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The Accidental Muse (Excerpt)

Updated: Nov 16

by Sandy Poitras


Addison Finds a Door; Bottidro Wastes a Saturday


The feel of it – an antique brass latch, an ornate, crystal knob – to unlatch, to twist, to hear the satisfying click of release, and then to push through. Such power wielded just with her fingertips. She dreamed of secret places revealed only to her, and she sought them while awake. An odd obsession to be sure. Some would say it’s how this whole mess began.


Present Day:


Addison has an affinity for doors, especially old ones that creak. She is drawn to them like hummingbirds to red. She even has dreams about them, and lately, a recurring one, where, after stepping through one door, she ends up in a field of wildflowers with a bunch of strangers dressed in fancy clothes.


She does not know why she obsesses about doors, and gave up trying to reason it out years ago. Addison has always been different – plain and simple. She is aware that people think her odd, but she is okay with that. Her three older sisters, who practically raised her from the age of 12, would describe her as a nerdy, klutzy, dreamer with zero fashion sense. Whatever. Addison loves to dream, and quite frankly is very comfortable in her extra-roomy sweatshirts and baggy jeans. ‘Maybe you three are the reason I want to escape through a magic door!’ Addison would often shout at them, before storming off, intent on a grand exit, only to stumble gracelessly over some invisible trip hazard.


This is when one may think, ‘Poor Addison, poor child.’ Except she’s not a child, not in the legal sense. Addison is 18. She is a part-time, rather brainy art history and literature student who recently landed a co-op gig at an unusual art gallery in a small town far away from home. She is curating an exhibition on her favourite subject, something she successfully pitched to the eccentric gallery owner, Lucinda Wick: “Secret Doors in Literature and Art ” and is currently on the hunt for artifacts for her exhibit: door knobs, latches, skeleton keys, old salvaged door frames, maybe an antique wardrobe if she was lucky. She wants the feel to be otherworldly, and Lucinda’s given her a decent-sized budget to get as creative as possible.


So at this point, Addison is fairly happy in her world. Happy to be away from her obnoxious sisters for a whole year. Happy to have a job where she is pretty much on her own, save for twice-weekly meetings with Lucinda, who has taken a liking to her latest hire, probably because Addison works so hard and appears to have no life outside of said work.


When we meet up with Addison on a warm fall day in this fairytale seaside town, we notice she is transfixed by her latest find. She has spotted a door, tucked away among ancient cobwebs in a musty, dank-yet-quaint little antique shop. It is like no door she has ever seen before. It is the third time this week she has come in just to stare at it. This door is special. She can feel it.


The curious thing, however, is that the door isn’t real, yet it feels real. It is held captive in a huge painting, taller than Addison, far, far down an imaginary hallway, barely visible. While other visitors to the shop have strolled by the painting with barely a peripheral glance, Addison has not been able to keep her eyes off of it. That black door with a shiny glint of what appears to be a crystal knob – it beckons, even sparkles a little.


Today, she feels that familiar sensation again - the one in the centre of her chest - like a little tug. A momentum gathering strength, like she is about to start a race, or run away from her sisters. Her body wants to move. Her mind wants her to find a way to get to that door. Like it’s even possible, she thinks. The audacity of her imagination! To think she could simply step out of her world, and set foot into another one that existed only in thick strokes of paint. She may as well go curl up with The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe again and dream on. (Addison had lost count of the times she’d explored the back of her childhood closet at night, after everyone had gone to sleep, hoping to find the furs, the snowy woods, the fawn. She would have tried it at university too, but the dorm closet was hopelessly too shallow for the depth of her imagination.)


“Hellooo! Snap snap! Back to reality Addison,” she sighs to herself as she turns to leave. Even without her sisters nearby, their voices seem to ride the radio waves into the centre of her skull, crushing any happy daydream Addison might be enjoying.


That’s when she catches a fleeting glimpse – a thin, glowing line of light, at the base of the door. The door in the painting. Had it been there before? No. She couldn’t have missed it. Addison looks around the shop to see if anyone else is bearing witness to this oddity. Nobody. She and the bored clerk seem to be the only two humans in this cluttered little hovel today.


Adrenaline building, Addison reaches her hand up to the painting and touches the glowing sliver of light. It feels warm. She moves closer, pressing the fingertips of both hands onto the yellowy-orange, oily paint strokes. Hot colours transfer onto her fingers, making her recoil. The paint is fresh.


***


Time in-between: The other side of the door, five minutes earlier


“She’s looking at it again - our door. She must be the one,” said Mercury, the handsome, dark-eyed soldier, to the others in the room. He was peering through a tiny peephole at a girl that seemed to be staring back at him, or more likely the door between them, from a far-away place filled with light. (At least it looked like a girl, with the strangest sense of fashion he’d ever seen.)


