Confession and Sacrifice

.
here was a day I opened my eyes
and found the sheer fog usually blocking me from the world had faded. Even knowing this meant I would again be called upon to use my gift was not enough to obscure the satisfaction I felt as the trembling in my fingers turning to tendrils of sensation traveling up my arms. I pulled in a tentative breath, inhaling the too strong perfume and a whiff of smoky aftershave, sensing I knew why tonight I was finally able to see and hear the world of the auction house when so many other nights had come and gone without notice. I tried to concentrate on remaining motionless as person after person walked past my painting.

“Confession and Sacrifice? Seriously, Geoffrey, who names these things? All I see is a little girl in a carriage with a horse.”

Geoffrey gave my painting a ghost of a smile before turning to the woman standing next to him.

“This piece was finished in 1914 but was named by the original owner. There’s been a lot of speculation over the years about the identity of the girl in the painting. The artist would never reveal details, though a reporter once coaxed out of the artist’s nephew that the little girl named the painting herself.” He winked and continued. “You know, Lily, about a week after he gave the painting to his nephew the artist died quite unexpectedly under questionable circumstances.” Geoffrey paused for a moment before continuing, voice sounding almost wistful, “I met the nephew once, many years ago. In his words, the girl in the painting absorbs secrets and channels their power. He also told me that she saved his life, but I don’t know about that one.”

I watched him carefully, thinking that the twinkle in his eye meant he actually did know quite a lot about me but he just wasn’t telling. I felt my fingers tingle with an unfamiliar excitement, wondering how much more this old man knew as I felt a buzz continue to travel over my skin.

“Well, I think it’s creepy to use the words confession and sacrifice together in a title to describe that little angel in the painting.” She gave my painting one last inquisitive look before walking over to examine some of the other auction items on display.

A woman wearing a whole company of foxes leaned close to me and said in a booze- soaked whisper, “my husband doesn’t know that I’m in love with the gardener.” She blinked several times and stood straighter, looking around her as if to ensure she was still alone, before giving me a quizzical glance and walking away.

As she left, the tingle that had started in my fingertips started to spread through the rest of my body and I moved my toes in my white dress shoes with a mixture of shock and relief. I kept many secrets over the years and my ability to hear and remember secrets was just one of them.

When the man in the ugly red suit at the front of the room gave a five minute warning, the woman called Lily wandered back over to my painting and stared at me. I held my breath and tried to keep my face still and steady.

“Mark would love to see this,” she murmured, more to herself than to me. She leaned closer and I thought she might notice the quiver of my fingers on my dress. She stared deeply into my eyes and said, “Mark’s cancer is only getting worse, but he doesn’t want us to tell his father” in a tiny voice.

“Lily?” asked Geoffrey, coming to stand next to her, “shall we find our seats?”

She gave a start and appeared for moment as a deer in headlights, before shaking her head as if to clear it. She gave Geoffrey a smile and took his arm as they walked to seats in the corner close to my painting. I watched him settle back and could almost feel the caress of the plush velour on my own skin as he shifted to sit comfortably in his chair.

The man in the ugly red jacket called things to order and began the hectic but somehow civilized process of parting these rich people from their money. I was so lost in the hum of the bids and counter bids that I almost jumped up when the man called for bidding to begin on my painting. Holding as still as possible, I felt the attention of the room focus on me as two tiny spots of red formed on the apples of my cheeks. I held my breath and waited as the man in the ugly red jacket began the process anew. Geoffrey perked up for the first time that night and began bidding with a frenzy.

I watched Lily as she continued to glance over at Geoffrey’s face as bidding proceeded. Though there were other bidders, the way Geoffrey gripped his paddle and kept his eyes locked on my painting showed his determination to take me home with him. As he raised his paddle to bid again, I heard her whisper urgently, “that bid was one hundred forty thousand dollars! How high are you planning to go?”

“As high as I need to,” Geoffrey said, face laser focused. A few minutes later, he raised his paddle for a final bid of one hundred sixty two thousand dollars, to applause from the crowd. I was bemused at the reaction of the well-dressed audience and almost laughed aloud when Geoffrey bounced out of his seat to give the audience a theatrical bow, greeted with laughter and more applause. Lily grinned as the old man reveled in the attention.

When we arrived at Geoffrey’s house, he and Lily carried my painting up several stairs before taking it from the wrapping and hanging me on the wall of a large and ornate bedroom. When Lily stepped out to use the bathroom, Geoffrey looked at me with a wistful smile and murmured, “I wish I my son felt he could trust me with the truth. I’m not as frail as I am old, after all.”

