Millie looked aghast at what she’d done. The knife in her hand dripped red, the splatter extending from the corner of his cheek, across his handsome face, above the tufts of his chestnut curls, lazily caressing his left eyebrow. The steely blue eyes, so cold and so cruel, stared back at her, admonishing her carelessness, threatening dire consequences. Frightened, she looked into them for another moment, before squeezing them shut and clutching her fists, only to be reminded of the knife still in her hand, which she immediately let go, dropping silently onto the dusty carpet.
The light was dim in the attic, and where it did stream through the heavy curtains on this bright, midsummer day, you could see glitters of dust in vexing shapes, a haze that made the room feel amorphous and changing, a snare to trap any unsuspecting servants that may find their way in.
Millie was new to this house, only having been a kitchen maid for a few weeks. Mr Willoughby had warned her that the attic was out of bounds for all servants, even though it had been years since the Master had been there himself. Petey had said he’d been up there for a smoke and a look see in the winter, didn’t know what the fuss was about, but Miss Laney said to ignore the boy who had more crumbs in his head than a cookie jar. Still, it had piqued Millie’s curiosity, and she had to see for herself.
After a couple near misses in the last fortnight, where she was almost caught by one of the other servants, she had finally made it in today. Apart from the musty smell and the piles of old unused furniture, there wasn’t much up there. Crestfallen at the disappointment, Millie turned to leave, when out of the corner of her eye she saw something bright and steely blue. They were his eyes.
She had seen the Master, from afar, at parties, but had never been in his solitary presence. This felt much more than that. The painting was life sized, in an ornate gold frame, and set against the wall beside a sofa and a piano covered in a sheet. She was transfixed, and could not look away from it. The likeness was remarkable, the Master in all his glory and even more, with so much power and presence, captured with such intricate detail and realism, the closer she got, the more detail she discovered. Until she saw the collar of his gold shirt, with intricate red flowers on it. A flaw. Some red that should have been there, but wasn’t. She couldn’t imagine how the artist could have missed it. Once she’d seen it, she couldn’t unsee it, and was captured by the idea of making it perfect. She scanned the room, and lo! Beside the sofa was a can of paint, with a palette knife sticking out.
She grabbed the knife, dipped it in the paint, held it up to the painting to see if it matched. It did! She was excited. She didn’t know why, just that she was. She was going to make this painting whole. This man’s unmatched beauty, this painting’s near perfection, was going to be completed by her! She would be the one to put the finishing touch on this masterwork, and then perhaps this painting will be hung in the main hall of the house, and not hidden away in the attic.
She moved to apply the paint, but there was a tick in her wrist, a jolt of nerves, and the knife moved too fast. Paint went across the face, and nicked the canvas near the neck, dripping down as if it were blood.
Her heart pumped and her mind raced as she looked down at the dropped knife, back at the painting, at the knife, the painting, and then the attic door. Hoping that no one had seen her come in, she rushed towards it with her arm outstretched towards the handle, willing it to open from the distance. And it did. She stopped in her tracks.
The first things she saw were the eyes, steely blue with a metallic glint in them. Then the chestnut hair, then the golden shirt, peeking beneath a dark overcoat. Dorian Gray climbed up the door, straightened to his full height, and looked down at her. She thought she saw blood on his neck. He looked at the painting, then at her, then at the knife, then the paint, then the painting, then at her.
“You did this,” he said. It was a statement. She nodded quietly. He bent down, picked up the knife, and walked towards her. She was utterly numb, and couldn’t move an inch. He put his long supple fingers on her shoulder, the thumb reaching her neck. “My great secret comes at a great cost,” he whispered in her ear as he slide the knife across her throat. The blood was warm on her chest, and somehow the magic of the room didn’t let her feel much else.
He laid her down, carefully, and brought the paint can close to collect some of the blood. Her vision fading, her eyes closing, she could barely see the Master, standing in front of the painting, using the palette knife to finish the shirt. He glanced back at her, and she wondered why the Master was cut at the neck and not the painting, but it didn’t matter now. The room was strange and deceived you. All that really mattered were the blue eyes, of the man and of the painting, hard to tell apart. They were the last things she saw.