He picks up his paintbrush, twists the bristles into a fine point, and dips it into the colours on his palette. The painting is nearly done.
But not quite.
A white hot sun makes the sea on the canvas glisten as a large piece of driftwood, scarred with barnacles, bounces gently over the waves. Spread out upon the wood is a woman. She lies back peacefully, soaking up the solar rays pouring from the sky. Her eyes are closed, but a smile plays upon her lips.
It’s ever so slight, yet distinctly there.
Above her a few stray seabirds flee towards the horizon. They cover the distance quickly. The painter rinses his brush in a glass of murky water, twists the end to a point once more, and returns to his palette.
The woman’s eyes open to reveal a startling shade of blue. The waves begin to curl, foaming as they roll over. White sails appear in the distance. They quickly turn an inky black, their edges blurred by a fine mist rising up from the sea.
A scaly tail appears where the woman’s dainty feet had been, the sharp tips of her fins cutting the water beneath her perch. Her hair grows longer, wilder – like strands of seaweed. It changes from chestnut to a deep green, with streaks of red reflecting the sunset which has burst out in the background.
She dives into the now roiling, stormy ocean as the ship draws nearer. Her fins slap the emerald waves before she disappears beneath the murky surface of the sea, her wooden perch abandoned.
Faces appear on the deck of the ship. They’re turned to the sky in terror, watching a bolt of lightning erupt from the swollen clouds and strike the mast, setting fire to the sails. Their faces contort with horror at the realisation of what awaits them. Only one man out of the crew is looking down instead of up, gazing deep down into the sea below and smiling at the sweet face that looks up at him.
The painter steps back, his paintbrush tucked neatly behind his ear.
He smiles for a moment.
There’s a beauty to the thick brushstrokes overlapping one another; as though the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Each layer sits neatly in its place. Together they form a story and move the reel along to its final frame.
He signs his signature in the bottom corner.
He doesn’t notice the two startlingly blue eyes which peer out from beneath the foaming waves, gazing up with wonder at the strange image of a man smiling at nothing, his kind old face stained with brilliant colours.
She wonders because that is all she can do.