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August 20— The Third-Quarter Moon
GRACE’S VOICE, in the dark, it tells Misty, “The work you’re doing will buy your family freedom.” It says, “No summer people will come back here for decades.”
Unless Peter wakes up someday, Grace and Misty are the only Wilmots left.
Unless you wake up, there won’t be any more Wilmots.
You can hear the slow, measured sound of Grace cutting something with scissors.
Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations. There’s no point rebuilding the family fortune. Let the house go to the Catholics. Let the summer people swarm over the island. With Tabbi dead, the Wilmots have no stake in the future. No investment.
Grace says, “Your work is a gift to the future, and anyone who tries to stop you will be cursed by history.”
While Misty paints, Grace’s hands circle her waist with something, then her arms, her neck. It’s something that rubs her skin, light and soft.
“Misty dear, you have a seventeen-inch waist,” Grace says.
It’s a tape measure.
Something smooth slips between her lips, and Grace’s voice says, “It’s time you took another pill.” A drinking straw pokes into her mouth, and Misty sips enough water to swallow the capsule.
In 1819, Theodore Gericault painted his masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa . It showed the ten castaways that survived out of one hundred and forty-seven people left adrift on a raft for two weeks after their ship sank. At the time, Gericault had just abandoned his pregnant mistress. To punish himself, he shaved his head. He saw no friends for almost two years, never going out in public. He was twenty-seven and lived in isolation, painting. Surrounded by the dying people and cadavers he studied for his masterpiece. After several suicide attempts, he died at thirty-two.
Grace says, “We all die.” She says, “The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”
She runs the tape measure down the length of Misty’s legs.
Something cold and smooth slides against Misty’s cheek, and Grace’s voice tells her, “Feel.” Grace says, “It’s satin. I’m sewing your gown for the opening.”
Instead of “gown,” Misty hears shroud .
Just from the feel, Misty knows it’s white satin. Grace is cutting down Misty’s wedding dress. Remaking it. Making it last forever. Born again. Reborn. Misty’s Wind Song perfume still on it, Misty recognizes herself.
Grace says, “We’ve invited everyone. All the summer people. Your opening will be the biggest social event in a hundred years.”
The same as her wedding. Our wedding.
Instead of “opening,” Misty hears offering .
Grace says, “You’re almost done. Only eighteen more paintings to complete.”
To make an even one hundred.
Instead of “done,” Misty hears dead .
TODAY IN THE DARKNESS behind Misty’s eyelids, the hotel’s fire alarm goes off. One long ringing bell in the hallway, it comes through the door so loud Grace has to shout, “Oh, what is it now?” She puts a hand on Misty’s shoulder and says, “Keep working.”
The hand squeezes, and Grace says, “Just finish this last picture. That’s all we need.”
Her footsteps go away, and the door to the hall opens. The alarm is louder for a moment, ringing, shrill as the recess bell at Tabbi’s school. At her own grade school, growing up. The ringing is soft, again, as Grace shuts the door behind her. She doesn’t lock it.
But Misty keeps painting.
Her mom in Tecumseh Lake, when Misty told her about maybe marrying Peter Wilmot and moving to Waytansea Island, her mom told Misty that all big-money fortunes are based on fooling people and pain. The bigger the fortune, she said, the more people got hurt. For rich people, she said, the first marriage was just about reproduction. She asked, did Misty really want to spent the rest of her life surrounded by that kind of person?
Her mom asked, “Don’t you want to be an artist anymore?”
Just for the record, Misty told her, Yeah, sure.
It wasn’t even that Misty was so in love with Peter. Misty didn’t know what it was. She just couldn’t go home to that trailer park, not anymore.
Maybe it’s just a daughter’s job to piss off her mother.
They don’t teach you that in art school.
The fire alarm keeps ringing.
The week Peter and Misty eloped, it was over Christmas break. That whole week, Misty let her mom worry. The minister looked at Peter and said, “Smile, son. You look as though you’re facing a firing squad.”
Her mom, she called the college. She called the hospitals. One emergency room had the body of a dead woman, a young woman found naked in a ditch and stabbed a hundred times in the stomach. Misty’s mom, she spent Christmas Day driving across three counties to look at the mutilated dead body of this Jane Doe. While Peter and Misty marched down the main aisle of the Waytansea church, her mom held her breath and watched a police detective pull down the zipper on a body bag.
Back in that previous life, Misty called her mom a couple days after Christmas. Sitting in the Wilmot house behind a locked door, Misty fingered the junk jewelry Peter had given her during their dating, the rhinestones and fake pearls. On her answering machine, Misty listened to a dozen panicked messages from her mom. When Misty finally got around to dialing their number in Tecumseh Lake, her mom just hung up.
It was no big deal. After a little cry, Misty never called her mom again.
Already Waytansea Island felt more like home than the trailer ever had.
