Anne first adopted the practice of using her own blood as a tool in painting back in high school. That first work was pretty enough (an abstract, of course), but in terms of it's effect, was an undeniable success. At first the teacher didn't really believe her claim, but the way his expression changed when she showed him her wrists was priceless.
There had been fallout from that initial experiment, naturally. However, this fuss it caused made her realize that the most profound art came from confronting one's own mortality. They called it evidence of self-destructive tendencies. Perhaps this was true. How many artists through the ages had died from the result of their own fallacies? Drug addiction, alcoholism, syphilis, outright suicide; they were all pretty much par for the course.
Armed with that knowledge, however, she believed she had an edge. She could consciously measure out the amount of her life she would expend for her art; literally represented by the smears and drips of her own blood. She stood over the long narrow canvas, clad only in her plain white pajama top. Hunched over, her pointed index finger hovered about an inch from its surface. Letting the stream of thick droplets fall, she gradually roughed out the desired shape of her vision.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Anthony watched her work with a helpless fascination. She could go into strange fits of mood from time to time, but this was something else entirely.
"It's starting to clot," she said to herself. Moving over to the coffee table, she retrieved the Xacto knife she had resting in a cup of steaming hot water. Wiping the blade dry, she carefully made another incision on her wrist. She then returned to her work with a fresh flow of warm, red blood. Anthony swallowed hard, unconsciously clenching his fists against the edge of the mattress.
"You're actually drawing something, aren't you," he said, leaning forward. "It's not just an abstract. Is that supposed to be someone, or what is it exactly?"
"It doesn't matter if you recognize it," Anne told her, smiling oddly. "It's enough to that I do. This is entirely for me."
"I had no idea you did this sort of thing."
"Oh, you hang around long enough, and I'll let you in on some of my really dirty secrets," Anne laughed.
By the end of the half hour, Anne had completed enough of her work to be satisfied.
"Now it's a matter of letting it dry," she explained, wrapping a length of gauze around her fresh bandages. "Some of it will adhere to the canvas, and some of it will flake off. It always takes a few goings over to get it just right."
"I can't believe it," Anthony admitted, moving around to look at the painting properly. "Is this a safe thing to do? Have you ever fainted from doing this?"
"Not if I can help it," Anne said, taking his place on the bedside. "It's a matter of knowing your limits, how far you can push them. I probably don't use up much more than you'd give up during a blood donation."
That said, Anthony didn't feel very much better. Wandering into the kitchen, he came back with a full glass of orange juice.
"What's that for?"
"I thought that's what you were supposed to do," Anthony said, "you know, to get your strength back."
"All I need is a good long nap," Anne sighed, lying back against the covers. "The sleep of the dead, you might say. You can ravish me while I'm out, if you wish."
"What?" Anthony gasped, genuinely shocked.
"Jeez, relax," Anne said, already feeling light headed and drowsy. "I'm joking. Although, I kinda wish you would anyway."
Anthony shook his head.
"Why do you hate yourself so much?"
Anne didn't answer.
"I'm not going to leave you, I promise," he assured her.
She flashed him a pitying smile, but refrained from telling him the truth. The fact was she already knew that he wouldn't be there, that five years from now no one named Anthony would be in her life. Well, be fair, he might not have left her -he might have died, the lucky bastard.
Her eyes closed, Anthony remained sitting beside her, brushing back her sandy blonde hair from her face. He had a lecture in half an hours time, but it would probably be best to stay and make sure she was alright and didn't lapse into a coma or something. If only she would talk to him properly without falling back on those riddles of hers.
* * *
"How could you do this to yourself!?"
Anne's mother held onto her arm with a vice-like grip, exposing the marks on her wrist for everyone to see.
"You're hurting me," Anne complained, trying to twist away from her.
"I think the issue is where is we go from here," the high school counselor said, trying to coax the two towards the chairs at the front of his desk. He still had the 'painting' laid out on his desktop, handed over by the arts teacher when he brought Anne to his office. It was certainly an unusual story, especially given that Anne had never betrayed any deviant behaviour in the past. Indeed, her file folder had proven to be clean. Mrs. Falstaff had come as soon as he'd placed the call. Anne had said nothing during the entire time they'd waited, simply sitting in the corner chair, a fairly blank expression on her face. He'd tried asking a few innocuous questions, but Anne wouldn't be drawn out of her shell.
