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Vanes and blades of an invisible fan run around and around and around… one blade following another, producing warm, unpleasant air, moving just enough to guarantee mild dissatisfaction to any hot and uncomfortable soul in need of relief. Running and running…apparently to the dead, suffocating air would be insufferable without the carrot of slight movement. I loathe the carrot. Brooding, stirring - a dirge - the forgotten elegy of howling ghosts stuck inside spinning blades. Clinging to the rounded metal bars, willing themselves to stillness, they attempt to overcome the unbearable monotonous movement. But they can’t. The shades only have time to wail, to anguish and cry, to scream inscrutable screams, before the wind breaks their frail but nonetheless white knuckled grip free and they’re spun around again.
I want to find the fan, smash it to the ground, and bake until I’m cracked, burnt and steaming, until I’m cooked and tired. Then I’ll scream into the stillness. A low hum, a high whistle, an anguished howl, the tick of the blade. And here I am… sweeping.
He told me to paint over the windows, to mop and sweep the floors, to plaster over holes, cracks, and scuffs. One rule: don’t look at the painting. Apparently that’s what got the last guy. Tonight I will mop, sweep, and paint over the windows (this is the saddest part - painting over feeble lines of tree and blue sky peeping through), but I don’t have any plastering to do. He’ll come in at nine (precisely) and pay me. Then he sits down on the hard, wooden bench in the center of the room, and I walk out, shutting the heavy white door behind me.
Mop. Hum, whistle, howl, tick. Sweep. Hum, whistle, howl, tick. Paint. Hum, chirp… Must have been the ghosts. Or the birds outside... Sweep. Hum, whistle, howl, psst… No. Sweep, whistle, howl, paint, hum, howl, tick - the clearing of a throat…
The clearing of a throat. My eyes flicker to the frame - I fix them on my blue overshoes. She speaks -
Would you tell me please, what’s outside the window?
I thought she was bald. But then I realized the painter painted her white blonde hair so taut against her head it only appeared hairless. Her skin - just a shade paler than her hair, her lips a shade pinker than her skin, if there was any true color in the frame at all, it came from her eyes - a pleading gray-green, the green part prying its way through gray for glimpses of life. It felt out of place, a mistake. Just barely surviving by the light in her eye as she asked me about the window. The feeble lines of tree and blue sky. The birds. She was disappearing into the white wall he hung her on. Elusive, transparent, the shade of a woman. And yet there was some indefinable quality… something about her white DeGas’ ballerina-inspired dress, or the way the light never hit her skin unflatteringly, or the way her hair never fell out of place… something about her stillness… intoxicating…
Please, sir, the window?
Hum, whistle -
I’m not supposed to look at you.
Hum, whistle, howl -
You can speak to me without looking at me.
Whistle, howl, tick. Paint, paint, paint -
Yes, I can.
I couldn’t help it. I looked again - her smile was stunning, the most stunning part of the painting - her eyes flashed spring green before I forced my own down to the paintbrush again. I suddenly felt disgusted. The thick white goo dripped from the end of dirty old bristles, sticking to my fingers… a menacing, taunting descent into the awaiting can… nearly returning, nearly returning, barely touching the large vat of indecent white sludge. Molasses, tar, liquid concrete…. I hate the paint. I want nothing more than to throw it against the wall and watch the dreadful muck descend slowly to the floor - wrecking, destroying, demolishing the clean room. Hum, whistle, howl, tick.
I knew her eyes were green, then. A door slams. The paintbrush falls from my hand, leaving a large, ugly blob directly in front of my feet. It’s him.
Hum, whistle, howl, tick. Hum, whistle, howl, tick. I stare at my blue overshoes. I can feel his eyes pierce the top of my skull, I can feel his hands around my neck, I can feel his sick snarl as he whispers goodbye in my ear and throws me to the door. Hum, whistle, howl, tick. She sniffles, what’s her name? I forgot to ask. Hum, whistle, howl, tick.
I’m disappointed in you.
