Oil of Angels


jim_icon.gif orwell_icon.gif

Scene Title Oil of Angels
Synopsis Jim finds himself the new owner of an early Orwell Gidding oil painting that's also a bit of an atrocity, according to the painter himself.
Date February 24, 2020

//Winslow-Crawford Academy

Mid-afternoon in Brooklyn finds Jim in his office at the Brooklyn campus of Winslow-Crawford Academy. Some of the things in there are packed in preparation for the move — it’s not time yet, but there are some things he doesn’t really use very much, and it’s always good to get a head start. Moves are terrible, terrible things.

He’s currently in the process of taking inventory, which involves both the computer in front of him and a pad of paper and pencil to make notes. There’s general items that the school always has on hand, and then medicine for various individual kids, as there always is at schools. Even schools for the evolved.

Actually, probably especially schools for the evolved.

But in any case, that’s what he’s doing, and it’s certainly A Task, so he’s quite engaged for the moment.

“Thanks!” the cheerful voice of Orwell Gidding can be heard outside the office, before the handle turns and he pokes his shaggy head within. A large paper-wrapped rectangle is tucked under one of his arms, presumably the painting he’d told Jim he was going to bring by.

“Jim, bro, how you doing? Am I interrupting? I can come back later. I’d have brought you some coffee but I can’t carry coffee and the painting and still manage to open doors and shit,” the energetic painter says, sharp features pulled up into a bright smile. “Your head okay? How long does it take to recover from one of those? I don’t get them like you do, so I don’t know how it works, you know?”

It’s probably good Orwell didn’t bring more coffee.

The sound of the voice from beyond the door catches Jim’s attention, and when the door opens he’s already looking up, a smile settling onto his face when he sees who it is. “Hey,” he says, shaking his head and pushing aside the pad and settling back in his chair. That rabbity energy draws a little chuckle from him, but he waits until there’s a gap in the questions to answer. “I’m fine,” he confirms. “You’re not interrupting anything. Just trying to get a jump on everything, you know? Between this gig and working at the hospital, I want to make sure I’m not scrambling at the last minute.” Of course, the ‘last minute’ is several months away yet, but that’s neither here nor there. Or rather, more there than here. But whatever. It’s fine.

“It depends,” he continues, at the question of recovery. “I have to take time to kind of…integrate them into my consciousness.” His smile tips a little wryly at that as he adds, “I don’t know if that makes sense. I can’t really explain it better than that but if I don’t do it things start to fray around the edges.” And no one wants a frayed nurse, guys. Believe me. “This one didn’t take too long. A day or so. I’m okay.”

His gaze moves toward what he assumes is the painting. “So you found it, huh?”

The younger man stares at Jim as he speaks of integrating the vision into his consciousness, and he shakes his head slowly to indicate it doesn’t make sense, though he smiles as he does so.

“So weird,” he intones, looking at Jim like he might be a different species than Orwell himself. In a way he is — at least in regards to their abilities.

“Like I said when we met, unless I plan out a painting, I never know if my work is a vision or not until it is. I didn’t know I was a precog at all until suddenly my paintings revealed things that happened. Really fucking weird. I don’t feel different or anything — I guess the inspiration is different, but… not everything I ever was spontaneously inspired to paint has come through.”

His gray eyes widen again. “But maybe it will.”

Making a sound that mimics an explosion, he brings one fist up to his temple and then splays his fingers. “Mind blown. But yeah, this is it. Had to pull it out of a storage facility.”

Hefting the thing up onto the nearby desk, he begins to unwrap it.

Jim doesn’t seem surprised when Orwell doesn’t grasp what he’s getting it. “Yeah,” he admits, “sometimes I don’t get it, either, and I’ve been living with it for over a decade.” However, there’s plenty of what could be termed ‘professional interest’ when Orwell explains how his gift works.

“Wow,” he says after a moment, “that’s pretty amazing. Just…sitting down to paint and not knowing what’s going to come out. If you painted this one a long time ago and it’s only popping up right now, who knows when the other ones might happen, too.” Or if, but this is a pretty strong mark in the when column.

He gets quiet again when Orwell starts to unwrap the painting, his expression shifting thoughtfully as he watches.

“Frustrating, too, when you want to paint something but can’t until you do the thing your inspiration wants you to paint, even if it’s not particularly your style.” Orwell pulls the remaining brown paper away from the canvas he’s hauled in, and gestures at the thing.

“Like this atrocity.”

It’s not as refined as the painting at the gala, nor what he seems to have planned for the new school and center. He was younger, so that explains the lack of technique.

The painting depicts a the city skyline of New York, the buildings black jagged silhouettes against a starry sky. Bordering the bottom of the painting is a row of heads on pillows; each face non-descript yet slightly different, each with his or her eyes closed. Wispy tendrils of pale blue creep toward them, making their way into some of their ears and mouths.

A platinum-haired angel floats above the skyline, hands open, palm forward at her sides, the pale-blue tendrils streaming downward; her expression seems sad as she gazes down upon the sleepers. A single tear on one cheek is painted in the same soft blue.

