I stood for a very long moment in the window, looking over the city – my city, not theirs – imagining the sun sticking on the skyline and going no further down.
“Cop! Turn your face towards me more,” the painter ordered. She was a small thing, and older than me, but very beautiful. But I guess everything would be beautiful in this light, pouring in fifteen-foot tall windows that made up one of the walls. I did as she said, because I wasn’t sure how delicate this process was, but I sure as hell didn’t want to screw it up
Sure as hell. Ha. That was sort of funny, these days.
I stood as still as I could and watched the painter squash and stroke and dab paint on the canvas. Too fast to get a good likeness, I would’ve thought. But I was an expert on capturing people, not faces. “Will it hurt?” I asked. I didn’t care if it did, but I wanted to know.
The painter frowned at me as if it was a very strange question to ask. “Most people don’t notice the moment their soul enters the painting. You might feel a little hungry, later. It goes away.”
Unthinking, I rubbed my hand over my face, knuckles white.
“Hold still!” she hissed.
I dropped my arms to my side, crossed them, dropped them again. I already felt the loss of my soul, a gnawing starvation in my chest.
Outside the window, I heard the siren begin. All across the city, doors were slamming, windows were being latched, cars were abandoned where they sat. I knew that somewhere down there, the rest of the police force was parking their cars in their driveways and bolting their doors against the dead and those that kept them.
“You could just join them,” the painter suggested. “Lock yourself away until morning.”
I could. But then I’d have to just listen to the terrified 9-1-1 tapes in the morning and hate myself for not being there when the gates opened to below and the people began to scream all over the city. “If I die – my soul – once it’s in the painting –?”
“We keep the paintings in the gallery. If I learn of your death, I’ll burn it in a church. Your soul will go wherever your life up to this point has put it. This is the last stroke. Do you still want it?”
Outside, I heard the first scream, and I imagined the panicked call coming into dispatch: one of them came in the back door. Someone please help. The claws oh God –
I could already imagine the smell of sulphur. Someone had to fight. And if I did this, the worst they could do was kill me.
I nodded, short and jerky.
“Good,” she said, “Because I already finished.”
She turned it around for me to see.
*artwork: portrait of Albert de Belleroche by John Singer Sargent