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Saeria
January 24th, 2013, 02:19 PM
Cadmium


Lena looked up. Brilliant streaks of color fanned across the darkening sky in warm hues of red and amber, growing cooler as her gaze moved overhead. Cirrus clouds, like a rain of vibrant feathers, tracked across the sky lending the evening an even greater sensation of Winter's icy grasp. Silent, frozen in place as stars emerged one by one, the sky stood as a striking contrast to the noisy streets below. She began to trace the patterns of the wispy clouds when something struck the backs of her knees. Out of reflex she dropped to the pavement, spilling her bag in the process.
"Katy! Watch where you're pushing that thing!" a woman called out. A little girl wrestling with a shopping cart rolled perilously past Lena's hand before careening away to catch up with the rest of her family. No one in the busy parking lot came to help Lena to her feet. People avoided eye contact as she gathered her scattered groceries. A man rushed by, leaping into his truck before backing out over a honeydew melon that had just barely escaped her grasp. The truck sped away, leaving a sticky smear out of Lena's future breakfast.
She arrived home, sans a melon and most of a half dozen eggs. Why is everyone always in such a hurry? She wondered as she made herself a frozen dinner. She often took her meals on the balcony. There was always something interesting to see this late in the evening from there. Up until last week she shared the balcony with a large family that had managed a comfortable living out of an adjacent 2 bedroom apartment. Without the shouts of children and the sounds of a busy household to occupy her the balcony seemed a little less entertaining. Nonetheless, there was still plenty to see.
Beneath her balcony she could hear the old woman that lived downstairs singing as she brought in her plants for the night. The old woman spoke to her plants in a language that felt alien to Lena's ears. In her time since arriving in Whitesboro she still had not been able to recognize the language her neighbor below her spoke. The few encounters the two women had had were short and consisted of nods and smiles. More than likely the old woman had a minimal understanding of the English language.
In the alley beyond the leaning picket fence a group of children rode their bicycles, shouting to one another. From this angle, Lena could only see the very top of the tallest child's head behind the fence. One of the children stopped long enough to venture a look through a knothole in the fence. Lena smiled and waved but the child just looked away, riding after the others. Even the children were in a hurry.
Lena took the last bite of her dinner, her face screwing into a mein of light-hearted disgust. These things sufficed as a quick meal, but they always left a terrible impression upon her tastebuds. She would always say to herself "Maybe tomorrow I should actually cook something" but most evenings she still reverted back to the same routine. She lit a cigarette, using the plastic tray as an ashtray, delaying her retreat back inside until the very last traces of daylight faded from the sky.
Lena made her way back into the silent recesses of her apartment, disposing of the makeshift ashtray before sitting heavily on the threadbare couch. She knew that as soon as she turned on the T.V. The phone would ring. Sure enough, just as the weather flashed onto the screen her phone shrilled.
"Hi mom... yeah, I am watching it now. It looks like it might snow tomorrow... No, not at all, it's actually almost hot in here. I swear my neighbor downstairs keeps her place 80 degrees... Yeah, that's the only drawback to this place, downstairs lady is the only one here with a thermostat... I guess I'm lucky I don't have to worry about water and heat... Really? I didn't think Dad liked that sort of thing. I guess next time I come down he'll have to show me one of them... You know how he is, his hobbies change like the weather... Those things are expensive. I'm pretty sure you'll be glad when he moves on to something cheaper to do... He could always work somewhere like where I work. Lots of retirees find themselves behind the wheel of a bus out here. It was that way in Austin too... No, I can't see myself doing this forever either. That's why I'm back in school... Oh, they're going fine. I'm only taking two classes next semester... Finals are next week so I might not be able to talk long next week if I wind up taking on a lot of trips at work.... yeah, it's headed up on Christmas break so all the schools are taking trips out to the theater in Old Forge to see The Nutcracker... Frozen dinner? � I know, I know. I have some chicken in the freezer I keep passing over. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I finally defrost it... Oh, okay. That's cool. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Love you too, bye."
By the time the phone conversation was over the news was also over, replaced by a cheesy sitcom that Lena seldom actually paid attention to. It made for great background noise though as she performed her nightly ritual of scribbling in her sketch book. The pages were filled with form drawings of people dancing and mimicking everyday poses. Today's sketch was of a small girl pushing a shopping cart at breakneck speed, her gait wide and cheerful as long unruly curls seemed to bounce around her smiling face. It had been many years since Lena had actually brought one of these sketches to fruition. None of these would make it to a canvas, nor would they be looked upon by any sort of audience. She was all the fanbase she needed these days.
The alarm on her phone chirped, the vibrating ring sending the the phone off the endtable and onto the hardwood floor. With a spectacular crash the back of her phone and battery slid across the wood floor. "I'm going to kill this phone too setting it there." The alarm signaled the end of her sketch, serving as a reminder that Lena the artist had to make way for Lena the driver to get enough sleep to wake early the next morning. She retrieved the pieces and reassembled her phone, turning it back on before carrying it with her.
She made her way to the master bathroom, pursing her lips as she perused her collection of body washes and shampoos. On the outside, her love of spontaneity seemed almost humorous, but at least this way she could keep things interesting while still adhering to the routine that kept her a responsible, functional adult. Tonight felt like an amber and patchouli kind of night. The warm fragrances would keep the chill of Winter at bay, at least as long as she soaked in the tub.
She always hated the chill after a hot bath the most. Ever since her space heater went out, however, the chill was inevitable. It was getting colder with each passing day, though, and the floor seemed to sap the last of warmth from the bath as she padded into her bedroom. Her robe hung from the bedpost as if to say "Come inside, I will be your escape from the cold." It was about time to throw it in the wash, she thought as she made her way back onto the balcony for one last cigarette before bed.