“You can see why I never sold it. Who wants that thing hanging in their bedroom?” Orwell says with a grin. “It’s not in the best shape.” Indeed, the painting has seen better days; it looks like it’s a bit faded in one corner more than the other, maybe where the sun hit it for a bit too long while the rest was cast in shadow.

“Yeah, I bet.” Jim doesn’t say any more right now, though, since his attention is fixed on the painting that Orwell has just unwrapped.

“I don’t know,” he murmurs, “I don’t hate it.” Which is not, perhaps, the best compliment, but it’s clearly meant as one. He’s a little distracted from looking at it for the moment. He reaches out as though to touch the tear on the angel’s cheek, but he stops just short of actually putting a finger on the painting. “She felt sad when I saw her, too.”

His eyes move over the faces of the sleepers, and he leans in to study them a bit more closely. “I heard a poem in mine,” he continues after a moment. “I didn’t recognize it, but I looked it up. I’m not the best interpreting poetry beyond the obvious, but…it’s something about dreaming that she was awake, and someone who should have been there was gone.” He turns away from the painting briefly to rummage through the papers on his desk, looking until he finds one in particular with the whole poem on it, which he hands to Orwell to look at.

Orwell’s eyes nearly disappear with the laughter that overtakes his expression. “I’m having a gallery showing soon. I’ll be sure to put that quote in the advertisements: ‘I don’t hate it.’” He spreads his hand across the air as if picturing the signage. “That’ll bring ’em in, right?”

He quiets, though, when Jim discusses the poem. “Ooh, you get audio? Well, color me jealous. I just… see shit after it’s already on my canvas. Probably missing a lot of context.”

Reaching for the paper, his gray gaze skims the words there. “Huh.”

“Make sure you attribute it to me,” Jim replies, but he can’t keep a straight face for long and he laughs, too, even though his attention is still half on the painting. He reaches up to rub his forehead as the laugh fades into something a little less amused and more wry. “Audio, video, full surround sound. Smells, sometimes. That can get a little bit gross.” He says it lightly, but one could only imagine what he means. Yuck.

“I talked to someone about it,” he continues after a moment. “Do you know Kaylee Thatcher? She’s helped me out with these a time or two in the past. I thought she might have some insight. It turns out she knows someone else who might be able to help, so we’re going to go see him at some point soon.”

His gaze returns to the painting, and specifically the angel. “What’s your message?” he murmurs very quietly, almost to himself. There’s another few seconds’ pause before he looks back up to Orwell. “Can I buy this from you? I like it.”

At the mention of smells, Orwell’s eyes widen, and he shakes his head, scratching the back of his shaggy hair with one hand. “Oh, no, that’s no good. I’m glad I just get the visuals. I painted a murder scene once so I’d rather not smell that one first-hand. Or any-hand, really.”

The painter reads the poem to himself, again, while Jim talks to the painting. “‘The Dream’ is pretty fitting, but not particularly specific, huh?” he says, then looks up with surprise at the talk of buying the painting.

“Oh. Really?” That thing?” he says, blinking twice. “I mean. It’s a piece of shit. But I do have a rule I can’t give away paintings. My old art teacher made us all promise, for some reason. Something with having value for your work, I don’t know. What d’you want to pay for it?”

There’s a little shudder at the thought of all the smells gristly murders entail, and Jim just leaves that at that. Instead, he addresses the next part. “It definitely could have been clearer,” he agrees. “But I guess metaphorical angels aren’t required to be very straightforward. If only, right?” Maybe he’ll write someone a strongly-worded metaphorical letter about it.

As for how much he’s thinking about paying, he shrugs, a movement that ends with spreading his hands out wide. “I’m not really in the habit of buying art,” he says, “but I don’t want you to sell yourself short. I get what your art teacher was talking about. This is your profession, right? So, I’ll happily pay you whatever your usual rate is, because I like it and I’d like to have it.”

Orwell sets the poem down on the desk. “I’d say who’s to say the angel is metaphorical, but… yeah, I’m not that guy. I don’t really believe in non-metaphorical angels or demons. We got plenty symbolic ones on both sides of that spectrum, though, right?”

He looks at the art, then Jim. “Well. I’m not gonna charge you what I’d charge you for a new piece. I already told you it sucked, and it’s a little damaged.” He pulls his phone out, swiping long fingers against the glass. “I usually charge per square inch, plus the price of the actual materials, but that’s pretty minor. These days, I’d charge… about $2000 for a piece this size, but given I was an idiot and an amateur noob when I painted this…”

Squinting one eye, Orwell tips his head to look at Jim with the open one. “A… thousand?” he asks tentatively.

Hopefully he has an agent.

“Yeah. The symbols are hard enough,” Jim agrees with a little huff. “Let’s not bring literal angels and demons into the equation if we can help it.” After that, though, he quiets to let Orwell work out how much he’s going to charge for the piece, and when the eventual answer is given he doesn’t look shocked or anything like that, so that’s good! Probably more because he’d assumed it was going to be a significant amount of money than that he’s diving into a pile of cash a la Scrooge McDuck, but still.

