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The beginning

I scraped into the night, a primordial world swarming outside my window, warm, fetid Paris air and pestilence.

I scraped at an old canvas by the glow of a candle. The excess of paint and grime came up in disgusting ribbons around my gloved hands, and I wiped at it absently, never taking my eyes from the canvas, from the face that glowed with light into the early morning darkness.

My master did not arrive for another hour. In the dark, quiet emptiness I brooded over the beacon-like face, the pale countenance and eyes the color of an ocean that must be boundless and bottomless, so deep and variant was the color.

The painting had obviously been crafted from the most costly materials. The unaffordable lapis was dashed liberally over the canvas, as the subject wore an axtravagant sapphire-colored gown to accentuate the color of her eyes.

The warm gloom around me was soon dispelled by the sound of footsteps. Giraud came into the room and put his things down, drew off his coat, and came over to inspect my progress.

"Gisele, you have an instinct," he commented, referring to my declaration the previous day that something was definitely beneath the bleak landscape portrait he had salvaged.

"Where did you find this painting?"

He averted his eyes. "It was in an alley, with many others, discarded."

"You have an instinct as well, Giraud," I said.

I knew that my employer was a thief as well as an art restorer. I asked the question because I desired to know more about the painting. I was not troubled by the dishonest taint to my work. There were so few things a woman alone in Paris could do for work. I would keep this and dispel my troubled conscience occasionally.

Though it was late summer, and hot, the sun seemed never to rise that day. The sky began to glow later that morning through fog the color of hydrochloric acid haze. The air felt equally stifling in my lungs, and I was not sorry to remain in a small, dark room, with a candle to illuminate that work.

I stayed in the studio after my master was gone. The painting was now nearly completely restored. I would coat it with a protective varnish once I was sure my treatment was dried.

I took a pile of heavy burlap tarpaulins and dropped them near the canvas. I balled my sweater under my head and crouched near the painting, watching it in the last spurts of my dying candle, till my heavy eyelids closed, and I slept deeply.

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