DargonZine 11, Issue 8

For Bronna Part 2

Mertz 12, 1016 - Firil 7, 1016


This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series For Bronna

Dargon

Mertz 12, 1016.

 

I stepped away from the posing brace on my seventh day of ‘sitting’ for my daughter’s wedding gift portrait without help and completely steady on my feet. I smiled in personal triumph: a friend had told me of this technique where you could keep your muscles from tightening up in enforced idle situations by tensing and flexing them — moving them without them moving you. It was almost as boring as just leaning there against the brace, but at least it kept my mind occupied with something, since I had solved all of the outstanding problems at work that I was able to with just my imagination. First I tensed one leg, then the other, then an arm, then the other arm. Those were the easy ones — trying to exercise the muscles in my torso without moving my torso took practice. Fortunately, I had plenty of time. I also had the brace itself to help. And finally, I was able to step out of the brace just as limber as I had been when stepping into it, despite three bells’ worth of being ‘motionless’.

The guest table was scattered with papers and pens, inkwells and money trays, in a kind of exaggeration of what my desk at work looked like. Except for the area directly behind the brace where the position of my body while posing blocked the view of it. In this space was a nicely sweating pitcher of cool water, and the covered tray I had brought for lunch. Iocasee and I sat down to the fine meal Margat, my housekeeper, had prepared and started to eat.

 

The painting was progressing wonderfully — full of detail and life, even while only half done. My plans to ‘cure’ Iocasee were not progressing so well. Simple conversation had proved difficult: he seemed to hear only the things he wanted to hear at times, and when he involved Bronna in our conversation, it just got to be too much for me to handle. It was one thing to decipher where I was supposed to help him move a table like that first session; it was quite another to have a three sided conversation when I could only hear two of the sides.

 

I thought about trying to get him away from his sanctuary, despite Rendon’s warning. I had invited Iocasee out for a beer after our last sitting. He had again looked tempted, but declined. But today, I had a better plan. I was sure he couldn’t refuse this one.

 

“So how are you enjoying the food, Iocasee?” I began. Iocasee’s response was ignored, automatically answered with a preoccupied, “Good, good,” while I mentally rehearsed my coming proposal.

 

“Ah, I was thinking that maybe you could help me with a little dilemma I have. You see, my companion and I were going to go out to eat tonight, but Eiliese’s friend Shanitral just arrived and will be staying with us for a few days. Shanitral is a couple of years younger than most of my friends, and as I was trying to figure out who I could ask to escort her so she could join us tonight without feeling left out, I suddenly thought of you. Do you think you would like to meet Shanitral and have dinner with us?”

 

***

 

“So how are you enjoying the food, Iocasee?” Percantlin asked.

 

“An excellent repast, as usual,” Iocasee replied.

 

“Good, good.”

 

Percantlin paused for a moment, then continued, “Ah, I was thinking that maybe you could help me with a little dilemma I have. You see, my companion and I were going out to eat tonight, but Eiliese’s fr …” — >> but Eiliese’s friends who were going with us suddenly had to attend another dinner party. Our reservations are for four people, and as I was trying to think of another couple who was free, I thought of you and Bronna. I’ve wanted you and Eiliese to meet, so do you think you and Bronna could have di … << — “have dinner with us?”

 

 

Iocasee’s eyes seemed to glaze for a bit in the middle of my offer, but when I finished, he sighed and said, “That does sound like a problem, but I’m afraid that Bronna isn’t feeling well and I think we should stay in tonight. Sorry, I’m sure you’ll find someone else to take your companion’s friends’ place. Or you could always just let the extra reservations go.”

 

I was stunned. I felt like we had been having one of those three sided conversations, but this time it had been my own words — or at least, how Iocasee had heard my words — that I hadn’t heard.

 

That was such an unexpected response that I hadn’t formulated a counter to it. I tried to be gracious in accepting his refusal — it was the only option left to me. Even spending the rest of the day in the posing brace doing nothing but trying to think of a way to get around his selective hearing — in between flexing — didn’t allow me to come up with a satisfactory solution.

