Looking back, Darcy pinpointed the instant she dodged a bullet: the day she brought the painting home from the antique shop. She’d been in love with Robert for two months. It was a sunny day in early spring, the sun bright and the breeze cool. Flowers were only just poking their heads out of the damp earth. Darcy got into Janice’s car despite Robert’s complaints.
She hadn’t seen Janice much since she’d met Robert and that day seemed perfect to have fun with a friend, antiquing the perfect excuse. Robert opted not to join them. Yet, all day, he’d blown up Darcy’s phone, messaging, calling, emailing. Not a minute went by her phone didn’t beep, squawk or ring. Janice watched uneasy; people scowled at Darcy until she’d set the phone on silent. It buzzed in her purse nonstop.
The friends giggled and wove their way around the Antiques Fair, admiring the furniture, knick-knacks and whatnots. Janice was about to mention Robert’s neediness when something caught Darcy’s attention: an old likeness of a medieval queen sitting on a wooden throne. Her pose majestic, strong and proud, yet she gazed with soft eyes; a benevolent smile adorned her lips.
“Well,…” the shop owner scratched his head, “I know little about this painting. I found it one day in my back room; someone must have sold it to us while my assistant was on duty.”
Darcy bought it for a song.
“She’s glaring at me,” Robert exclaimed as Darcy hung it on the living room wall, “Take it down, I don’t like it.”
Darcy studied Robert, puzzled, but did no such thing.
In the weeks that followed, Janice felt her friend slipping away from her. Darcy stopped calling, and Janice could not find Darcy alone. Robert was always there.
He complained about the picture every day.
“Shh… Do you hear that?” Robert asked alert as they watched TV.
Darcy shook her head.
“It’s that damn painting, I swear it whispered my name. It’s cursed. Throw it away.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it, I like it.”
Robert huffed and stomped out the door. Darcy stared after him, bewildered. He came back the next day.
Later, he claimed he saw a black malevolent shadow block his entrance into Darcy’s bedroom, and that The Queen scowled at him. The queen choked him once as he napped on the couch; he said. Yet Darcy experienced only a sense of peace and comfort whenever she gazed upon her beloved picture. In fact, when Robert went out, Darcy thought more light entered her house.
Darcy was still floating in that sea of infatuation, unaware of Robert’s manipulations when that castle in the air she’d built for herself and Robert exploded. It was more like a slow, eroding landslide. He stopped coming to the house. His texts and emails were infrequent and his calls soon non-existent. Darcy cried into her pillow at night, wondering at Robert’s behavior and asking herself what else she’d done wrong. She knew The Queen was to blame, yet, no matter how hard she tried, Darcy could neither hate the picture nor get rid of it. Those soft brown eyes painted centuries ago brought her such an inner warmth it was difficult to look away.
Weeks passed and Robert vanished into that complex dating lingo known as “ghosting”. Just when Darcy thought she was over him, he would nudge Darcy on social media or send her a random text; the wave of rejection would wash over her again. But what once was a tidal wave soon became nothing more than a sprinkle, and Darcy moved on, bathed in the strength and peace of The Queen.
Darcy gasped as she opened the newspaper and read the headline. Her heart thumped as she clutched her phone with trembling fingers. Janice’s phone call came through just as Darcy was about to dial.
“Have you seen the news?” Janice shouted into the phone.
“I can’t believe it!” Darcy glanced around the room, nervous and scared.
“I can,” Janice said on the line, “I sensed something wrong. I tried to tell you, but…”
Darcy wiped her eyes and read the headline: “Police Arrest Serial Killer”
The article recounted how he would seduce his victims, manipulate and isolate them from friends and family. He would then steal all their money, torture them and kill them. A picture of Robert scowled at Darcy from the newspaper. She felt violated and scared. Her mind raced through the memories of her time with him.
Darcy glanced at her beloved painting. The queen sat on her throne, smiling her sweet smile. When Darcy gazed into her eyes, The Queen winked.