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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 23 page 15


The Immortal Picture

by Innokenty Slanevsky

Visions continue to disturb me. They come again and again. More and more often. First, I see fragments. Then, over time, they unite into one whole mosaic. But I cannot make out what is the source of these visions. I feel that someone or something seems to be trying to reach me, as if someone outside were knocking on my body like on the door.

This time, I hear some voices. One of the voices seems to be addressing me directly. I start thinking that I may be going mad. But then I realize that the voice which is trying to reach me exists in reality and wants me to fulfill its will, which remains unknown to me.

This time, I can see the whole picture at once and watch the development of events. I see a dark room resembling a prison cell and two strong men mercilessly beating a third man with their feet. The third man is lying on the floor, and he is absolutely helpless. He cannot exert any resistance to his tormentors, for he has no hands and no feet. He is bleeding, but he is enduring the pain.

“When will this damned cripple finally die?” one of the tormentors says irritably.

“Do not worry,” replies the other. "It won't take long. Tomorrow morning his head will be chopped off by verdict of the court, and he will be forgotten forever by all.”

“You're mistaken, boys,” the man on the floor says. “I'll reach you from the heavens!”

Then I see the two strong men kick their victim hard again and leave the room. Then the tortured man turns his bleeding head in my direction. I feel him looking straight into my eyes.

“They do not understand,” he says, as though addressing me. “They do not understand that this is not the end. There will be no end tomorrow morning!”

“What does it mean?” I ask aloud, still unable to identify the place where he is being held.

And the man on the floor responds to my words as if hearing me! “It means they have lost,” he tells me.

“How have they lost?”

“It's clear as day!” he answers. “It is so, because they are afraid of me! They have cut off my hands and feet, and tomorrow they will cut off my head, but they still fear me! They fear me while I'm alive! But they will fear me even after my death!”

“Why did they cut off your hands and feet?”

“Because I'm an artist. Because I paint them. In my painting, I depict their vices and atrocities. Everything becomes clear to anyone who is looking at my picture. Everyone who looks at my picture understands who is there in the picture, and what kind of person it is. After I paint the picture, they take it away from me and burn it in public. But I draw it again! And again I bring it to the Palace and show it to people when a crowd gathers on public holidays. That is why they decided to deprive me of the opportunity to draw. They cut off my hands. Both! By verdict of the court! They declared that my picture aroused hatred and enmity! They cut off not only my right hand but my left hand as well so that I couldn’t learn to draw with my left hand. But I began to paint my picture with my foot, holding the brush between my toes. And I succeeded! I brought my picture again to their Palace on another public holiday. I brought it in my teeth. Therefore, they decided to cut off my feet so that I could not reach the Palace on foot. However, I managed to draw my picture again, this time by holding the brush in the teeth. I crawled to the Palace with the picture in my teeth. I crawled like a snake. I crawled for the whole night. After that they decided to cut out my eyeballs. They removed both of them. They believed that without eyes I would be unable to draw any picture or to crawl to the Palace. But they were mistaken! My mind remembers all brushstrokes of the picture as well as the road to the Palace. I painted the picture again and I managed to reach the Palace in spite of my blindness. Therefore, they have decided to cut off my head. So that there will be nothing left of me to paint anything at all.”