A short story by Tina Konstant
Annie closed her eyes and wished the squealing human in front of her would evaporate and go away.
“Oh, Annie. You have such a gift. So much talent. These are amazing.”
God. Two of them.
Annie finally looked at the child. A stupid little red-head. Eleven maybe? Annie spun her stool around so her back was to the child only to be met with its mother.
“Why don’t you exhibit? You really should exhibit. You have so many paintings just lying here.”
Annie cast her eyes up and down the woman. Just random shapes that happened to make a human. That’s all she was. Hair dyed brown. A shade too dark to be natural. Highlights in straight lines almost luminous in the glimmer of the candlelight that filled her studio day and night. A thin line of grey growth around her forehead signaled a panic visit to her hairdresser was imminent. The woman smiled, wrinkling ill-matched foundation hiding freckles and liver spots like a pencil drawing under acrylic.
“Why don’t you draw people?” she whined.
Annie blinked three times. No. Still there. Crap.
She’d met the woman before. Her and the girl. Couldn’t remember where. Some show or other?
“I draw what people see.” Annie swiveled her chair back to her easel. The canvas was blank. There was something on the edge of her vision wanting to come out. It had appeared the moment the child walked into her studio and started touching her things. Then the child spoke and her noise pushed the image into the mist.
“Your mother sends her love,” she woman said. “She wishes you’d visit her more.”
Ahh. Annie nodded. Must have met the woman at one of her mother’s charity events.
The woman kept talking. “She said you had a gift. A gift of sight, she called it.” She paused. For a moment, Annie reveled in the silence. “Sorry to hear about your father,” the woman added.
The picture in the mist was coming back. Slow. Like mountains breaking through soft earth. No real resistance. Just at its own, sweet pace. Annie breathed deep. Let it happen. Let it come. Like all the others. A vision, but not a vision. Just what people saw. That’s what she drew. Exactly what people saw. A gift? Maybe.
“This is wonderful.” The woman ran her hand over the edge of a canvas.
Annie closed her eyes again. The sound of the woman’s flesh on the fabric as good as peeled layers off her skin.
“Isn’t this the beach your father… ahh… I mean. Isn’t this the view from the very place…”
“It’s the view of exactly where he jumped from. Yes. Those are the rocks on which my father died.”
“Oh my. It’s like it’s what he… I mean. It’s like…”
Annie helped the woman. “Yes, it’s probably the last thing he saw.”
“I mean, the dates. The date. It’s the day…”
Annie breathed in deep, then let the air out. What was it with this woman and incomplete sentences. “I painted it the day before.”
“What a coincidence.”
Annie lifted a pencil and pressed it on the blank sheet in front of her. All she needed was a quick sketch to seal the image. Once that was done, it wouldn’t escape her. Like a dream. Tell the dream once and you’ll remember it. Let it stay in your mind and it’ll fade leaving you with nothing but a sense of what it was.
This image was sharp and clear. Even through the mist, Annie could see that. She smiled. It’ll happen soon. She just needed a final push. This one was close. She could almost touch it. Almost.
“Isabella! No. Don’t touch that.”
Annie grabbed a pencil and drew. Fast. Lines and swirls. Angles and shapes. Quick. Catch it all. Catch it. Before the mist takes it back.
“It wasn’t my fault.”
Annie blinked. She had it.
She looked at the red-haired child and smiled. Annie drew what people saw. She couldn’t help what people saw.
“It’s okay.” She stood up , walked over to the mother and swept up the pottery shards. “Just something I sometimes keep brushes in. Got it from a charity shop for twenty pence.”
“I’m so sorry.” The woman stumbled around getting in the way of the clean up.
The child pointed at the sketch Annie had left on the new canvas. “A bus. Why is it at such a funny angle on the road? It’s blocking all the traffic.”
Annie ditched the rubble, went back to the canvas and picked up colour.
A busy street. People everywhere. Buses and taxis, cars and bikes. All going left and right, up and down.
“What are you doing?” The little girl pressed her little pointed chin into Annie’s shoulder.
“Drawing something for you.”
The girl beamed. “I like buses.”
Annie painted a number seven on the front of the bus. She worked fast. The image was clear and perfect.
“That’s ahh, nice,” the mother took her place at Annie’s other shoulder. “Why don’t you draw the people?” she asked again.
“I just draw what people see.”
“Who sees this?” the little girl jiggled about nudging Annie’s stool.
“You,” Annie smiled.
“I haven’t seen a number seven bus in ages. It doesn’t go passed our house.”
Annie shrugged. “It goes past mine.”
“There are people in this drawing.” The mother leaned forward and pointed at a blank space on top of a body dressed in a yellow dress.
“True. People will see the dress.” Annie painted broad strokes then leaned close to the canvas and etched in detail with her fingernail. “Mostly, they’re so concerned with themselves that they don’t see faces though.” She glanced at the girl. “Don’t you think that’s true?” Annie looked up at the mother and smiled. “One day, you’ll look back and remember that you did see the dress, but not the woman’s face.”
“Can I have it?” The little girl stuck her finger in the wet paint then looked at the orange on her fingertip like she wasn’t sure how it got there.
Annie painted the hands of a clock next to a dog food advert on the side of a building. It said 3.05.
“Of course you can have it. Your mother can collect it when it’s dry if she likes.” Annie looked at the clock on her wall. It read 3.00 exactly. She could ask them to stay for tea. She could offer them tea and biscuits. “Probably time you went,” she said instead. “I expect you have things to do. Places to be.”
The mother laughed. Nervous. An edge to it. “Of course. We just dropped by because your mother said it would be good if you got out more.”
Annie smiled. “Of course she did.”
Two minutes later Annie led the child and the mother out of her studio and locked the door.
It’s over. It’s all over now.
She only drew what people saw. That’s all. It’s just how it happened. Like her dad before he jumped. She stared at two hundred and three canvases leaning against her walls. She just drew what people saw.
She glanced at the clock. 3.03. Silence. She waited. 304. Silence. She was never wrong. Never wrong.
Annie hugged her knees to her chest. 55… 56… 57… 58… 59…
Tyres squealed. Then a scream. A woman. The mother. Annie knew it was the mother. Footsteps. Horns. Whistles. Shouts this time. A man. Another scream. The woman in the yellow dress. Definitely.
Annie unfolded her legs and turned back to her easel. She didn’t need to look out her window. She knew a number seven bus would be parked sideways on the street blocking the traffic. It’ll be in front of a dog food advert. The clock would read 3.05. A woman in a yellow dress would be running towards the gathering crowd.
“Maybe I could have warned them,” she murmured to no one in particular. She lifted her pencil. “I could have kept them here until 3.06. I could have made them tea. Tea? I would have said. Tea and biscuits.” She nudged the bin with the broken bits of pottery. “A gift.” Annie shook her head. “A gift of sight.” She painted final details around the wheels of the bus.