 

Dargon

Firil 2, 1016.

 

 

Iocasee actually opened the door this time at my pull of the bell rope. He said, “Come in, come in, Percantlin. The painting is nearly finished. I’ve worked hard on the last details of the background, and it shouldn’t take more than a couple of bells to make sure that I’ve got the last of the main body details done.” He looked up at the cloud-covered sky and sighed. “Looks like rain again, does it not? I’ve got some candle reflectors set up — no match for proper sunlight, but good enough to remind me what it should look like.” He stepped aside and said again, “So, come on.”

 

I stepped inside, glad that Iocasee wanted to finish the painting today. It had been raining for the past three days, and my boots were muddy from the walk through the streets. The last time that it had been this cloudy on one of our scheduled sitting days, Iocasee had just postponed the sitting until the next bright day, which had been the next day, the 21st of last month. I had worried that he would want to postpone again, even though I knew the portrait was almost finished. I had set things in motion anyway, just in case, and now I was pretty sure that everything would happen properly.

 

Just to be sure, I asked, “So, do you think that these final details will stretch until lunch, Iocasee? I have someone bringing it over later, my housekeeper got a little behind in her duties.” Of course, Margat hadn’t gotten behind, but I knew she’d forgive me the slight to her skills — it was in a good cause.

 

“Probably just beyond, yes. Hard to tell, of course, but even if I do finish before, I’ll be happy to stall long enough for one more of your Madam Margat’s meals.” I echoed his grin and went to stand in my very familiar place at the posing brace.

 

Iocasee had already set up half a dozen candle stands of various heights on either side of the posing brace. Each held a large-wicked candle, with a shiny reflecting hood behind each lit flame helping to amplify the light thrown at me in my brace. I was only settled into the brace for a few moments before I realized that the hoods reflected more than the light: the heat from all of those candles warmed me to a comfortable temperature quickly after the miserable rainy day outside, but just as quickly went well beyond comfortable. The smell of the burning wicks and wax didn’t help my discomfort any, either. Still, I could put up with it for a little while in the cause of a finished painting.

 

I wasn’t the only one subjected to the smelly, hot candles. Two more stands illuminated the canvas itself, and I could see quite a few more candle stands set up behind the canvas, but none were lit. I guessed that he would increase the illumination in either spot, but only as needed.

 

Iocasee worked intently, hardly looking at me for long periods of time. For the last three sittings, I had wondered why I needed to be here at all, not that I minded, in principle, the time away from work. But he seemed to have a very good idea of what effects he was trying to create with his painting, and I think that he used me more as a verification that his own mental image was correct, than as a direct image to copy onto the canvas. But I could have been wrong.

 

Twice he came over to redirect the candlelight at specific aspects of my pose. The rain started about midway through the morning, but that didn’t reduce the light coming through the ceiling windows, only filled the normal silence of the studio with the patter of raindrops.

 

Iocasee stepped back from the painting one last time, looking it over closely and carefully. He lifted a brush now and again as if to make a minute change, but always put it down again without touching it to the canvas. Finally, he put down his brushes and palette with a satisfied nod. “That would be it, I think. Come over and see, Merchant Percantlin. I think your daughter will be pleased.”

 

I walked away from the brace and the heat around it, and went to stand by Iocasee. I looked at the painting, and I have to say it looked perfect. There I was in all my finery, standing in front of a glorified version of my desk. Except for the light — so very bright and vibrant in the painting, so muted and dim in the studio — I could have been looking into a very fine mirror. And beyond the perfect details, there was something else about the painting, something that nearly brought it to life. Whatever that quality was, that was what made Iocasee a great painter. It was nothing I had ever seen in a Mawdrenas portrait, anyway.

 

As if on cue, the door bell rang. I said, “Must be lunch. I’ll get it.”

 

Iocasee had begun cleaning his brushes as I went to the door and opened it. A small horse and cart was filling much of Painters outside Iocasee’s door, and its passenger was standing at the door carrying a wooden tray. I smiled at Shanitral — who was quite beautiful, but not one of Eiliese’s friends and not from out of town — and stood aside to let her enter.

