The Woman in the Lake

grayscale photo of woman

Photo by Oliver Sjöström on


She lay exhausted staring at the still wet canvas. It stretched around three walls of the room. She’d pulled all the furniture out of the home office so she’d have room to staple the canvas to the walls.  She was beyond caring about staple holes and paint on the wood floor. Anything could be fixed, repainted, holes filled in. Those things didn’t matter. What mattered was the image she’d painted. The image of the woman swimming in the lake. It had been hard to capture the essence of the forest surrounding the lake, but she was pleased with how the lake turned out and the expression on the woman’s face.

She’d thought long and hard about where to hang the canvas. The lecture hall was long and narrow, and curtains hung across the back of the stage. It would be difficult to hang the canvas from the curtains…the weight might just pull them down. And she wanted Jonathan to see the painting as he gave his talk on his latest book The Crow’s Dinner.  Would the lights be turned low in the hall, with just the spotlight on the author? She wasn’t quite sure. Perhaps part of this was just leaving it up to chance. He’d see it, either before, or after. Maybe it didn’t matter. She tried to convince herself of that.

The lecture was scheduled for late afternoon and she snuck into the hall in the early morning, using a friend’s key and carrying the large rolled up canvas slung under one arm. There was ample space on the back wall of the hall for her to hang the painting and she was able to attach it quite easily to the light fixtures that were spaced a few feet apart. It hung fairly high so she was sure that he’d see it from his spot on the stage.

She returned about an hour before the lecture was to start. People were already entering the hall and there was a quiet buzz about the mysterious painting. Several people took pictures of themselves standing in front of it, or just pictures of the painting itself.

“Do you recognize the scene?” one man asked another, standing close to her. “It’s from one of his books. A woman goes swimming and is pulled under the lake into another world.”

“Oh, that’s right,” the other man replied. “She comes back completely changed. I remember that.”

“It’s quite a wonderful metaphor,” the first man said. “I love how he takes such liberties and yet it all works and is so believable. I can’t wait to hear about his next book.”

“I wonder who painted it?”

“Perhaps it’s his,” the first man said. “Maybe he tours with it.”

She smiled to herself and found a seat towards the back of the hall.

The lights dimmed as Jonathan walked onto the stage to large applause. He read a couple of chapters from his book and talked about the book he was currently working on, and shared some stories about writing. As he looked out into the audience he’d occasionally shade his eyes and look towards the back. Finally the lights were brought up so members of the audience could ask questions.

He stood still as he clearly saw the painting across the back wall. And then a wave of delight washed across his face.

“How marvelous,” he said. “There must be a true fan here.” Several people applauded.

“More than one,” someone called out.

“I’d like to meet the painter,” Jonathan said. “Are they here?”

There were lots of murmurs and stirrings, and then she stood up. She walked down to the microphone that had been set up for audience questions.

She leaned towards the microphone. “I painted it,” she said.

Applause was immediate and she waited for it to die down, looking at Jonathan.

“That woman in the painting is me,” she said. “That’s how I feel every time I read one of your novels. I am swimming in a lovely lake and I sink into another place, another world and the immersion is exquisite. So this painting is a gift for you, a thank you. For gifting all of us with that pleasure.”

Jonathan bowed to her. “Thank you.”

“Thank YOU,” she said.


For JC

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1 Response to The Woman in the Lake

  1. A wonderful read. Her description of how we can get lost in a good book was perfect.

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