Chapter 1 – Kaleidoscope
Killeen Adare joined her fellow transit-goers on the platform. She looked down at her watch before tapping it lightly, as though jarring the glass might rewind time or at the very least move it ahead. Like everyone else in the hustle bustle city, she was rushing and running to hurry and wait.
She felt the ground begin to vibrate, and she sighed in relief. At least the subway was on time. She stepped on and took a standing position in the center. The location had the best vantage point for her people-watching (her favourite pastime). No one ever seemed to notice her noticing them, or if they did, they never seemed to care enough to be bothered by it. At her art exhibitions, she was the table centerpiece, and anytime else, she was nothing more than a vibrant flower, lost in a floral bouquet of equal vibrancy.
It didn't take long for her to spot the star of the subway show: Burlap Sack Jack. He gave her a big, toothless grin when they made eye contact. She smiled back. Jack had no idea just how important he was. He was going to take the lead in the transit tale she planned to tell Flynn. Organized as Flynn was, Killeen's assistant was easily distracted, and Jack was perfect for punctuality police thwarting.
Flynn treated Killeen's lackadaisical approach to time-keeping as an opportunity to employ strict schedules under the guise of increased productivity. Before Flynn, the days and nights had run together. While Killeen had found the routine annoying, she had a firm 'No Boat Rocking' stance. Besides, Flynn had been right. The structure had made Killeen more productive.
Stepping out of the subway tunnel, Killeen zipped her jacket further up to ward away the last cold days of spring. She turned around to look for Jack, concerned for him having to step into the chilled air with so little shielding him from its bite, but he hadn't exited with her.
Everyone else was going about their regular business, as they always did. That was what she liked most about her indifferent city. Her kaleidoscopic palette was coloured with possibilities that only she seemed able to see. To her, each and every person was impossibly vibrant: dark, light and all shades of life's rainbow.
"Except pigeons," she muttered. "Nothing vibrant about them at all."
They'd done it again. How many times had they bombed her? Ten? Twenty? Clearly, the flocking pigeons were aiming.
"Good morning to you, too," she grumbled, forcing a smile in the direction of a passerby who had paused to survey her misfortune.
Killeen sighed and pulled a wet nap from her pocket, gently wiping at the blot before tossing the proof of her assault in the first garbage can that she passed.
The studio was quiet when she arrived, but she wasn't foolish enough to hope that she was the only one there. She knew she was late – fifteen whole minutes late – and she knew Flynn was incapable of letting her slide by unnoticed.
"Late again," Flynn growled at Killeen, after sitting up straight at her desk just as Killeen was trying to sneak past. "You just fast-forwarded your day, you realize. Nothing will run right now."
"Burlap Sack Jack was on the subway again," Killeen blurted out, and Flynn smiled from ear to ear.
Killeen recounted every detail, and when she felt like she had sufficiently side-tracked Flynn, she ducked into her drawing room. It was empty save one hanged painting and her art materials, which were confined to a single rolling cart. The small tubes of colour and collection of brushes had been sitting there for a week, patiently waiting for inspiration to strike. It had finally struck.
Sleep was not a desire so much as a necessity for the continuance of her art. She painted what she dreamed. The problem was that she didn't dream of sunshine and roses. She dreamed of the deadliest thorns on the rainiest day, and so sleeping didn't always come easy for her. After a seven day hiatus, she was happy to be back in business, even if it meant she had screamed herself awake at 4:00 a.m., thereby mucking up her entire morning routine. Inspiration came with a high price tag.
"Where to start," she asked herself.
"By putting the brush to the canvas," Flynn chimed in cheerfully from the next room.
"Not helpful," Killeen muttered under her breath.
She tried to imagine each layer moving toward the finished piece and where she should begin. The first layer was always the hardest.
With light footsteps, she walked toward the only creative inspiration available in the otherwise barren room. It was her first painting, and it was unfinished. It went with her everywhere, and she treated it with reverence. It wasn't about nostalgia, though it had marked the beginning of her artistry. The painting demanded protection, if for no other reason than to ensure that the people around it were safe.
It hung along one of the four white, panelled walls enclosing the space. The creatures in it seemed less threatening to her than they had in youth, more animals than beasts. There was a child, and the beasts had chased the child until it couldn't run any further. It stood in the center of them, while they stalked around the rock that lifted it just out of reach. The lines were blurry, and the child had no face, but Killeen knew that the child was her.
"Mornin' Killeen," came Flynn's spirited voice.
Standing in the door-frame, Flynn Murphy looked like an Irish postcard picture, and her very presence lit the room with enthusiasm. Her fiery, red curls wound tightly into perfect little ringlets on her head, and they beat against each other with every movement of her body. Her eyes were so dark that they looked black until the light hit them just right, inviting the emeralds to dance.
"Ugh, stuck in the sights of that ugly thing again, I see. Be it artist's block you have then?" she began, taking a quick glance at the blank easel as she picked up a brush from the rolling cart. "Surely, you'll not get the inspiration you need over there."
Flynn had supported Killeen in keeping the painting around. Actually, she had insisted on it. She was very superstitious, and she was sure that since it had prompted the beginning of Killeen's art career, finishing it would mark the end of it, but she didn't like the look of the painting – not a single bit. She couldn't encourage Killeen to set the beasts free, not in good conscience. She knew that Killeen wasn't ready to fight them.
"I just got here," Killeen replied defensively, moving toward Flynn and snatching the brush from her hand.