 

“Iocasee, I’d like you to meet a friend of my daughter Bronna’s, Shanitral. She was visiting the house and volunteered to bring lunch for Margat. Shanitral, this is the genius that has painted my portrait for Bronna’s wedding gift.”

 

***

 

Iocasee wiped the excess paint off of his brushes before dropping them into the cleaning fluid, while the subject of his latest work went to answer the door. He was proud of the painting he had just completed — he had achieved every effect he had intended, and maybe even a few more that had happened by accident. Like that swirl in the large ruby earring — it was just a brush mark, but it looked so much like a flash of fire and he hadn’t even been trying to do that.

 

Yes, he had managed to capture his merchant client very well. The handsome face that wore its 45 or so years well, the dark hair swept back elegantly under the red hat, the fit body beneath the sumptuous robes. He had been happy to capture the exact blending of green and brown in Percantlin’s eyes, as well as the character of every individual gem in the silver bands around almost every finger. Even the detailed figures adorning the two studs above the ruby earring were clearly visible. This was probably one of his finest works.

 

The door opened, and after a moment Percantlin opened it wide to let someone in. Iocasee looked up and caught his breath at the beautiful woman standing in the door. She was a vision, so lovely, almost as lovely as Bronna. Long brown hair, another goddess’ shape. She was taller, younger, and … and … and real … …?

 

Percantlin was saying something, introducing the vision. “Iocasee, I’d like you to meet …” — >> like you to meet my daughter Bronna. She’s brought us the lunch that Madam Margat has prepared. Bronna, this is the genius that has painted my portrait for your wed… << — “wedding gift.”

 

***

 

I was looking at Iocasee as I introduced Shanitral to him, and so I saw the vacant look that passed over his face for a moment. And so I almost expected what came next.

 

“Bronna, eh? What a coincidence that your nickname is the same as my dear heart’s name, since I remember that your father told me your given name is Kalibriona. Such a lovely woman! Your husband-to-be is a very lucky man, very lucky. Come over and see your wedding gift.”

 

Shanitral looked at me with a stricken expression — she just didn’t understand what was going on. I had grown more or less used to Iocasee’s delusions, but even though I had tried to explain it to her earlier, the difference between words and reality was just too great.

 

I led her over to the table so she could set down the tray. I was frantically trying to figure out a graceful way out of this situation — my plans gone wrong yet again! — but in the mean time I whispered to Shanitral, “Just play along, dear. I’m sorry about this, I didn’t think that this would happen. Um, go look at the painting, I need to speak with Brance. It’s all right, I won’t be a moment.”

 

Shanitral walked hesitantly over to Iocasee while I darted out the front door. Brance was an employee of Fifth I whom I had asked a little favor of. And now I had another favor to ask.

 

“Brance, I want you to take the cart around the block, and return here. Ring the bell and when I answer, tell me this …”

 

***

 

I went back inside, to see Shanitral honestly admiring the painting, even though she glanced beside her at Iocasee with a wild “I’m going to bolt any second” look, like a spooked horse. I said, “Sh … uh … Bronna, why don’t we sit down to lunch. You’re going to have forever to stare at that painting. Margat sent enough for three, right?” Of course she had — the plan had been for Shanitral to charm Iocasee over a lunch for three. But it hadn’t happened that way, had it?

 

Shanitral nodded, and walked over to the table. Iocasee followed as I uncovered the tray to reveal a soup tureen and three plates of seasoned chicken. Much fancier than the previous meals which had all been variations on cold meat leftwiches. “Looks like Margat outdid herself for this last meal, eh Iocasee?”

 

“It looks and smells almost as good as my painting!” Iocasee joked, and I laughed along with him. Even Shanitral chuckled nervously.

 

I timed it perfectly. I was just lowering myself into my seat, the others having already taken theirs, when the door bell jangled again. I leapt up and opened the door before Iocasee could move. Of course, it was Brance. He said, with a delivery that would credit any actor on any stage in Baranur, “Master Percantlin, there’s an emergency at warehouse two. You gotta come quick!”

