MICHALINA • by David Clayton

Now for the eyes. They are last and most important. I make portraits, not from life but from my mind, remembrances, faces seen in passing which I bring to the canvas with paint. Once I add the eyes the image is no longer an arrangement of brush strokes. The face comes to life. The eyes bring vitality.

Even though this face has a dark complexion and the hair is pure black I choose a pale blue for the eyes though I cannot say why. I work slowly, steadily, spreading and thinning the paint to achieve the sought-for hue, darkening the pupils, using light brush strokes to render the whites a believable shade. Finished, I stand back to look.

Michalina looks out at me. Her eyes, the eyes I painted moments ago, stare accusingly. Why? Why now? I step back, look away then return my gaze to the painting. There’s no mistake. It’s Michalina. I put down the brush, wipe my hands and leave the room. It was a silly kid thing. Long ago. Why now? I pour a cup of coffee to think. And remember.

Michalina was hired as a babysitter. My babysitter. I was nine and certain I didn’t need a babysitter. An immigrant from Poland, she was the cousin of some relative’s friend. My parents liked her because she was cheap. I disliked her. Intensely. I couldn’t understand her when she spoke. She dressed funny. She smelled of cabbage and onions. Worst of all, she was strict. What she told me to do — go to bed, brush my teeth, eat vegetables — I did. No argument. No discussion. I was furious and plotted bloody revenge. But I was nine. What could I do?

One night my parents came home late. I was supposed to be asleep but as usual was listening at the top of the stairs. Michalina told my parents she was frightened. It was a full moon. Evil spirits and demons would be about. My father chuckled and assured her he’d see her safely home.

Evil spirits? Demons? From under the bed I hauled out a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a kid’s pulp magazine filled with pictures of moviedom’s best. Ignoring Wolfman and Frankenstein I cut out the most hideous gremlins and goblins. Whenever Michalina came to sit for me I hid these where she would find them, in her coat pocket, on a chair, in her purse. And I watched. I expected her to throw them away. She didn’t. She stared at each. Stared then blessed herself and kneeled to pray.

Soon pictures weren’t enough. A dead mouse with a noose around its neck, a decapitated doll, whatever evil omen my childish mind could create I used to torment her. With each succeeding horror Michalina grew more distraught. She no longer smiled. She was more and more unkempt. Best of all for me she lost interest in directing me or my activities. I was pleased at the success of my little game.

One Friday my parents were going away for a weekend. I was to stay at Michalina’s house. This was an opportunity I hadn’t expected. I recently found a snake skeleton in the woods which I dripped with red paint. Now I could place it in Michalina’s kitchen cupboard.

At her house my father knocked. When there was no answer he opened the door, switched on the light then gasped “My God” and stumbled backward. In the seconds before he closed the door I peered around his legs. Michalina was floating in the air staring at me.

A few days later my parents told me Michalina quit. They never spoke of her again. Soon after we moved from Solvay. Years later, business brought me back. Checking into a hotel, the clerk looked at my name and said, “Hey, you any relation to that guy who killed his babysitter?”

That night I learned the story my parents left behind when we moved, a tale I was never told. Michalina hanged herself. She left a two-word note: BoY dEMoN. From that the story grew that somehow I killed her. The clerk said older residents still believed it. I listened and could only think how foolish, how medieval a mindset. Mine was a child’s game, nothing more. Certainly something else caused her suicide. People don’t kill themselves because of childish tricks. I listened to the clerk’s story then once more pushed Michalina to the back of my mind.

I finish my coffee and return to the studio. From the canvas Michalina looks at me. It’s the same look I saw before my father closed the door. I pick up the brush and return my attention to the eyes. Choosing the colors carefully I reapply the paint. Finished. It’s better now. The eyes are closed. The accusing stare is gone.

David Clayton writes fiction in New England and Florida, USA. His fiction explores worlds which are or may be. He invites the reader to journey there with him.

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