The Color of Angels

Fiction by Terri Windling

"Angel Wall" © 1995 by Jacqueline Warren
"Angel Wall" © 1995 by Jacqueline Warren

     Glass shattered against the wall to the left of Larry's head. "All right, I'm out of here," he said, departing as suddenly as he'd appeared on Tat's doorstep earlier that evening.

     She listened to his footsteps in the hall, and the grind of the lift as it descended to the street. Then she crossed the loft to mop up fragments of glass and the oily turpentine spill. The jar she had thrown had held soaking paintbrushes, which now dribbled turp and paint on the floor. She let out her breath, a long sigh of air that was half disgust, half embarrassment. Only Larry drove her to tantrums like this. And then refused to believe she was patient and reasonable with everyone else.

     The phone rang and she reached for it, knowing exactly who it would be. "Now listen, Tat," Larry said from the phone box on the corner, a safe distance from flying art implements, "I've booked us a table at our Italian place. Half past seven. I'll meet you there."

     "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you," Tat said. "I mean it. I never want to see you again."

     "Yeah I know. But you'll feel differently in an hour, thank god. Half-seven. The Italian place. Okay?"

     "No, it's not," she snarled. She hung up on him, but she knew he was right. She couldn't stay mad, not at anyone and especially not at Larry Bone. A forgiving nature was a failing, she thought. Those self-absorbed, vain, demanding kind of women--like the actress whose bed he had slept in last night--were better at getting whatever they wanted; while Tat had realized long ago that she'd never have what she wanted most. Not that having Larry in her own bed again was what she wanted most, Tat told herself firmly, dropping turp-soaked rags and shards of glass into the rubbish bin.

     Tat looked at the clock. She had an hour left to work. She crossed to the studio portion of the loft, where the tables (and the floor, and everything she touched) were covered with spattered inks and paints. Moon lay sprawled beneath the sink where he'd retreated when voices were raised. The dog's great head rested on long paws as he watched her through soft, ink-black eyes. He was huge (part wolfhound she'd always thought, with fur the silver of a winter moon) and mute; he'd never spoken once since she'd rescued him from the pound.

     Large industrial windows let in the last of the fading dusty light. The rooftops beyond the glass looked sooty, a drawing rendered in charcoal. The ceaseless traffic of London was a sound so familiar it seemed like silence to her. She snapped on an overhead light, re-tied her carpenter's apron around her waist, then frowned down at the piece she'd been working on until Larry arrived. The painting was a wet expanse of printer's inks in subtle tones: the greys of the November sky, a watery blue from her dreams last night, golds and creams breaking through like a weak autumn sun through a cover of cloud. She'd brushed, rolled and splattered the inks onto the surface of a plexiglass plate; the plate in turn would be run through a press, transferring the image to paper. She finished loading the plate with thick ink, and then she began to pare it away, rubbing with rags, with fingertips, scratching with knives, razors and pins, stripping the imagery down until shapes emerged, abstract, half-tangible, suggestive of archways and thresholds, of faded frescoes on crumbling walls.

     Tat glanced up at the clock again. Just enough time to print the plate; she'd only be a little late, and Larry, of course, would expect that she'd be. Late, breathless, paint on her hands: that's the way she always came to him; while he would arrive precisely on time, order a bottle of good red wine, and flirt with all of the waitresses until Tat finally arrived.

     She placed the plate on the bed of her hand press, covered with wet Fabriano paper. She set the weights, and then began to pull the wheel that turned the press, pushing ink and paper together. The wheel was stiff. She fought the rise of panic when it would not move, betraying the weakness in her body, the inexorable deterioration. She took a deep breath and hauled on the wheel. The rollers turned, and the plate passed through. Dizzy with effort, she peeled the print from the glass and tacked it up to dry.

     It was half-seven when she wiped the paint from her hands, from her hair, and off of her boots; five past eight when she entered the tiny restaurant where Larry was waiting for her, a San Gimignano wine open before him, most of it drunk already. His black box of harmonicas sat on the rush-bottomed seat beside him. He had a gig later tonight, but blues gigs always started late and they still had time to eat.

     A small package rested by her plate, wrapped in red and gold Renaissance paper. "What's this?"

     "Peace offering," he said with that lazy American drawl that she loved. Inside was the new Rory Block CD. She hadn't listened to the last one he'd given her yet. "Why don't you come to the club tonight?" he urged. "It's been ages since you've heard me play."

     "I'm just too tired." It wasn't quite true, but this was an excuse that he wouldn't push. Good blues always made her want to cry; and Larry was very good.

     The food and the wine soon restored peace between them, smothering the taste of frustration with the piquant flavors of affection and time. They'd been coming to the restaurant for years, although neither lived on this street anymore. Larry liked to hang on to the past: to places filled with memories, to talismans of their history. His flat was crowded with hoarded mementos--relics enshrining the years gone by. Fifteen years of life with Tat was contained in old photos, postcards from Florence, art show announcements, inscribed dog-eared books. She'd often wondered what the various women he brought home made of all this evidence of her. Perhaps she was one of the reasons that none of his hot love affairs ever lasted long; or perhaps this was simply the way he preferred his affairs--short and sweet, uncomplicated. Tatiana Ludvik was his sole complication. As Larry Bone was hers.

     He ran his thumb over her ink-spattered nails. "Did you print that piece in the end? Good. I don't know why you weren't happy with it. Myself, I could happily drown in that blue."

     But she shook her head, disagreeing with him. "Something's not right. Something's gone missing, and for the life of me I just can't fathom what. The gallery sent my last four prints back, and I can't even say I was surprised. I force myself to keep painting these days--and you know how unlike me that is."

     "Maybe you need to take a break."

     "Yeah, right," she said dryly. "And live on what? No prints, no sales, no rent, no groceries."

     "I'm serious, Tat. Don't worry about the dosh. You need a break, especially now. Your sister can help, and Maggie, and your parents. I'll pay your goddamn rent myself. Don't give me that look. There are times, you know, when independence ceases to be a survival skill."

     "And I'd prefer to continue looking after myself. Especially now," she added with a look calculated to quell another argument. The waiter brought their bill to the table, and she picked it up before Larry could. "I think I just need a change, that's all. I need to get out of London for a while. I'm going to go down to the chapel, take the phone off the hook, and get some solid work done."

     "To Devon? You're kidding. At this time of year?"

     Tat shrugged. "There's heat in my chapel."

     Larry looked glum. He probably thought she had a lover in the country. She had never chosen to disabuse him of this.

     "You could always come down on the train if you miss me."

     "I could," he agreed. They both knew he would not.

     Tat took out her keys. "I've got my car here. Come on, Bone. I'll give you a lift."

     He frowned, still glum. "Should you be driving?"

     She let out a short, impatient breath. "I drive better than I walk these days. And I get enough bloody nagging from my sister. Please, don't you start in too, my dear. That's not what I need right now."

     "Oh no? And what is it you need?" he said with a fey and narrow-eyed look.

     She took his hand as they left the restaurant. She was tall, but he was taller still, tall and thin as his name implied, his nose crested like the beak of a bird, his face long, his eyes bright as fire. "What do I need?" she repeated. "That's easy. Praise, approval, and utter delight in absolutely everything I do."

     He laughed, and squeezed her hand, rather hard. She'd be damned if she'd tell him that such things hurt now. "I think maybe I can manage that. How do you want it: time-release approval at hourly intervals, or praise twice daily in tidy lump sums?"

     "Constantly. Always. I wither without it." Tat smiled, and yet she thought with a certain dismay that this was not far from the truth. In the country, she'd strip herself down again, rubbing away the Larry-dependence like she rubbed away at the inks on the plates, till she reached the core image. Herself. Just herself. The restless mind, the treacherous body--each with its separate, conflicting demands. The first hungered loudly for solitude, and was halfway en route to the country already. The other clung to Larry's warm hand, hungering for things best left unsaid; tethering her in time, space, to this sidewalk, this night, this cold, this need. She unlocked the car. "Here, you drive, if it makes you feel better."