"Usually, whenever there is any hint of possible suicide," he began, sitting on the edge of the desk in a deliberately informal, disarming manner.
"No," Anne said, speaking to him directly for the first time. "I wasn't trying to kill myself. Why do you say suicide?"
Mrs. Falstaff stared ice needles at her daughter's interruption.
"Well, why don't you tell us what you were trying to do then?"
Anne pointed towards the stained sheet of paper lying on the desk. He brought it around so that Mrs. Falstaff could see what had precipitated all this.
"My god, is that what I think it is," she gasped, leaning forward in her chair. He nodded soberly, replacing it behind him.
"It's not that big a deal," Anne softly protested, leaning forward in her chair. "It didn't take that much blood."
"Didn't it hurt," he asked.
"Even Van Gogh hacked off his own ear for the sake of his art."
"Well, maybe once your work is hanging in the Louvre it'll be alright, but right now, I think it would be best to stick to oils and watercolours, hm," he said lightly. His concern had somewhat lifted, believing her sentiment. She was right, this was no suicide attempt. Simply a case of trying to be too clever for one's own good.
Mrs. Falstaff was not amused.
"What's the matter with you," she hissed into her daughter's ear. "Do you want to go back, is that what you want? You're supposed to be better now."
Anne visibly cringed under the weight of her mother's words.
"I don't want to go back there," she said, lowering her eyes.
"Um, naturally there's a mandatory suspension for this kind of thing," he told them. "And a notation added to her record. It's been fairly spotless since she's been at this school, and..."
By this point, Anne had pretty much blotted out the rest of the conversation. The grim prospect that held her in mute thrall was spending an entire week at home with her mother.
And the thing was, no one had adequately explained what it was she'd done wrong. It was her own blood, wasn't it? Didn't she have the freedom to use it was she wished? Had anyone even thought to see whether the painting was any good, regardless of how it had been made? The art teachers instructions had been to be as original as possible; had she not done that?
"Come on," her mother's voice intruded in her thoughts, snapping her out of her reverie. Gripping her by the forearm, she practically dragged Anne out of the office and down the hall to the parking lot exit. There were few students about to witness this particular dash of additional humiliation, since everyone was still in class.
"I told them to put you on medication," her mother muttered as they got outside. "They said you were too young, but I knew you'd end up sliding back without it."
"I'm not sliding down anything," Anne said dully. "I don't need anything. I was just screwing around, that's all. Mr Frankin is such a stuffed old shirt, I wanted to see how he'd react."
"Don't give me that." Anne's arm was forced up once again to reveal the small series of fresh scars. "People don't cut themselves up for the sake of a practical joke, understand? It's not normal."
"Why is it so important to be normal?"
Areal glanced down at her smaller companion. Anne, bundled up in her winter clothes, trudged through the thick layer of packed snow, while Areal tread weightlessly across the cold surface. They had decided to take a stroll out into the woods behind the house, this part of the suburban town yet to be developed into the ubiquitous townhomes and shopping malls.
"What do you mean by 'normal'?"
"My point exactly," Anne huffed, pushing her hands further into her coat pockets.
"Presently they came upon a chain link fence, blocking off a steep drop into a tree shrouded ravine. Anne leaned forward against the steel mesh, staring out across the rows of anonymous houses on either side.
"I've heard mom and dad talking."
"What's that," Areal prompted, coming up beside her.
"I think they want to take me away somewhere. I don't know for sure, but it sounds like they want to take me to a psychiatrist."
Areal laid a hand on the young girl's shoulder, letting a quiet moment pass. Somewhere in the foliage below, an unseen animal noisily scampered from one branch to another.
"It's alright to cry if you want to."
"What?" Anne said, facing away from the encroaching angel.
"Remember, you can't hide your emotions from me," Areal said, one of her wings reaching across her back. "I can see right into your heart."
Some rebellious, rational part of Anne found that statement disturbing. But, it didn't stop her from wrapping the angel in her coat padded arms, burying her face in her warm naked bosom.
"What in the world are you doing," her mother asked with obvious disdain.
"Huh," Anne said weakly, trying to wipe away the stream of tears as she put on her seat belt.
"I'll never figure you out."
Starting the car, she shot Anne another exasperated glance before pulling the car out of the parking lot.