by Linda Mey
Rozanne is a bird painter who tries to start a new life away from her father, a painter.
Rozanne hardly left the studio because of her need to paint. Raised by her father, Frank Graves, a bizarre, brilliant painter obsessed with birds. Rozanne grew up in a big house which was surrounded on all sides with an abundance of wildlife: brush turkey and bowerbirds, honeyeaters, parrots, pigeons, rat kangaroos. They both fed them, talked to them, photographed them and explored them till late evening, Frank taught Rozanne to drown them. To create a realistic pose, Frank often put her in front of a big mirror, completely naked so that she could imagine herself flying as a bird.
Where would I keep my feet in that particular pose? What would I do with my hands to catch as much as possible? She thought and struggled to find out the answer. Frank sat on the cosy sofa and watched her, explored her as a bird.
After many tries, she discovered that she could create a pose for legs if she used her arms to imagine them. She saw her elbow as ankles and shoulders as knees. She spent so much time in front of that mirror imagining she was flying that sometimes she really feeling that it was possible.
Rozanne had been connected to that house in some eerie way. She tried to leave it so many times, but she always came back broken, lost, desperate, searching for her foundations. Frank would always be there... 'Stop running from yourself, Rozanne. You belong to this place, to these birds...' were his first words while he hugged her strongly. Only in his big bear hug, could she find a peace. Then she promised him she would never leave him again. But soon after she had broken it again.
When she turned thirty, she had decided to start her life and career by herself. A day before her first solo-exhibition, she looked at the blue sky through shabby windows in the messy studio. Run down walls. Tens of paint brushes soaking in a stained jar. Rozanne swirled a paint brush in the dirty water that swayed at the bottom of one of the jars. She brought the brush to the empty canvas, but stopped.
'Try to paint something different. This is your first exhibition without your father, so let's give people a spectacular show!' Rozanne remembered Martha's words. Martha was her agent, but also played a very special role in her life. Martha protected her and tried to give her the confidence to build a new life, away from that house. That's why Rozanne wanted to make her proud more than everything, but this time she didn't know how to deliver this 'spectacular show'. She faced all her paintings - colourful, beautiful portraits of birds. Unexpected darkness came into the studio. The lights of the city went out. The phone rang. It was Frank.
'I know you don't want me there, but I am attending your exhibition tomorrow!' He totally imposing his will onto her.
'Please, don't! I have to do it by myself. This time I must!'
Frank took a deep breath and Rozanne felt utterly numb.
'You need me, Rozanne! Just let me be around you,' he continued to insist politely.
'I have to go, Dad. I will call you tomorrow. After the event!' she replied, but this time with more confidence in her voice. 'Good night!' she added before she could change her mind.
On the next day, the day of the exhibition, there was a grandiose cocktail party. And a flock of larks hovering over the famous and infamous British artists who attended. They praised Rozanne's talent, but everyone wondered where Frank had been. After two glasses of expensive champagne and a few delicious prawns, they stopped wondering. There was a particular painting on the edge of the room that they ignored it like a crippled dog. Only Rozanne stood beside it as a guard to protect her creature. It was a very lame landscape, but Rozanne liked it much more than all the birds she had been drawing in her entire life.
'I said something spectacular and you did... this,' Martha approached Rozanne.
'You wanted something without birds and you got it!' Rozanne's voice faded away.
'I've never said no birds. For God's sake, you're a bird painter! People are mad about those birds,' Martha replied curtly and Rozanne felt a bit confused. Now, she remembered, she had never heard the words 'no birds'. It was her own mind, which attempted to escape from them.
'Wrap it up, I'll take it' A man interrupted their conversation. '," he added.
'Sorry, you can't take this painting,' Martha said in a frank manner.
Rozanne looked at him. A good-looking man in an elegant suit.
" My money not good enough for you? " The man approached Rozanne.
''Why you like it?' Rozanne asked curiously.