     It did, and he did.

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     "For heaven's sake, Tatiana," her sister said predictably, her voice rising in volume up the telephone wires from Kensington. "That loft of yours is dodgy enough, but the chapel is positively primitive. You'll be miles away from a hospital. What could you possibly be thinking of? What if something happens to you, and nobody knows but some farmers and sheep? You can't just ignore Multiple Sclerosis. You have to be careful now."

     Tat closed her eyes and summoned patience. Patience was yellow--the yellow of a Turner sky, while calm was as blue as the sea. She knew, far better than her twin sister did, that one couldn't just ignore MS; the limp to her walk, the pain in her fingers, the weariness lodged deep in her bones did not permit such forgetfulness. But to say so would merely up the pitch of Francesca's concern, already too shrill. To Franny, MS was high family drama; to Tat, a mundane, tedious fact of life. And so she sat silent as Francesca scolded, stroking Moon's huge silver head.

     " -- when you sell the chapel, of course," Francesca was saying when Tat tuned back in again.

     She frowned, piecing the rest of the sentence together. "But Fran, I'm not planning to sell. I only said that someone has made me an offer. Some French man who's bought Deercott Farm."

     "So sell," her lawyer sister said promptly. "You'll make a fat profit. I'll handle the deal."

     Tat wished she'd never mentioned the offer. She'd done so only to impress her sister with the sizeable sum the Frenchman had named. Particularly after Francesca's predictions of disaster when Tat first found the place: remote, derelict, field mouse infested and blessedly cheap.

     "I know you're fond of your funny little chapel, but you must see that it's not practical now. Not anymore, Tatiana, admit it. Let me call your Estate Agent for you and get the scoop on that Frenchman, shall I?"

     "I'll get the scoop myself when I'm there," she said to keep her sister at bay.

     "So that's why you're running down to Devon. Alright, that makes some sense. We're busy at the office this week or I'd go along, but I'm sure Mother would-- "

     "No," Tat said flatly.

     Her sister relented. "You always were the stubborn one. At very least, phone regularly. Is the telephone working? You should have it tested. And drive carefully for a change, won't you? The family worries about you, you know."

     "I know," Tat assured her dryly.

     She hung up the phone and went back to painting, her silent dog nestled close by her feet. She stared at the paints, running her hand distractedly through the tufts of her hair. She had cut off all its white-blonde length; it was just too hard to fuss anymore. No one would call her beautiful now. She noticed but did not mind beauty's loss. Francesca was a mirror retaining an image that Tat herself had once shared. She preferred the image in her mirror now--not a generic Pretty Girl anymore but a stronger face, less immediately attractive to men, but a face all her own.

     If only she wasn't always so goddamn tired, Tat thought as she blended the paints. Fatigue was the grey of a Whistler nocturne, pain was the white of O'Keeffe's sun-bleached bones. She used to be able to work all night long; it had been her best time, the midnight hours. When the clocks would slow, the world would fade, and the muse would come through London rain to Spittalfield's narrow, industrial streets. Once it had been Larry who'd come here by darkness, bringing his soulful harmonica music and bad coffee in Styrofoam cups. Now the muse and Moon were her silent companions, since Larry had long ceased to be. Yet lately her muse had also gone missing. Probably off with some bloody actress as well. Tat rubbed her eyes, gave in to her body, and rested her head on the table top. The inks on the plate slowly dried, ruining the print, as Tatiana slept.

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     In the morning she put on a warm woolen dress, and thick woolen socks under sturdy biker boots. Moon watched as she packed a suitcase, thumping his tail with silent excitement. She filled the back of her old Morris Minor with paper, inks, groceries and books. The dog took his place in the passenger seat, and grinned as they left the city behind. The traffic on the motorway was all London-bound in the opposite lane. Tat shifted up, flooring the accelerator, pushing eighty-five.

     The sky remained grey when they left London's smog. The late autumn air was damp and cold. The car's old heater sputtered, spat and coughed hot breath into her face. She slipped a cassette into the tape deck to mask the heater's death rattle sounds: the women musicians of Cherish the Ladies on fiddle, pipe and bodhran drum. The music was colored a deep emerald green, with flashes of red in the drum's steady pulse. She used to play a mean bodhran herself, back when her traitorous fingers still worked. She snapped off the tape deck. The heater wheezed and whined and she snapped it off as well. The rhythm of the road was the only sound that travelled with them as she headed southwest, a subtle music, soothing to the soul, as spare and stripped down as her prints.

     Four hours later they reached the West Country and turned south onto a small, winding road. The hedgerows were painted in rusts and golds, the sky vivid blue, fields green from the rain. The village of Endicott sat in the distance, resting its back on the rise of Crows Hill. She drove past the signpost pointing to the village, then past the sign to Deerworthy Gorge. She turned onto a rutted dirt track half-hidden by hedges and marked by two oaks. The winding track was lined by stone walls buried in ivy, holly and briars until it entered a small leafless wood and the parallel trees of a beech avenue. Beyond these enormous old trees was a low, crumbling wall and a gate, standing open now. Tat drove through and followed the track to its end in the yard of Deercott Farm. A smaller track led on to her chapel. From here she would have to walk.

     She parked by the barns, beside a Land Rover. Perhaps it was the Frenchman's truck. He'd bought Deercott Farm since she'd been here last--and now he wanted her chapel as well, coveting the same solitude that she had enjoyed for the last several years while the farmhouse stood empty, overpriced, windows buckling and roof half-collapsed. She stepped from the car and looked at the farm in amazement mixed with a certain dismay. She'd loved the picturesque ruin of it, although, to be fair, the fine old Devon longhouse hadn't deserved such neglect. In the nearly three months since she'd been here last the place had been thoroughly transformed--the windows repaired, the roof re-thatched, a barn wall rebuilt of the local grey stone. The roses by the kitchen door, thinned back severely, were in last autumn bloom. Smoke rose from the great chimney, the sound of a drill rose from the barns. Great, she thought sourly, envisioning workmen coming and going to finish repairs. So much for the quiet of the country. She whistled for Moon, and he leapt from the car.

     Tat opened the car boot and picked up her groceries. She'd get the rest of her gear later on. The single box was difficult to carry, and the rain-softened ground treacherous underfoot as she followed the path that led past the big stone barn to the chapel behind it. It was getting harder to manage out here--Francesca had been right about that. But she had no intention of selling to the Frenchman or any other; she'd find a way to get by. Last time she'd hired a Deerworthy kid to chop wood and fetch in her supplies.

     Deer Chapel stood among crooked old oaks, built of grey stone with a mossy tin roof. It was small, not quite two storeys high, with less floor space than her London loft. A single arched doorway led into the building, with long, narrow windows on either side. Above the door was a carving in stone of a woman, a deer and three oak leaves--the carving so weathered she had not made it out until a neighboring woodsman explained it. Deer Chapel was older than Deercott Farm, but no one knew the chapel's age, or who'd built it, or who'd worshipped here. For years it had housed a couple of cows until Tat bought it off old Bertie and Bill, the brothers who worked the next farm.

     She unlocked the door and switched on the lights, pleased to find that they still seemed to work. She'd done the renovation on the chapel herself and the wiring was dodgy at best. Inside, the building was one large room: kitchen, living space, studio. Mostly studio, with three long work tables, an industrial sink and her big printing press. The living space was confined to some old velvet chairs pulled close to the wood-burning stove, tall bookcases crowded with art texts and two reproductions in antique frames: Jacqueline Warren's Angel Wall and Botticelli's Annunciation. A tapestry hung between the wood stove and the low arched door that led to the stairs. Colored the blue of a midnight sky, it pictured winged deer in a medieval wood. Her sister had given it to her, once Fran had forgiven her for buying the place.

