Becky found herself transfixed, standing lifeless in front of the painting. It was as if she were trapped inside of it, engulfed by the landscape. It had a resonance, and it whispered to her. Becky couldn’t remember if she’d seen this painting before, but it had a place in her subconscious. Somewhere back in her own mind-library, the image made itself known to her. Maybe in a book, or this very room, something from her past. The gray, high-pitched rooms. The echoed steps of strangers and the storied narratives of portraits, landscapes, abstractions.
There was impending violence in the painting’s action, or non-action, because everyone and everything was frozen. There were physical actions taking place within the logic of the landscape, manifestations of movement, but the figures were disconnected from space and time; their own body space, their own time-continuum.
Was Becky the woman standing, stretching her arms above her head, pressing her breasts forward towards the kneeling man–her husband, father, lover? Did she drop her cane in an expression of excitement, or anger?
A woman passed in front of Becky without noticing the painting.
Or was Becky the body of another woman, skirt slightly hiked, lying motionless on the ground, asleep, dreaming, dying? A dead silence surrounded her, but was this in the painting, or was this in the gallery? She noticed there was no one else in the room. A ghostly cane, suspended in mountainous air. And then Becky was the figure in the distance, unreachable, unknowable. The farthest personification of humanity, lost and isolated to its own isle. She was trying to contact the others, maybe by voice, or physical movement, but her arms were immovable stones, set in cliffs a thousand years old.
An empty, still room.
Becky was all of these people, and the rolling hills, the jutting rock formations and the blue-tipped mountains. Beyond the gallery, pieces of conversations echoed, beginnings and endings overlapping to form invisible language structures. A woman approached.
This is my time, she said.
You’re standing in my spot.
Becky wasn’t sure if she heard the voice clearly. Her tones were slight, hushed, dark with soot.
I come here everyday at this time, this spot.
Oh, I’m sorry, said Becky.
It’s OK, I understand.
Becky paused, turned slightly to see the presence beside her–a woman, hunched, wearing sunglasses, holding a cane.
You’ll come back, many times, much like myself. You see the woman lying on the ground, the one sleeping? That’s me, I’m dreaming. I know everything there is to know about this painting. I’ve studied it’s history, it’s cracks and pigments, the reflections of light and the nuances of the brush strokes. What the surface looks like at exactly this moment of the day, every day. What came before this moment, what comes after, what is just out of frame. The woman waved her hand across the canvass in a manner like the shadow movement of slow motion cinema.
The innocence, the women went on, but also something more, something unknown. The uncertain future, the dreams. I’ve come to think of it as my own. A vision of my life. In fact, I know too much.
Becky was silent, unsure.
The woman turned to speak to Becky. The woman dreaming, she said, it’s you.
Balthus. The Mountain. 1936-37