“That seems fair,” he says, nodding once. “Thank you. Now I get to say I have one of your early works.” This has his smile widening a little bit. “I know just where I’m going to put it, too.” His eyes return briefly to the painting, and for a second his expression takes on a more thoughtful cast, before he shakes his head as though to clear it. “And maybe looking at it every day will manage to give some better idea of what we’re up against.”

Orwell’s smile is quick to return after the nerve-wracking moment of discussing money.

“Yeah?” he asks curiously, when Jim says he knows where he’s going to put it. “Will it help you — what was it — integrate it into your consciousness, do you think?”

He doesn’t seem like he’s teasing Jim, but still fascinated by whatever that means.

“It is signed, at least, not that my name is big or anything, but Miss Whitney’s commissions and stuff might help a bit with that,” he says, darting forward to point to the tiny OG scrawled in the lower corner. “I plan to have that gallery opening in a few months, too, so that might make it worth a tiny bit more, so if you’re sick of her face by then — or any of their faces,” he nodes to the faces lining the bottom of the painting, “then you can sell it and make a buck, maybe.”

He taps a generic dark-haired face. “Look, it’s you!” He shakes his head. “Kidding. I mean, I don’t remember the details, but I don’t think there really were any. Just generic sleeping people. No one I knew, no one I”ve recognized. I don’t know her.” The her, he juts his chin at the angel to indicate.

That question gets a decisive nod. “I think it will,” Jim confirms. “It makes it sort of…grounding, I guess. I’ve never had someone else have the same vision I had before. Or, sort of.” Since Orwell doesn’t have exactly the same visions as Jim does, of course. “I’m kind of excited about it, honestly,” he adds after a moment. “In a weird way, I guess. Not that I’m excited that there’s someone out there sending us painful messages, but you know what I mean.” Does Orwell know what Jim means? It’s debatable, but he did just make a thousand bucks on something he hadn’t even intended on selling, so maybe he’ll be inclined to agree.

That pointing out of little Jim, however, makes him laugh. “It was foretold,” he intones in an artificially deep voice, before it breaks and he laughs again. It fades quickly, but just to a smile. “Even though it’s not me, maybe I’ll pretend that it is. Adds to the mystery.” He grows a little more serious, though, as he adds, “Thanks, brother. I appreciate it.”

“Huh.” Orwell nods at the talk of the painting being grounding, and he grins. “You should see my apartment. No wonder I’m a mess. Definitely no grounding going on there. There’s paintings shoved every which way, paint everywhere.”

He reaches into his wallet to pull out a business card, holding it out for Jim between his index and middle fingers — there’s a little splotch of green on one finger nail, a little white on his thumb, the hazards of being a painter. “If you mail me a check, I’ll send back a proper receipt and and a certificate of authenticity.”

Orwell wrinkles his nose. “Apparently it’s a thing I’m supposed to do. I feel like such a sellout, but.” He hunches his shoulders and drops them. “Where are you going to hang it? It does have nice bathroom colors.” He might be joking.

Jim takes the card, looking over at it before he tucks it carefully into a pocket. “I’ll get that out tomorrow,” he promises. “And I don’t think you should feel like a sellout for valuing your work. Art is important in our lives, right? It gives us joy, so we ought to treat it and the people who make it with the respect they deserve.” Though he doesn't sound like he thinks Orwell doesn’t agree — he’s just reinforcing. He likes the painting!

The question has him tipping his head to the side as he looks back down at his newly acquired piece. “I made the extra bedroom in my apartment into kind of a meditation room,” he says, and there’s maybe a tiny bit of self-consciousness there, but not too much. “It sounds kind of new agey but I found I needed a dedicated space for when I need to deal with the aftermath of a vision. So I’m going to put it up in there.” A little less seriously, he adds, “Plus it really goes with the other decor.”

Orwell does the slow nod again, as if he’s really concentrating on listening. “Meditation,” he repeats, eyes moving up to the ceiling as if he considers what that might do for a person. “I should probably try that sometime. I’ve been told I can be a bit…”

He waves his hand for a moment, before landing on the word, “twitchy.”

His smile returns. “Look, some people will give you shit for matching art to your decor, but I’m not one of them. If you were rich and into Picasso or something, I’d just, you know, buy the sofa that goes with the Picasso instead of buying a Picasso to go with your sofa, is all.”

The painting is nodded to. “At least there’s a lot of color in that. Could go with almost anything. Blues and blacks and whites are easy.” He shoves his hands into his pocket. “I should get going, but good luck with the ‘not scrambling.’”

Orwell opens the door to head out. “What’s that like, I wonder,” he muses, and it’s not clear if it’s to himself or one last comment to Jim before he disappears.

Jim does not comment on whether Orwell is twitchy or not — well, the man’s already said it for himself, and he hardly needs a second opinion. Instead, he just replies, “It can be pretty helpful. And it can spill over in good ways to other areas of life. So yeah, I’d recommend it to anyone.” There’s another laugh at the observation of Picassos and couches, though. “Good advice. Thanks.”

If that last throwaway remark was meant for Jim, he doesn’t answer. Instead, he just says, “Take care,” and with a wave toward Orwell’s disappearing back, he returns to inventorying.

Though now he’s a bit more distracted than he was before.

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