The view outside held a striking difference at night from earlier. The streetlights bathed the street in dim light. Depending on the weather, the light ranged from warm marigold to dim orange tinged with just the slightest hint of red-violet. Long shadows cast by the irregular picket fence lined the drive below, giving the normally bare pavement a pleasing pattern. A man walking his dog was followed by another long shadow, two black shapes merging together and back apart as the dog made a stop at the curb of each driveway to leave it's mark. In the house across the alley, more shadows passed across a shaded window. The young couple that lived there was no doubt preparing for bed, hoping their newborn would finally sleep through the night this time, or at least that was what Lena imagined.
Her eyes moved to the clothes line that hung limply from a pulley beneath her gutter and stretched into the darkness beyond the fence. She seldom actually hung clothes from the line but in the summer sometimes she would forgo her trip to the cleaners and wash her comforter in the bathtub and hang it outside. One day she would invest in a larger washer and dryer, maybe something big enough to wash her bedclothes. On the line, just barely within view, sat a pair of cardinals, feathers ruffled as they dozed restlessly. She wondered what it must be like to live outside in the harsh winter of Upstate. It made her thankful for the warm haven of her apartment.
She looked down at her cigarette. Lost in thought, the cigarette had long since burned down to the filter and was now cool to the touch. She considered lighting another one, but the creeping chill of the air gave her reason to retreat back inside. The bed called to her. She set her alarm clock and turned on Last.fm, the gentle sounds of Godspeed You Black Emperor easing the turmoil of her thoughts enough to send her into sleep.
Lena always woke up before her alarm went off. In the darkness, Jonsi and Alex's "Daniell in the Sea" wafted through the air, rousing her out of a barrage of vivid dreams. She shuffled to the bathroom to relieve herself, scribbling brief sketches in her dream diary, keeping a record of the images that would more than likely fade as the day wore on. Her dreams were always filled with vast fantastic sceneries in which colors merged into shapes unseen by all others. Violet trees, heavily laden with fragrant blooms waved in the gentle breeze, partially hiding curious arches of weathered rock that loomed in the distance. The emerald sky gave the landscape an eerie glow, the kind of lighting that never failed to take her breath away in her dreams.
By the time she had dressed and locked her kitchen door, the dream had already receded into the void of forgotten. She made her way down the wrought iron spiral staircase, smiling gently as her hand slid over the cold metal handrail. She remembered how frightened she was of climbing these old stairs when she first moved in, often opting for the front entryway instead. After conquering her fear of the spiral staircase, she could now escape out of her apartment without worrying whether or not her less than graceful descent would wake the old woman downstairs.
It was indeed much colder this morning than it was last night. Sometime during the night, the wind had picked up, forcing the cold through her as she climbed into her car. Lena said a silent prayer, hoping this morning her car would have less trouble starting than in previous mornings. This is a Texas car, she thought to herself, it still hasn't acclimated to the cold of New York yet. Personifying her car made its problems a little less aggravating. To her surprise, the car cranked at the first turn of the key and she made a deep sigh of relief.
The trek down highway 49 was always pleasant. Her day started early, so it was still quite dark when she left home. Usually by the time she hit the roundabout close to work, the sky had begun to lighten. Today, however, the dark still hid the rolling hills in the distance. Perhaps it was the dark that made the air feel colder. Once the temperature dipped below 30 degrees, the heater in her car stopped trying to warm her and instead cool gusts blew from the vents. The lack of heat told her that it was colder than freezing outside. Today she found herself stopped by a slow train. She liked watching trains, more namely the art that found its way splashed on the cars that had no doubt traveled from New York city on their way north.
The graffiti these days, however, had grown lazy over time. Where once these cars displayed vibrant colors and clean lines, expressive characters struggling to act a voice for some clandestine group of artists, now showed lazy single color scrawlings by gangbanger kids just looking to advertise their misdeeds. The last car passed, and she found herself disappointed again. She guessed the days of seeing work by Aoi Hana or ORT, or even the elusive Yellow Fever Group flashing by was over.
Where the highway was devoid of life, the driver's lounge at work was a stark contrast, bustling with life. As her fellow employees filed into the building, the lounge grew louder and more alive. There were two things she could always count on when coming into work. The air would be filled with the smells of diesel and coffee and there would undoubtedly be some crazy workplace drama unfolding. Lena had long since exempted herself from the dramatics of this place. She would instead sit at the table closest to the dispatch office, thumbing through one of the many paperbacks tossed unceremoniously in the book exchange box.
Today's selection was a bit bare, she noted as she dug through cache of worn harlequin romance novels. At the bottom of the box, however, was a single hardback. This was a new book, perhaps placed there by the Director's wife. She was always bringing in books that had somehow escaped circulation in the local library, or some school library. They were usually interesting reads too. Today's book was a photo compilation of street art around the US.
The pages were filled with glossy photographs of graffiti and street art, groups of artists with blurred faces, and even a few brazen enough to pose amongst a myriad of different cans of spray paint. Even still, they wore wide brimmed hats and dust masks, concealing their identities. This was a world Lena knew. Secrecy was key in the continuation of their art. For most their art was considered a nuisance. The only way they could continue to deface public for the sake of their art was to remain hidden.
She flipped through the pages, mentally reciting the names of the artists or groups before reading the annotation below the photographs. Each one had very recognizable art styles, from minimalist stencil works to intricate masterpieces of busy script and bright colors. She turned the page again and froze in place, feeling heat rising in her face. Beneath her fingertips was a photo of a vast mural of expressive characters, each one more animated than the last. Each one held a different face, the faces of a community touting their respective stereotypes and cultural differences. Beneath the mural, crouched amongst a discarded array of tools of the trade were four young artists.
