Journal of an Artist

by Jamie Lackey

April 9

The angels watch over us. Everyone knows that. It’s their job–it’s why they built them.

The angels are beautiful. I like to watch them fly, with the sunlight glittering off of their gold or silver wings. They look like people, from what I can tell, but bigger. I don’t know if anyone else notices them. I saw one with bronze wings once, but when I told my keepers about it, none of them believed me. I think it’s special–different from the rest of its kind–like me.

I’m training to be an Artist. There are only two dozen of us in the world. We’re national treasures. The breeding programs that the government instated in the late 23rd century did an incredible job helping humanity to be more resilient, attractive, and longer-lived, but with the decreased importance of love and individuality, creativity foundered. Within three generations, there were no Artists. So, the government set out to bring us back.

At least that’s what they tell me.

My genetic code is a combination of some of the greatest artists of the 22nd century. I started singing and playing the piano at three. I started painting and writing music at six. My first exhibition is this week. I’m not allowed to go. I’m not allowed to meet people. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re worried that seeing the mundane world will fill me with banality or if they just want to keep me lonely.

But I’m not lonely when I watch the angels. The government made them too. They stop crime. I guess there was less of a public outcry about constant surveillance once they proposed making the machines look like creatures out of Christian mythology. It’s sort of funny that all of the religions have gone, but the angels are still here.

I like this journal. Real paper is so rare; I know that they went through a lot of trouble to get it for me. And they promised not to read it. But I don’t know if I want to be a writer, too. I already feel a little overwhelmed.

April 12

My exhibition was a success. One of my keepers brought me in a clipping from a newspaper that raved about my work. It said my paintings were “inspired and moving.” I guess I’m happy about it, even though I’m not sure if my paintings are “inspired and moving” or not. I’m starting to wonder what the point is.

April 13

I wish they’d bring my pieces back so I could look at them again, but they sold them all already. I can look at pictures of them, but it’s not the same. The pictures don’t move me at all. I don’t know if looking at the real paintings would be better, or if all Artists feel let down by their own work.

April 18

I wish I knew my keepers’ names. They know my name. It doesn’t seem fair. I mean, they’re people, aren’t they? And I’m a person, too. Maybe if I knew their names they could be my friends instead of my keepers. Maybe that’s why I’m not allowed to know.

April 20

I snuck out to the roof to watch the angels. I’ve never been out at night before. I thought there’d be stars, but I can’t see any, even through the gaps in the clouds. The clouds are a horrible color of orange-pink from reflecting all of the lights, but even though it’s ugly light, it’s enough to see by. At least I can see the moon. I never realized that it was so tiny. Of course, I know it’s not full, so it gets bigger. But still.

The angels are so close that I can almost see their faces. I wonder if they can taste the clouds. I wonder what the clouds feel like. I hope they feel nicer than they look.

I want to see an angel up close! I want to paint one. I want to know what it’s like to touch one. Are they soft or hard? Warm or cold? Do their feathers feel as smooth and metallic as they look? What color are their eyes? What noises do they make? Do they make machine sounds or human sounds or no sounds at all?

It’s windy and cold and it smells bad up here. I wish we had a garden on our roof. The building next door has one. If it wasn’t all encased in glass I might be able to smell the flowers. I’ve never smelled a flower.

How do they expect me to be creative if I’ve never even smelled a flower?

May 1

I just read an article about a woman who claimed that an angel saved her from drowning. No one believed her, because angels don’t save people, they only arrest criminals. I think her angel and my angel might be the same. I hope so, even though the article didn’t mention the angel’s wings being bronze. If I was drowning and an angel came to save me, I don’t know if I’d notice the color of its wings. Even if I did no one would believe me, so maybe she just didn’t mention it.

I think an angel who saves people is much better than an angel who arrests them.

