“My Mother’s Paintings” – Sophia Gombos ’25

Paul Wilkelm stared at the painting in front of him. It was white, with soaring arches, gold accents, and coral colored shading here and there. Wilkelm looked at his watch. It was 3:48 PM. He’d been staring at that piece for quite some time now, trying to figure out the beauty of it.

Wilkelm never liked art. It was his mother’s favorite thing in the world, but he never saw what was so special about it.  She never gave up painting no matter how sick or how old she got. Wilkelm’s mother always painted Wilkelm any chance that she could, which was barely anytime because he hated anything art related that his mom would do. He would always avoid his mother to avoid being painted by her. She was only able to paint three paintings of her son: she painted him and his trophy he won at the spelling bee at his elementary graduation, painted him with his first car after he got his license, and painted him and his bride on their wedding day. She had no other paintings of him. But, she loved painting nonetheless, even though she couldn’t always paint her son, the person she adored most in the world.

Wilkelm’s earliest memories were of his mom painting her favorite flowers, Forget-Me-Nots, and her paintbrushes sweeping and dabbing bright blue paint across canvas. She loved dabbing paint. It was her favorite way of painting. He would often ask his mom, why paint the flowers when they’re right there? Isn’t it better to have the real thing in front of you instead of a lousy replica that doesn’t even look the same? His mother would always say that it’s not accuracy that matters, but the fact that she could create something, make it look like it was in the third dimension even though it was still in the second dimension, was why she thought that art was so special. Wilkelm just laughed her off. What a stupid idea.

When he was younger, he thought that he would see the beauty of art when he got to his mother’s age. He always thought that age was the problem. Now, at 76 years of age, he still thinks that art is just a blank canvas covered in some dried paint, nothing special, and still waiting for his shift in perspective.

Wilkelm stood there, weirdly alone in the crowded museum, eyebrows furrowed, trying to figure it out. Why can’t I appreciate you? Where’s the beauty in you? He stood there for sometime longer, waiting for the painting to answer him. Chuckling at his own stupidity, Wilkelm turned to find the exit until a voice stopped him: I’ll show you.

Wilkelm felt a crushing compressive force around his heart. He felt his vision blur and croaked a lousy “help” before the sensation stopped abruptly and the world went dark. Wilkelm panicked, but then noticed that his eyes were closed. Silly me, what trick is this old brain playing now? He opened his eyes, expecting to be met with the sea of people and the blue painted ceiling at the museum, but instead was met with utterly nothing. What? It was now that Wilkelm also realized that the noise of the museum had completely gone too. He looked around, or tried to, for he couldn’t really tell if his head was making the whole 360 degrees, and looked down. His feet were missing. Actually, his whole body below his head was, which was weird because he could clearly feel his hand and feet. He tried to hold his hands up before his eyes but no matter what he tried, he couldn’t. He could clearly feel himself moving his arms, but he just wasn’t seeing them (and there’s no way that he could, considering the place that he’s in right now). Fed up and scared of this new environment, Wilkelm cautiously took a step. The overwhelming white infront of his eyes stayed the same. He then took another. Then another. He must’ve took hundreds of steps, but the blank white infront his eyes persisted. Wilkelm kept on walking, and his vision suddenly became gold.  He paused. What is going on? He tried to lift his arms and look at his feet again, hoping that this new color meant that he’d escaped this lucid environment, but no luck. All he saw was gold. 

Wilkelm continued walking. He continued on his endless journey on foot, noticing how the gold sometimes shifted so it seemed lighter, thinner, in some areas and darker, thicker, in others. How do I get out of here? This question repeated over and over again in his head until the color changed again. This time it was coral. He moved his arms again. No luck. Wilkelm sighed, frustrated. Am I trapped in some kind of dream? This has to be. There’s no chance that this is real life –

His thoughts were cut off for he saw two swift black blots travel across the coral. Shoes? Wilkelm followed the pair of black shoes. Desperately, he ran after them. He didn’t even take a moment to think why a pair of shoes could be moving on their own (although, I guess, in this realm, anything can be created, so anything is possible). Instead, his head was swimming with thoughts like: How come I can see this pair of shoes but now my own? Who’s shoes are these? Where are they going? How do I get them to stop?

He sprinted after the shoes, hoping to get answers. Suddenly, the shoes disappeared behind a sheet of coral. Wilkelm followed them.

Wilkelm was met with another canvas of white. Great, he thought, more blank. However, in the corner of his eye, he spotted something colorful. It was a blob of pastel blue flowers in a brown pot. The flowers looked off, for all the flowers were one exact color of blue and the pot was one exact color of brown. The flowers and the pot had no shadows, no dimension. Curious, Wilkelm decided to walk to the flowers. He watched the pot of flowers as it continued to enlarge as he got closer and closer to them. Finally, he was standing next to them. He looked down. The pot of flowers was nowhere to be seen. Weird. Wilkelm took more steps and looked back at the spot where the flowers were. The pot was there, the depthless flowers looking as if they were pasted on a white wall. They appeared again. Weird.