"Cadmium" she whispered as the read the paragraph beneath the photo.
The group known as Cadmium was formed in 1996 in response to the rumored closure of the Houston School of Visual Arts. For years after the school's closure, Cadmium's work could be seen everywhere from highway overpasses to abandoned building facades. By 1997, most of Houston's residents had read the words "Save HSVA" buried among vivid detailed works the group was famous for. Nonetheless, the School of Visual Arts closed its doors at the start of 1999. Shortly after, Cadmium disbanded, but not before giving one last gift to the community, a piece (see above) simply titled "Together, Apart".
"It was "Together Separately". She thought to herself as her fingertips passed over the faces of the artists in the pictures. She whispered their names quietly "Julio Menendez, Deebee Arcella-Flores, Lena Glower, Pete � Campo." The last name fell heavily from her lips. That was a name she wasn't prepared to remember again.
"Lena! Want to go out to RFA after your morning run?" the dispatcher called from her office. Flustered, Lena rose quickly, upsetting the table as she rushed into the dispatch office, leaving the book on the page she had been looking at.
"We need someone to run a group out to the mall at 10:30." The dispatcher always sounded more cheerful, the more desperate the dispatch office was to fill a spot. The Christmas break loomed ahead, and many of the drivers were finding themselves less willing to take on the extra trips between shifts in lieu of Christmas shopping and other things.
"No problem. I'll be back in time for my midday, right?" Lena asked as she surveyed the paperwork.
"Should be. It's a small group. If you run late, just radio in and we'll cover it for you." the dispatcher seemed to sigh with relief. Lena knew that if no one took one of the last minute trips one of the supervisors would have to cover it. Asking them was a task the dispatcher loathed as the supervisors made it well known that they had moved up the ladder in an effort to escape driving at all costs.
"Will do it." Lena smiled.
"Oh, your bus was pulled by maintenance, so you'll be on 223 today." this was another job the dispatcher hated. No one wanted to drive a spare if they could help it. Lena was no exception. She didn't mind the older buses but her short, round stature made reaching the pedals of the older buses a little more difficult. Luckily years of experience gave her the ability to drive comfortably with her toes.
She made her way into the lot, looking up at the sky. By now the sky should have been a dusky violet, the scant few stars bright enough to compete with the very start of dawn glittering dimly. Instead the sky was still mostly dark and no stars shone above. Her breath plumed in front of her as she walked past the line of idling buses. The air was filled with the sounds of pre-trip inspections, doors opening and closing, drivers shouting greeting to one another. She waved to those whose eyes met hers before making her way to the end where the spare buses sat silently.
The spares were never started by the mechanics before the drivers came in, so it was inevitable the trip to her first stop would be a cold one. At the end of the line was a faded old International, a 94 by the looks of it. She'd had her fair share of go-arounds with this bus. The seat had long since worn into a rattling mess of immovability. She groused as she boarded the bus, remembering the many times she cursed the designer of this rolling death trap.
The door was manual, but the handle often bounced out of place and she would find herself holding the handle closed to keep the door from swinging open on its own. The air brake handle must have been the brilliant idea of someone with impossibly long arms. She didn't even bother to buckle her seat belt, knowing that she would have to unbuckle each time she pulled the brake. Despite the hindrances her morning route was surprisingly smooth and before she knew it she was pulling into RFA . It was barely 9, but she didn't see a point into coming back to the lot on the other side of town. This was a rare spot of downtime that she always seemed to enjoy. By now it was fully daylight and the sky displayed a seamless white cover of low clouds. She hummed to herself as she swept the bus, hoping the heat within held out until the group loaded.
She passed the time reading a manga on her phone, her surroundings all but forgotten with each panel she read. When she looked up again it was almost 10 and a grey haziness grew in the distance. Suddenly the air became alive with an onslaught of snow. No matter how many Winters passed up here, seeing the first snow of the season always brought a wide smile to her face. Her love of snow was no doubt a product of growing up in a place that never saw it.
Lena gasped and tore through the door, looking up as snowflakes drifted around her, melting on her cheeks and gathering in her unruly mop of dark hair. It always amazed her how silent the world around her became when it snowed. So much fell from the sky, yet made not a sound as it collected on the ground. Long moments passed, and Lena hadn't even realized she had been holding her breath until her chest tightened.
"Cold!" she yelped and dove back into the driver's seat, shutting away the icy chill of snowfall. No sooner had she shut the door a group of students rushed to the bus, impatiently waiting to board.
"I can't believe it's snowing already! It's not even Christmas yet!." the teacher groused as she settled in the first seat.
"I know. Isn't it beautiful." Lena remarked.
"Judging by your accent, you're not from here. Just give it a while, you'll get tired of it soon enough." The teacher responded. This was the same response Lena always received from the "native New Yorkers". Just as she had retained her almost comical Texas accent, her love of the snow held fast. The changing scenery gave her a new vigor and she couldn't wait to see how something as simple as snow could make a city so familiar suddenly so alien.
The drive to the mall was short, but by the time she parked the bus at the end of the parking lot, the world was blanketed in soft white. This time she stayed inside the bus, just watching the snow drift from heaven to Earth. The weather kept her attention away from those thoughts of her past that had been resurfacing throughout the morning. Her existence was completely immersed in the art of the world.
She was still watching the snow when the group returned.
"It's still snowing. I hope this mess stops before school is out." the teacher complained as Lena returned to RFA. Lena simply nodded, still marveling at the way the snow collected in the bare branches of the red maples that lined the streets downtown. By the time she returned to the school, it was already nearing 1:20. If she hurried, she would just make it on time to take her place at the elementary school.