 

“Thank you, Brance. I’ll be right there.” I closed the door and went back over to the table. “I’m sorry, Iocasee, Sh … Bronna. I’m surprised that nothing like this has happened before, but I’ve got an emergency to deal with. Maybe you should come too, B-Bronna — I can drop you at home.”

 

I cleared the tray of food, leaving it all for Iocasee, then went to get my cloak. “The painting will be ready by the wedding?”

 

“Oh yes. It will be dry enough by then to frame. I’ll make sure it is delivered by the 7th at the latest. I hope the emergency isn’t serious, Percantlin. And thank you for being such a good subject. I hope you enjoy the portrait, Bronna.”

 

“Farewell, Iocasee. I will have your fee delivered tomorrow.”

 

Shanitral waved, smiling weakly, and the door closed behind us. We both climbed into the cart, and Brance got the horse moving. I certainly hadn’t wanted to leave the studio like that, but I was pretty sure that Shanitral would not have stood up to an entire afternoon of being Bronna in front of a madman.

 

And I hadn’t cured him, either. He still thought his lover was living with him. I had failed.

 

But at least I had gotten the portrait. I was sure it would make a wonderful wedding gift for Bronna. *My* Bronna.

 

Dargon

Firil 7, 1016.

 

 

“You promised that it would be delivered by today, dear. And it *is* getting late.”

 

“I know, I know. But I don’t understand where everyone is.” Iocasee hadn’t seen any of his neighbors since yesterday when Rendon delivered the frame he made for Percantlin’s portrait and helped him mount it. He had said someone would be around to make the delivery, but no one had come.

 

“At least the rain is over.” Iocasee looked up through his ceiling windows at the clearing night sky beyond them. The clouds were slowly blowing away, and soon it would be clear for the first time in more than a sennight. The illumination in the studio was dim enough for him to see a few of the brighter stars beginning to become visible. He loved it when the moon was in the right place to shine into the studio. He would put out all the candles and lamps in the room and luxuriate in the bright white glow that would fill the space. He would drag the couch out of the bedroom and he and Bronna would lie on it and soak up the moonlight …

 

Iocasee started pacing across the studio, glancing at the portrait that was awaiting delivery. He would be glad when it was out of his studio. Yes, he was proud of it, but there was something about it that was bothering him. Something disquieting, where everything should have been perfect happiness. But what was it? Why did Percantlin’s picture disturb him? Maybe he should just deliver it himself? After all, it really should be there for Bronna’s wedding.

 

How strange it had been to learn that his client’s daughter had the same name as his own lover. How likely was that? And she was such a lovely woman — he was glad he had gotten the chance to meet her.

 

“But that wasn’t Percantlin’s daughter, now was it, love?”

 

“What, Bronna? Of course it was. She wanted to meet me. She was anxious to see the portrait. She …”

 

“That was a friend of Bronna’s. Her name was Shanitral. And you liked her, didn’t you, Cas?”

 

Iocasee had stopped in front of the portrait, but didn’t really see it. Something was wrong! “No, no love. No, that was the Bronna that this painting is for. Yes, she was pretty, but … but not so pretty as my Bronna. Not so pretty as you!”

 

“You want to go to Percantlin’s with that picture so that maybe you can meet her again, don’t you? After all this time, just one pretty face and you don’t want me any more!”

 

“No, please Bronna. No! It’s just that she’s getting married tomorrow, and the portrait should be there. Really!”

 

Bronna never got mad at him. There had never been a reason! They were so happy together. Iocasee grew more and more anxious as he frantically tried to understand why she was angry with him. Of course he didn’t want to go see Bronna … Shanitral … Bronna …

 

Iocasee found himself staring at the ruby earring in the portrait-Percantlin’s ear. At first, he couldn’t see the little swirl that he had noticed before, but slowly the light on the canvas increased until the swirl, like a bit of fire, was clearly visible. Swirl of fire, like Bronna’s hair. Beautiful Bronna. *His* Bronna.