“How do you know she’s the one?” asked the fair-haired goddess, whose milky skin was wrapped in luxurious flowing, flower-studded silks. She was still deciding on her name.

“I don’t know how I know,” snapped Mercury. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt he had to be in charge of these characters with which he seemed to be holed-up, and sometimes it proved irritating. “I just know.”


“She can’t see us – she needs a light,” said the younger maiden who called herself Mistry. “Or she’ll leave again, just like before.” Lately, Mistry had a tendency to cling to the un-named fair-haired goddess like a desperate child, and would often look over her shoulder, as if she were being followed.


“Agreed. We need to create some kind of spark this time,” said Mercury, “0r we may never get out of here.”


‘Here,’ as far as this group of beautiful strangers could surmise, felt like a dark room. A holding place of some kind. They felt trapped, unfinished. There was a stagnancy they could not understand that floated all around them. Despite their bewilderment with their circumstances (some were still getting to know themselves, let alone their physical surroundings,) there was also a collective feeling that they must break free. Some clung to faith, others to hope. Regardless, all agreed there was a path somewhere beyond what they perceived to be a locked door, and they felt compelled to follow it.


“I have an idea,” said the spritely winged cherub, nicknamed Cupid, who was constantly hovering above the others, his chubby little feet paddling the air. He took aim with his bow and arrow at the space between the floor and the door. “My arrows are filled with the heat of love, so maybe I could create a glow...”


“The heat of love,” Mercury eye-rolled. “Save us the romance. Just do it,”


Cupid released the bow. All eyes watched as the flaming arrows slipped under the door and through the space between the frame, lighting up the blackness on the other side. Then they waited.


Present Day:


The glow is more intense now, emanating from all around the door’s edges and reaching like long fingers even further down the painting’s black hallway, practically spilling out over the frame and onto Addison’s high-tops. She is drawn to it, in a natural way, like new foliage to sunlight. So Addison takes a step closer and - also in a natural way – trips. Into the blackness, over the frame, into the painting. Not through to the back side - no. There is no damage. Because Addison falls into the painting.


The shopkeeper does not notice.


***


15th Century, Florence, Italy, Saturday morning:


Bottidro Annosandori sinks down, knees hugged to chest, and weeps. The young artist feels deeply and intensely sorry for himself. Nobody understands his torment. His lover, Madelena, has left him, and with her, she took his desire to paint. He looks down at his hands that used to be stained with well-paid work. Now, they are embarrassingly clean, as he flounders in his desolate studio, stirring worn, caked brushes in stagnant solvent jars, watching the stale colours swirl into oily grey clouds. He has one week to produce a masterpiece for the Count. One week, and so far he has created exactly nothing. Without Madelena – his muse - he is a failure. Washed up at the tender age of 19.


He remembers the moment he laid eyes on Madelena. Bottidro was taking a break from yet another commissioned religious portrait, strolling on a worn pathway along the edge of the wildflower field that borders the forest near his home and there she was, plucking bundles of colour into a bouquet, the summer breeze gently blowing her long, dark, silken hair. His heart immediately felt stung with hot blood and love, as if Cupid’s merciless arrow had struck a bulls-eye.


She smiled at him. “I am Madelena,” she offered.


“I...I...[my name...my name...what is my blasted name?],” was all that the young artist could manage, his ability to speak coherently in the face of such beauty apparently lost.


“I know who you are,” Madelena said, with easy confidence. “You are Bottidro, the artist.”


She wasn’t just smoke. Madelena was fire. Within a day of meeting him, the olive-skinned goddess had stripped nearly every stitch of her flowing robes off of her voluptuous curves, save for a filmy breeze of white silk, and posed for Bottidro. He didn’t even have to ask. Her smile was pure mischief. She knew his mother was downstairs in the kitchen, just one floor below. No matter. He painted like he never had before – rich Naples yellow, moody indigo, vibrant malachite, romantic vermilion. He was prolific.


How Bottidro misses her now. How he thinks he needs her. Poor boy. “Ahh, Madelena! How could you do this to me?” Bottidro sighs. His thoughts feel so heavy and far away.


He is also hungry.


“Mama!” he calls out, as he makes his way down the narrow circular staircase to the comforts of homemade lazagne.


***


Present Day:


Addison is in a daze. Whatever she believed before, or did not believe, is now left back in the little antique shop, on the other side of the frame - on the other side of reality. Here, textures are not the same. It feels spongy; different than the world she is used to, with its hard edges and solid ground.


She keeps following the path of light. It reminds her of a funhouse at a country fair, but this one has no discernible exit. She passes by darkened doors, an endless hallway of them, it seems, focussed, like a hypnotized puppet, on the strange orange glow surrounding the door in the distance.