Her route took her outside of the city, down twisting narrow roads that no longer had names, but numbers instead. Picturesque farm houses came and went, chimneys atop the perfect country homes had already begun to emit white smoke from hearth fires, battling with the white of sky and snow. Just yesterday the hay fields lay dry and ragged, brown and yellow grass covering rolling hills. These same fields now stretched into the hazy distance under the cover of fresh snow.
One of these days, she mused, I will buy a house out here... or maybe I will move closer to the Adirondacks. Her thoughts wandered to the possibilities of living in this rural shangri-la. She would have a huge evergreen in her front yard, and she would even set up a feeder for the chipmunks in the winter, and the woodchucks in the spring. She would even plant a huge garden of tulips and wait impatiently at the beginning of April for the first shoots of green to emerge from the thawing ground.
It was still snowing when she parked her bus on the lot. She was usually a little later, just missing the majority of other drivers coming in from their own routes. It made it easier for her to dive in, check her box, turn in her maintenance report and escape to her car. The first snow always made her a little heavy-footed. By the time she poked her head in through the door the lounge was still a noisy haven of gossip and chatter. Before she made it to her box, she was stopped by a group of coworkers.
"Hey, Lena. I think you're in a book here." one of the drivers shouted loudly, drawing the attention of others.
"Oh, I'm sure it's not me." Lena discounted, all but forgetting the street art book from this morning until she saw it again in the scrutiny of the hen gaggle.
"It looks just like you. See here." they pointed excitedly to the photograph of Cadmium. Unfortunately for Lena, she had a recognizable birthmark that resembled a dinosaur just beneath the outside corner of her right eye.
"Your name is at the back of the book too. It is you. I didn't know you were an artist!"
She couldn't deny it. As much as she hated to admit her past to anyone, it was right in front of her.
"Used to be. I'm not anymore."
"I bet you're still really good at it. Have you thought about selling it?"
"I'm not an artist anymore." Lena repeated, feeling a flush grow in her cheeks. Coming to her rescue, the Routing Director emerged from his office and called her away to follow him out the door.
"Yes sir?" Lena asked, still shaken.
"It just seemed like you were in a tough spot. Don't let those crones get to you. Before you know it, they'll find someone else to pick on." he was the one that had pulled her aside on her first days with this busing company and warned her about the high level of driver's lounge drama that took place. If anyone could understand her abject social awkwardness it was him. Had she been more confident, she could have easily seen herself becoming friends with him, but as it was she was still reduced to passing niceties.
"Drive home carefully, it's supposed to snow all evening." The director waved as he made his way to his car.
"You too." she smiled brightly before climbing into her own car. Unlike the fortune the morning brought, her car whined piteously, stuttering as it struggled to start. She popped the hood, uncovering the relay box. Just a couple presses on the fuel pump relay would more than likely do the trick. She tried again. The car struggled, but finally came alive, much to her relief.
"I'm going to have to fix that." She said to herself as she slammed her hood and drove away. By the time she made it home the streets were growing more hazardous. Snow covered streetlights and more than once she passed a car that had skidded off the of the highway. In just a few short days everyone would remember again how to drive in the snow and the traffic would return to normal. Her thoughts, however, had robbed her of the cheer the snow usually brought her.
Now her mind was filled with memories of her time at HSFA. She had arrived there just after her 18th birthday, in hopes of making a name for herself in the art world. She had quickly discovered that she wasn't the only one at the school with the same dream. Each one there had his or her own distinctive style and she quickly found herself overwhelmed by the amount of talent others had that she felt she lacked.
Lena had always been a quiet person, a wallflower of sorts. Nothing changed as she transitioned out of grade school. Her parents had resisted her decision to attend an art school, hoping that as she grew older she would decide to pursue a more lucrative career. Maybe she would take up accounting as her father had done, or maybe she would find a good man and start a family as her mother had done. None of these paths, however, seemed to satisfy the burning desire to create something beautiful. It was her faith that the world around her still held a little of this beauty that fed her passion for art.
Lena returned the chicken she had set out to thaw back out of the freezer and heated another frozen dinner, sitting quietly on the balcony as the snowfall hypnotized her back into memories. She didn't even taste her food, instead immersed in images of days gone by. Her second semester at HSFA changed her life forever.
Spring of 1997 was the semester she started Design I. Quickly she found her classmates' talent intimidating. She often lost herself looking at the artwork proudly on display at the entrace to Metzer Hall. That was the semester she cataloged a single name in her memory banks. Pete Campo. She only knew the name from the signature of her favorite painting on display. Everyday she spent a little time just studying the sprawling triptych that boasted vibrant colors merging together to create an amazingly atmospheric forest scene. Blue and red competed for attention as the shadows at the roots of the trees almost seemed to move on their own accord. Whoever this Pete Campo was, he was a genius.
She secretly tried to emulate his style numerous times within the recesses of her dorm. Each time coming to a halt as she watched those same vibrant colors he used turn into an amalgam of malformed brushstrokes. It was at this time she had begun to notice the "Save HSFA" graffiti around Houston. There was a certain elegance to the manner in which the script was designed. This went far beyond simple tag art.
She found herself scrawling the script she had seen on the Pierce Elevated in her sketchbook before her design class. Before she knew it the script grew, playful characters danced around the letters displaying movement and expression. Suddenly she felt someone behind her. With a start she turned to face a tall man dressed in a tattered jeans and a worn Tool T-shirt.
"That's pretty damned fantastic!" the man exclaimed, taking a seat beside. I would have never thought to use that palette." Surely he was making a joke of it, she thought as she hurriedly closed her sketchbook.
"I haven't met you yet. I'm Pete, Pete Campo." he extended his hand courteously. She shook his hand before she froze. The name finally registered. This was the genius behind the triptych forest in the Hall gallery.