     The kitchen was built along the back wall. Or, rather, half-built; she'd not finished it, and now couldn't manage the tools by herself. A scrubbed farmhouse table sat under arched windows looking west, through the trees, to the hills of the moor. She put her groceries down on the table, then picked up the phone to see if it worked. It didn't, and Tat was rather pleased. She'd take her
sweet time getting it reconnected and savour the quiet, wrapped up in her work.

     At least she hoped it was going to be quiet. She could still hear the loud, steady whine of the drill. She scowled, looking out the window to the barn that stood only a stone's throw away. Then she laughed, spotting Moon madly rolling through the dirt of the farmyard, delighted to be here. Tat felt the same quick delight as Moon; it always felt so right to be back. But eventually she'd return to the city with this same sense of joy and homecoming. Maybe she was more like Larry than she'd realized, dividing her own life up into separate boxes, labeled Devon and London.

     She swept the cobwebs from the corners and put wood in the stove to heat the place up. Then she got back into the Morris again and drove up the lanes to Deerworthy, leaving Moon behind in hot pursuit of his wood shrews and rabbits. Deerworthy was barely a village: a church, a pub, a post office, some castle ruins overgrown with grass, a few old houses tucked into the fertile fields by the edge of the moor. The Red Doe, at the center of the village, was filled with men downing midday pints. She entered the room at the back where Alice, the publican, chain-smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, dispensing tall pints of warm local beer, cold cider, and hot village gossip. The Doe was so old it didn't have a bar, just this tap room filled with big metal kegs, and the low front room with one long wood table and benches pulled up to the fire.

     "Where's Moon?" said Alice by way of greeting.

     "Home chasing his tail, the silly git." Tat perched on a three-legged stool.

     "Bertie told us you'd be back this week. Swears he's going psychic now."

     "What a liar! He rang me up in London--to tell me the talk is I'm selling my place. Which isn't true, by the way. Now what's the deal on this bloke who bought Deercott Farm?"

     The old woman shrugged and handed Tat her usual pint. "He keeps to hisself, that one. Sometimes he comes in on music nights. There's a session Friday next, by the way--three fiddlers. Including O'Leary. Bring your drum. You haven't been to a session in ages, and you never used to miss them."

     "I'm not playing now," she said briskly. Embarrassed. She rarely talked about MS.

     "So what? Just come. Enjoy yourself."

     "Maybe." She took a long swig of beer. "So Alice. Tell me more about this Frenchman I'm practically living with now."

     "Breton, not French. There's a difference, you know--they're Celtic there. My brother married a Brittany girl. He's a sculptor."

     "Your brother?"

     "Your neighbor. Yann Kerjean. Bertie says he's a big deal up your way."

     "In London? I don't recognize the name. But then, sculpture's not really my field."

     "As if we need more artists 'round here," Alice grumbled. "Quite enough of you lazy lot. What we need is a butcher, or a green grocer. Or a vet--now that would be something." Tat ignored the old woman's teasing, and Alice pointed a finger at her. "Kerjean came in here asking about you. Dead set on buying that chapel of yours. I don't know what he needs it for, mind. It's just hisself in that big old house. His wife and kids still live up in London. He's lookin' for quiet, he says. "

     "Well too damn bad," Tat said, standing up. "He knew I was there when he bought the place. Now he's just going to be stuck with me. Besides, I'm quiet--and god knows Moon is. He's the one making all the damn noise." She put her glass in the sink, her money in the till, and gave Alice a smile. "Can you tell that big, strong grandson of yours that I'd like to hire him again? My phone's turned off."

     "No problem, luver." The old woman lit another cigarette. "Now mind, that session starts half-eight. O'Leary is going to be chuffed that you're back. I'll tell him you're coming Friday, shall I?"

     Tat rolled her eyes. "No more match-making. I've got a man in London already."

     "So you say," the old woman retorted. "All this time, and he's never come here once. Now, what kind of a boyfriend is that?"

     "My kind, apparently," Tat replied, retreating through the pub's low door.

     She fetched her mail from the post-office, and stopped by Bill and Bertie's farm. It was past tea time when she got back home and whistled for Moon to come inside. She was cooking polenta puttanesca when Alice's grandson appeared at the door. He hauled her luggage and split her wood with an ease of which she was fiercely envious, and then polished off a plate of polenta with an appetite she envied too.

     It was dark when he left, and colder outside, but the chapel was warm and cozy now. Tat sat on the rug by the stove, Moon dozing in a sprawl nearby. She'd pulled out a pile of old art magazines, curious about Yann Kerjean, scanning the ads, the reviews, the notices of London exhibitions. She thought she might find some brief mention of him--instead what she found was a full-color spread and reviews of his show at the Tate in St. Ives. She looked at the photographed art carefully. She'd remembered his art, if not his name: carved granite forms, painstakingly worked, in natural shapes, roughly figurative. She noted that they had the same dealer in Rome, and had shown at the same gallery in New York. But Art News wasn't beating down her door. No wonder he could afford Deercott Farm. The single photograph of Kerjean showed a man of middle height, middle build and middle age--unexceptional. But the work had power; she couldn't begrudge the man his success. Only the chapel, that she'd begrudge him. The chapel was hers, and she had little enough. The mail she'd fetched from the post office had included another offer from him, even higher than the first. She'd ripped it up, with a childish pleasure in the act.

     The large barn right next door to her was apparently Kerjean's workshop now. Her walls were thick, but her windows were not, and the wind seemed to carry every sound: the high-pitched drill, the telephone, the tap-tap-tap of a chisel on stone. She knew she had no right to resent it; the farm had been bound to sell one day. But Tat, who used to thrive on change, now found all changes harder to bear. Each change was just another thing gone--like her energy, and her physical strength, her body collapsing piece by piece. Life was tapping away at her like Kerjean tapped away at his stones, paring her down without benefit of an artist's guiding hand.

     Tat banked the fire, and turned off the lights. She felt a hundred years old tonight, her body aching from the long London drive. She slowly climbed the winding stone stairs that led to the bedroom tucked under the eaves. Nestled into the bed that she'd built, under quilts her mother and granny had sewn, Tat fell fast asleep, Moon at her feet, her breath rising and falling to the rhythm of a chisel, and dreamed of grey stone.

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     She spent the next day cleaning, sorting, preparing the studio for work. She stretched it out, filling the hours with unnecessary industry. Nightfall caught her by surprise. How long could she procrastinate? Who cared if the corners gathered dust, her bed was unmade, her windows unwashed? Not the galleries, that was for sure. No one would look at a print and judge it more kindly because her house was clean.

     She sat down with a fresh glass plate, clean wet brushes, a hot cup of tea, disappointed to find she was no more inspired down here than she'd been in the city. She'd never felt this way before, emptied out of color and line. She scowled at the plate and scowled at the paints, hearing the sound of hammering. Kerjean had been working away for hours, his tap, tap, tap a reproachful sound. Tat sighed. She lined palette and plate with subtle tones chosen randomly: a light sage green, a pale gamboge, terra cotta and the brown of weak tea. The sound of the hammer was red as rowan berries, clashing with the colors she chose. Beneath the hammer was another sound. His stereo? Playing Cherish the Ladies on fiddle, pipe and bodhran drum. The music filtered through the night, through windows rattling in splintering panes, spreading Celtic patterns of red and green and gold on the chapel walls.

