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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #1291036
Anita and Alice are daughters of an artist who favors one causing unexpected tragedy.
California's beautiful mountains and powerful surf are the surrounding background for a gorgeous contemporary home and glass art gallery attached by a slate walkway. A well known painter, Phillip Waring, lived there with his family and worked passionately in his magical gallery. It had served as a flowing fountain of masterpieces created from his own life for many years. Now it is the dark remnants of a love nest for art, a memory palace for ghosts.

Phillip had raised his twin daughters, Anita and Alice, after his beloved wife, Ariana, died giving birth to a stillborn son. As grief stricken as he was, he had been a wonderful Dad. He gave the girls his undivided attention when he wasn't working.

When Phillip was busy, the girls had Taz, a Polynesian chef with a wonderful sense of humor who enjoyed children. Taz taught them to cook, bake and more importantly, to love others.

The huge kitchen was simply a joy filled playground. Ariana had planned it with care with a love for entertaining and cooking. It had been built like a classroom with the middle wall sharing ovens and burners that faced both sides. Taz could watch the girls bake cookies as he prepared crabmeat appetizers on the opposite side. He had bakeware for both sides and dishes just as there was a fabulous dining room for sixteen and then a family breakfast area where they ate most of the time.

One daughter, Anita Marie, was born camera and paintbrush ready with her lovely profile. She had large topaz colored eyes with long eyelashes, a perky nose, dimples, a mouth that appeared kissable from the time she was born. Her golden highlights in dark lush hair was a crowning touch. Her eyes seem to twinkle with mischief and secrets. Phillip painted her constantly from babyhood with her mother, then alone in various settings with a variety of facial expressions.

The other daughter, Alice Suzanne, was a quiet child. She had attractive features but not the charismatic looks of her sister. They were fraternal twins with completely different features. Alice was blonde with ice blue eyes, a porcelain complexion and appeared serious. Even as a little girl she read a lot, didn't like to play outside and seldom smiled. School was a "nightmare" according to her. She dated little although she was considered attractive. She disappeared into the background compared to her vivacious popular sister. After graduate school, where she studied psychology, she lived with her famous Dad. She told everyone about the deep satisfaction she derived from helping him catalog his work.

The truth is Ariana and both daughters, were caught in the spider web of Phillip, the Master Artist. He never meant to harm them but their lives revolved around his.

Phillip Waring was in a class of oil painters so special that his name brought instant recognition with other artists. His brush stroke technique was considered genius, each painting appeared intimately designed for that person. He was blessed with an engaging personality and quick wit .When he taught classes and spoke at art festivals and showings, people listened passionately to him.

Galleries showed his outstanding paintings of Big Surs' shoreline and other breath taking scenery in California. He was commissioned for portraits of wealthy individuals and families. He was sought after when an article appeared in "The New Yorker". Well known artists praised his techniques and included testimonies of emotional reactions from owners of his work. Two people claimed they had been healed after observing the physical effects of illness on their likeness so, they began to eat healthier.
Phillip's comment on these observations,"the mind is a curious thing."

Many who commissioned portraits swore their personalities were seen in the art. Most were flattering. Phillip denied any special insightful abilities.
He was slightly sarcastic.
"I simply paint what I see and there are no refunds."

There was a standing joke that he was stealing souls. The same used to be said of early photographers when cameras were new frightening gadgets. Phillip worked the idea into his lectures to get a laugh. His reputation grew. Requests came from well known people in the entertainment business. He had to turn down work constantly.

There had been one showing of the ‘Anita paintings’ that were awarded with tremendous acclaim. Collectors offered large amounts for the entire collection. Phillip firmly stated they “were not for sale” at any price.

It was an unbelievable shock to everyone when he died suddenly, young at only sixty, from a pulmonary embolus. A blood clot in the lung had traveled to the heart causing cardiac arrest. His causal friends and customers were surprised. He had always been a man that took care of himself and watched what he ate.