'Because there is a kind of great optimism that makes you believe everything will be fine,' he couldn't take his eyes off the painting.
'Who are you?' Martha asked, gloomily.
Rozanne turned to Martha, who seemed very angry because of her mildness.
'Can you leave us for a second,' Rozanne asked.
Marta still stared at the man with a grimace of annoyance. Never before had she been so unfriendly. Except for Frank. She couldn't accept his wish to keep her locked in that house, close to him. 'It's abuse, selfish and unacceptable abuse', she had battled with him the last time they'd met. Martha had the same feeling about this man.
'Sure, just don't sell this painting under any circumstances' she muttered. 'It could ruin your image.'
When Martha went out, Rozanne smiled gently at the man.
'What are you doing here?' she asked, with a look of melancholic warmth.
Rozanne hugged him. That was Dave. She first met him as Angela's boyfriend at Cambridge. Angela, her roommate was a terrible person, but an intense pianist. They had little in common except they both liked Dave.
He had a mysterious personality. If he was a bird, he definitely would be a papilla. This specie subsists almost exclusively on the seeds of the mamane plant, which contain a level of toxins that would kill any other small animal, but not this bird. She hadn't talked to Dave in more than seven years - since the night, when Rozanne left the University without saying a word to anyone.
'Is Angela also here? ' She asked as she looked around to see her.
'She is not here,' he said.
'I am guessing she is very busy now with the Philharmonic Orchestra,' Rozanne said.
He nodded without saying anything more about her.
'Listen, I really want to buy this painting,' Dave said.
Rozanne shook her head slowly.
'No, it's not finished yet!'
'I think it is the most finished creature here,' he said.
She still couldn't understand if he messed around with her.
'Oh, I just remembered. You hated my birds,' she said, not without kindness.
'... A bird! It's only one, isn't it? He whispered to her. Rozanne raised her eyebrows in a surprise.
' Oh my God, we were so drunk. How did you remember it?'
He only smiled in response. How he could forget that night.
After the exhibition, they went to the nearest pub. Dave carried proud his new acquisition - the landscape painting. Dave told her about his breakup with Angella.
'I hated her... because of you!' she confessed.
'I loved her...because of you.'
'What? You are drunk!'
Rozanne laughed. She couldn't understand what he talked about. But he knew very well.
They really drank a lot that night. Especially Rozanne. Dave watched her entranced. Why she always looks so lost, he thought, but he didn't ask her. On the next day, in his room and particularly in his bed, while he kissed her neck, he asked this question again. But this time aloud.
'I've been lost, but you found me,' she replied softly.
Rozanne studied him. There wasn't a trace from his papilla's personality. Now, he saw him like a white, calm, non-aggressive cockatoo. She drew this bird only when she felt lonely because of their cuddly nature.
It's been a long time since she escaped from Dave. He wanted to help her to start a new life, but she didn't allow him. She couldn't, because of Frank. Again she faced this terrible feeling of guilt. She exhaled and felt warmth flood through her body.
Rozanne went down the stair. The kitchen was large, but it's seemed no one didn't use it. She drunk tap water when at a distance, she heard a piano playing. Angella, she thought. Rozanne went straight to the playing direction when the playing just stopped. Rozanne began to enter into the room one by one. They all were empty and tidy. She stood in front of the only closed room. She prepared to knock, but she changes her mind and directly put her hand to the doorknob ready to open it.
'What do you look for?' Dave asked behind her.
A chill went down her spine.
'For God's sake. You scared me. Who is there?'
'No one, why?'
'I heard it so clearly. Is Angella there?'
'Angella? Are you out of mind?'
'Dave, I am serious. Open this door,' her voice sounded frightened.
'I can't,' he said firmly.
Rozanne felt insecure. She considered her next move.
'Relax, it's my mother... she is also a pianist,' he said, but somehow hollow.
'Your mother? May I meet her?' She stared at him still suspiciously.
Dave enjoyed her reaction.