     Tat concentrated on the colors before her, ignoring the ones that came from the barn. She scrubbed, scraped, scratched the paint from the plate, toning her colors down. Paring away. Reaching for a simple core that continued to elude her. An hour later she realized she had a plate that was almost empty of paint. She threw her palette knife down with disgust, annoyed by the music, annoyed with herself. She used to know how to paint. She'd thought such hard-earned knowledge could not be lost. She'd always been able to work very hard and to keep her various dealers supplied. And to earn an honest living, regardless of what Francesca might think.

     She turned and flung open flat file drawers, pulling out stacks of older prints, trying to remember what shape inspiration had taken in her life before. These prints were larger than her recent ones. Looser. Sprawled across the page. She tacked them up on the white pinboard that covered the whole of the southern wall. Then she stood back and stared at them, feeling a shock of memory. The colors that covered the wall were loud and vivid. They overwhelmed her now: ochres, cobalts, indigo blues, deep woodsy greens and scarlet hues, violets, vermilions, sun-drenched yellows and leaves of pure beaten gold. She'd fallen in love with color, light and paint almost twenty years ago; it was pinned up here, mixed with the deep jewel tones of other things she'd loved: London, Devon, Tuscany. Good food, hot sex and a hard day's work. A fast bodhran. Her best friend's poems. Her family and sweet Larry Bone. It was all right here, a cacophony, a mess, discordant to the eye. An orchestra tuning all at once, at high volume. A hot and crowded room.

     "Bloody hell," she said. Moon looked at her. Those colors were making her feel faintly ill. Tat grabbed her coat, and bolted for the door, stepping out into the bracing cold air. The hammering had finally stopped. The windows of the barn were dark. The night sky was the black of her confusion, masking other colors.

     She walked away from Deercott Farm, a ghostly Moon gliding nearby. The oak trees opened out onto vast moorland stretching to the sky. The sky was clear and filled with stars. Sheep drifted on the heather hills, and the darker shadow shapes of wild ponies moved through bracken and gorse. In the distance she could make out silhouettes of nine slim standing stones. She walked, her thoughts cacophonous as her prints, until she reached them.

     They stood in a row on the crest of the hill, taller than she was and older than time. One had tumbled into the heather; one stone leaned precariously; seven stones stood straight and tall, saluting the stars above. Tat sat down on the fallen stone, Moon leaning against her knee. She could feel the steady beat of his pulse; and the slower pulse of the granite below. She listened for the song at the heart of the stone. It was silent tonight.

     She ached. She shouldn't have walked so far, but the stones were old, familiar friends. She wasn't prepared to lose them yet, although the day when she'd be unable to cross these hills would inevitably come. Tat lay down, cheek pressed to the stone, feeling its age and feeling its strength; finding comfort in the knowledge that it would be here long after she'd gone. She stroked the long, cold length of it, rough beneath her fingertips, savoring the touch, feeling the pulse at the core echo the white pain in her limbs. Pain kept insisting on pulling her back into the tactile world again. The physical self. The animal, sensual self that she had long ignored--since Larry first left her bed for another, and grief was a burden as heavy as stone, and every touch only served to remind her of the touch that she truly craved. She had tried to subdue the colors of desire and live in cooler, calmer tones. MS should have made this easier. She'd met other women, ill like her, who divorced themselves from their disease by rejecting the body, lodging in the mind, living in soul not flesh. But instead, the pain in her body kept wrenching her back into the physical world, opening her senses, rooting her deep in pale skin, brittle bones and hot blood.

     Tat shivered now in the rising wind. She ought to start heading home again. Moon looked at her anxiously, the wind ruffling his silky fur. In a minute. She'd get up in a minute, she told herself as she closed her eyes, drifting to the colorless place where weariness always found her. . . . She woke again to Moon's musty breath. Her limbs were cold and stiff with pain. She'd no idea how much time had passed--a few minutes? An hour? Maybe more? Moon pawed her arm, and she was suddenly alert. A man was standing between the stones, wary of her enormous silver dog.

     He said, "I startled you. I'm sorry. I wanted to know if you're all right."

     Tat scowled at him to cover the flush of hot embarrassment she felt. "Yes, quite. I just got tired, that's all." She rose to her feet--and swayed, tired still. She sat again, fast. She never should have come this far, goddamn it, goddamn it.

     "Here, take my arm," Yann Kerjean said, his voice just slightly accented. "That is, if that beast of yours will let me help. What do you think?"

     Tat flushed again, not wanting his help. And aware that, in fact, she needed it. He knew that she was sick, no doubt; village gossip would have seen to that.

     "Moon, back off, it's okay," Tat said. But it wasn't okay. She felt like a fool. She was limping now, arm over the sculptor's broad shoulders, face tense with effort.

     Kerjean talked as she limped along and the flow of words pulled her over the hills, smoothing the long, uneven path. His voice was raw sienna, a color like honey or light on Tuscan stone. "Those standing stones, they brought me here. I saw them and I had to stay. The Hunters. There are stones very much like them where I was born."

     "The Hunters? Is that what they're called?"

     "You didn't know that? And you've been here how long? I'll tell you the story, and when I'm done you'll be home again, safe and sound."

     He told her a tale of a milk white deer no hunter's arrow could seem to reach; a tale of nine tall brothers determined to bring the white deer down:

     Their sisters begged them not to go. To follow the deer would bring madness or death--death to the hunter, death to the family. Never to the bold white doe. The deer led them a merry chase, through woods and fen and over the moor. Then it stopped, just beyond arrow's reach, and turned into a white-haired girl--a fairy, or perhaps an angel, slim as a birch and strong as an oak. "Throw your weapons down," she said, "and live to hunt another day. Or keep your weapons upon you, and live to hunt no more." Eight brothers threw their weapons down, and vowed they'd hunt the deer no more. But the ninth brother had no love of women or deer or any man; he vowed he would not lose his prey and then he notched his arrow. The arrow pierced her shoulder bone, and she became a deer again, blood running down her body, turning it from white to red. And at that same moment, the brothers turned into stone upon that very hill, living still, watching over the countryside where they'll hunt no more.

     "They say there are still red deer in these woods. The ones I've seen are always brown. Bertie's seen them, over the years." The sculptor paused. "Have you seen them too?"

     "Just once," Tat said, remembering. "I think I did. She was gone so fast. But I've never heard that story before. It's very sad."

     "But very true. At least if you think about it, it is. I've been thinking about that story a lot. Now here we are, at your front door. Safe and sound as I promised."

     He shrugged off Tat's awkward gratitude and said a brusque farewell to Moon. Tat limped inside, Moon trailing behind, and stoked up the fire until it blazed hot. Soon she heard the sound of distant hammering begin once again. And Stivell's music for Celtic harp, another recording she also owned.

     She knelt on the rug by the fire, shaking, chilled to the bone, emptied of strength. She closed her eyes and saw colors dancing to the rhythm of harp and hammer.

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     Tat brewed a pot of strong tea, washed sleep from her eyes, and let Moon out to play. No more procrastination today, Ms. Ludvik, she told herself firmly. She ignored the dishes, the crumbs on the rug and went right into her studio, facing those colors by morning light. They shone on the wall like stained glass.

     The difference between her old work and her recent work was painfully clear. She knew what she'd been striving for: a minimalist simplicity. Order, restraint, serenity, subtlety--why had she failed at this? She'd been looking at books of Japanese prints, American Shaker furniture, Whistler's spare, tonal paintings, and collections of Maggie Black's poems. But the clarity these artists achieved was a thing that had eluded her. Her life was not a simple one, it was messy and sprawling and layered with paints. It was as if she'd been trying to squeeze into clothes that were the wrong shape and size.