Wilkelm then suddenly remembered the black shoes. Where are they? He frantically looked around, looking for the splotches of black that he was following. In the corner of his eye, he spotted them behind the flowers. Now there were a pair of navy socks added to the shoes. Wilkelm watched as one shoe kicked over the pot, shattering it and making a mess of the flowers. The shoes then continue walking. Wilkelm followed.

Soon, the color changed again, this time to a light beige. Wilkelm saw a trophy sitting on the ground (or was it the ground? Wilkelm couldn’t really tell). This trophy had a little more dimension, some shading here and there. It was gold and had blue and white ribbons streaming out of it. That looks like my spelling bee trophy. Wilkelm again walked closer to the object. He tried to grab it, but he couldn’t. He could clearly feel that the trophy was in arm’s length, but no matter how hard he tried to grab the trophy it wouldn’t budge. I’m sick of this. Wilkelm walked away. He walked around, waiting for the shoes to appear again. He walked in front and behind the trophy, watching as it disappeared whenever he became in line with it and reappeared when he wasn’t in line with it. So, so weird. He then spotted the shoes some steps up from him, this time a pair of khaki pants were added to them. As if sensing his stare, the shoes – or legs rather – started walking. Wilkelm followed. 

Some more time passed (Wilkelm couldn’t tell how long, for there weren’t any indicators of how much time had gone in his solid-colored environment) and the color changed again, this time to a light green. Wilkelm spotted a car. It was bright red, and a big bow was placed on top of the hood. I got a car for Christmas, the day after I got my license. He walked closer to the car, examining it. It was here where he noticed something weird (again, no surprise there). The red color was uneven, recklessly painted. Huh. It’s almost as if this is a pai-

His thoughts were cut off by someone opening the door of the car. Surprised, he turned to see the person. He recognized the black shoes, navy socks, and khaki pants. Now, a navy shirt was added. Wilkelm watched as the headless person stepped into the car and drove away. Alarmed, he sprinted after the car, determined to get answers from the only other moving object in this weird world.

Wilkelm ran and ran, never allowing the car to leave his sight. The car finally slowed down as the color of the surrounding space turned to a light teal, and eventually came to a stop. The headless person stepped out of the car, made the motion of opening a door, and disappeared. Wilkelm followed closely behind.

He was momentarily blinded by the sudden dazzling white that attacked his eyes. He blinked a few times, allowing his eyes to adjust, and took in his surroundings. Wilkelm was in a dazzling white church with white tinted windows and white pews. But Wilkelm paid no mind to the beauty of the church. He saw something else. He’d finally found people. He couldn’t believe it. There were rows and rows of people in the pews. Wilkelm walked down the center of the pews, and turned into a row to talk to a lady who was having a conversation with an older man next to her. Wilken raised his hand, about to tap her shoulder, when she disappeared. The man she was talking to also was nowhere to be seen. It was as if they’d disappeared into thin air. Wilkelm looked around. Everything else was the same. Serene, quiet, still.

Wait. Wilkelm looked closer at the pews. The white was splotchy, applied in uneven amounts and uneven areas, like the car. He then looked at the middle-aged lady standing in the pew infront of him. He noticed how her makeup looked off. She had huge blotches of darker colored makeup around her jaw and lighter makeup on her cheeks. No, not makeup, he thought, paint. Wilkelm couldn’t believe it. Just a moment ago, everything looked so lively, so dynamic. Now, all he sees are the shallow blots of paint, dabbed on with a paintbrush. No. Wilkelm stumbled out of the pews, frantically looking around. No. NO. How can this be? He finally saw past the 3 dimensional illusion. They’re two dimensional. I’m 2 dimensional. Suddenly, it all made sense. The reason why he couldn’t see himself, why things kept on disappearing when he would be on the same plane as them. I…I don’t exist. Wilkelm then saw the person he’d been following this whole journey standing at the altar. The body was now complete with a head, and the man stood with his back facing Wilkelm. Wilkelm rushed up to the altar, hoping that this mysterious man could tell him that he was wrong. That this was all a dream. That he still existed. The man turned around. Wilkelm stopped in his tracks, staring at a painted replica of himself. Age was never the problem, Paul Wilkelm, his reflection said, the paint around its mouth shifting as it talked, you were always the problem. It’s always been you.

Wilkelm’s eyes burst open. His heart was pounding and squeezing out of his chest, suffocating him. His eyes were swimming in a sea of worried faces and his ears were flooded with the sound of sirens and people chattering. He stared up at the bright blue ceiling of the museum. The color of Forget-Me-Nots. This is why you can’t find beauty in me. Because you never found beauty in her.

Paul Wilkelm, aged 76 years, 4 months, and 21 days, died of a heart attack at 15:49 on February 23rd, 1994 in the Women’s Museum of Art.