“I paint what I see in my dreams,” Zoe told me.
It was an answer of sorts, a politician’s answer that addressed the obvious meaning of the question but left the implied and vastly more important subtext untouched.
I arrived at her gallery, Oneirographia, on the request of some hack actress who insisted her boyfriend’s overdose was on display at the Modern Art Museum. “Drugsploitation” she called it.
I had to agree that there were a lot of similarities between the scene photos and the painting. When I talked to the artist, though, she proved the painting predated the suicide by three days. That should have been the end of the interview, but she wanted to show me around and I wanted to let her.
She was a good painter, if a little abstract. I turned a corner into her work area, her hand on my arm, and looked into my own face. It was a painting of a sex scene, half finished. The face of the woman on top hadn’t been finished, but the cascading red hair was unmistakably Zoe’s.
For the second time, she had painted something that came true.
In a few weeks, hardly a morning went by that I didn’t end my day at her loft downtown. Life imitated art, then we would fall asleep in each other’s arms. She would often cause me to stir when she awoke in the middle of the night and began painting in the dark. I brought her a glass of water one night and recognized the dazed eyes and slumping head from childhood, when my sleepwalking brother would mindlessly pull food from the refrigerator.
She really did paint what she saw in her dreams.
I got called in to work early about a month later. On my way out, careful not to wake Zoe who had finally come back to bed, I noticed her most recent painting: blood everywhere. She envisioned a cheap motel room slathered with dark crimson like a butcher’s back room. In a heap near the door was a man, an almost comically large knife jutting from his chest, his face a bloody ruin. A greyish oval loomed near the body, globs of paint rising from the canvas.
At the precinct, they sent me out on some big case. A murder in a pay-by-the-hour motel; the same murder Zoe had painted in the night.
I tried talking to Zoe, but got nothing but that same politician’s answer. I didn’t get worried until I saw another bloodied scene. Again, the corpse had no face. But it was wearing my jacket. A dark orb hovered over the body, still wet on the otherwise dry canvas.
I remembered hearing that historians used x-rays to uncover Da Vinci’s original work underneath the Mono Lisa. I snuck back into Zoe’s loft and snagged the canvas.
Later that day, the lab tech texted me a picture of what lay under the glob; Zoe, with her cascading red hair and a large knife.