     Tat recalled how years ago, back at school, she'd tried on her sister's clothes, hoping Francesca's elegance would magically rub off on her. The two were nearly identical then, both tall, thin and fair, and the clothes should have fit. But Tat had looked in the mirror and seen with despair she would never be Franny. She'd always be the strange, wild twin. The artistic one, the Ludvik black sheep. Order, restraint, subtlety--those were all words her sister might use. Francesca was made of lilac tones, a color Tat never painted with; while she herself was reds and yellows and blues: the primary colors. When had she started to tone herself down? When her body began to fail, bit by bit? Or perhaps the process had begun when she realized Larry would
never change; when hope and desire were colors too painful to bear, and she stripped them away.

     All right, Tat thought, rousing herself from self-pity, an emotion she thoroughly loathed. She could see where she'd gone wrong with her art, the hard evidence was before her. But revelation wasn't inspiration. Her muse remained as silent as Moon. She couldn't just pick up her brush and be the same painter she'd been before MS. But neither had illness bestowed her with special grace or Zen-like clarity. Life's a crapshoot, Larry used to say, and Tat had come to agree with this, alternately angered and awed by the randomness of the universe. None of us knows what the future will bring, Francesca had once reminded her. None of us have a guarantee. Each day that we wake is a gift. Tat held to that piece of her sister's faith to make up for the holes in her own, learning to live her life in the present tense and not in the future.

     She still sometimes wished she could step into Franny's clothes; then life might be simple and clear. Fran's world never held the messes and complications that colored her own. "Get rid of that Larry Bone," Fran said. "Find a good man and settle down." It had worked for her sister: the husband, the kids, the beautiful flat, the well-paid job. It had worked for their four tall brothers, all married with kids now themselves. She sometimes wished it would work for her too, if only for her family's sake. But Tat remained Tat, the cuckoo in the nest. And the world where she functioned best was that part of the spectrum in which Francesca and the rest of her family was color-blind.

     Tat scowled and put her tea cup down. Emotional procrastination was just as insidious as the physical kind. She was still avoiding the paints, the colors; still feeling emptied of color inside. She took dusty tubes of paint from the shelves, lining them up in a moon-shaped curve, looking for inspiration, hoping the muse was somewhere among them. Kerjean was already working, of course. She could hear a scraping kind of sound. He didn't have music on today. The scraping came in fits and starts. Perhaps she should play some music herself. She had always worked to the stereo before. Music had once been important to her; she used to live surrounded by it--by Larry's blues, and Celtic jams, and the glorious medieval music that her old friend Nigel Vanderlin played. There had been a time when her world had been formed as much of sound as it was of color; when the standing stones hummed their deep bass tune, and the stars were a choir in the night sky, and her breath was a song, a prayer, a glissade of notes floating to the earth. Tat crossed the room to the stereo, dusted it off, and turned it on. Music would give her colors to paint until she found her own once more. She ran her finger down the stack of CDs and chose a recording by Luka Bloom. His music was made of scarlet passions and Prussian blue intensity. She opened the case, then heard Luka Bloom's Irish voice drifting from Kerjean's barn.

     The synchronicity was odd. The man could hardly be reading her thoughts. She put down the case and picked up her brush; she could paint to his music just as well. And to the tap, tap, tap that started up now to the rhythm of voice and guitar, the rowan red of the hammer flashing in sunbursts against her walls. She pictured Kerjean in his studio, seeking the shape of the music in stone. While the world went by, unconcerned with art; cows were milked, roofs were thatched, tractors repaired, potatoes dug. But to Tat, art was as basic as food and shelter--no less, no more than this. Here, on Deercott Farm, it was color and sound that they were harvesting. Perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing to have another artist next door. Perhaps she should think of the steady tap, tap, tap as encouragement, not reproach. The muse was hovering somewhere nearby; it was clearly visiting Yann Kerjean. And one of these days it would look over its shoulder and remember Tat was here.

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     Tat worked steadily through the next week. The days were cold but crystal clear. The vivid colors of wood and field were ones she brought inside with her, mixing them with the colors of music, brushing and rolling them onto the plates, reaching for colors outside her while her own were still smoldering embers. Music poured out of the barn, rousing her when her energy flagged. Oak brown from Dan Ar Braz's guitar, Sheila Chandra's vermilion drone, Bob Marley's bursts of heat and sun, the evening smoke of June Tabor's voice . . . each one a recording she also owned, and one she would have chosen herself, as though he shared her moods, her creative process, as well as the land.

     Moon was another thing they shared. He often disappeared into the barn. But Tat was shy of Kerjean himself when she passed him walking on the hills. She didn't want to break the spell, and this blessed interval of work. The work wasn't easy, it didn't flow, she was reaching hard for every line and tone. She was teaching herself to paint again--but at least she wasn't bored anymore. Her work absorbed her as it used to do; she was printing in her dreams at night. When Friday came, Tat finally said enough, and put her paints away.

     She changed her skirt to a soft green wool that moved like wind on pond water. She added an old plaid shawl for warmth, and buckled on her paint-stained boots. Then she whistled for Moon and walked to the car, noting that Kerjean's truck was gone. Overhead, the stars seemed very bright and close, a mere arm's length away. She drove slowly up the farm's long drive, catching foxes in the car's headlamps, then accelerated through the narrow lanes, Moon grinning on the seat beside her.

     The single street of Deerworthy was jammed with cars and trucks tonight. The Red Doe was crowded and thick with smoke. The music had already begun. She stood in the door looking over the crowd while Moon dashed through to the pub's back room. She spotted O'Leary with his shock of Irish red hair hanging in long rasta strings. A schoolteacher was the second fiddler, the third was a plumber from Exeter-way. Bertie was there with his accordion, an American lad on Scottish pipes, and some sweet hippies from Endicott on whistle and mandolins. There was no bodhran player sitting in tonight, just old Mad Albert in the corner on the bones. Tat beat out the rhythm with her boot heel on the floor and ached to play.

     O'Leary grinned when she entered the room, and lost the beat of the reel himself. He caught it again by the second time around. Tat nodded to him and followed her dog. "Good session," she said to Alice, who smiled broadly and handed her a pint. This was the first Celtic session she'd been to since she'd become unable to play. The music moved her as powerfully as ever, even without her drum in her hand. The music was color. The colors were music. The sound gave her sudden fierce pleasure.

     Tat looked for Moon, and found him in the tap room nose to groin with his canine friends. Behind him, Yann Kerjean was talking to a book illustrator Tat also knew: a big, burly man in an outback coat, scion of the local gentry. Beside him, the sculptor was dark and slim, dressed in a t-shirt, faded jeans and a wool jacket that had seen better days; he might have been a builder, a farmer, a thatcher--he had no aura of fame. Not like Lord Alastair, the illustrator, who always seemed larger than life; not even like Larry, who made heads turn whenever he entered a room. Kerjean was pleasant looking and nothing more. He seemed like a stranger to her again. Which was what he was, Tat reminded herself, a stranger. And a married man.

     Lord Alastair smiled and beckoned to her. Kerjean turned and watched her cross the room. His greeting was polite but reserved, or else shy--as she suddenly was of him. Alastair said, "I was just telling Yann that I'm doing a book on the stones out your way. A re-telling of the red deer story. I'd like to come and sketch there if I may."

     "That stone row is on public land."

     "But I want to draw Deer Chapel too. If you don't mind me lurking about in your woods."

     "Of course not, Alastair. Knock if you want a cup of tea. I'm usually in."

     "She's always in, working away," the other man said, his eyes meeting hers.

     "How do you know I'm working?" said Tat.

     "I just know," said Kerjean, holding her gaze.

     Tat looked away, embarrassed. "So look, does everyone know this deer story but me?"

     "This land is full of deer stories," Alastair said. "Not just the one about the stones. There have been red deer in Deerworthy Gorge since anyone can remember. My old Granny was frightened of them. She said they only appeared before a death--but then, she said the same thing about owls at the window and crows tapping on the roof. And magpies flying in sevens or threes. And half-a-dozen other things."

