I was so tired. I was faltering. I was afraid, when I was able to step back and look at my condition. But then Liana would look at me, or I would find some thread of story to weave back in…
I woke from my nap to find April leafing through the manuscript. “It’s incredible,” she said quietly.
“Thank you,” I whispered, struggling to sit up.
She stayed me with a raised hand, and I relaxed. “I have no talent,” she said bluntly.
“You’re an amazing dancer.”
She gave me a look.”No creative talent. I have no art in me, Justin. I don’t have the eye for it, or the mind, or the gift. So…” she waved vaguely. “So this. I facilitate. I bask in the reflected glow of genius. And when I can, I help see to it that genius reaches its full potential.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, Justin,” she sighed. “Did you really think you were her first?”
“How is the story coming?” Liana asked, intent on her work. She narrowed her eyes, adjusting something behind the screen.
“Almost done.” So close. Just a little more time.
She drifted over to kiss my forehead, setting a paintbrush on the table beside me. “Me too.”
“Hm?” She crouched beside me, luminous and perfect in the twilight of the studio. The lamp shining on the mannequin behind the screen backlit her hair, creating something almost like a halo.
“About Peter - did you -”
She kissed me. “Peter doesn’t matter now. Only you matter. Now rest. You’re almost done.”
I read aloud to her, my voice as thready as my pulse. I read the best and truest story I had ever written, the story she brought out of me, carved and faceted and perfected.
She folded up the shoji screen.
Every inch of the mannequin was covered in words - my words, written out in her calligraphic hand, swoops of letters. The eyes were vintage typewriter keys; the heart of ink visible under a window of broken glass.
I had tried to capture her in my work, but she had captured me. I looked up at her as I felt myself fading, as I slipped down, as I struggled for breath... I looked up at her, and she gave me the same peaceful, sorrowful smile she'd worn in Peter's photographs. I looked at her, and at the me-mannequin; there were two of me, and then there was one.