He had told Taz "no more salads, I will eat what I enjoy, by God!" He was one hundred pounds overweight but still a good looking guy that didn't look his age. Women still frequented his bed.

What most people did not realize was he had already had a mild stroke one year previously. His cardiologist had been monitoring him closely but Phillip refused to be compliant. His blood pressure was out of control and medications were not helping. He had given up jogging and his stationary bike.

Phillip seemed to know he needed to tie up loose ends. He spent more time with Rosie, his current sexual amusement who was twenty years his junior. Plus he loved steaming pasta with Taz's various rich sauces, wines, pasteries and desserts. Then there were the homemade pizza pies Taz made.

The memorial service was attended by fifty invited colleagues, friends and his "girls". He requested to be cremated and his ashes spread on the lake by his studio. A Rabbi spoke along with his daughter Anita and fellow artist, Lee Sebring. All were moving eulogies with memories and loving humor. A harp solo, by a gifted friend, was the magnificent ending for an accomplished artist and great man.

There was a strange occurance. Phillips' daughter, Alice, became hysterical during the service. She threw herself down, her movements uncontrollable. She screamed incoherently and had to be helped away from the service and sedated after EMTs were called. She refused to be taken to the Emergency Room. At the age of thirty, she was rumored to be emotionally fragile. She went to lay down and after a short while, she reappeared. She diagnosed herself telling Anita she thought it might be "hysterical grief" and it wasn't unusual to have a physical reaction.

The sisters were planning to spend the afternoon in the studio carefully cataloging, packing and dividing their Dad's art.

The studio, separate from the house, is stunning with field stone walls and windows. It overlooks the majestic mountains with a rainbow lake, a painter’s dream. Anita fondly recalled times there with her Dad, watching him meticulously at work. He was so calm, smoking his pipe, sipping a cup of coffee and asking her advice about colors in the lake, clouds, and rocks. He always took a break to listen about her school activities and friends.

There was no way to anticipate the next hour of panic and terror.
The sisters entered together through the kitchen downstairs.

Anita went to get a drink from the fridge.
“You want anything, honey?”

Anita was suddenly grabbed with brute strength from behind.
One arm was around her neck and the other encircled her arms.
The can of soda smashed to the floor.

“What the hell!” Anita managed to squeak out.

A rope was then tied around her arms.
The rough twine cut into her arms and droplets of blood stained the floor.
Alice pushed her up against a heavy wooden beam.
She tied Anita as tightly as she could as she struggled.

“Have you lost your mind?" then, "What's wrong, Alice, did I do something to upset you?”
Anita was bewildered and shocked by this frightening behavior. She couldn't remember Alice ever being mean or violent. She was always the quiet one.

Alice spit, with force, into Anita's face.
“No one will ever paint you again!”

Alice walked up the winding stairs to the studio. She was singing like a child, a bizarre version of a nursery rhyme.
"Good Night, Baby Bunting, Daddy's gonna a hunting, he will bring Anita's skin to wrap his baby Alice in."

She poured gasoline over paints, portraits, canvases and photos in her Dad’s studio.
Alice appeared to be an entertained child. She was christening years of her own neglect, as Daddy had celebrated Anita’s life, with gasoline in place of champagne.

The studio was a tribute to her younger sister. There were oils of Anita as a lovely rosy-cheeked baby on a blanket.

At two, she sat in the sand, her pail filled with colorful shells spilling out. She was very pleased with herself. He had captured the angelic cherub lips, brilliant topaz eyes, and head full of Shirley Temple curls.

The entire collection was a journey of Anita’s life. She was aware of her charms as a beautiful debutante in a silk and velvet trimmed gown that matched the color of her eyes. Her eyes were innocent yet sensual, like she had not yet discovered that secret for herself. She wore a single one carat sapphire and gold necklace from Grandma. Then there was the new college graduate tossing her cap, announcing her success and independence. You could see the glow in the painting strokes.