     "I'd rather think of the deer as a fairy or an angel," Tat said.

     "Or the Goddess perhaps?"

     "Which is she in your book?"

     The big man shrugged. "She has aspects of all those things. She's magic incarnate. Magic on the hoof."

     Kerjean smiled. "To me she's the muse. You can follow her, but don't hunt her down. Try to claim her, or own her, and she'll disappear. Or turn you to stone."

     Alastair raised one bushy eyebrow. "But Yann," he said, "you like a good stone."

     "To carve, to shape, to let shapes out. Not to be frozen in place myself."

     "Frozen in place, . . ." Tat said, intrigued. "That's artist's block. When you're stuck and can't move on."

     "So what is going to release those nine stuck brothers?" Kerjean asked them both.

     The illustrator frowned. "The story doesn't say. The fairies' whim? An angel's kiss? The end of the world? I really don't know." Then he laughed. "But if you find out what it is, my luver, don't release them yet. I need to draw those stones, you know." He laughed again, and took their glasses to buy another round.

     "Music might release the stones," Tat speculated to Yann Kerjean, feeling the pull of fiddle, whistle, the pipe's low drone, the clicking of the bones. The music was loud, imperfect, completely infectious and sparking bright colors.

     "Where I come from," the sculptor said, "the standing stones move once a year. They walk to the sea and bathe themselves, and then they dance till morning."

     "In Brittany?"

     "Yes. Finistere. Where we've as many standing stones as here. They love music, those old Breton stones. You can almost hear them singing."

     She said, "I can hear the Hunters sing. Sometimes, that is. On certain nights."

     He looked at her. He was serious now. "Yes," he said. "I thought you could."

     "Yann, Tatiana," came Alastair's voice booming over the music and the noise. He had claimed a spot on the bench by the hearth and placed their pints on the table nearby. They eased through the crowd to the low front room where the music drowned all other sounds. Wedged in the space between the two men, Tat was grateful to sit down again and wondered if she'd make it till closing time as she used to do. Moon appeared and sprawled at her feet, looking distinctly pleased with himself, resting his rump on Kerjean's boots and his silver head on hers.

     She lasted past eleven o'clock--when the pub was closed to comply with the law but the music continued behind locked doors. The music threatened to go on all night. Reluctantly, Tat rose to leave.

     "You can't go yet," Alastair complained. "We're taking bets on which fiddler fags out first."

     "My car turns to a pumpkin at twelve. I'm knackered and I'm heading home. I'll see you when you come to draw the stones. I'll cook you dinner."

     "Goodnight," said Yann. He actually smiled. "I can bring your dog. He's not ready to leave."

     Tat looked at Moon and saw that the man was right. Moon hadn't budged.

     "The door will be open if I'm asleep. Thanks," she said. "See you later, Moon."

     Moon looked at her, unconcerned that she was leaving, the fickle beast.

     Outside the night tasted good and sweet after peatfire and the cigarette smoke. The moon was several days past full, perched on the old stone church tower. Her breath made smoke in the cold, clear air; there was frost upon the car's windscreen. Tat climbed into the Morris, feeling sad suddenly, and alone tonight--no dog for company, no man waiting up at home or warming her bed. Larry seemed a million miles away; he existed in another world. She wanted him here, now. She wanted him close. She just wanted him.

     She stopped at the red phone-box at the village crossroad, half-buried in ivy and briars. She fished change from her skirt pocket and punched in Larry's number.

     He answered on the second ring. "Tat?" he said. "Where are you now?"

     "In Devon," she said. "Where do you think?"

     "Your sister called. She's worried about you. She said your phone isn't working or something."

     "Larry, why don't you come down here?" Her voice sounded high and childlike.

     "What?" he said, as if he hadn't heard.

     "Never mind." She leaned her head upon the glass. It was damp and cold against her skin.

     "Ummm, listen, kiddo," Larry began while a woman's voice was calling his name.

     "You're busy. I see. Never mind," she said rather curtly.

     "Look Ludvik . . . are you okay?"

     "I'm great. I'm wonderful. I'm perfect."

     "I could have told you that," said Larry, his voice low now, like a lover's would be.

     Tat closed her eyes. "Thanks, Bone," she whispered, and she hung up the receiver.

     She drove back through the dark to the farm, hurling the car through familiar lanes. The moon hung low in the beech avenue. Leaves of gold churned under her tires. She parked the Morris beside blocks of granite and walked toward the yellow light of her door. She could hear an owl calling from the woods, and the song of the wind through brown oak leaves. There were animal tracks in the beaten-down path that Moon had made between chapel and barn. Tat stepped inside, took off her coat and tied her painting apron on. She mixed up colors to capture a smoke filled room and laughter and fiddles and pipes--but loneliness was a Kathe Kollwitz blue-grey that had muddied her palette.

     She was pulling a print from the bed of the press when she heard the sound of a truck in the yard. A few minutes later Yann rapped sharply at her door. "It's open," she said.

     He stepped inside. "Tat, come quick. I saw a red deer heading out to the moor. Vite. Elle est tres, tres belle," he lapsed into French in his excitement.

     She wiped her hands and came, pulling her long coat over the flapping apron.

     "Moon, stay behind us," Yann said to her dog. Moon obliged, walking at their heels as they followed the path through ivy-draped oak, through bracken and gorse and onto the moor. "See there?" Yann pointed. Tat saw only a shadow moving. It might have been a deer. "I startled her in the beech avenue. She stood so still in the truck's headlamps. She's red, dark red. A red like dried blood. I was able to get a good long look. Then she headed this way, right past the chapel door and out this direction."

     "Let's see how close we can get to her."

     "Can you walk? Are you going to be all right?"

     "I'll try. If I'm not, you go on yourself."

     "Take my hand," said Yann. It was warm around hers, and callused, and strong. A sculptor's hands. She borrowed his strength, letting him pull her up and over the hills.

     The deer ran before them, but never too far. Now Tat could see its clear silhouette. It stood, head turned, until they got close, and then it bounded away. It led all the way to the standing stones, and stood posed against them, its head held high. The moonlight leached the color from its fur. It was slim, and small, and seemed unafraid. Tat stumbled, feeling winded and dizzy. The stones were singing, a rich bass hum, a barritone choir that filled the night sky and echoed through the dark earth.

     "Look Tat, that's far enough," said Yann.

     "Go ahead."

     "No, look. She's stopped for us."

     The deer stood still and it stared at them, so close Tat could see its soft, black eyes, as round as Moon's, and its long, pointed face. Tat gulped in air and swayed on her feet. Yann braced her, holding her close to him. The hills underfoot seemed to undulate. The old stones sang, and the stars above, and Moon was howling--a spine-chilling sound. The red deer spun, hooves striking stone, and Tat saw color sparking there, every luminous color she'd dreamed there could be. She breathed it in with lungfuls of cold night air. It filled every hollow inside. The sparks coalesced in the dark sky above in a shape roughly like a woman's shape--a woman made up of color and music and stars, trailing long lilac wings.

     "An angel," breathed Tat.

     "La muse," said Yann.

     And then it was just a small deer on the hill, bounding away, moving faster now and leaping into the darkness.

     They did not attempt to follow it. By morning they'd wonder if it had been real, despite the tracks in the beech avenue and the delicate prints in the dirt at Tat's door. Moon hung his head. He was silent once more. The song of the stones was soft and low. Warmth leaked into Tat's body from Yann's against her, and his breath on her neck. "Are you all right?" he asked gently. "Can you make it back? I could carry you."

     "I'll make it. I'm too tall to lift." She smiled.

     He said, "I work with stone. I lift things heavier than you every day."

     "I believe you. But I don't need to be carried, I just need a bit of support, that's all."

     "I've noticed that. It's what makes you so intriguing," Yann Kerjean told her.