"You just got here, but that canvas got here seven days ago, by my math," she chastised Killeen.
Killeen scowled at her.
"Maybe, if you'd stop traipsing in and out of here all hours of the day or night, you might get something done," she persisted. "And late again, to boot. For shame, you've lost those minutes. Best kiss them goodbye and get on with it."
It had only been fifteen minutes, but Killeen wouldn't tell Flynn that she was exaggerating. She opted for issue avoidance wherever possible, which meant keeping her mouth shut a lot of the time. That worked out great for Flynn, who always seemed to be opening hers.
"Well now, you'll likely be off balance the whole of the day, as it is," Flynn persisted with her sweet and thick, song-like brogue. "You can't rewind time, you see."
Killeen reached for her palette and began mixing colours, mid-raking. The blending was her favourite part of working with oil-based paint. As she fed the white into the red, she decided that Flynn was like fuchsia, fresh and full of passion and life.
"Tell me Flynn..." Killeen chimed in when Flynn had stopped to catch her breath. "When you left Ireland, did the fairies dance in silence?"
Flynn grinned cheerfully. "Nah, for my ma would have been giving them something to jig by."
Satisfied, she turned and was near to leaving the room when she stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Now, my brother on the other hand of it, would have been just as pleased to rip off their wings and use them for lures! That's the truth of it!"
Killeen smiled. Flynn's contagious happiness was one of her most endearing features, even when she was being an unrelenting pest.
"I'll fetch you something to help you keep your wits about you. I expect to see some progress by the time I come back," she scolded Killeen.
Killeen sighed and continued with her blending until she had built a sufficient colour base. Tilting her head to the side, she tried to envision the completed work. Determined, she made the first stoke, and the brush finally began its dance over the canvas. She became so engrossed in the task at hand that she didn't even notice when Flynn placed the cappuccino on her tray a short time later.
Minutes transformed into hours as she worked. The dull ache from muscle exertion turned into a full throb, complete with spasms. Lowering the brush, Killeen gave her arm a slight shake, surveying her progress as she warded off the cramp. The mass of blue splatter pleased her, though it would look to most like a blobby mess. She had definitely made some fine progress, enough in fact that she was sure she wouldn't get scolded for requesting a fresh source of caffeine. Besides, she needed to give the base layer some time to dry. She loved her oils, but they required a sufficient amount of patience to work with.
Exiting the drawing room, she spotted Flynn with her face buried in paperwork, her glasses slipping down her freckled nose. When Flynn noticed Killeen, she slid her glasses right up and into her hair, where they served to hold back the mess of curls threatening to consume her face.
"Would you be needing something?" Flynn asked.
"I'm off to get a recharge," Killeen explained, pointing to the empty container she had tossed in the trash can by Flynn's desk. "I could stand a bite to eat as well. Would you like anything?"
"Tea time it mayhap be," Flynn responded, raising her eyes to the clock. "Lunch hour is past, and shamefully my belly is still round from it. As if proof of her gluttony was required, her tiny hands reached down to pat her stomach. She circled them in an exaggerated movement. "You'd know that, of course, if you followed a proper schedule."
"A tea for you and a late lunch for me," Killeen conceded.
"Aye, a breath of fresh air is just what you need, if the air out there is meant to be called fresh. I miss the smell of home. It's a sin to long for it like I do. When I close my eyes tight …" she closed her eyes and smiled. "I can smell the salty, sea air and feel the cool, ocean spray."
"I know..." Flynn rolled her eyes. "Scared of the water, you are, but not me. I was brought up in it."
Killeen hadn't ever learned how to swim, though it wasn't for lack of parental attempts to help her learn. They had forced her into a swimming class that had abruptly resulted in a full-blown panic attack that required a two-day stay in the hospital. Needless to say, she'd never made it to the second lesson.
"My feet belong on solid ground," Killeen reminded her.
"And my heart is meant for soaring!" Flynn returned.
"I leave the soaring to my hands," Killeen noted.
"And soar they do! Soar they do."
"You're probably due for a trip home."
Flynn was nothing if not one hundred percent loyal to Killeen. Though Killeen had tried on many occasions to get Flynn to take a vacation, she had always refused. She was sure the entire art empire would crumble without her there to hold it together, and she was probably right. They were an excellent team.
"Aye, it'd surely be a tale to say I've no desire to see Éire, but my home rests here now. I wouldn't wish that to change." She smiled on a sigh. "A different world is this from that. Beauty here is in the people instead of the land. There is goodness in all that beauty."
As Killeen exited the studio, Flynn's optimistic view clouded her thoughts. People were certainly colourful, but there wasn't always goodness in their kaleidoscopic display. There was evil lurking there, too. She agreed to the beauty. Beauty in difference. Beauty in similarity. Beauty in familiarity. But, Killeen was not as naïve as Flynn to think that everything beautiful was good. There were shades of grey between the black and white.
The sound left her steaming. She tilted her chin up toward the mid-day sun. Pigeons, and all animal kind for that matter, weren't grey at all. They were the darkest shades of night. Clearly, the feeling was mutual, proven by their constant target practice.
Squinting and annoyed, she acknowledged the pigeon directly, "I'm not your canvas. Go paint someone else."
As if embarrassed, the pigeon cooed lightly and landed on a window sill, where it quickly ducked behind a potted plant. The plant looked forgotten. Where there once had been colour, held only a brittle, brown remnant of unmet potential.