“Every artist dips her brush in her own soul, and paints her own nature into her pictures.”
— Henry Ward Beecher
The sunrise had just stretched out to the tip of the horizon, the pink of the sky complementing the red of the apples that were across Lilith’s cottage. She was looking out and pondering. Meanwhile, inside, a fainting ringing was heard, disrupting her visions of insomnia. She picked up the phone, only to be informed her granddaughter’s body had just been found.
Before the following catastrophic swerves of emotions and feelings were to occur on Lilith’s fragile spirit, she was viewing the great harmony of nature’s silence with the stars and heavens above.
The beauty that had been lashed from the solace of darkness night after night. It was the third day since they had filed a missing report for Christina. Unable to sleep, her porch seemed to embrace her more than ever, where she inclined to worry her poor heart for countless hours on end. Feeble and purple’d skin hung beneath her wet eyes, bloodshot and streaked.
She looked up, feeling betrayed.
She glanced at the phone, losing herself in another meaningless train of thought.
“Mama, they found the body..”
She heard the other line of the phone whisper out to her. It made her angry, making her blood boil deep inside her. Hearing her daughter’s voice only made her more frustrated and upset. She was barely able to contain herself by now.
“The funeral is on Sunday, Mama..”
She looked out now, to the burning field across her cottage. The fierce red. now had the backdrop of a magnificent dark sky. The morning was mocking her sadness. She scratched her cheek at the irritation of a tear running down her cheek. Not noticing the phone was now trembling violently in her splotched hand.
“Are you inviting her?”
The elderly woman heard faintly in the background, said by a masculine voice. She fostered a moment with the phone.
With a cry that echoed with an inhuman quality throughout her small kitchen, Lilith felt the phone slip from her grasp. The device smashed on the tile flooring. Lilith howled. She swore with abandon, causing a wild flourish of fury and chaos throughout her small cottage.
Her rampage may have lasted long into the afternoon, but for a glimpse of the garden through the veil of lacy curtains draped over one kitchen window. All at once overcome with a different sort of hysteria, Lilith’s tiny, splotched legs raced the rest of her skinny frame up two flights of stairs, where she collapsed on the splintered wooden floor of the attic, gasping musty, stale air through her lungs. Her throat pulsed as a result of her tantrum. She wheezed on dust and cigarette smoke.
Around her body, the fruits of forty years of labor sprawled across the grimy attic in a haphazard array of colors and hues such that were to never be displayed in any art museum. The canvasses, the evidence of her life’s work, had been arranged with care on whichever surfaces might hold them; the floor, the window seat, an ornate desk that stood on three legs in the corner.
She refused to hang them on the walls, believing that they would only collect dust and that she would be afraid to touch them if they were suspended on silver pegs in neat little, finished packages. More often than not, she would dabble with a painting long after she had deemed it complete, flicking a dash of color where it was necessary or re-doing a nose or an eye that hadn’t emerged from her brush strokes in quite the style she had envisioned.
A lover from many years ago, whom Lilith now recalled with a detached sorrow, was the only other person to ever have entered this domain. It proved her first and only experience with such complex companionship, and she grew comfortable enough with their honeymoon routine that one day she dared to lead him up the stairs by the hand and display for him the recesses of her murky attic studio.
She remembered that he did not speak for a long while, but stared, dumbfounded, at the slashes of red over gray, open-mouthed faces that had endless voids. Swirls of silvers on blues that mirrored a midnight sky, as if from a dream, Lilith herself did not know the origin of such images, only that her hand had been the tool by which they were brought to life.
“Very…haunting.” her lover had managed to stutter ambiguously.
When he left that afternoon, it was for good.
Her granddaughter, Christina, the eight-year-old angel. Whose uncut locks trickled in gold curls down impish shoulders, had been forbidden entry to the attic gloom. A determined Lilith had undermined every attempt executed by her child to penetrate the world beyond the attic stairs, toward the stars. She was horrified by the thought that the infection festering there would taint the ingenuous eyes of the little girl, like mud might a clear river on a blue day. Even before that, her daughter had faced the same restrictions, until the allure of the attic to those nearest Lilith’s heart manifested into a desire to understand what lay on the other side of the door at the top of the stairs.
“The funeral is on Sunday, Mama..”
“The funeral is on Sunday.”
Sobbing inexorably, by some miracle Lilith located her supplies through a blur of tears. She took up the familiar staff, stroking the tip of coarse hair as if to test it for its breaking point. The abrasive surface rolled over itself beneath the crook of her thumb and index finger. She licked it experimentally. The worn bristles tasted of old paint. Many years ago, Lilith had made a great occasion of replacing her used brushes. Recently, she’d abandoned those newer tools in favor of old brushes her hand recognized without seeing.
Some dated as far back as when she still believed in immortality.
Agony was the inadequate word that described the ache in Lilith’s chest as she held the paintbrush tightly. The pain had nothing to do with the asthma that plagued her on damp nights or the throbbing of her joints in the morning. There was no scientific reason behind it, no pill a doctor could prescribe akin to the acclaimed cures that temporarily relieved the symptoms of old age. There was only this moment, with this stick to orchestrate the revelation of a pact as old as humankind. Arms, marked by cherry blemishes that served as a reminder of the years in her life, guided the brush with certainty and strength, even though it hurt and the color of her tears manifested themselves on the canvas in streaks of gray.
But this display of quiet sorrow, concealed behind pallid tears, would not suffice the rage heaving in her chest and so imaginary flames crackled and spit smoldering embers upon the unadorned earth, plowing through a field of apples with such vivacity that they could not be quenched by the river of tears. A figure emerged beneath her eyelids, a pale form that danced in a swirl of gold and summer rain, its face turned up to the sky and dispelling the onslaught of ash that cascaded down from the murky heavens. Breathing strongly through her nose, the scent of paint and apples mingling to create a sharp musk that spurred her onward, Lilith forgot to pause, forgot to look at what she was doing. Her hand knew, her body understood, and so her filmy eyes had no use for failing vision.
The pace of her motions increased. Her entire body pushed into the brush, conducting it in sweeps of unstoppable force. She could feel the pulse of her heartbeat rising through her veins and pounding in her blood until she was deaf, as well as blind. The power of her body was never repressed by these frailties, never paused once. She didn’t need sight to see the colors flashing through her mind in the sweet bursts of fire and waterfalls. She didn’t need to hear for her dead granddaughter’s voice to wash the attic in a sprinkle of bells and light.
All the while, the culmination of sixty-nine years of color upon canvas became understanding, and with it the pain in her heart intensified (that petty organ), the chain that rattled with the bindings of the Earth. It was beating faster and faster until she could not keep up with it any longer. She could not see her hand. However, in her mind’s eye, she saw what had happened, and she knew it was her own fault, by her own hand. She saw a girl and a garden of burning apples. Bits of white light sparked came as she bit into them. Before her eyes, the film over her irises parted. Everything became so clear to her just before she fell.
Just before she flew.