'Of course, but later. Now, I want you all to myself,' he said and grabbed her close to him. Then out of the blue, he started laughing. It was some nervous laugh.
'Dave, you really scare me,' Rozanne said.
'Sorry, I had forgotten how funny you are. Angela? Here?' Dave continued laughing.
Rozanne smiled as well. What's wrong with me, she thought. She had never had a real relationship and she had so much to learn about it.
'And I had forgotten how you always make me look foolish,' Rozanne said, a bit ashamed.
'Come here, strange bird,' he hugged her while he stared at the door, guilty and wondering.
In a few couple weeks their relationship turned into a passion love story, but she had a weird feeling what was it in that room. She had noticed that Dave avoided taking her in his house or to talk about his mother. She has begun to think about Angella a lot. She went to the Philharmonic Orchestra, where Angella worked, but a colleague said she was just disappeared one year ago. Exactly after their break up, she thought.
Rozanne went straight to Dave's house. She should have found out the truth. During the whole way she imagined how behind that closed door stayed Angella - scared and desperate.
Eventually, she ended up to Dave's house. Now, the house looked like a dark castle. She lifted her gaze to the window of the closed room. Normally, the curtains were always pulled down, but now they were raised. She approached the door and knocked. There wasn't answering. Rozanne walked around the house and noticed the back door. It also was closed, but she broke the small window and opened the door. She entered in. She went into the kitchen and grabbed a large knife. She didn't know how to use it even to cut a carrot, but she hardly could think at this moment. She carefully took the stairs and appeared in front of the door. She knocked gently. No answer.
'Is anybody there?' she asked, clutching the knife.
There wasn't a response so Rozanne opened the door with all courage, which she was capable. Rozanne was speechless upon seeing the sight - at the dressing table, an old but very elegant lady took beautiful pearls to her ears.
'I hope you will not use this knife against me,' the old lady said politely.
'Oh no, I am sorry, I just...,' Rozanne muttered and hid the knife behind her back.
'You must be Rozanne, the bird painter. Dave told me everything about you,' the lady said and approached her.
'Ah, did he? Once again, I apologize...,' Rozanne mumbled.
'Don't! Do you believe in fate, Rozanne?' she asked and touched Rozanne's hair very gently.
'I think so...' Rozanne said, but a bit confused.
Besa, Dave's mother was an extravagant woman with very mysterious aura. There was Albanian origin in her family history and her name meant oath. After dinner, she often played piano, mostly Bach concertos. Rozanne still remembered Angella, because Bach was Angella's favourite composer. Around Besa, Rozanne looked unusually cheerful, unlike Dave, who became somehow distant. '
I have to break up with her,' said Dave to Besa few days later, after dinner.
'No, you both will survive, ' Besa replied and was about to leave the living room.
'Are you sure? I can't do anything and this drives me crazy, mother'
'Trust me, she doesn't mind,' she said.
After this very odd conversation, something happened to Rozanne which had never happened to her before. Rozanne stopped drawing. She was nearing to exhibition and she had to present new fifteen birds. For days, she stood in front of the white canvas powerless without any idea where to begin. Rozanne was incapable to paint even a single detail of a bird. Then she just stopped to even try. She spent days, sometimes and nights, sitting on the ground and dipping fingers into jars of paint. How beautiful and powerful were all these colours. She mixed red and blue to make a purple colour into her palm. If I would colour I would be purple, she thought. When she remembered that the purple colour had been associated with piety, she took the jar of black paint and spilled it on her palm. She rubbed the palm of a hand over the back of another and repeated with the other hand. She wanted to erase the purple and the whole her life before Dave.
The phone rang as if to remind her that it was an illusion. She went to wash her hands. The black water running down the canal while the phone insisted to be hanged up.
'Why haven't you called me yet?' Frank asked.
'I've been busy!' Rozanne replied.
Rozanne didn't answer. She noticed a black spot left of her arm.
'He is going to hurt you, Rozanne. Come back to me!'
