As the canvas looms over her, she turns onto her back the same way she did earlier in the morning. The sense of Déjà vu is uncanny. Feeling around for her bag, she slips in her hand and grabs the pouch of tobacco. Rolling a cigarette, she brings it to her lips and strikes a match. The smell of sulphur makes her shiver. More memories, but ones she can’t quite place. She shouldn’t be smoking in the studios, and yet she does so anyway. Nobody calls her up about it. Why would they? Sucking down a lungful of cloudy vapour, she breathes out and watches as it dances upon the blank white surface that awaits her first move. Well, her first physical move. From the first second she stepped foot into her studio space, she’s been plotting the initial stages of the painting in her head to the finest detail. Like a chess player weighing up their game in advance, the next several steps have taken form in her mind like a spider web, and yet the first one is always the hardest to fathom. It sets the theme for the entire adventure. If it’s the wrong step—if she misjudges it even slightly—then the whole thing will be ruined, and even if she puts everything into salvaging it, the initial spark of promise will never be reclaimed. And so, she patiently waits, weighing up the physical realm as if she were an alien lifeform crash-landed on Earth with no clue as to the wreckage of humanity that confronts it. Tapping her cigarette onto the ground, she blows the ash away from her until it rolls out of sight behind a can of paint. The smoke makes her eyes water. Wiping them with the back of her hand, she cusses when she realises she’s smudged mascara all over her face, but soon forgets when she notices someone peeking at her through the curtains covering the entrance to her space. The gap in the curtains is small but wide enough for her to make out a set of eyes and a waxed moustache. The eye squints at her, and beneath the greying moustache, a mouth purses itself as if about to speak.

X and I: A Novel and A Journal for Damned Lovers on Amazon UK

X and I: A Novel and A Journal for Damned Lovers on Amazon US

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