After Delilah admitted defeat and turned to leave, I stood watching with my heart galloping and chest heaving. Her posture may have been defeated, but anger still simmered in those dark brown eyes. Understanding for the first time where we stood, made watching my back around her a necessity. Part of me was hoping that she would attack again, so that I could finish her off and just end it. Never mind the fact that neither one of us was in any condition to go another round. Delilah’s nose was still bleeding and my head ached as though it might split apart like an overripe melon.
Her foray into the recesses of my mind had stirred up a silt of dark emotions that clouded my judgement. A reckless impulse stole over me. I was mad at the world and finding it hard to resist the urge to lash out. The small, still voice of reason was shouting for me to rein in my emotions, before I did something destructive. Pacing back and forth did little to calm me. I tried forcing myself to finish clearing out Plum’s closet, as a means of distraction.
It wasn’t working. Resentment seethed up inside of me, until I was throwing things. Delilah was right; Plum treated me like the hired help. I had no desire to rearrange her closets. Why didn’t I say no when she told me to do it? She hadn’t even asked. Never said please or thank you. Plum didn’t respect me and she wasn’t my friend. We would never really be friends, no matter how much I did for her.
Angry tears stung my eyes. I started naming all of the people in my life who had pretended to care about me and turned out to be users. I was sobbing, by the time Hiromi came to mind. Was she using me too? I knew even less about her than I knew about Plum. Stupidity had made me steal for Hiromi. There was no reasonable expectation that she would pay up. I flung a jacket onto the bed and an old cellphone fell out of the pocket. That gave me an idea.
Twenty-five minutes later, a taxi deposited me outside of an artist incubator on the southside of town. Wanting to test my theory about Hiromi, I had made arrangements to meet with her for the long awaited delivery of the items I stole from Plum. She met me in the lobby, greeting me effusively as though we were old friends. I had forgotten how much she resembled the way Plum used to look. It unsettled me. Her embrace made things even more awkward between us. Hiromi sensed the tension and overcompensated by chatting animatedly.
“Would you like me to show you around the artist incubator?”
“Um yeah, I was meaning to ask what exactly is an artist incubator?”
“It’s a space used for artist residencies, arts education, community art projects, exhibitions, performances and workshops.”
“We basically provide small art studies at a low monthly rate, to upcoming artists so they have a space to develop their talents. Here, let me show you one.”
Hiromi lead me into a first floor studio. It was a small, sunny room crowded with canvases covered with intricate, mysterious symbols in dayglow colors. The artist was sitting in profile at an easel painting broad strokes of blood red paint across a large canvas. I took in his baggy clothes and mop of unruly black curls. He turned to us with a lopsided grin on his handsome face, as Hiromi made the introductions. His name was Aki. Suddenly shy, I pretended to be fascinated by the canvas in front of him. Desperate to fill the uncomfortable silence, my eyes cast about the studio for something to say and lamely stated the obvious.
“These are interesting paintings. They look like some type of symbols.”
“Good eye Patricia, they are symbols. More specifically, they’re sigils.”
A warning bell sounded somewhere in the back of my mind. I looked down at my feet, attempting to concentrate without the riot of painted sigils on the canvases around us distracting me. What had Plum said about Hiromi? My memories were still a bit scrambled, from Delilah’s attack.
I was on the verge of dredging it up, when Aki reached out and touched me. He smiled and unveiled a painting with overlapping concentric circles which captured and held my attention. My train of thought suddenly derailed. Again, the warning bell sounded faintly in the back of my mind. I couldn’t seem to look away from the painting, transfixed by the spiral of circles which began spinning in the still canvas.