She awakened in slow stages, sensing the change from dream to waking without really experiencing it. A Bach concerto drifted in behind her eyes and she listened with that layer of her mind which lay between sleep and consciousness, floating in a pleasant fantasy of blue skies and butterflies. Then, quite suddenly, she was awake, on guard. Where was the music coming from? Where was she? And sooner, almost, than the questions formed, she remembered, turned, and found him watching her.
She smiled. "I forgot where I was. G'morning. . . mmm. . . How strange to be here. Like I haven't really woken up at all, just switched dreams."
"Ah, but I'm real. I'll prove it." He leaned over and kissed her and she met his embrace.
So she moved in with him; unquestioningly, with that same sense of predetermination, like a sleepwalker whose actions emanate from somewhere so deep in the inner consciousness that they seem to be those of another. Not that she was unhappy. She seemed to herself happier than she had ever been. They got along wonderfully. They went everywhere together; to movies, plays, the park, museums. Or they stayed home, talking, words pouring out non-stop. And in the night, the warmth of his presence made her feel safe and content. But still, she was uneasy. And as time passed, her uneasiness grew.
After six months, she still had not seen his paintings. Each time she asked about them, he made an excuse or evaded the question. The room in which he did his painting was kept locked, and he had made her promise not to go in until he invited her. On occasion he would disappear behind this mysterious door for hours, and when he re-emerged, he was silent and withdrawn. He would not even talk about the paintings, and it frightened her somehow. Always when he had been working, she sensed the same malevolence she had felt on first seeing him and she found herself avoiding him on those nights, finding things to do that would give her an excuse to keep silent and apart. She would sleep on those evenings curled up into herself as though even his warmth held something sinister and evil.
He was painting more and more often, growing morose and secretive. Early in the morning he would rise, sit staring at her for a few moments and then stalk off behind the locked door of his studio, often not emerging until supper time, when he would sit, unspeaking, scarcely touching the food before him. Sometimes he would sit silently all evening staring out the window at some unknown vision; sometimes he would put on a coat and go into the night, to where she did not know. He always came back. But the mood remained and she was increasingly afraid. It was a strange, indefinable fear, something that quivered inside her, that haunted her with its persistent elusiveness. Perhaps it was the sense of exclusion, the dread of losing even this uneasy haven against solitude. Much as she had once dreaded being caught in the web, she now clung to it, not wanting to be free, not knowing how.
She became obsessed with the studio. It was the key. When she was alone in the apartment she was increasingly drawn to the locked door, walking past it over and over again, listening in the stillness as though it might suddenly speak to her. Her hand would reach out for the knob, ready to dart back, as though it were a waiting snake, poised to strike. One day she touched it, and the panic went through her with such intensity that she crawled quaking beneath the covers of their bed, a dusty, neglected Bible clutched in her arms like a pagan idol. Finding her like that, he awoke briefly from his own obsession, caressing her gently, trying to cradle her against him, away from whatever it was that had frightened her so. She was unable to explain, but clung desperately to him, trying to ward off the inevitable call of his painting, trying to prolong her moment of peace. But when the night had passed, he turned again into the catalyst of her fear, loosing himself gently from her clutching arms and tip-toeing into the studio. When she awoke to find him gone, she was unable to remember if the night's tenderness had been real or just a dream. She lay staring at the ceiling, aware suddenly that she was on or beyond the edge of madness. She remained there, paralyzed by the conviction that anything she did might push her over the edge, send her falling, falling into the deep cold well of her inner being, to struggle and drown in her terrors, or worse, to tread water endlessly in the dark sea of voices and phantoms which had always surrounded her. She wanted to scream out for him, but she became afraid. What if he didn't come? What if he was part of the madness? What if he opened the studio door and it was in there waiting for her? It mustn't catch her. If she lay very still, perhaps it would miss her, and she would be alright. She would try.
That was how he found her that evening when he brought the finished painting out, a portrait of a gentle girl with shy smiling eyes and a slightly impish smile. It was later hailed as a masterpiece, "a brilliant, sensitive work by an artist obviously able to tap into the soul of his subject."