Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul."
—Edgar Allan Poe
Twenty Years Ago
Time played tricks on him whenever he stood in front of the easel. Hypnotized by the rhythm of the brush on the canvas, by one color merging into another, the two shades creating a third, the third melting into a fourth, he was lulled into a state of single-minded consciousness focused only on the image emerging. Immersed in the act of painting, he forgot obligations, missed classes, didn't remember to eat or to drink or look at the clock. This was why, at 5:25 that Friday evening, Lucian Glass was rushing down the urine-stinking steps to the gloomy subway platform when he should have already been uptown where Solange Jacobs was waiting for him at her father's framing gallery. Together, they planned to walk over to an exhibit a block away, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
When he reached the store, the shade was drawn and the Closed sign faced out, but the front door wasn't locked. Inside, none of the lamps were lit, but there was enough ambient twilight coming through the windows for him to see that Solange wasn't there, only dozens and dozens of empty frames, encasing nothing but pale yellow walls, crowded shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting to be filled like lost souls looking for mates.
As he hurried toward the workroom in the back, the commingled smells of glue and sawdust grew stronger and, except for his own voice calling out, the silence louder.
Stopping on the threshold, he looked around but saw only more empty frames.Where was she? And why was she here alone? Lucian was walking toward the worktable, wondering if there was another room back there, when he saw her. Solange was sprawled on the floor, thrown against a large, ornate frame as if she were its masterpiece, her blood splattered on its broken gold arms, a still life in terror. There were cuts on her face and hands and more blood pooled beneath her.
Kneeling, he touched her shoulder. "Solange?"
Her eyes stayed closed but she offered a ghost of a smile.
While he was thinking of what to do first—help her or call 911—she opened her eyes and lifted her hand to her cheek. Her fingertips came away red with blood.
"Cut?" she asked, as if she had no idea what had happened.
"Promise," she whispered, "you won't paint me like this…" Solange had a crescent-shaped scar on her forehead and was forever making sure her bangs covered it. Then, catching herself, she'd laugh at her vanity. That laugh now came out as a moan.
When her eyes fluttered closed, Lucian put his head on her chest. He couldn't hear a heartbeat. Putting his mouth over hers, he attempted resuscitation, frantically mimicking what he'd seen people do in movies, not sure he was doing it right.
He thought he saw her hand move and had a moment of elation that she was going to be all right before realizing it was only his reflection moving in the frame. His head back on her chest, he listened but heard nothing. As he lay there, Solange's blood seeping out of her wound, soaking his hair and shirt, he felt a short, fierce burst of wind.
Lucian was tall but thin… just a skinny kid studying to be a painter. He didn't know how to defend himself, didn't know how to deflect the knife that came down, ripping through his shirt and flesh and muscle. Again. And then again. So many times that finally he wasn't feeling the pain; he was the pain, had become the agony. Making an effort to stay focused, as if somehow that would matter, he tried to memorize all the colors of the scene around him: his attacker's shirtsleeve was ochre, Solange's skin was titanium white… he was drifting…
There were voices next, very far-off and indistinct. Lucian tried to grasp what they were saying.
"…extensive blood loss…"
"…multiple stab wounds…"
He was traveling away from the words. Or were they traveling away from him? Were the people leaving him alone here? Didn't they realize he was hurt? No, they weren't leaving him… they were lifting him. Moving him. He felt cool air on his face. Heard traffic.
Their voices were becoming more indistinct.
"…can't get a pulse…"
"We're losing him…quick, quick. We're losing him…"
The distance between where he was and where they were increased with every second. The words were just faint whispers now, as soft as a wisp of Solange's hair.
"Too late…he's gone."
The last thing he heard was one paramedic telling the other the time was 6:59 p.m. A silence entered Lucian, filling him up and giving him, at last, respite from the pain.