of the scene was amazing once she saw weeks ago in the same shape from the spot he stood helplessly. The man looking up at the eye that practically was his own, there was brilliance there, and she meant to capture it as faithfully as she could.

Her only real dilemma was whether to sell it or gift it to the man. Experimental ideas like this were a crap shoot in the art-world; sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. Much as she’d like to convince everyone of exactly what she and her neighbor now saw, she never passed up the opportunity to get honest feedback, like every artist should. It was too tempting though to consider treating her show like stage hypnotism, maybe dressing the part, probably playing with their point of views in so many ways, really emphasize the show in art showing, no matter what her agent would say. The mechanic for sure wouldn’t mind a ritzy stage outfit if invited.

On the other hand, the finished painting would also make a great gift to the neighbor himself, a ‘sorry for being captivated while operating heavy furniture,’ and an excuse to make him another frequent hypnotic subject. Not that she needed a painting to make it happen, but it was delightful to imagine delivering it personally, watching hang it up and a high height suggested by her, and watch him watch himself watch the eye, knowing she might not resist painting him all over again.

She laughed at the potential domino effect she could cause if she put her mind to it, certainly for the sake of his recovery. And beyond.

She smirked, talking to herself and her subject while urging him again.

“We’ll….See.”

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