Orphic Phantasia

45: The Hardest Word

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It was the beginning of spring and Dante Orpheus was following his mother through the Ritches Estate orchard.

“If you want to be an artist, pay attention to the world around you,” she told him. “The more details you recognise, the better you’ll become. Making things up is fine and all, but if other people can’t relate to them, they’re powerless.”

She knelt by a patch of purple flowers growing around the roots of a tree and beckoned him over. “This is heather,” she said. “Look at its colours, Dante, its shape, its texture. Then close your eyes and try to remember what you saw. Paint it.”

“But I didn’t bring my paints,” said Dante.

His mother laughed. “In your head, silly,” she said. “Paint a picture with your thoughts. Artists can see their surroundings even with their eyes closed. Isn’t that right, Shelley?”

With a gasp of surprise and a rustle of leaves, a notebook tumbled out of the branches above, loose sheets of paper trailing after it like falling leaves. Dante spied Shelley Eoghan’s frightened face peeking out from behind the tree’s trunk.

“M—Ms Orpheus! I’m sorry! I didnae mean…”

Dante’s mother smiled her crescent-moon smile. “It’s okay,” she said. “You’d be a very talented lady indeed if you could to hide from somebody like me.”

The kids from the Aristocracy said Shelley Eoghan was a witch and that her parents were demons, but Dante figured she was just quiet, and very, very clever. The Aristocracy didn’t like clever people. That was why they didn’t like his mother.

Ophelia Orpheus picked up the fallen notebook and handed it to Shelley as she climbed down from the branches above. “Were you writing another story?” she asked.

Dante picked up one of the loose sheets of paper and turned it over. It was a scrawled drawing of something with four legs and two tails. “Is this supposed to be a cat?” he asked. “Or a dog?”

“I—it’s Shuck,” replied Shelley. “Black Shuck. People think he’s a monster, but he’s kind, really. He’s supposed tae be like a cross between a cat and dog,” she added, blushing.

“You need to pay attention to the world around you,” said Dante. “It doesn’t look anything like a cat or a dog.”

“Sorry,” said Shelley, taking back the drawing and burying it in the pages of her notebook. “I—I’m nae good at drawing. Not like you.”

“Oh, so my son has a reputation, does he?” said Dante’s mother, looking down at him with her hands on her hips. “What’s say we put that talent to the test and see how well he does drawing this Shuck character, ‘ey, Shelley?”

As Shelley turned her eyes on him, Dante dug his hands into his pockets and mumbled his acceptance.

Chapter 45 End

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I wonder what Shelley thinks of all this…

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