Rozanne could feel his pain. She knew how much he suffered of her missing and that's why she always went back after such conversation.
'I have to go, Dad. They await me for a dinner,' Rozanne said.
She hung the phone with surprise how strong she was. It was a good feeling.
Rozanne went Dave's house. Besa looked more restless than usual. She nervously attempted to cut the steak in her tray so Rozanne and Dave couldn't avoid the terrible noise which she made it.
'Any good?' Dave asked Rozanne, but peek to her mother to see what was going on with this damned steak.
'Not yet,' Rozanne smiled and took a sip of the wine.
'Don't worry, it will happen soon,' Dave tried to encourage her, but this only infuriated Besa.
'She is not worried at all. I assume her feel very good,' Besa interrupted in the conversation while she literally tore the meat into smaller pieces.
'Mother!' Dave said and gave Besa a harsh look.
'I am just saying that very often artists need to get a rest from their own art... which sometimes it is a millstone,' Besa's voice sounded softer, but her face looked still livid.
'Mother, please,' Dave pleaded. He desperately tried to prevent the coming storm.
'Actually, you are right, Besa. I've never seen my art as a milestone, but I am surprised how good I feel to not drawing. I feel even a bit happy about doing anything...' Rozanne couldn't continue, because Besa got up from the table sharply.
'Excuse me, I need my pills,' Besa said and left the dining room.
Dave followed her with a look to the stairs.
'Pardon her! I don't know what happen with her these days.'
Rozanne nodded and smiled at him. She had noticed her strange behaviour in the last weeks but she didn't say anything.
A week later, on the black stormy night, Rozanne had an unexpected guest in the studio. Angella. Sloppy, fidgety and wet, Angella looked around and saw the newspaper dropped on the floor. There was a big title, which announced that Rozanne exhibition was rescheduled. Angella looked at all these empty canvas.
'Oh dear, it's too late,' Angella said and covered her face with both hands.
'Too late for what?' Rozanne asked and tried to reach her, but Angella stepped back.
'It is over. You won't draw! Never again!' Angella yelled at her and dropped the canvas on the floor. Rozanne froze in her place.
'She stole my talent and now she got yours. She is a witch, get out of that house!' Angella warned her.
And right there, it came into Rozanne's mind, with a stab, Besa's figure. Rozanne shook her head to dispel Besa's image. It's been a while before Rozanne began to come to herself.
'This can't be true,' Rozanne said in distress. She led the words hang in the silence. There wasn't anyone to hear it. Angella had already gone.
The rain that night was particularly heavy and Rozanne was stuck in the studio. When the sun came up, it was clear - Rozanne wasn't able to paint anymore and she wanted to know why. She couldn't believe in Angella's words, but some curious took her to Dave's house early in the morning. This time, she used her own key to enter. The house was empty. She directly went into Besa's room. She looked around and now she noticed how many activities Besa was interested - knitting, embroidery, design, writing, playing the piano, there was even an accordion and... painting stuff. She saw her own landscape painting, which she gave Dave as a present. Now, it was completed with a massive eagle-owe. Rozanne always, ignored to draw these creepy birds. The eagle-owe stared at her with a warning. Rozanne lost a balance and sat on edge of Besa's bed. She heard footstep behind her back. She felt Besa's perfume, but was incapable to turn.
'There are many kinds of birds in our house, but no captive birds. When I was 6, a Synwell eagle-owe appeared in our garden. One night, he was making such a noise, so I went outside and shone my torch on him to try to get a picture. He didn't seem like that, he drew his wings up and took off flying straight at me. I tried to run back to the house, but had no time, he just dives bombed me. He certainly got no fear of humans. My father saved me, but I ended up with a broken arm. I was so afraid, so my father should have slept in my room for a year. He told me that captive birds think their mother was human, so humans are potential partners, hence it flies at them. He is not actually attacking you, he looked for a soul mate,' Rozanne whispered.