The hotel fire alarm keeps ringing, and through the door someone says, “Misty? Misty Marie?” There’s a knock. It’s a man’s voice.
And Misty says, Yes?
The alarm is loud with the door opening, then quiet. A man says, “Christ, it stinks in here!” And it’s Angel Delaporte come to her rescue.
Just for the record, the weather today is frantic, panicked, and slightly rushed with Angel pulling the tape off her face. He takes the paintbrush out of her hand. Angel slaps her one time, hard on each cheek, and says, “Wake up. We don’t have much time.”
Angel Delaporte slaps her the way you’d slap a bimbo on Spanish television. Misty all skin and bones.
The hotel fire alarm just keeps ringing and ringing.
Squinting against the sunlight from her one tiny window, Misty says, Stop. Misty says he doesn’t understand. She has to paint. It’s all she has left.
The picture in front of her is a square of sky, smudged blue and white, nothing complete, but it fills the whole sheet of paper. Stacked against the wall near the doorway are other pictures, their faces to the wall. A number penciled on the back of each. Ninety-seven on one. Ninety-eight. Another is ninety-nine.
The alarm just ringing and ringing.
“Misty,” Angel says. “Whatever this little experiment is, you are done.” He goes to her closet and gets out a bathrobe and sandals. He comes back and sticks each of her feet in one, saying, “It’s going to take about two minutes for people to find out this is a false alarm.”
Angel slips a hand under each of her arms and heaves Misty to her feet. He makes a fist and knocks it against her cast, saying, “What is this all about?”
Misty asks, What is he here for?
“That pill you gave me,” Angel says, “it gave me the worst migraine of my life.” He’s throwing the bathrobe over her shoulders and says, “I had a chemist analyze it.” Dropping each of her tired arms into a bathrobe sleeve, he says, “I don’t know what kind of doctor you have, but those capsules contain powdered lead with trace amounts of arsenic and mercury.”
The toxic parts of oil paints: Vandyke red, ferrocyanide; iodine scarlet, mercuric iodide; flake white, lead carbonate; cobalt violet, arsenic—all those beautiful compounds and pigments that artists treasure but turn out to be deadly. How your dream to create a masterpiece will drive you nuts and then kill you.
Her, Misty Marie Wilmot, the poisoned drug addict possessed by the devil, Carl Jung, and Stanislavski, painting perfect curves and angles.
Misty says he doesn’t understand. Misty says, Tabbi, her daughter. Tabbi’s dead.
And Angel stops. His eyebrows up in surprise, he says, “How?”
A few days ago, or weeks. Misty doesn’t know. Tabbi drowned.
“Are you sure?” he says. “It wasn’t in the newspaper.”
Just for the record, Misty’s not sure of anything.
Angel says, “I smell urine.”
It’s her catheter. It’s pulled out. They’re leaving a trail of pee from her easel, out the room, and down the hallway carpet. Pee, and her cast dragging.
“My bet,” Angel says, “is you don’t even need that leg in a cast.” He says, “You know that chair in the picture you sold me?”
Misty says, “Tell me.”
His arms around her, he’s dragging Misty through a door, into the stairwell. “That chair was made by the cabinetmaker Hershel Burke in 1879,” he says, “and shipped to Waytansea Island for the Burton family.”
Her cast thuds on every step. Her ribs hurt from Angel’s fingers holding too tight, rooting and digging under her arms, and Misty tells him, “A police detective.” Misty says, “He said some ecology club is burning down all those houses Peter wrote inside.”
“Burned,” Angel says. “Mine included. They’re all gone.”
The Ocean Alliance for Freedom. OAFF for short.
Angel’s hands still in their leather driving gloves, he drags her down another flight of stairs, saying, “You know this means something paranormal is happening, don’t you?”
First, Angel Delaporte says, it’s impossible she could draw so well. Now it’s some evil spirit just using her as a human Etch A Sketch. She’s only good enough to be some demonic drafting tool.
Misty says, “I thought you’d say that.”
Oh, Misty, she knows what’s happening.
Misty says, “Stop.” She says, “Just why are you here?”
Why since the start of all this has he been her friend? What is it that keeps Angel Delaporte pestering her? Until Peter wrecked his kitchen, until Misty rented him her house, they were strangers. Now he’s pulling fire alarms and dragging her down a stairway. Her with a dead kid and a comatose husband.
Her shoulders twist. Her elbows jerk up, hitting him around the face, smack in his missing eyebrows. To make him drop her. To make him leave her alone. Misty says, “Just stop.”
There on the stairs, the fire alarm stops. It’s quiet. Only her ears still ring.
You can hear voices from the hallway on each floor. A voice from the attic says, “Misty’s gone. She’s not in her room.”
It’s Dr. Touchet.
Before they go another step, Misty waves her fists at Angel. Misty whispers, “Tell me.” Collapsed on the stairs, she whispers, “Why are you fucking with me?”