May 5

I finished my latest painting today, and one of my keepers came in and looked at it. I was really proud of it. It’s a landscape, a combination of things I’ve seen in old works and photographs and something I see in my dreams sometimes. It’s dark and stirring, I think. Much more mature than my previous paintings. I asked him what he thought. He said it was pretty. I asked him if he liked the contrast between light and dark and if he noticed how I’d adjusted my brush strokes since my last painting and if it said anything to him. He just looked uncomfortable and repeated that it was pretty and took it away to be part of my next show. I really hate my keepers sometimes.

May 10

I asked if I could visit the garden next door. At first they said no, but I talked them into it. I promised to paint flowers and write songs and poems about flowers.

May 11

Flowers are so beautiful and soft and I can’t even describe their smell. And no one ever goes into the garden! It’s only there so that scientists can do research and tests. I picked a rose and brought it back with me. I snagged my thumb on a thorn while I was picking it. It was strange to see my blood. I didn’t realize it was so very red. My thumb hurts a lot, but the rose was worth it. It’s in a vase on my table. The vase was a present from another Artist. She works with glass. I’m glad that I have it. My rose is amazing. The petals are pale pink, almost translucent, but the middle of the rose is a warmer shade. I’m going to paint it. I’ll do two, so I can send one to the woman who sent me the vase. I hope she likes it.

May 21

I can’t get the poem right. There aren’t words that can describe how wonderful flowers are to people who haven’t seen them. I begged and begged, and they let me have a rosebush. It’s in a pot. It doesn’t have any flowers on it, but there are tiny buds that I think will be flowers soon. I read a bunch of articles about how to take care of it. Maybe if I’m really good with the rose bush and I keep it alive and healthy and I’m careful not to hurt myself on its thorns, they’ll let me have a kitten. I’ve never seen one, but they seem nice. Now I have both my rosebush and the angels to keep me company.

May 30

The buds are turning pink! The petals are starting to peek out, and it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. They don’t smell like flowers yet, but I do like the way the rosebush smells, especially right after I water it.

I’ve been reading about bugs and pollination. I don’t know what I think of it. I almost wish that there were still bugs instead of the machines that we have now, but at the same time, the pictures of bugs are so creepy. I’m almost glad that they’re gone. That makes me feel guilty, but I don’t know why.

June 2

It’s blooming! It’s the most beautiful thing ever! I have to go paint it.

June 3

I asked for a kitten and they said yes! I’m having the best week ever! I’m going to name it Marmalade.

June 5

They brought Marmalade yesterday. She’s perfect and tiny and fuzzy and warm. She’s almost the same color as my bronze angel’s wings. When I picked her up, she started purring and curled up into a little ball and rubbed her face against my chin. I love her and she loves me and I’m not even close to alone anymore.

June 15

Marmalade is so silly! She chases string and sunbeams and makes me laugh. She sleeps with me at night. At first it was weird having something else alive in my bed, moving around and sometimes stepping on my nose, but now I like it. It’s really comforting, somehow.

June 18

Marmalade is sick. It’s nothing serious, but she vomited all over my pillow in the middle of the night last night, and she hasn’t been getting to her litter box. I woke up with her vomit in my hair, and I stepped in some of her poop. My keepers were doing a really good job of keeping the litter box clean so I didn’t realize how terrible kitten poop is.

Marmalade had her vomit all through her fur, too. I cleaned her off with a warm washcloth before I showered. She looked so weak and miserable and sorry. I couldn’t be mad, even when the smell of her vomit and poop make me gag and almost vomit myself. I’ve never vomited before–I’m pretty sure I don’t want to ever, either.

My keepers wanted to take her away and get me a new, healthy kitten that would never vomit or poop on the floor, but I said no. I love Marmalade, disgusting vomit and poop and all.

July 4

I’m so happy, and it really is showing in my work. I’m getting so much done! I finished my flower poem, and I wrote one about kittens, too. The Artist who sent the vase wrote me a note thanking me for the painting, and she invited me to come and visit her, so I’m finally going to get to go somewhere. Her name is Catherine, and she promises that we’ll be great friends.