     Tat stumbled home, Yann's arm bracing her. She didn't mind her weariness now. She was filled with color, with sound, with stars. She wanted to paint forever.

     He paused when they reached the chapel door. "Why don't you come to the barn instead? It's warmer there. I'll make some tea. I've also got single malt."

     "Warmth and scotch sound good," said Tat, rubbing the blood back into her hands. She followed Yann past the corner of the barn, past blocks of stone and machinery and into a workshop filled with carvings in various states of completion.

     "It is warm here."

     "Central heating," he said, a little abashed by the luxury. "I put it in here instead of the house. Come sit. You must be tired."

     But Tat was wandering through the barn, forgetting all about tiredness now. The stones drew her, and the shapes that Yann made of them, smooth as silk to the touch. They hummed under her fingertips like the standing stones out on the hill. "These are beautiful," she said to him.

     His smile was pleased. "Are they?" he asked. As if the critics hadn't already established this; as if it mattered what Tat Ludvik thought. She could feel the colors within each stone. She knew what music had shaped each one. They moved her, stirred the colors within her. They were filled with color themselves, and song. They frightened her, for they made her feel things that she hadn't intended to feel.

     Moon sprawled beneath a large wooden desk, looking quite at home in the sculptor's space. The wall above held a large pinboard where sketches and detailed plans were tacked. On another wall was a pegboard loaded down with mallets and other tools. The barn was dimly lit but for an arc of gold from a hanging lamp. Cobwebs and shadows clung to the roof beams, a powdery dust lay thick on the floor. Chris Isaaks played on the stereo now, his voice as midnight blue as the sky through tall windows looking out on the hills. Placed nearby was an upright stone so lovely it needed no artist's hand. Above the stone hung a single large print, gold streaks embedded in rich earth tones. Loose, abstract, textural, it had been inspired by the moor and the stones. Tat had painted it here when the gorse and the heather were in their bloom.

     "Where on earth did you get that?"

     "In New York, five or six years ago. We've got the same gallery there, you know. You were in a show that opened after mine. I'd never even been to Devon then, but I fell in love with it all the same. It reminded me of Brittany. Perhaps it brought me here."

     "So you know my work."

     "Not enough of it. That show, and one other. I'd like to see more."

     Tat sat down in the chair he offered, took off her scarf and unbuttoned her coat. Yann handed her a glass of Talisker and poured one for himself.

     "I don't understand," she said to him, ignoring her shyness, desiring the truth. "If you knew my work, even liked some of it, why be so determined to get rid of me?"

     "Get rid of you?"

     "You know what I mean. You wanted to buy the chapel from me."

     He shrugged. "I thought it was only fair. You'd been used to quiet and privacy here--and suddenly there's a man next door with machines going and trucks delivering stone and the stereo playing at all hours . . . I thought I should offer you fair value for your place, in case you wanted out."

     "Just in case I wanted it?"

     "Well, yes. Of course. I don't need more space than this. I admit I'm attached to my own privacy--but you're not exactly a difficult neighbor to have. And I'm madly in love with your dog, you know. If you decide to leave now, I want visitation rights."

     "I wasn't planning on leaving, Yann. I rebuilt that chapel with my own hands, every floorboard, pipe and wire of it."

     "Well good. I can't imagine you anywhere else. Not even in London."

     She raised her glass and took a sip. The scotch felt good sliding down her throat. "London," she said, "is home to me too. I'm a city girl, born and raised to it."

     Yann's eyes narrowed. "So I've been told. You have family there, yes? And a man as well."

     Tat flushed. "You've been talking to Alice, I see."

     "Bertie and Bill, as a matter of fact. Worse gossips than Alice is, those two."

     Tat laughed and she set down her glass. "Don't you have family in the city too?"

     "My children, yes. And my wife. Ex-wife."

     "Ex-wife?"

     "Well, not entirely 'ex'. It's complicated," Yann said carefully.

     "What isn't?" said Tat. "The man in London . . . Larry Bone. That's rather complicated too."

     "He's not here with you," Yann commented. It was not quite a question, but she answered it.

     "We're not together that way anymore. Not in the usual way, except . . . we're not exactly split up either," she finished awkwardly. Honestly.

     Yann sighed. "I could say the same about my wife. Martina. There's still love there. But she fell in love with someone else--another woman--some years ago. It finally feels all right to us both. We're friends; we have two children to raise; we're still a family because of the kids. It's complicated. It's not ideal. But it all seems to work out somehow."

     Tat smiled again. "Tell my sister that. She doesn't approve of complicated lives."

     "So she wants you to marry and settle down?"

     "You got it. That's precisely what she wants."

     "And you?" he said. "What do you want?"

     Tat sat back and she thought about this. "I want my strength. My independence. And to keep on making art," she said, although it was not the first thing that had leapt to mind at the question. It wasn't Larry she wanted most. It was to be held, to be kissed . . . to be touched by someone besides doctors for a change. Could one actually starve from lack of touch? Was that why she got thinner by the month? She wanted Larry's imperfect love, and she also wanted much more than that. If these were things she couldn't say to Yann, at least she could say them to herself.

     She held out her glass and he poured more scotch. "So what are the odds on that?" he asked.

     It took her a moment to realize he meant the odds on making art, not love. "Right now," she answered with rare frankness, "I manage. It's going to get harder with time; MS is a degenerative disease. Already there are simple things I can't do. Lift large plates. Open cans of ink. Play the drum, or meet tight deadlines. And that's just the beginning. Yet I know I'll always find ways to make art, as long as I'm still drawing breath. If not prints, then it will be something else." She looked at him steadily as she spoke. She was warning him. And daring him to find self-pity in that assessment.

     "Did you have MS when you made this print?" he asked, looking at the one on the wall. The colors moved in joyous motion, dancing across the page.

     "Yes. But I didn't know it yet. That print was a windy day on the moor. Moon and I were dancing among the stones and the wind was very strong. I thought the wind would carry me up and away. . . . I used to love to dance."

     Yann put down his glass. "So do I," he said. "Come dance with me now," and he offered his hand. Chris Isaaks' sensual music was a deep violet glow in the dark of the barn.

     Tat shook her head. "I'm too clumsy. My feet don't always work anymore."

     "Who's to know? Come dance among my stones," the sculptor urged her.

     He took her hand and pulled her up. She felt graceless, awkward on her feet. But he drew her close and Tat moved with him, and the rhythm moved and carried her along. She could feel Yann's warmth through the thin t-shirt. She could smell wood smoke upon his skin. The music spread violet shadows around them. The dust of stones made clouds underfoot. Colors were dancing slowly inside her, her own colors, and Yann's as well. Beneath her touch, beneath his calm and his quiet, he glowed a deep rowan red. Also a clear, sweet Turner yellow. And the vivid blue of a late autumn sky. He too was made of primary colors. She could feel a shimmer of white at his core. His touch and his breath were deeply familiar, as if they'd been dancing all their lives.

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     In the morning, there was a phone message left for her on Yann's answering machine. "Tat Ludvik's family rang," said the woman from the tiny Deerworthy post office. "They say that her phone is off the hook. Please ask her to ring them back right away."

     Tat fumed all the way into Deerworthy. Francesca was such a royal pain. Tat had been planning to have her phone reconnected on Monday. What was the big deal? You'd think she'd been incommunicado for months, instead of--she counted on her fingers--instead of barely two bloody weeks. The day outside was grey and foul. Rain drowned the colors of wood and field and the jewel tones of joy that had filled her last night. They were still there, pulsing deep inside her, warming her against November's chill. But annoyance was a bolder shade, claiming her attention.