 

“You don’t remember what day this is, do you?”

 

Day? It was the day to deliver Percantlin’s painting, the day before Bronna’s wedding. Day?

 

“And?”

 

And? And? Wait … Firil 7 … wait … party. Birthday! “It’s your birthday, isn’t it, Bronna?” That’s right, birthday party! But, usually the whole street went out to celebrate. So where was everyone? And why could he suddenly see the portrait so clearly when he hadn’t lit any more lanterns?

 

“Yes, Iocasee, it’s my birthday. And you haven’t mentioned it once today, until now. You were too busy thinking about that Shanitral, weren’t you? Well, maybe I’ll just leave then. If you don’t want me, I’ll leave.

 

“Again.”

 

“Bronna? Bronna?! No, don’t go! Bronna?!?”

 

Iocasee turned, but she was nowhere to be seen. He looked up then, through his ceiling windows, and saw a streak of fire in the middle of the sky. It didn’t flash by like a shooting star, it just hung there in the sky, a streak of fire, like the swirl of fire in the ruby earring, like his love Bronna’s hair …

 

“Bronna no, don’t go!” Iocasee fell to his knees, arms upraised toward the streak of fire. “Bronna, come back! Don’t leave! Don’t leave me all alone! Again!”

 

With a last despairing cry, he collapsed to the floor, wailing his loss — all ten years of it — into the night.

 

***

 

I walked through the streets of a Dargon gone strange with the light in the sky. Omen, portent, harbinger of doom — I didn’t think it was any of those things. My life, my business were run by me, not statues in a temple, and certainly not by lights in the sky. Sun, moon, stars had no influence over me. This new light — mysterious and strange though it was — was just another presence in the sky. It was pretty, but I wasn’t afraid of it. My daughter’s wedding tomorrow — that worried me! That, and the fact that the portrait that was her wedding gift had not yet arrived.

 

I arrived at number 7 on Painters, and pulled the bell. Had something happened to Iocasee? To the delivery man? Where was the painting? I waited for some reply from within Iocasee’s studio, but I didn’t hear anything. I rang again, and looked around. I didn’t see anyone out on the street, and all of the few windows were dark. Maybe everyone was in one of those crowded squares I had detoured around, listening to crazy prophets, or opportunistic scoundrels trying to get the new light in the sky to make them some money.

 

I pulled the bell cord a third time, and put my ear to the door to listen well. It wasn’t all that late — only about third night bell, perhaps, but Iocasee may still have gone to bed. But he wouldn’t have done that if the painting was still undelivered, would he?

 

The echoes of the door bell died out, and at first there was silence. But then, I thought I heard crying. Sobbing, really, a wrenching sound even through the wood of the door. Should I go in? Maybe he was hurt? Even though I knew that weeping like that didn’t come from a broken bone, I used that as my justification to open the door.

 

“Hello, Iocasee? Is everything all right?” I looked around the studio, and saw the portrait on its easel first. I sighed with relief — it was okay! And then, the sobbing, much clearer now, intruded and I looked to see Iocasee crumpled on the floor, crying his heart out.

 

My first impulse was to get the painting and leave. Maybe make an attempt to find one of Iocasee’s neighbors and tell them the painter was upset about something. I was not good at dealing with people — ledgers and shipping schedules, warehouses and goods were more my area of expertise — and Iocasee’s sobbing was making me more uneasy than sympathetic.

 

But I had spent quite a lot of time with the man, and while we hadn’t become friends — we hadn’t spoken nearly enough for that — I still knew him. A stranger I could have left like that; someone I knew, I couldn’t. Closing the door behind me, I walked over to the weeping man.

 

Kneeling beside him, I could make out words between the sobs. “Bronna’s gone … all alone for all these years … why did you leave?” I wondered what had made Iocasee see the truth behind his delusions.

 

I called, “Iocasee? Cas, can you hear me?” There was no response, he just kept repeating his litany of sorrow. I reached out and shook his shoulder, trying to make him aware of me, and eventually his crying eased, and he opened his eyes and looked at me.