Then another Anita, as a beaming bride in her mother’s gown, alone with her hands together in prayer, kneeling on a satin prayer bench. Her eyes were different in this, like a doe that has been caught in the headlights of a car.

Anita didn’t like the painting so Dad had another with the newlyweds; she and Ed were gazing at each other with eyes of love. Yet he had saved the other with her frightened look.

Then there is the” Madonna” portrait. Anita looked serene, a new mother breast-feeding her child.
Phillip had captured that look of joy a woman feels as her baby is getting sustenance from her body, pain and joy. Anita is looking down, her hair spilling over her breast. The observer can almost feel the love, joy and possession. Rosie's tiny hand is holding Anita's golden highlighted hair, like soft curls on her own head. You can almost smell nature's perfume on Rosie's head. There is a personal feeling to all who study the painting. This is Phillip Waring's secret to his audience.

Even when Phillip had died, he was painting Anita holding his granddaughter. Rosie was a miniature Anita and Phillip had captured it.

Alice had told a therapist the so called love between father and daughter was a type of incest. If anyone had noticed, Alice had begun the spiral of depression then. No one would blame her for wanting to erase this abnormal obsession of Phillip’s so called “love” for one daughter.

Alice felt bitter and envious, who wouldn't be? Dad always said he loved both his daughters equally.
She tried telling herself that Phillip was 'simply inspired' by Anita more.

‘Damn his soul to Hell for ignoring me,’ Alice thought as she meticulously went about her appointed work.
‘What was so wrong with me that I wasn’t his muse?’

“What are you doing, Alice? It smells like gas in here. Can you smell it?”
Anita screamed from downstairs, “You need to come untie me. I will do anything you want.”
Anita continued to plea, ”You know Daddy would't want you to hurt me, to hurt any of us. I'll get you help, honey. Please!”

Anita had wondered why her Dad always painted her. But Dad had never ignored Alice. She had never been an affectionate person with hugs or words but she wasn't as a child either. She had always been a loner, shut up in her room reading, watching TV or daydreaming. Phillip had always tried to get her to join in and go with him places.

What happened in the years Anita had not been around? After Anita had her degree in journalism, she met Ed and they married. Along came Rosie as Ed traveled writing as a restaurant critic.

Maybe Dad had ignored Alice and she had been forced to care for him. Now all these terrible things were going through Anita’s mind.
Had Alice mistreated him to get back at Anita?

But Phillip’s mind was fine after the mild stroke. He would not have let someone mistreat him. He called Anita frequently and seemed happy. He talked about Alice’s withdrawal and depression but could not get her to go back to a therapist.

Now, Anita was soaked in a cold sweat, heart racing, trying to think how to get out of this.
Alice was really going to kill her.

Maybe her trump card would be Rosie.
Alice loved Rosie, taking her to the shore and playing games, building sand castles.

“What about Rosie? Alice, she loves you. Will you tell her you killed her Mommy? You'll go to jail,” Anita sobbed, trying to find the right words.

Alice suddenly thought how much she loved Rosie. Just last night she had combed Rosie's straight long hair. It was like her own hair. She had thought Rosie would love her like a mother in time.

Alice looked over the railing. Everything was spinning.

Suddenly, Rosie instead of Anita was tied up.
The gasoline fumes were getting to her.

“Rosie, honey, is that you?”

Alice appeared drunk as she came down the steps. She was fighting panic now.
Anita wisely remained quiet.

Alice kissed the top of Anita’s head. Anita watched her sister’s crazed eyes as Alice untied the ropes and mumbled,
“Run, Rosie, I love you!”

Anita ran for her life.
She was at the top of the steep driveway before she looked back.

The flames were licking the sunset in a horrific image.
She screamed, “No!”
Then she watched, with horror, as Alice set herself on fire.

By Kathie Stehr

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