"Lena." she croaked.
As the semester progressed, Pete had finally succeeded in wearing her down and before she knew it she had made a friend. Pete was by all accounts the exact opposite of her in almost every way. He was exuberant and witty, quick to flash a charming smile. His rhetoric consisted almost entirely of dirty jokes, art theory, and witticisms contained in his favorite music. Her seriousness was lost on the likes of Pete Campo. He had no aspirations of being a great artist, he just wanted to make a living on the one thing he felt he was any good at.
By the time the semester ended, Lena and Pete were dating. They spent every moment they could together, but after dark, Pete was nowhere to be found. Lena was not the sort to pry into another's private life and his absence seldom bothered her. She did, of course, wonder what he was up to from time to time. They didn't go out as normal couples did. If they went out on the town, she was always brought back home before nighttime. Even as their relationship progressed and they became intimate, he never stayed overnight.
During this time she came to know his two "partners in crime" as he would often call them, Julio and Deebee. They too were rather remarkable artists and the three guys were often passing quick sketches amongst eachother in secret. Julio was originally from Mexico City before his family moved across the border to start a catering business. He arrived at HSFA on a scholarship and made every attempt to uphold the expectations of the school and his family as well.
Unlike Julio, Deebee was much less focused on school. He often reeked of pot and his complacency kept him out of regularly attending classes. He was grudgingly following in his father's footsteps as a architectural designer. His real passion was in tattoo flash, an art form that was looked down upon by his family as the "scribblings of thugs".
Despite their very different personalities, the four seemed to bring out the best in eachother. Their friendship gave Lena the confidence to develop her own style in which she incorporated characters that seemed surprisingly natural in movement. Finally, at the end of the fall in '97, Pete and Lena took their relationship a step further. He took her out for dinner but instead of taking her back home they drove the opposite direction, into the South side of Houston.
"I want to show you something just for you." Pete smiled as he pulled into a vacant lot. He covered her eyes and led her for what seemed like forever through grass and broken concrete. Finally he uncovered her eyes and shouted into the darkness "Lights!" a halogen flashlight flashed upon the wall of a dilapidated building. From top to bottom, elements of her own style covered the worn brick. Bright characters dancing in a sea of swirling colors seemed to welcome her. In the very center stood two people painted in painstaking detail, perfectly proportioned, photorealistic. It was her and Pete holding eachother's hands amidst a rising tide of rainbow waves. Beneath them read the words "Save HSFA".
For long moments all she could do was stare. This was the first inkling of the "something beautiful" she had wanted to create all this time.
"It would have been better with your help but I wanted t to be a surprise."
"You're "Save HSFA"? " she asked, unable to say anything else.
Pete seemed abashed as he ran a hand through his hair. "Well it's not just me, it's Julio and Deebee too."
"How long did this take?"
"A night. That's usually all we have before the chances of getting caught increase." Julio inserted as he emerged from the darkness. "Hey, Deebee, kill the light before someone sees."
Lena was even a little sad now that the mural was shrouded in darkness.
"Why?"
"There's talk that funding for the school is being cut by the end of next year. If that happens where will we be? Going to HSFA is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It's made me realize that I'm not just trying to do something I'm good at it's something I love too. I think in some way it's that way forever everyone that goes there. How many out there will never get a chance to develop their talents if there is no longer an HSFA?"
"Doing something they hate instead." Lena replied. "Do you think this will work?"
"I don't know if it will work, but it sure is getting the local government interested in the issue. To them works like this are a nuisance, but as long as the people are talking about us we're not forgotten."
"So, what he's trying to say is that he'd like you to join us. Join Cadmium." Deebee interjected.
"I would be honored." Lena responded, sealing her fate as the final member of the secretive group only known as Cadmium.
The days and weeks to follow brought in a great deal of excitement. At night the four would find a "perfect canvas" and set to work spreading their message. They taught her different ways to use the same media, brushes, spraypaint, tape and homemade stencils. She learned how to paint in the dark, feeling instead of seeing the work she produced. They spent just as much time running away either from police or thugs patrolling their turf. More than once they found themselves rolling into retention ponds, or even into stormdrains as bullets whizzed overhead.
Despite all their efforts, the beginning of '99 brought an end to their time at HSFA and the schools doors were closed forever. This was a quite a blow for the vigilante art group as they all realized that although the were nearing graduation they would not be able to finish, nor were the credits they received transferable to another school. As a final goodbye to their days as art students they performed one more mural on the backside of a taqueria off of the 6-10 Loop. This time, they waited until daybreak with paint still on their hands. They gladly allowed themselves to be escorted away by police but not before a photographer for the Chronicle snapped a picture of the four in front of their work.
After being placed on probation the four drifted apart. Julio took a job with his family's catering business and disappeared into the city. Deebee found himself immersed in the dirty underbelly of Houston, dealing drugs out of a run-down tattoo parlor off of 59 and Aldine Mail Rt. The company he kept no longer included the remaining members of Cadmium. Pete began working for a construction company doing a completely different, less imaginative form of painting. Lena was perhaps the most hurt by the school's closure. She couldn't seen to keep a job longer than a few weeks. Between her natural awkwardness and her increasing inability to hold down anything she ate, she soon found herself struggling to find work.
No matter how much Pete insisted that he would take care of her, Lena was adamant about holding her own. Pete would eventually pursue his art career again once he was back on his feet. She had no intention of getting in the way of his dream. When she discovered she was pregnant she made the fateful decision to return back home to Austin and leave him behind forever. Through the insistence of her family, she carried their child to term and gave birth to a healthy baby boy on September the 4th, 1999. She gave their son up for adoption and prepared herself for the hard road ahead.