     She went to the phone box and slammed in two pounds and some change. Francesca's phone rang and rang. Just before she hung up, someone finally answered. Her youngest brother, not Fran. Her brother began to talk very quickly. Tat listened, her fingers tight on the phone. Franny. An accident. Brakes failing. A car skidding in London rain. Tat told her brother she'd be there at once. She hung up the phone and she stared at it. She was calm and clear, and that shocked her more than anything that her brother had said. His words were unreal. She couldn't picture Francesca lying in a hospital bed, her lungs collapsed, her collar bone snapped, her perfect white skin badly cut by the glass. They'd operated on her during the night. "They weren't sure that she'd make it then," her brother had said, his voice crisp with fear. "But Franny has a guardian angel, doesn't she, Tat?" And she had agreed. Tat shut her eyes, and saw colors, and stars, and wings made of lilac light.

     She got back into her Morris Minor. She was calm, but her hands were shaking as she drove very fast through the slick, narrow lanes. She'd pack. Get on the motorway. She'd manage to drive into London somehow. She took the track to the farm too fast, skidding on mud and wet leaves in the yard. An unfamiliar car was parked there. A rental car, spattered with mud. She climbed from the Morris and saw a man talking to Yann. He was thin and very tall. Tat knew what she had to do--she should eat, she should pack. Put one foot before the other. She was calm. Until Larry Bone crossed the mud of the yard and put his arms around her.

     He thought she was crying. She wasn't crying; it was rain sliding down her bloodless cheeks. She stood shivering, holding him. And then she wiped her face on her sleeve.

     "Honey, just throw some clothes in a bag," Larry said. "We've got it all worked out. Yann will look after Moon, okay? You can't take Moon to the hospital. And he's offered to drop the rental car off. We'll take your car to London with us. Don't worry now. Everything's all right."

     "Don't coddle me, Bone. It isn't all right. But I'm so damn glad you're here all the same. I want to leave right away. Where's Yann?"

     The sculptor had left the drizzling yard. She found him in the barn, with Moon. "I'll take good care of your boy," he said. "'Till you come back. You will come back?"

     She stood dripping puddles onto his floor. "Yann. . . ." She didn't know what to say.

     "Just go. It's good that your friend is here. Just remember I'm thinking about you too."

     Tat nodded. Everything she could think of to say, he probably knew.

     She went to the chapel and found her wallet, some gloves, a warm sweater that Franny had made. Larry looked the place over while Tat searched everywhere for the bloody spare keys. She found them underneath the press, turned off the lights, and locked the front door. She handed the keys to Yann and held him tightly, while Larry looked away.

     They were on the motorway twenty minutes later. The rain was pouring harder now. Larry's dear, familiar face looked drawn. He was running on sugar and caffeine. He'd left the city at five a.m. when the call had come from the hospital. Her parents had known that if anyone could reach Tat, it would be Larry.

     "Maggie is flying in from L.A. tomorrow. I'll pick her up at Heathrow."

     "Maggie is coming here? To London?"

     "Of course. She's your best friend, isn't she? And Maggie loves Francesca too. You'll both do better with Maggie around."

     "That's true," Tat said quietly, deeply moved.

     They reached the city shortly after noon and went straight to the hospital. Francesca was still in Intensive Care, looking pale and small through the door's window glass. Tat busied herself fetching coffee for Fran's wan husband, and holding her mother's cold hand. The rest of the day went by in a blur of color as muted as London rain. Larry stayed close, and Tat was grateful. She was unnerved by how calm she remained. Soon reality would surely hit her; perhaps comprehension would come then too. She was the lousy driver, not Franny. She was the one bad things happened to. Not to Francesca, the golden twin, with her long white hair and her French perfume, her perfect marriage and her perfect life. Franny was out of danger, the doctors had told them. She was going to be all right. She'd need plastic surgery, physical therapy. Patience, and care, and time.

     It was late when Larry drove her home. The loft was cold, empty without Moon. Larry hung up his leather jacket and kicked off his Mexican cowboy boots. "Shall I cook something? Are you hungry, Tat? Do you want some tea? Or maybe a drink?"

     "For heavens sake, you're exhausted, Bone. Go home," she said to him fondly.

     He looked at her over the kitchen counter. "I'd rather stay. If that's all right."

     Tat swallowed. Then she shook her head. "Don't stay because you feel sorry for me."

     "What better reason is there, Tat? I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for Fran. I even feel sorry for myself. You shouldn't be alone tonight. And I don't want to be anywhere else."

     She hesitated.

     He said, "It's Yann Kerjean, isn't it? Your lover down there."

     "Yes," Tat said, surprising herself, for they weren't lovers. Not yet anyway. She knew they would be, in the same certain way that she knew Yann was in the barn working right now. He probably had Estampie on the stereo. That's what she would play.

     Larry sighed, rubbing his tired faced with his hands. Then he tried to smile. "I'd better be good about this, huh, Ludvik?"

     "That's right, Bone." Tat reached for his hand. She needed this. He needed this. She wasn't going to question it now. Maybe it was for all the wrong reasons. Maybe he was just lonely tonight. Or Yann Kerjean had made him nervous. But warmth and love were precious things--in whose life were they ever over-abundant? Not in hers. She'd take all the love being offered. It might not be wise, or clear, or safe. It might just create even more complications. But she held the long blue length of him, those watery blues of which he was made, and in his arms she lived in the present tense, with apologies to Franny.

separator

     Tat woke as dawn colored the sky. She couldn't remember just where she was. Larry was curled beside her, bringing memory both cruel and sweet. She ran her hand down his bony cheek, savoring that soft caress, and then she rose and carefully closed the door to the bedroom behind her.

     She crossed to the other end of the loft, and turned on the lights of her studio. She picked up the phone and dialed Yann's number. She knew he was up though she didn't know how. He answered on the second ring. He was in the barn; he'd been working all night. Estampie played on the stereo, and the CD was Fran's favorite one: French music, 13th century. Colored lilac, like the rising dawn.

     "My sister's going to be okay. With time."

     "I'm very glad for that." He was silent a moment. "Are you okay?"

     "Francesca's going to need me here. I don't know when I'll make it back."

     I figured that." His voice was gentle as always, brown as the winter woods. "Larry will take good care of you, I hope?"

     "But Yann, I will be back. I wanted to tell you that. It's just . . ."

     "It's complicated," he suggested.

     "It's complicated," Tat agreed. "Yann . . . you said these things work out somehow.

     He paused. Tat held her breath. "They do," he said to her finally. "And I'll still be here, whenever you come. Moon misses you. And so do I, no doubt much more than I should."

     "No more than I'm missing you," she said frankly. And then she slowly hung up the phone. Still feeling calm. Still full of color. Still rooted deep in her body once more. Yann's voice had brought back the scent of wood smoke, the colors of hedgerows, woodland and moor. She put Estampie on her own stereo, and hoped that it wouldn't wake Larry.

     Tat got out brushes, rollers and inks; she put printing paper in the bath to soak. She had to paint. It was the only way Tat had ever made sense of anything. The colors she chose were Francesca's lilacs, complimenting her own brighter tones. She'd had these colors building inside her ever since that moment out on the hills. Her sister's colors, and Yann's, and Bone's. The color of angels. The music of stones. She had to push them out of her fingers, onto the plate, onto the page. She worked quickly, instinctively, eagerly, present only in the moment now. Another morning rose over the rooftops--another gift, Francesca would say. Tat painted, and the muse guided her hands, showing her the way.







About the Author:
Terri Windling is a writer, artist, editor, and founder of the Endicott Studio. For more information, please visit her Endicott bio page.

Story Dedication:
"For Jacqueline Warren, whose luminous artwork was a formative influence on Tat Ludvik's."— T.W.


Copyright © 1997 by Terri Windling. This story first appeared in The Horns of Elfland, edited by Ellen Kushner, Donald Keller, and Delia Sherman (ROC Books, 1997). It may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.





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