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Love and Pain

Edvard Munch

By Jenifer NimPublished about a year ago 6 min read
Vampire - Edvard Munch (1893) - Original title: Love and Pain

“Don’t leave me,” he sobbed, clutching her around the waist and burying his face in her lap.

He was doubled over in pain, hiding his face, his tears dampening her thin nightgown. He grasped her tightly as if he would never let her go.

She enveloped him in her arms and bent her face wordlessly to his neck, kissing him gently. Her flaming red hair fell in loose wavy tendrils around him, covering him, encircling him. The light of the candles in the dark room caught her hair and it shined brightly, burning like fire. He knew that red hair would haunt him for the rest of his days.

“Please!” he begged. “You can’t leave me. I can’t live without you.”

“I’m sorry, Oskar,” she said, and tried to pull away.

“No,” he cried and pulled her back, gripping her ever more tightly. “I’ll do anything for you. I’ll change. I’ll be better. I’ll be anything you want me to be.”

She tried to look him in the eyes, but he refused her gaze. “You can’t be anyone other than who you are. But I can’t live like this any longer.”

“We can get married,” he blurted out, desperation in his voice.

“You’ve spent your whole life trying to decide if you want to marry.” she said gently. “And you’ve spent months trying to decide whether to marry me. I think the turmoil it causes you quite clearly means that you don’t want to.”

“I would marry you, Ingrid. I’d marry you tomorrow if that’s what you want!”

“Oskar, we’re not going to get married because you finally caved in after I said I was leaving.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to marry you. It’s just the pressure, you know? To be a good husband, to be a provider, to be a worthy member of society. Can I look after you? Can I make a future for us? Can I love you until the end?”

“Life isn’t perfect. It never will be. And you’ll never have the answers to those questions.”

“I’m just… anxious. I always have been, ever since I was little. I don’t think other people feel the way I do. I want to be confident. I want to not worry so much about those concerns. I want to have the conviction that they’ll work themselves out. But I also want to give you a good life. My financial situation is not…in the best place for marriage right now. But I can change that.”

“Well, it’s only going to improve if you start selling your paintings. You can’t hold onto them forever.”

Oskar sat up straight and shook his head, frustrated.

“It’s hard to part with them, you know? You spend so long with them, and they start to feel like…children.”

She stared, compassion and worry in her eyes.

“Oskar, they are just paintings.”

“I’ve poured my soul into my work, Ingrid. They’re not just pretty pictures of flowers and fields. They are pieces of me splattered on the canvas. It’s my soul revealed for the world to see. They’re spiritual.”

“And that’s fine, but you can’t feed a family on that.”

“Why are you so bothered about this now? It never troubled you in the past. You’ve always been happy to model, come to my shows, stay at the cabin with me. You understood what I was trying to do with my work. You never thought like this before.”

Ingrid looked skywards for support.

“All my friends are married, Oskar. I want to be married, too. Staying in your dilapidated old hut by the fjord, searching for berries while you spend all day wrestling with your demons and expelling them onto a canvas is not the life I want.” She started to extricate herself from his deadly grip.

“Okay, okay,” he said quickly, reasserting his clasp around her torso. “I’ll go see my agent tomorrow. I’ll bring some paintings for him to sell. All of them, if that’s what you want! He told me last week about some requests for commissions. I was going to refuse, but I’ll take them. I’ll do whatever they want. The money will be good. We’ll buy the biggest house in Kristiania. Just don’t leave me, Ingrid.”

She shifted uncomfortably. “It’s not just the money, Oskar. You’re not…respectable. I come from a good family, you know? Your works are… Well, everybody in the city knows about the furore over your first exhibition.”

“Where is this coming from? You introduced me to the bohemians. Now you want to turn respectable?”

This time it was Ingrid who refused to look at him. “…I’ve met somebody else.”

Oskar was so shocked he dropped his arms, and she seized the opportunity to slide out of his grasp.

“What? When?”

“The last time you were in Munich. He’s also an art lover.”

“A painter? Do I know him?”

“He’s not an artist. He’s a collector. You may know him. Henrik Johansen.”

Oskar blinked, stunned and speechless, then thunderclouds rolled across his face.

“I know him,” he growled. “He came to that first show. He was one of those that complained, caused a scandal. Got the gallery to close it early.” Oskar spat contemptuously. “He’s a fool. An amateur with money but no vision. He’s a philistine playing at being an intellectual who buys pretty pictures with no substance.”

“Art is supposed to be beautiful, Oskar.”

“No,” he snarled. “Art is supposed to be meaningful.”

Ingrid sighed and continued to avoid his gaze.

“So he’s the one who poisoned you against me.”

“There was no conspiracy, Oskar. He just… He’s offered me a different life, a comfortable one. I can be happy with him.”

“He asked you to marry him?”

“Yes.”

“And are you going to?”

“Yes.”

Ingrid stared at the floor, afraid to see his reaction. “I’m sorry.”

A few moments passed before the full realization hit him. He felt the blood drain out of him and his heart stop beating. He raced to the window and flung it wide open. She raised her head at the sound of his footsteps and saw him step onto the ledge, contemplating the steep drop to the avenue below.

“Oskar, no!” she cried, rushing towards him.

“Why not, Ingrid?! What’s the point in continuing? I have no money. No family left after my sister died. Nobody truly appreciates my art, sees what I’m trying to do. And now I no longer have you? There’s nothing to live for.”

She clutched his arm, trying to pull him back in. “That’s not true! Many people appreciate your work. You wouldn’t have an agent if not! Or commission requests! Of course, there are always the reactionaries who don’t understand-”

“Like Henrik Johansen?”

Ingrid ignored the jibe and continued. “-but plenty see the value in what you do. Oskar, I know you will be one of the great painters of our times. I can feel it. You shouldn’t have to take commissions you don’t want. You shouldn’t have to sell paintings you love. But tortured artist and good husband don’t go together, Oskar, and you know it. Besides, you don’t want a domesticated life. You never have. It wouldn’t be right to force you.”

Oskar’s face twisted in agony, and his shoulders slumped over. Ingrid watched as his shoulders started to shake and sobs wracked his body. She put her arms around his waist and wrenched him back from the edge. They toppled to the floor, and lay there, exhausted.

After a while, she tugged on his arm and led him silently towards the bed. He lay down and curled in a ball, huddled like a child. She turned the lights off and lay down behind him, embracing him as he wept.

When he woke, she was gone. But Oskar had no emotions that morning. He was empty inside, devoid of feeling. She had sucked the life from him.

Fiction

About the Creator

Jenifer Nim

I’ve got a head full of stories and a hard drive full of photos; I thought it was time to start putting them somewhere.

I haven’t written anything for many, many years. Please be kind! 🙏

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