A decade of failed relationships and disappointment led her to central New York in hopes a change of scenery would add new vigor to her life. Finally, after almost a year of routine and hard work, Lena was once again beginning to feel the passion she once felt as a young woman attending art school. She had finally made the decision to go back to school for Graphic Design, hoping it would lead her away from the drudgery of shift work.
Lena suddenly realized that she was very cold. The sky had long since grown dark, and the streetlights illuminated the snow that still feel from the sky. From inside she could hear her alarm chirping pitifully. She dashed inside, amazed at the passage of time. Normally she would have already been in bed by now. She rushed through her shower and passed up her last cigarette of the evening, going straight to bed.
No matter what position she lay in, or what music she played, her mind simply would not shut off. Her thoughts still mulled over the past, wondering what came of the rest of Cadmium, and what ever happened to her first love. Had he become an artist? Was he married, did he have a family? Clearly, she thought, I'm never going to get to sleep if I don't at least try to find out. Suddenly Facebook seemed much more appealing than ever before.
She seldom spent anytime doing any sort of social networking but a quick search almost instantly brought her looking a picture of an older Pete Campo. In his pictures, he was standing in a gallery of paintings, his charming smile drawing her in as she looked at the paintings around him. His work had changed several times over the years. He went through an impressionist phase, a minimalist phase, even a photorealism phase, finally settling on high fantasy works. His achievements were many. He currently worked with a publishing company as a book jacket artist and she realized more than one of the book jackets attributed to him she had seen floating around in the book exchange box at work.
"He did it, he found his "something beautiful"." she whispered. Soon after she finally found herself drifting to sleep. In her dreams she saw herself in her youth again, standing in front of a huge brick wall, a spray can in her hand. The excitement of painting mixed with the anxiety of being discovered filled every fiber of her being. The dream jumped ahead in time and suddenly she was standing in front of a beautiful mural filled with all the memories she had revisited earlier that day.
She woke the next day but couldn't seem to get out of bed. She had the feeling she was coming down with a cold or something. Her chest felt heavy and her shoulders tingled. "I guess one of these days I'm going to actually go to a doctor." she grumbled as she swung her legs over the edge of the bed. A pain shot through her shoulder for a brief moment before fading again.
"Heartburn too? This isn't my day, is it?"Grudgingly she called in sick and spent the day lying in bed, just staring at the ceiling, hoping she could return back to normal and forget again. The memories of her past and the memory of the mural in her dream would not leave her. It was as if her entire existence cried out for the completion of this mural. She suddenly had a crazy thought. She didn't even bother to change out of her lounge pants before she dashed out of the house, into the wintry white world.
Masking tape, a boxcutter, spray paint, brushes, paint thinner... all the supplies she would need to complete the mural. All that was left was to find a place. She drove around Rome for the better part of the day, just looking at abandoned buildings, old shops, faded bilboards, any place that proved suitable for her project. Suddenly her car stuttered and finally died. No amount of adjusting or banging would bring it back to life.
Lena wasn't willing to give up yet. She tried walked but the cold seemed to rob of her of her breath. She saw a car parked behind a convenience store with keys in the ignition still. It looked as if it been there a while but it did not deter her. Theft, she muttered, that's a new one for my record. After driving for a while she set out on foot, carrying the cumbersome bags of supplies across empty lots and fields. Just as she had given up hope, she came upon a concrete wall tucked away from the center of the city, partially obscured by a stand of evergreens. The surface was smooth, there were no security lights nearby, nor were there any houses close. The other side of the wall would hide her from the highway too.
She waited until dark, watching her surroundings. Although the snow had finally stopped by late morning, it seemed the first bit of winter weather drove the city indoors. She put in her earbuds, smiling to herself as Kira Kira's "Kolapot" soothed her thoughts. Throughout the night she worked, the memory of her youth warming her as her hands remembered familiar movements across the wall. As the night wore on she worked, barely stopping for a smoke before taking up the paint again.
Her chest felt heavy and a numbness crept into her feet. She also felt the start of a toothache creeping up into her jaw but she continued to work nonetheless. Minutes stretched into hours and the cold stole away her breath but with each stroke she felt more alive than ever. This was what her life had been missing, passion. Her vision began to blur as daylight crept upon her. Lena made one last pass with the black paint before doubling over in a fit of coughing. Sigur Ros's "Sven A'Englar" was interrupted more than once by calls from her job, no doubt hoping she would be coming into work.
She silenced her ringer and took a step back, finally getting her first view of the fruits of her labor. As the sun peaked over the edge of the wall, she smiled breathlessly. This was the "something beautiful" she was meant to create, a culmination of all of her memories and dreams, her passion and emotions. This was love in it's purest form, her love of the world, and the love she still held for Pete Campo after all these years. As a final gesture, she warded away the bleary weakness long enough to snap a single picture of the mural and sent it as a message to Pete's facebook.
She dropped her phone in the snow, thinking to herself that maybe today she would finally cook that chicken. Maybe, if she wasn't too tired she would even take her car into the shop. She did have all day. Fatigue, however, seemed to take its hold on her. The pain in her chest, that passion and love that seemed to burst out of her, constricting around her, stole away her sight. On hands and knees she searched in the snow for her phone. She had to make sure the picture sent.
Lena would not allow herself to give up even in spite of the miserable discomfort of fatigue. Finally her hand closed around warm plastic and she drew the screen up to her face. The picture showed that it had sent.
"Good. It's done." she rasped as she fell to the snowy ground.