When Lily came back into the room, she walked over to Geoffrey with a smile and a warm hug.

“You go and take care of Mark. Thank you for being my date for the evening,” said Geoffrey.

“I had a great time. I’ll admit I was expecting a little more stuffiness, but I found it quite fun.”

“You were a pleasure as always.” Geoffrey took her face in his fingers, “I am so glad Mark has you in his life. You are a Godsend.” Touched, she took his other hand and kissed it briefly.

“Thanks Dad. Sleep well and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Lily walked over to the bedroom door and turned back to look over at Geoffrey again. I saw Lily’s eyes open a little wider at the heaviness in Geoffrey’s face and the pain that pulled the corners of his eyes closer together. I saw in the tears that glistened at the corners of her eyes that she realized Geoffrey knew more than either she or Mark had given him credit for.

Geoffrey and I watched through this window as Lily let herself into her car and drove off. Walking over to me, he gently rested his fingers on my dress, almost caressing the fabric with his touch.

“Welcome home,” he whispered.

Geoffrey changed into pajamas and climbed beneath the covers, leaving the light on beside the bed. He smiled over to me as he settled into a restful silence.

As midnight approached, I felt an incredible lightness overtake me. I could smell the soap Geoffrey had used as he readied himself for bed. I could hear the slight chirp of the crickets through the barely open window of the bedroom. Lifting myself carefully from my seat, I stepped out of the carriage and slipped onto the plush maroon carpetingwithout even a whisper of sound. I crept across the room to stand over Geoffrey and we shared a tender smile.

“It’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to leave my painting.” My voice was a little creaky from disuse, but Geoffrey smiled back at me.

“I’ve waited a long time to have you here with me,” he said.

My fingers itched to touch his face and I knew what would happen next. “Are you sure?” I asked him. “It’s not too late to change your mind,” though I wasn’t sure that was actually true.

His response was a gentle smile and a nod. I slipped my hands from my sleeves and placed them on his withered cheeks, leaning down to press my lips lightly against his, before stepping swiftly back up to my carriage and settling down in my seat with a sigh.

*

Mark and Lily found him the next morning. The day had broken sharp and clear and I was pleased to find that I was still aware of the room around me. I heard their voices as they called and ascended the stairs and I held as still as possible as they came in to find Geoffrey lying peacefully in his bed. I felt a single tear fall down my cheek as they held each other and waited for the medics to tell them what we all already knew.

“At least we spared him the pain of knowing about the cancer,” Mark said, gripping his wife in a fierce hug.

“At least he went quickly,” Lily murmured quietly to Mark. She held him tightly and glanced over his shoulder to meet my clear gaze as I looked back at her from my painting.

That night they wrapped my painting in fabric and brought me to their home, hanging the canvas in the living room. “She can be a memory of my father’s very favorite pastime,” Mark said firmly, though it was unclear whether he was trying to convince Lily or himself.

Days passed in a blur of faces and colors and I noticed my senses starting to soften and wither. I held onto every scent and sound I could pull in to remember them when my painting sealed them out again.

A few days after Geoffrey had passed, a woman with an unfamiliar voice was sitting with Mark and Lily in the room with a large folder and a pensive expression.

“I don’t normally make house calls, but I wanted to come and talk to you about these test results and, well, I just couldn’t wait until your next appointment.”

Lily and Mark exchanged a look before focusing back on the woman I assumed to be a doctor. She pulled the papers from the folder and looked down at them for a long moment, her excitement and anxiety almost tangible. I found myself silently hoping she would hurry up and explain as I noticed their words were starting to fade as the sheer fog began to roll across the surface of my painting. We all watched the doctor as she lifted her eyes to lock them on Mark’s.

“The cancer,” she said, voice hesitant. “It’s gone.”

* * * * *

This week Emily Markussen Sorsher is acting as Guest Editor while Dr. Hurley puts the finishing touches to his prize-winning Christmas Pudding. We hope you enjoy the morsels she has hand-selected for your delectation!

* * * * *

Becky Raymond is a non-profit professional, avid knitter, and novice gardener who enjoys writing, blogging and writing book reviews.  She holds degrees from Smith College and Lesley University and regularly publishes her work on her blog, www.inquisitivehippo.com.  She lives with her family in central Vermont and can be reached at inquisitivehippo@gmail.com.

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5 Comments

  1. A bittersweet ending if there ever was one. I liked the dreamy narration of the girl in the painting, there was something very wise yet nurturing to her demeanor, like a minor god presiding over mere mortals.

    Reply
  1. Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Weeks 43 & 44 « Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure
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  3. Confession and Sacrifice « Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure

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