“WELL, WHAT DO YOU THINK, ALICIA? Lots of light, eh? Do you like it?”
Yuri showed off the new studio proudly. It had been his idea to commandeer the unused room next to the goldfish bowl, and I agreed—it seemed a better idea than sharing Rowena’s art-therapy room, which, given her obvious hostility, would have created difficulties. Now Alicia could have a room of her own, where she’d be free to paint whenever she wished and without interruption.
Alicia looked around. Her easel had been unpacked and set up by the window, where there was the most light. Her box of oils was open on a table. Yuri winked at me as Alicia approached the table. He was enthusiastic about this painting scheme, and I was grateful for his support— Yuri was a useful ally, as he was by far the most popular member of the staff; with the patients, anyway. He gave me a nod, saying, “Good luck, you’re on your own now.” Then he left. The door closed after him with a bang. But Alicia didn’t seem to hear it.
She was in her own world, bent over the table, examining her paints with a small smile. She picked up the sable brushes and stroked them as if they were delicate flowers. She unpacked three tubes of oils—Prussian blue, Indian yellow, cadmium red—and lined them up. She turned to the blank canvas on the easel. She considered it. She stood there for a long time. She seemed to enter a trance, a reverie—her mind was elsewhere, having escaped somehow, traveled far beyond this cell—until finally she came out of it and turned back to the table. She squeezed some white paint onto the palette and combined it with a small amount of red. She had to mix the paints with a paintbrush: her palette knives had immediately been
confiscated upon their arrival at the Grove by Stephanie, for obvious reasons.
Alicia lifted the brush to the canvas—and made a mark. A single red stroke of paint in the middle of the white space.
She considered it for a moment. Then made another mark. Another. Soon she was painting without pause or hesitation, with total fluidity of movement. It was a kind of dance between Alicia and the canvas. I stood there, watching the shapes she was creating.
I remained silent, scarcely daring to breathe. I felt as if I was present at an intimate moment, watching a wild animal give birth. Although Alicia was aware of my presence, she didn’t seem to mind. She occasionally looked up, while painting, and glanced at me.
Almost as if she was studying me.
* * *
Over the next few days the painting slowly took shape, roughly at first, sketchily, but with increasing clarity—then it emerged from the canvas with a burst of pristine photo-realistic brilliance.
Alicia had painted a redbrick building, a hospital—unmistakably the Grove. It was on fire, burning to the ground. Two figures were discernible on the fire escape. A man and a woman escaping the fire. The woman was unmistakably Alicia, her red hair the same color as the flames. I recognized the man as myself. I was carrying Alicia in my arms, holding her aloft while the fire licked at my ankles.
I couldn’t tell if I was depicted as rescuing Alicia—or about to throw her in the flames.