Pete shuffled lazily to his office, nursing a cup of strong coffee as he sat as his computer. His morning routine consisted of checking his facebook and e-mail, reading the news and responding to messages left on his answering machine from the day before. He was impossibly busy these days with the upcoming work with the publishing company. The deadline for the "Wizards of Crystal Deep" jacket was fast approaching and already the hype surrounding the book by the renowned author sent his company into a fervor. His work with the publishing company was responsible for his acceptance into the Seattle Museum of Contemporary art. Finally his work would be hung in a gallery instead of on a bookshelf.
His e-mail was surprisingly bare this morning. His facebook was also rather quiet, save a curious message sent by a ghost from his past. He had often wondered whatever became of his first love. There was no message, just a blurry picture. He wondered what the picture was supposed to be of, though he had to admit the colors blurred together did strike a chord with him.
"What's that?" his wife asked as she draped an arm over his shoulder.
"I'm not sure. It was sent by an old friend. I'm sure she will send a better picture later." he mused as he set to answering his calls.
Days passed but nothing further came from Lena. His curiosity grew and finally he decided to send a message. Maybe she didn't know the picture she sent was so blurry. No response came. The day he was to meet with the publishing company with his new jacket design, Pete sat in his office, listening to his messages.
"Hey Pete. This is Julio Menendez, remember me from HSFA? I read something weird in the paper today. They're claiming Cadmium is at it again. I thought it was another copy cat but man, you gotta see this wall. Is this your doing? Give me a call back."
Immediately Pete dialed Julio's number. After several rings a sleepy man answered.
"Hey, this is Pete."
"Pete, shit it's been a long time. How you been?"
"Pretty good, staying busy, how about you?"
"Oh man, pretty great. The catering business keeps me hopping for sure. I'm sure having a house full of kids is helping me to an early grave." Julio laughed.
"What's this about this Cadmium re-emergence?"
"Oh, yeah. I thought maybe it was you until I looked you up and found you in Seattle. I was reading a story about a wall that was found up in New York. "
"City?"
"No, central... up in Rome. Man, I saw a few pictures of it and it was enough to make me want to see it in person. Was I ever glad I did. If I didn't know better I'd swear it was ours. If it's a copycat, she's a damned good one."
"She?"
"Yeah, they found the girl that did it. It was sad."
"uh?"
"They still don't know who she is. She didn't have any I.D. On her and the car there was registered to some guy that died in prison last year. They're thinking it was stolen."
"Why wo... you mean she was dead?"
"That's it. I'm hoping it wasn't Lena. Last I heard she was in Little Rock, though. It was a chick so I doubt it was Deebee. He's still living in that state funded gated community in Hunstville anyway. What a waste of talent."
Pete remembered the blurry picture she had sent. He was certain the picture and the wall in New York had to be related somehow.
"Where are you now?"
"In Utica, I'll probably be heading to Syracuse to catch a flight back in the morning."
"Stay there. I'll be there by 4." Pete didn't even say goodbye before he hung up the phone.
Pete rushed into his bedroom, throwing clothes into his suitcase fervently as his wife walked in.
"Where are you going?"
"Rome, New York. There's something I have to do."
"Today? I though you had-"
"I have to go now."
"Want me to go with you?"
Pete leaned in and kissed his wife on the forehead and smiled.
"I won't be gone long, I'll be back by tomorrow night. Tell Lissa daddy will be home soon, okay?" he rushed downstairs, kissed his wife and rushed to the airport.
By 3 he found himself landing in Syracuse, amazed by the speed at which he arrived.. Even still, he imagined he had been a little ambitious claiming he would be there by 4. He had to make it to Rome before dark. There was no way he was going to make it on time by bus however. Luckily he was met at the gate by a heavyset Hispanic man smiling underneath a comically bushy mustache.
"Julio, you rat bastard! You've gotten fat!"
"And you've gotten ugly" Julio laughed as he rushed to the parking garage.
The pair tore down the thruway making it to Rome just as the sun was beginning to set.
"It's on the other side of town, but it will be easy enough to find. There's quite a few people there holding a vigil for the unidentified artist."
"Must be some kind of work to get people riled up like that."
"You just wouldn't believe it." Julio said softly as they pulled into a crowded parking lot. They fought their way through the crowd of people trudging across the field in the snow and finally found themselves on the other side of the wall.
Pete took a deep breath and felt tears welling up in his eyes. The wall stood almost five feet, stretching nearly 10 yards in either direction.
"The World truly is beautiful after all. Love, Cadmium" Pete read aloud as his eyes followed the wall.
"This is Cadmium work for sure." Julio replied.
"Whoever did this must have been in pain. Look here. To the left the design is flawless but as the mural progresses the strokes become more erratic."
"You're really pro. I didn't even see that. I thought maybe it was more than one person."
"No... Just Lena. She finally did it, her "something beautiful" she had always wanted to create." Pete sat in the snow, watching the vibrant cadmium light of sunset wash over the image of a man and a woman buried in a colorful sea of every kind of person and place imaginable.