She took a deep breath and held it, listening beating of her own heart. Besa sat next to her and looked at the painting. The eagle-owe's enormous orange eyes stared at her with a horrific appearance.
'I will keep your secret if you keep mine,' Besa said and clutched Rozanne's hand. Rozanne just nodded.
On the morning of the following day, Dave told Rozanne the whole truth about his mother curse.
'My grand, grand, grandmother was the only one who hadn't any talent in the family so her father was extremely rude to her. He told her she wouldn't find a husband because she was crippled. Then, she went to the oldest gipsy woman in the village for advice and she got something more than advice. She took the ability to adopt every talent she touched it. Since then, that curse transmitted through three generations and only death can destroy it.'
In the hall mirror, Dave saw the reflection of Rozanne's face. Her eyes, her dark complexion, even her hair were somehow familiar to him The reflection in the mirror vanished and appeared Angella's face on that day, when he revealed the mystery of her lost talent. Angella started crying, screaming, cursing... then she ran and she never came back. Dave closed his eyes and when he opened it again, Rozannne was still there. Raising her head, she looked at him. His guilt and shame, hurt her more than the fact she had never been a painter anymore.
'It's ok,' she only said.
She wasn't frightened. She wasn't confused. She confronted a new, unknown emotions. Relief. Delight. Peace. Everything seemed newly, clean, bright and positive. She was already allowed to live freely. And any birds around. She went to the studio for the last time. She packed all painting stuff in boxes. The empty studio looked so big. She reached the phone and enter the number. Frank picked up the phone at the first attempt.
'Where have you been?' Frank couldn't wait to learn.
'Dad, can you do something for me?'
'I will send my painting stuff. Will you save them for a while?'
'What have you done, Rozanne?'
Rozanne starts crying. She looked at the empty studio, one again.
'I am just trying to be happy, Dad!'
'You can be happy only here, princess. Why don't you understand? Come back home. I need you!'
'I have to go! I love you!'
Meanwhile, Besa became completely insane. She didn't go out of her room for days. She didn't eat, sleep or talking. She dreamt birds. Flock of birds attacked her every night. Besa woke up in shock. Her face was red and disfigured from tears and excitement. She went to Rozanne's room and woke her up. Besa made Rozanne to follow her into her room. Rozanne was still asleep, but after the view there, she was totally awake. Captive birds. Hundreds of shockingly creepy and bloodthirsty bird canvases. Everywhere. Rozanne covered her mouth with a hand.
'They occupied my mind. They want to come inside me... inside me,' she said and pointed to her head. Besa circling the room and repeat it many times. Rozanne knew why all this happened to Besa.
Rozanne made her a tea of chamomile and gave her a sleeping pill. Besa drunk it and became stiller. Rozanne helped her to lay in the bed and gently covered her with a blanket. Besa grabbed her hand. Her eyes were muddy.
'You have to get some sleep, Besa' Rozanne said, absorbing the sweat from her forehead.
'How? I am afraid to sleep. Birds - here and there... I am afraid what birds are going to show me...I can't take it. It's too much.'
Rozanne clutched her hand.
'I am so sorry that you see it!' Rozanne said, but it was too late.. Besa had been asleep, but her muddy eyes were still open. Rozanne collected the painting from the floor. She put them in black bags for rubbish and brought the bags in the basement.
Days later, in one of the coffee shops on the River Thames Rozanne had an unpleasant meeting. Frank. He had come to take her back.
'I am trying to protect you, Rozanne. You know that, right? He is going to hurt you and I can't stand to see you hurt,' Frank hold her hand strongly. Rozanne pulled her hand from him.
'Dad, don't do this, please,' Rozanne pleaded when her phone rang. It was Dave.
'It happened because of your damn birds. As I know the curse should be destroyed so you can have your birds again. Have a good life!' Dave hung up the phone.
Rozanne placed the phone on the table. Besa had killed herself.
'Take me home! ' Her voice was shaking.
Rozanne heard a bird's voice high in the sky. She rose her head to see it.