When all is said and done, Ardalion takes the portrait of Hermann down from what he’s come to think of as his mantelpiece. It takes him a year past Hermann’s arrest to do it; the portrait has grown dusty and small in his mind, unnoticed during the murder investigation, forgotten during the trial, and remembered again only after the execution.
“Really, it’s an uncanny likeness,” Lydia murmurs as he walks by, the portrait held before him at an arm’s length, as though it may be diseased. “What shall we do with it?”
He looks at her — beautiful, intelligent Lydia, with a mound of books beside her on the soda, her skin a perfect, creamy white.
“Thought I’d paint over it,” Ardalion says. He sets it on his workbench; hard to remember that just a year ago, this paint-stained, scuffed old hunk of wood was Hermann’s seldom-used writing desk. It is covered now in scattered brushes and well-squeeze tubes, mostly empty. He digs his pallette out from beneath a roll of canvas and tucks it beneath his arm as he unscrews a coffee can filled halfway up with his favorite, personally-mixed shade of blue.
“And replace it with what?” asks Lydia, her voice melodious, amused.
“An autumn scene,” says Ardalion, shrugging. He sets the opened coffee tin down, picks up a paint brush, and clenches it between his teeth as he thinks.
He hears a brush of fabric as Lydia leaves the sofa. A moment later he feels her heat against his back, her chin resting on his shoulder.
“It’s been years since you painted a landscape,” she remarks. “What kind of autumn scene?”
He thinks of his old cottage in the woods, of the snow that covered the ground there in early March, of bare trees and a well-dressed body lying in the drifts. He thinks of Lydia and Hermann arm-in-arm, their backs to him, as a leaf falls from a tree and floats down to meet its reflection in the lake.
“Remember Italy last October?” he asks, and Lydia hums in delight, and he feels it vibrating from her chest into his.
“Yes,” she says, “you must paint that.”
She wraps her arms around his abdomen, clasps her dainty fingers just beneath his ribs.
He lays the first daub of blue paint over Hermann’s fat white lips, and Lydia watches, eyes bright.
Neither of them smile.