 

“Percantlin? What …?” I helped him sit up, but he hung his head in sorrow. “Oh, she’s gone … she’s gone …”

 

I then helped him to his feet and to a chair, but he was still slumped down in it, a man with no happiness in him at all, anywhere. I tried to cheer him up by saying, “The painting looks great! That frame really works with the piece, colors and proportion and all.” I didn’t know what that meant, I had heard one of my more cultured acquaintances say something like that once.

 

Iocasee didn’t smile, but he did look up, first at the portrait on the easel, then at me. “Yes, it’s done. Take it, and leave me alone. Like Bronna.”

Yes, it’s done. Take it, and leave me alone. Like Bronna.

 

Before he could collapse again, I asked insistently, “Cas, what happened? Why …” I wanted to ask why he had suddenly realized that he had been delusional for ten years, but I thought that a little cruel. So I asked instead, “Why did your Bronna leave?”

 

“Your fault,” he replied without a shred of anger. “You brought your daughter … no, your daughter’s friend … Bronna … Shanitral … Bronna … Ah! … And then today I was worried about your portrait, and the neighbors didn’t come, and I forgot this was my Bronna’s birthday. And Bronna got mad, and said she’d leave, and I looked up and saw her in the sky … and she’s gone, gone, gone …” He pointed, and I looked up to see the streak of fire in the sky through his ceiling windows.

 

He started to cry again, and as I tried to get his attention back, I thought everything through. Rendon had told me that he and his neighbors helped Cas celebrate two birthdays every year, but that one of them was actually the day that Iocasee’s Bronna had left him. He’d said it was in Firil. Apparently, it was today. It also seemed like that light in the sky had been enough to distract Cas’ neighbors from thoughts of their favorite painter as well, leaving him alone on an evening when he was normally surrounded by people all helping him remember that Bronna was still with him. Add in my own clumsy attempts to lead him out of his madness, come to a delayed fruition at just the wrong time, coupled with the advent of the mysterious, portentous fire in the sky, and all of Iocasee’s illusions had crumbled around him.

 

So, in the end I had succeeded — with some help. Iocasee was no longer mad — he knew Bronna was gone. I had cured him after all. I chuckled to myself — I knew that Shanitral would get to him! If I wasn’t committed to Eiliese, I’d make a play for Shanitral myself even if I was old enough to be her father!

 

Iocasee was cured, and I was proud. But not for long. I remembered Rendon’s first tale about the troubled painter, and how he had reacted so badly the first time Bronna had left. But he would get better with time, wouldn’t he? Didn’t they always say that time was the balm for every hurt? But he hadn’t gotten over her ten years ago, he had invented things to console him in the loss of her. And this time, with such a visible testament of her leaving — in his eyes, at least — as the fire in the sky, what might he be driven to do? Suicide, maybe?

 

I glanced at the painting, marveling again at its perfection in the light of the fire in the sky. It would be a tragedy if such a genius of an artist killed himself in the prime of his life. I looked back at Iocasee, and thought that it would be just as tragic for any one to die before his time.

 

Iocasee had been happy, truly and genuinely happy, even if the basis for that happiness was a delusion. What did that matter? He wasn’t hurting anyone, and he was a great painter. And since I had had a hand in the breaking of that happiness, I would have to help him regain it. If his delusions kept him sane — or at least, functioning — then his delusions had to return.

 

I shook him again, and said, “Cas, listen to me!” His tear-blurred eyes turned to me, and I said, pointing up, “That’s not Bronna, Cas.”

 

“Yes it is,” he replied sulkily.

 

“No, Cas, it isn’t. That is just part of the fire show I have scheduled for my daughter’s wedding. You remember my daughter, who brought lunch last time I was here? Wasn’t she pretty? Isn’t Tanjural, her husband to be, a lucky man?”

 

“That *was* your daughter?” he asked tentatively.

 

“Yes, of course it was. She wanted to sneak a peek at the portrait before it got presented at her wedding tomorrow.”

