I don't stop. I don't think I can stop. The image of Holofernes is taking shape under my brush, and I think I recognize those smug eyes -- I drop my brush and try to smile. "Father, I didn't hear you come in."
He looks at my painting, and I wonder if I'm imagining the flinch. At nearly half-past six in the evening, the studio has gotten a bit dark. "That's... intense, " he says and looks back at me. I can understand the impulse. I'm sure I'm easier to look at. The blood hasn't been painted in, yet, but the figure of Judith holds her knife tense against Holofernes' throat, and the expression on his face is one of surprise and pain. I run my thumb over the handle of the paintbrush and imagine the knife.
I shrug and put on my best 'innocently dutiful daughter' expression. "Caravaggio did it first. Mine's only slightly different from his, isn't it?" We both know that's not true. Even if I wasn't woman. Even if I hadn't been raped. Even if Holofernes wasn't staring at me with Tassi's dead eyes. Caravaggio, he of the beautifully agonized young men would never give a woman a role like this, meaty, violent and real. His Judith was a squeamish little thing, small and scared. I wouldn't be scared again.
My father reached out, as though to touch the edge of the canvas and then dropped it. "You don't have to paint this. Maybe you should paint something calmer. Esther, maybe? Or the Madonna."
I could have pointed out the terror Esther undoubtedly felt at having to give herself up to an unfamiliar man, or the strange, sad looks that Our Lady would have at being loosened all unknowingly. But I closed my mouth around the words. "I have to paint this," is all I said, and lifted my paintbrush again.
But he wraps his hand around mine and pushes it gently down again. "The maid was calling you for dinner for half an hour. Come eat." I look to meet his gaze and see the concern. Stress and worry etch deep lines in his face. I let my hand drop.
"Alright. Just let me clean up a bit first."
Maybe Holofernes should have his eyes shut.