July 27

Catherine is lots older than me, but she’s nice. She made me cocoa and toasted cheese sandwiches. I’d never seen anyone cook before. She told me that it makes her happy. She taught me a few things. Maybe I’ll try cooking, too, when I’m older. I watched her blow glass. It was amazing. She made me a pink glass rose and we talked about art and the world and I told her about my bronze angel and she believed me. When I told her about Marmalade, she looked sad and said she’d had a puppy once. She told me stories about when she was my age and showed me her collection of motion pictures. They’re so old! We watched one on this screen thing that she has. I liked it. The end was sad and it made me cry, but Catherine was crying too, and after that we had more cocoa and I can’t wait to visit again.

August 5

I came to see Catherine again, and we talked a lot. She showed me her favorite glass piece. She’s never showed it to anyone else before. She said that they wouldn’t understand.

It’s beautiful, but horrible somehow. At first glance, all you see are these beautiful ribbons of glass swirling around. Then, you realize that there’s a figure inside, a glass woman. At least she looked like a woman to me. And she was trapped. The ribbons around her were her cage and she couldn’t escape. I told Catherine that I knew how the woman felt, and Catherine hugged me and said that she did too and she was so glad to finally have someone who actually understood her work.

She told me about her first exhibition. They let her go, but she wishes that they hadn’t. No one understood any of her work–no one felt anything at looking at it. They just thought it was pretty. The power was lost on them totally. And she said that everyone else in the building was wearing gray, and she’d insisted on wearing her favorite green dress, and everyone just stared at her like she was part of the exhibit. No one talked to her or asked her any questions about her work. They just stared blankly. She hated it.

August 7

Today Catherine and I are going to the museum. I should still be sleeping, but I woke up and I can’t–I’m too excited.

August 8

I could spend every day at the museum and still not have enough time. How did I think I could be a real Artist? How can I compare my work with all of these great works? I feel like I’ve been calling rough sketches masterpieces. Catherine told me not to worry, that I am still young and I’ve got enough raw talent to fill an ocean, but I’m not sure. Am I really an Artist, or am I just a pale imitation who stands out because Art has been bred out of the rest of the population?

August 9

I asked Catherine why she thinks they made us while we were at the museum yesterday. If none of them understand the power and true beauty of art, why go through all the effort it must have taken to bring us back? Catherine thinks it’s because Art and Artists are fashionable. It gives people who have enough money to buy our pieces bragging rights.

I’m worried about what will happen to us if the fashion changes. But at the same time, I’m sad for my keepers and all of the other people I haven’t met, because I feel like they’re all the same somehow. Like they’re all dead inside. Sometimes I think it’s a good thing that I don’t know my keepers’ names, because I’m afraid that even if I did I would still get them mixed up.

August 14

Marmalade died while I was with Catherine. They’ve already disposed of her body. They were surprised at how upset I am. They thought I knew she’d die. They said that kittens used to grow up into cats, and no one liked cats nearly as well, so kittens just die once they get too old now. But Marmalade wasn’t too old. I wasn’t going to stop loving her if she turned into a cat. I asked why they didn’t just stop kittens from aging if no one wanted cats, and they said it wasn’t possible. I hate them. They’re stupid and callous and shallow and they don’t even realize it. I think they might have just forgotten to feed Marmalade, even though they promised me that they’d remember.

I looked at my pillow, at the spot where she always slept, after they’d gone, and I started crying. I wish Catherine were here. She’d understand. This must have happened to her, too, with her puppy. I wish she’d warned me, but I guess she didn’t want to make me unhappy any sooner than I needed to be.

Oh, Marmalade, I’m so sorry. If I’d known what they were going to do, I wouldn’t have left you.

August 15

They brought another kitten, but it’s stupid and gray and it isn’t Marmalade and I just can’t seem to stop crying.

August 16

I snuck out onto the roof again. The stupid new kitten tried to sleep with me in Marmalade’s spot, and after that I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

Then, the most incredible thing happened. I was crying, and a hand touched my shoulder. I looked up, expecting it to be one of them about to yell at me for sneaking out and for crying about Marmalade, but it wasn’t.

