Silvia & the Starry Night
The heavy New Orleans rain falling against her office window only slightly muffled the dull, repetitive, clicking of her keyboard. As she finished preparing her class’s next lecture, Silvia perused the Post-Impressionism paintings one last time before saving the file and shutting down her computer. Glancing outside, she sighed at the rain and pulled on her raincoat before heading out of the old University building. She began walking towards her home but then abruptly turned around, as if remembering something. Rushing along the rain splashed sidewalks of Royal Street, she ducked into her favorite art supply shop, a small business tucked among all the old antique stores.
“Ah, hello Silvia,” greeted the old, white mustached man behind the cluttered counter. He was leaning over a small mortar and pestle, grinding up a brilliant blue paste. An antique jeweler’s loupe was clipped on over his thick eyeglasses, given him the appearance of a steampunk Einstein. “I believe I have what you’ve come for,” he added, in a mischievous voice. “Hi, Mr. Finlay. Let’s see what you’ve got for me.” Silvia replied. She brushed her red hair out of her green eyes, which widened as she admired the cobalt he was now carefully funneling into a small white tube.
“I’ve got a new supplier. He brought me cobalt powder from deep within the Chinese mines, and Indian Yellow from secretive Mirzapur, and oh, oh, oh! Wait til you see this one!” He reached into an ornate metal lockbox underneath his workbench and handed her a small glass vial. The striking blue powder inside, reminiscent of the ocean, was unmistakably the semi precious stone lapis lazuli. Silvia gaped at the powder, typically found in Afghanistan mines, and used to make the rare color ultramarine. “But who is he? Where did he come from?” she queried suspiciously while holding the possibly illicit Afghan powder. Pausing for a moment, he elusively answered, “Oh, don’t make me reveal my sources! I’ll supply the goods, and you keep making your paintings.” She glanced again at the pigments, too excited about the new colors to further worry about their origin.
Protecting her new purchases from the rain, she practically ran home to her shotgun apartment on Dauphine Street. She found her ornate key and entered through the blue-grey front door, using the original 19th century cast iron doorknob, embellished with a fleur-de-lis pattern. As she removed her raincoat she admired a painting of a young couple dancing, a present from her beloved late Grammy Zita. Her face momentarily revealed sadness at the thought of her grandmother, who had died unexpectedly while on vacation several years back. Shaking her head away from that thought, she refocused on her current task. Walking past her diplomas in Art History and Studio Art, past the paintings hanging on her walls, past her fencing gear, and past her overflowing bookshelves, she approached her workbench.
The area was scattered with various tubes and containers, all bursting with bright pigments. She carefully set down the glass vials of cobalt and lapis lazuli powder, as well as a tube of Indian Yellow. Propped up on her easel was a half-completed replica of Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. Taking out her brushes, she settled herself in to spend the evening painting. Using a tiny spatula, she spooned a small amount of the crushed lapis lazuli onto a hand mirror, creating a mound of pigment with a well in the middle. She carefully mixed linseed oil into the well, slowly combining the ingredients. The powder came to life, creating a mesmerizing ultramarine blue, so deep it was almost purple; unlike anything she could have possible found in a tube of mass-produced paint. There is nothing like using real pigments, thought Silvia, hypnotized by the color she created. A crash of thunder broke her spell and made her jump, rattling the windows of her home and making the lights shudder on and off for a moment. Calming herself, she turned her attention to her canvas and began applying swirling strokes around the stars in the sky.
The storm continued to rage but Silvia was entrenched in her work, wholly unaware of the outside world. While waiting for the first layer of ultramarine to dry, she took out the Indian Yellow. Silvia deftly applied the bright yellow onto the stars and into the windows of the homes that sat in the peaceful village under the shadow of a giant cypress tree. The addition of those two colors alone made the painting start to burst with life. The stars are practically twinkling now, she mused. Her absorption in her work became so complete that soon she no longer heard the storm or felt the passing of time. She even failed to notice the eyes peering in on her from the sodden street outside as she painted layers of depth into her canvas.
After several hours she sat back, stretching her aching back and rubbing her tired eyes as she inspected her progress. Another bolt of lightning lit up her home, and the subsequent thunderous boom made her lights flicker once again. A subtle glimmer on the painting caught her attention and made her do a double take. She eyed the painting suspiciously, mentally willing herself to believe that she had not just seen the lights in the painted houses spark on and off in time with her own lights. Nervously glancing around, Silvia did not spot anything else out of place. Another crack of lightning made her jump. “I’m imaging things, I really need to get to bed,” she stated aloud to her empty apartment.
Examining her painting one more time, she leaned in close to the windows, as if she could actually peer through the glass and into the houses. The windows were still, but she screamed and jumped back as she spotted smoke rising from one of the chimneys. Not a moment after this realization another crash of thunder roared, this time succeeding in knocking out the power in her house.
Panicking in the sudden darkness, she blindly turned towards her kitchen in search of a flashlight. Upon walking into a wall, she cursed herself for not knowing her house better. Out of frustration and habit, she ran her hands over her hair. Silvia paused in surprise when she found that instead of a messy bun, her hair had been arranged in twin braids. “What the hell…” but before she could finish her sentence, the lights came back on and the real shock hit her- she was no longer in her apartment.
End chapter 1