The painting had graced the drawing room mantel for as long as anyone could remember. Grandma Sapphire, lifelong lover of the sea, had painted a courageous sailboat struggling its way through the North Atlantic. Grandpa Sapphire, lifelong lover of Grandma’s talents, had insisted they hang it where everyone could see.
And so, three generations of Sapphires had been christened, wed, and buried beneath its tumultuous grandeur. People came from to admire the composition, the brush strokes, the magnificence of the boat in peril. Even Grandma, on her deathbed, had whispered, “My ship will come for me.”
Until, one day, the ship was gone.
It started one tranquil morning when the butler chanced to unlock the parlor so the downstairs maid could dust. Opening the oaken doors, he stepped into the silent finery and prepared himself to be awed once again by Grandma Sapphire’s vision.
But instead of awe, he was met first with shock. Then with horror. For the foaming seascape of Grandma’s North Atlantic no longer bore a ship.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said the matter-of-fact housewife when the butler came running. “Ships made of oil paint don’t capsize, and they’re even less likely to sink.”
But upon a personal investigation, even she was obliged to admit the truth. From her, the cooks heard, then the waitstaff, then the gardeners, the chauffeurs, and even the milkman. Grandma Sapphire’s great-grandson Winston was the last to learn the ugly truth.
“It’s a forgery,” he cried as he raced down the front staircase toward the parlor. “Someone has stolen Grandma’s masterwork and replaced it with a fake!”
This, of course, necessitated a dozen calls to private investigators around the city, which led to half a dozen interviews and the final selection of one. Fortunately for all concerned, he was a level-headed detective, whose first act on the job was to call an art expert for a complete examination.
After an hour or so of poking and peering through her monocle, and dabbing the corners of the painting with a strange solution, she made a surprising announcement. “It’s absolutely, positively the original, painted by Grandma Sapphire.”
“It’s been modified, then,” the detective objected.
“Patched, perhaps?” Winston offered.
The expert turned her monocled eye on him. “Well, that’s the odd thing. It’s as if the boat was were never there in the painting to begin with. Are you sure you didn’t just imagine it?”
This last comment might have been unfortunate, for the Sapphires had always considered themselves possessed of particularly keen eyes. Sleuth and art expert alike were politely shown the door. In their place, a psychologist commenced extensive examinations of the entire household and staff.
But yet again, the result was the same.
Until last week, Grandma Sapphire’s painting had indeed contained a sailboat, struggling in the middle of that North Atlantic gale. No one would be persuaded to remember it any differently.
By now, the household had gone sleepless for several weeks. Even distinguished Winston was as likely to pass the housemaid as the butler in the hall each night, for each found himself or herself inexplicably drawn to the fateful mantel to see if the boat had, by some miracle, reappeared. Every wave cap, every dabbed star on the canvas sky, ever shadow, was recorded and measured and agreed upon in detail.
And so it happened that one night, the butler found himself once again opening the doors to the drawing room. This time, however, Winston was already there, sprawled on the sofa opposite the painting, staring at it with sleepless eyes.
“It’s just gone,” he whispered. “Gone as gone can be. Disappeared like magic.”
The butler stood for a moment, contemplative. “You know, she did once say the ship would come for her.”
“On her deathbed. Remember? You were only a little boy then, but she said it out loud, with her last deep breath.” The butler smiled wistfully at the painting. “Maybe that was her way of warning us.”
They sat staring at the empty waves of the North Atlantic, with its jarring tumult of blue and green.
Winston shook his head at long last. “Maybe so.”
* * *
Thanks once again to Julianne Hunter for the original art that inspired the story! Have you written a short story you’d like to share? Post it on your blog on Friday, and Tweet it to the hashtag #FlashFriday or leave a link in the comments below, and I’ll share it on social media! (And a number of other Flash Friday writers probably will too …)