 

“That was your daughter. And that,” looking up, “is for your daughter’s wedding.”

 

I nodded. “Right.”

 

He appeared to be thinking. “Who is Sh .. Shanitral?”

 

“My daughter’s best friend. Short, milk-blonde hair, somewhat chubby. You’ve never met her,” I lied earnestly.

 

“No, she doesn’t sound familiar.” His words were still tentative, as if he didn’t quite believe yet.

 

I decided that I had to try something else. I wasn’t very good at pretending, but I dredged up memories of attending parties my Bronna had given as a child for her stuffed toys and invisible friends, and took a stab at it.

 

“What was that?” I asked, looking toward the kitchen door. “Did Bronna just get back from an errand? I’ve got to get back to the pre-wedding festivities soon, so could you call her in so I may say farewell to her before I go?”

 

I was gambling that Iocasee was close enough to the edge that it would take just a little push for him to fall back into his delusions. He clearly hadn’t heard anything from the kitchen — there hadn’t been anything to hear — but he called out anyway, “Bronna?”

 

***

 

Iocasee was more confused than he had ever been in his life. What was the truth here? Was that light in the sky for Percantlin’s daughter Bronna’s wedding? Had his own Bronna left for ever, or just on an errand? Had there been a noise of his true love Bronna returning? He looked over toward the kitchen door and called tentatively, “Bronna?”

 

Silence. The flame in the sky continued to burn, and maybe it *was* his lovely, long lost Bronna, and not just some kind of magical effect from a fire show. Maybe …

 

“Dear, I’m back.”

 

She wasn’t gone! He had misunderstood, she hadn’t left him alone, she had just had an errand to run! “Bronna, could you come out so Merchant Percantlin can say his farewells? He came for his painting, but he has to be getting back to his daughter’s wedding.”

 

“Of course, dear.” The kitchen door opened, and his Bronna stepped through, as lovely a vision as she had been that first time he had seen her. That first portrait he had painted of her was still in the bedroom, hanging over the bed.

 

He turned back to Percantlin with a smile of radiant joy on his face, and whispered, “She’s back. She didn’t leave!”

 

***

 

I waited, worrying, while the silence stretched out after he first called Bronna’s name. I saw doubt begin to creep into his face, reality drowning out fantasy in his mind. But something — need, belief, my unshakeable rhetoric — swayed that balance, and I saw his face light up. He seemed to be listening to something, and then he said, “Bronna, could you come out so Merchant Percantlin can say his farewells? He came for his painting, but he has to be getting back to his daughter’s wedding.”

 

I wondered briefly if the legendary Bronna would actually come out of the kitchen to greet me finally. But she didn’t, even though I saw the reflection of a vision of beauty light up Iocasee’s face a moment after his request as if Bronna had opened the kitchen door and walked into the studio. He turned back to me, that joy still shining out of his eyes, and he whispered — to me, or to himself? — “She’s back. She didn’t leave!”

 

I smiled. This time, I really *had* helped the man. I straightened up next to Iocasee’s chair and faced the kitchen door. “I just wanted to say how much of a pleasure it has been to be in your house, Bronna. I’m glad that the wedding of my own Bronna brought me to this studio, to your home, and within the talent of your artistic genius, Iocasee. Thank you so much.” I bowed.

 

There was silence for a few moments, but Iocasee’s attention was directed at the kitchen door so I figured he was listening to Bronna’s reply. I started to get that awkward, left-out feeling, but it was a small price to pay if it made Iocasee happy.

 

Iocasee stood and said, “I want to thank you as well, Percantlin. You have been an exemplary subject, patient and uncomplaining for all those boring bells. I am sure your daughter will treasure the portrait. And if you like it, I hope you will recommend me to your friends.”

 

I assured him that I was more than happy with the portrait, and I would surely recommend his talents. If my friends couldn’t handle his eccentricities, that was their loss. I thanked him and Bronna again, before covering the painting in a cloth and lifting it from the easel. As I walked away from Iocasee’s studio and the Street of Painters I realized that I was glad I had decided to get a portrait done for Bronna.

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