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St. Luke's Daughter

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Angela paints things into being, sometimes, because there’s only Tommy to see her do it and he only burbles and grasps at the figures that walk out of the canvas. She paints him brown-grey rhinoceroses and they charge delicately across the flowered rug at him, not strong enough to do much worse than bruise; she paints him blue trains with red trim and they rumble onto the table, shooting up little puffs of smoke that leave the lingering stench of coal for days after they stop running. And the figures, they never last long. They collapse into little corpses or little piles of scrap. The enchantment holds one or two days at the most, if she knows Gillian won’t be coming around; sooner, if it’s Sunday, when the ‘theatre’ closes early, due to a dearth of businessmen with nothing better to do.

(If Gillian knew-

Oh, God, if Gillian knew.)

She cleans them up with turpentine, their flesh disintegrating beneath each wipe of the rag. Three wipes and then there’s nothing left of them but a stain.

(Jimmy told her once that her paintings looked like photographs and he had asked her and she had only smiled, because it was too much to tell and he was already looking someplace else.)

A month after the Armistice, she tries to paint a person into being, a man with blue eyes and blonde hair and pink pink lips (but his nose is too long, his eyes too narrow to behim); he looked all right on the canvas, so she spoke the words that weren’t really words, that left coppery blood in her mouth as she spoke them, and he had begun to climb out. But his arms are too thin and his neck too long and the look on his face too blank-

There is only enough turpentine to stop him, to wipe away his nose and his mouth and his eyes; he stumbles around blindly, clawing at his face, making the most inhuman sounds, until he doesn’t, and he’s lying on the floor, quickly growing cold.

Angela rolls him up in the rug; she mutters some other words, words that blacken and burn her as they fall out of her mouth. The rug turns to ashes; he turns to ashes. She’s disappointed, like when the hands she drew in the margins of her notes would move in a slightly off manner, the muscles straining too tightly beneath the skin.

The ashes take only three strokes to sweep up.