***


15th Century Florence, Italy, Saturday afternoon:


“You spend too much time sulking,” says Bottidro’s mother, Maria Annosandori, who, despite her overbearing nature, just wants to see her boy happy again. Her husband, Bottidro’s father, died long ago and she depends on her son to help with the income. When she saw Bottidro had more than an average talent for drawing and painting, she pushed him to do more (This is, after all, 15th century Florence - the early Renaissance - where art is considered a basic necessity of life, like food and oxygen.), and made sure her employers - rich landowners in need of clean houses and proper meals - knew of his talents. Soon, Bottidro was painting portraits and frescos for all of them. She was thrilled when Madelena arrived on the scene. Her son had a muse!


But then the harlot left, lending her ‘talents’ to another up-and-coming artist; an unwelcome competitor. Which meant Maria needed to step in again. She needed to get Bottidro back on track. People were beginning to question his integrity, a family character trait she could not afford to lose.


When word got around yesterday that a Count was visiting the town for the Harvest Festival, Maria wasted no time offering the wealthy gentleman a “portrait like no other you have ever seen before, painted by my son, the Master Artist Bottidro Annosandori (she let his name roll like a red carpet of royalty across the vowels: Boh-tee-droh Ann-oh- san-door-ee). And when the Count respectfully replied, “But Senora, I am only visiting for one week, and then I will be off exploring the world again. Surely that is not enough time to produce a masterpiece,” Maria countered, “Tch! That is plenty of time! In one week, my son will produce the most beautiful masterpiece you have ever laid eyes on. You will see. And you will want to pay him well, for it will be of great value. I know these things.”


The Count, impressed with the woman’s feisty persistence and maternal pride, acquiesced. (He also needed to find a gift for his future mother-in-law, so he figured this could work to his favour if he didn’t like it for himself.) “Alright Senora, one week. If I like what I see, I will pay you well.”


When Maria told Bottidro he had one week to produce a miracle, the artist felt like throwing up. “Mother - I feel sick - how could you...” he began, in a desperate, rather pitiful voice.


“Bottidro! Stop this! Madelena was just one girl! And a haughty one at that! Haughty and naughty! (At this Bottidro gasped – did his mother see?) I never liked her. Now, you make this painting! One week Bottidro! Start! I will cook for you. It will be good. You’ll see! I know these things.”


That was yesterday.


Presently, revived with food, yet still sullen, Bottidro returns to his studio. His thoughts soon drift to that fresh-tilled, spring day, the day Madelena crushed his heart, barely a year after they met. The tiny village bustled with its sunrise chores. The air smelled like saltwater and roses. ‘Today I shall paint Spring herself – La Primavera!” he remembered thinking to himself, full of joy and anticipation. Foolish romantic. He remembered smiling as Madelena approached him, ready to smother her in his awkward, virginal affections. Ready to sink his delicate fingers into her soft flesh.


And then...


“I am in love with another artist,” Madelena said flatly, turning her perfectly symmetrical face from his tender, waiting lips and wrapping her cloak tightly around her curves – a closed shop. That was it. She turned and left, riding away on her white stallion, her long, flowing hair the only part of her that seemed to reach back helplessly at Bottidro, as if to say, “Sorry, we’d like to stay and cover you with our silky soft affections, but alas, we’re attached to the trollop’s head.” Now, he had to paint something breathtaking on a monumental scale, without her. Or he and his mother would be cast out on the street one day soon, homeless. Or so his mother led him to believe.


So Bottidro languishes in front of yet another blank canvas and tries desperately to rummage through the beauty of his memories with Madelena, hoping to ignite a creative spark. He closes his eyes, while muted colours begin a painfully slow dance on a canvas that, if it were human, would weep at its sorry fate.


This painting - it had to be exquisite, like no other painting he’d created before. He quietly curses his mother then quietly asks God to forgive him for cursing the woman who gave him life and who feeds him daily. He dips his brush into a dark pool of stormy-blue-black oils (to match his mood), and spreads a thick stroke across the white. Then he stares at its oppressiveness. Nothing. He tosses the canvas into the growing heap of discontent in the corner of his studio, and tries for a nap instead.


Bottidro dreams of a darkened room, filled with half-realized characters, desperate in their attempt to free themselves. He feels their beauty, wants to give colour to them. Even senses some tranquillity and ease, like a spring day. A spark of light flashes briefly before his resting eyes and he tries to reach out to them through a mysterious door. But just as he does, a terrifying, winged, dark-haired witch begins swooping down on the dream, disrupting every last morsel of peace. Madelena?



To Be Continued…




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