It was my bronze angel. He smiled at me. His face looked human– more human than the faces of my keepers do sometimes. His skin looked weathered, which makes sense, considering that angels fly around in all sorts of weather all of the time. His hair was short, and bronze, like his wings, and his eyes were the same deep green as the leaves on my rosebush. His hand was warm. His touch reminded me of Marmalade. I started telling him all about Marmalade and how much I missed her and how horrible the world was. As I cried, he picked me up and wrapped his wings around me. He rocked me back and forth.

Eventually, I stopped crying. I thought he was going to put me down, but instead, he whispered in a voice that sounded like Marmalade purring, “Hold on tight.”

He jumped off of the side of the building. His arms were wrapped around me, and mine were twined around his neck, and even though I felt safe, I couldn’t help gasping a little as we fell. Then his wings unfurled, and the wind caught us, and we were flying. His wings made great thumping sounds when he flapped them. We flew in circles, climbing higher into the sky. I could see the city spread out below me. The lights were beautiful. Then we were in a cloud. It was cold and wet and not at all how I’d imagined being inside a cloud would be. Then we were out, and I could see the stars. They took my breath away. I just stared as my angel flew. My eyes watered from the cold and the wind, but I refused to blink. I didn’t think to question where we were going.

We didn’t go back through any clouds on our way down. We landed in a field, next to a tiny house. Rows of wheat stretched as far as I could see in every direction.

I asked him if it was his home, and he said yes. We went inside and he made me cocoa, just like Catherine had, and I told him about my life. He told me a few things, too, about being an angel, but they’re secrets. He did tell me that he’d been watching me for a while, just like I’d been watching him, and even though he wasn’t supposed to talk to humans, he had decided to risk it to cheer me up. He had a cat–a full-grown cat–and she was nursing a litter of kittens. He promised that one of them would be my kitten, and I could come and visit it whenever I wanted, and he’d be sure to take good care of it so that someday it would be a cat, too, and maybe have kittens of its own. I picked a kitten with bronze and black patches, so that it would be like Marmalade, but not the same. I haven’t named her yet.

I fell asleep at his house, and he brought me back and left me on the roof. I might have thought that the whole thing was a dream, but he left me a feather, tucked in my journal. Its ribbing is made out of metal, but the rest of the feather is soft and smooth, like Marmalade’s fur.

August 26

I wrote Catherine and told her what happened. She’s putting in a request for the two of us to live together. Then I can have my kitten at her house and she won’t tell anyone when it grows up to be a cat. She asked me if I could ask the angel for a puppy for her, too. She’s going to teach me how to cook and blow glass and I’m going to paint my angel. I think a painting of him would be real Art, like Catherine’s woman trapped in the glass ribbon cage is real Art, because it’ll come from my heart. And that really is what makes me different from my keepers, and probably all the rest of the people in the world. Except for Catherine and my Angel. We still feel things with our hearts.

8 Responses to “Journal of an Artist”

  1. Savannah says:

    This is one of my favorite stories by Jamie Lackey. It gives me goosebumps every time I read it.

  2. RS Bohn says:

    Beautiful — melancholy and bronze and just a tinge of hope. The language suited it well, such great voice. Loved it.

  3. Steve Ramey says:

    Nicely done. There’s a sense of discovery and narrative momentum that carried me right along. I liked the ending and the mood the store evoked.

  4. Steve Ramey says:

    And the mood the story evoked too 🙂

  5. This is absolutely beautiful, and the voice is perfect. Gorgeously atmospheric.

  6. “How do they expect me to be creative if I’ve never even smelled a flower?”

    A well-written, imaginative and moving piece.

  7. s says:

    Oh my god, this story saved my wreck of a day. This was just beautiful, stirring and deep–and I love that it had a happy ending.

  8. Helice says:

    Oh how beautiful! Touching, stirring, depressing, hopeful, wonderful. Thank you.

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