• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 07

The Dead Don’t Smile

The room is cold. It’s half open, exposed to the winter sky, gaps where there should be walls. For the light, the artist tells her. It’s a studio, he mutters, my studio. She’s never seen anything like it and her eyes roam the cluttered room, sorry, studio, while she shivers in the breeze. Stop looking away, he growls from behind the frame where he stands with his boards and paint, half hidden. He shouts – look at me!

She flinches and tries to look at him, but it is all so strange to her. He lowers his voice, tries to sooth her, to convince her to stay still, to focus on him so he can finish this commission. He suggests that she imagine she's a lady, in her finest gown, reclining in a courtyard. She thinks, a lady, yes, I can imagine that. She feels the weight of the gold at her neck, resting at the base of her throat. Gold! She wants to reach up, stroke the smooth metal with her rough fingers, but dares not move.

The artist found her in the market. She was calling out the price of the flat breads in her basket and he decided that she would do. A close enough likeness to the dead lady. A baker’s slave will be a lady for a day, he said. He ordered her to follow him. Only if you buy all my bread, she replied.

So here she is. Her hair combed, twisted and pinned. Eyes painted with kohl. Lips rouged with pigment from the artist’s palette. A gown of fine-spun cloth draped over her shoulders. If her mistress could see her now, she thinks, gold at her throat. Gold in her hair. Gold!

Imagine you’re a lady and these fine things belong to you, he repeats. The slave girl smiles. Yes, she can imagine such a thing. She can. The artist looks up from behind his board. No smiling, he growls, the dead don't smile. She imagines reclining in a courtyard, in her finest gown. Yes, she could be a lady. She bites her cheek. Feels the heavy necklace at her throat. He shouts – stop smiling!