y

OLDSOUL
January 24th, 2013, 03:07 PM
"She wondered as she made herself a frozen dinner." That juxtaposition made me laugh.

Saeria
January 24th, 2013, 03:22 PM
Haha I didn't catch that one. Now I'll never get thay image out of my head!

CharlieParker82
January 25th, 2013, 03:49 PM
Hi. Long piece. I think I liked that. There were bits I loved and others I didn't as much, but the ending was sweet.

I found the beginning dragged a little but it was great writing. I really wish I could paint my scenes like this.

The middle with the wrap up bit of the group and what how they met and such like, didn't like so much. I found it a bit cliche, there was nothing to really endear me to these people, they seemed a bit art schooly.

The end though was really nice and I feel it made the beginning make sense.

As a whole piece it works. Thanks for the good read.

I don't know if your looking for feedback or what, and if your not, ignore everything I just said.

Saeria
January 26th, 2013, 12:15 PM
Hi. Long piece. I think I liked that. There were bits I loved and others I didn't as much, but the ending was sweet.

I found the beginning dragged a little but it was great writing. I really wish I could paint my scenes like this.

The middle with the wrap up bit of the group and what how they met and such like, didn't like so much. I found it a bit cliche, there was nothing to really endear me to these people, they seemed a bit art schooly.

The end though was really nice and I feel it made the beginning make sense.

As a whole piece it works. Thanks for the good read.

I don't know if your looking for feedback or what, and if your not, ignore everything I just said.

Thank you so much for your thoughts on this. I was afraid that the beginning, going through paragraphs of painstaking detail would make the story ... well... kinda boring but I guesd i just wanted to paint the picture of a visual artist's mind. I see the world in an algorithm of patterns and hues.
I had written another 3,000 words about the group in the art school but had canned it in my last revision in fear that such a long backstory would detract from the main plotline. I will def. Reconsider tweaking whay i have to pull it away from the cliche and work more on developing the characters.
You're epic for reading. Ty.