I was about to answer when -
I’m sorry, sir.
Hum, whistle, howl, tick.
I am… I am sorry.
Her voice was as pale as her face… I didn’t dare look… but I knew her eyes were gray, I knew she was falling back into the white wall… a pale, naked figure willfully drowning into a gray sea… Hum. Whistle. Howl. Tick. Down, down, down…. The howling rises, and rises, and rises… down she goes… engulfed. Poor Ophelia. She cries… I can’t help but look again… her tears were pearls… tiny, sad little pearls, with slight iridescence, just a shadow of green… falling down her poor, clammy cheeks. He spoke - to me, this time, apparently -
Hum, whistle, howl, tick.
Should I - come back tomorr -
Hum, whistle -
Leave us, please.
Should I - mop up the -
So I do. Pearls collect in the bottom basin of my eyes… don’t fall, don’t fall… I look back once more… green. Green? Howling, howling…
What’s happening to her -
Howling, howling… I couldn’t look away… green paint of all shades - every shade imaginable and unimaginable, every natural hue, the vast expanse of forest across all the earth’s land - seeping its way through the cracks of her golden frame, as if she were crying for all the crimes against the whole natural world - the paint followed the frame’s golden ridges and engraved rivers, its carved flowers, overflowing, falling, staining his precious white wall... giant green tears falling, falling - destroying, disrupting… I found her eyes - Pan’s eyes - green flames - resolute, strong, with complete understanding of what was sure to come - I knew it too… I no longer cry for Ophelia. I no longer cry for Pan.
I am so grateful you chose me for your gallery. So grateful to be hung by two thin strings - one for each shoulder, an extra rung in the back to hold my tongue. Please plaster a smirk on my face, one that is pleasant - a lady-like demeanor. And assure me sir that my cheeks will be pink, my lips will be sealed, and my eyes will be sparkling. So that every time you look at me you see what you want to see. I hope I am pretty. Do you think I’m pretty?
Oh sir, would you muffle my words beneath heavy paint? I’m drowning! I’m drowning! Oh sir, would you blanket my feelings in chalky white powder? I’m coughing! I’m coughing! Incase me, douse me in plastic veneer. I am nothing. Anything for you.
But, please sir, for me - I ask only one thing, humbly - Would you tell me please, what’s outside the window? - That you may keep me safe, away from that scary world, in a clean white gallery. Alone… All alone.
So that I may be only beautiful for you, the only beautiful one. Please sir, the window? An object for your pleasure… Sir? An item preserved… I see. Chemicals and lacquer… your waxy figure. You can speak to me without looking at me. Yes please, I ask you humbly - Trees?
Oh sir, I have failed you. No. Oh sir, I have disappointed you. No. I’m sorry, sir. Let me out. I am… I am sorry. I’m not sorry! Hold me by your strings - Trees - your rungs - Trees - my body - Trees - my face - Green - paint - Trees - your strings - Trees - your rungs - Trees - your body, your face -
Who am I but yours? Who am I but yours? Your toy thing. Your toy thing. I’m so grateful to hang myself in your gallery. I’m so grateful to hang myself in your gallery.
Ella Talerico (@ellatalerico) is nineteen year old writer and creator from Nashville, TN. She loves all things creative - whether it be composing music, drawing, writing plays or poems or short stories, or filming and editing videos. She believes that these various creative endeavors intersect, communicate, and enrich each other. She is currently in her first year at Vassar College, and loves combining her studies inside the classroom, be it astronomy or philosophy or cognitive science, with her creative pursuits outside of class.
Lillie Waddell (@lillie_waddell) is a native to Tennessee who has a passion for the arts. Lillie mostly works in colored pencil and watercolor, but also enjoys testing out new mediums. She is currently pursuing architecture at Syracuse University. In her free time, Lillie enjoys spending time outside, creating art in her garage, and also taking the time to catch up on her current reads. She is excited to have the opportunity to illustrate Ella’s story, and she hopes that you all enjoy!