Andromeda Among Asphodels, 2005 ~ fiction by Spencer Nitkey

Andromeda Among Asphodels, 2005
Cassiopeia Nix

Oil on canvas

In this work, the artist has painted a field of half-bloomed asphodels, flowers that crawl up their spear stems in the hyper-detail-rich style that has become her signature. The features of the flowers are sharp and minute. When viewed from a distance they become so myopic that the flowers fade into a blurry field of static and chaos. The details sharpen the closer one comes, almost reversing the effect of a pointillist painting, and the chaos coheres and the beautiful field of flowers crystalizes. Within the flowers, however, the turned body of a woman in profile filling the center of the field is rendered in remarkable detail regardless of distance. From afar, she stands in a field of discordance and buzzing color. Close, she stands in a field of asphodels.

Cassiopeia painted the field 6 years before she painted the woman. She left the center of the painting unfilled and unfinished in her studio until, at the apotheosis of her artistic life, she met Andromeda. Cassiopeia was nearing her fifties and Andromeda was nearing her twenties. At an opening of her latest work, Cassiopeia watched the tall and broad-shouldered Andromeda move certainly through the gallery, utterly disinterested in anything she wasn’t interested in. This sounds like a more common trait than it is. In Cassiopeia’s experience, most viewers of art engaged with it like a well-fed shark in an aquarium tank. Sure, they followed the schools of fish absently, and theoretically, they took an interest in each work of art, but they were already sated and did not sink their dull teeth into anything that was not chummed. Andromeda consumed the art in the gallery like a starving predator. She stood back from the paintings and sculptures and flitted her eyes across each one of them. If the piece did not feed her, did not contain the meat and marrow of truth, she moved quickly away from it. She rolled her eyes at several pieces, even several of Cassiopeia’s, which filled the artist with a sweaty joy. No one judged her art harshly anymore. When Andromeda’s eyes fell on a piece that could feed her, she torpedoed through the room toward it. It was as if they were all the chaos of asphodels, crystalizing only when her gaze focused on them. When she set her eyes on a self-portrait of Cassiopeia’s, painted as if from a river’s reflection she raced to it, and stood, broad shoulders parting the idle others and consumed it in deadly silence.

The artist watched Andromeda stare at the portrait for thirty minutes. She returned to the center of the gallery, flitted her eyes, and, finding nothing of interest. walked out the front door. Cassiopeia walked away from the gallery owner who was thanking her to chase her outside.

“Did you like the portrait?” she asked.

Andromeda turned, the blood of Cassiopeia’s art dripping from her jaw.

“Art either feeds or starves,” she said.

If she could have, Cassiopeia would have unhinged her jaw and swallowed Andromeda whole.

“Would you like to see my studio?” she asked, instead.

“Yes,” she said. “I would.”

In the studio, Andromeda displayed the same ruthless indifference to anything that did not interest her she had in the gallery. Cassiopeia exhaled and found she was relieved by this. Andromeda reached for a painting, a study of wheat grain, and Cassiopeia was disappointed: it was a bad painting. But when Andromeda simply moved it out of the way, revealing the true object of her interest, Cassiopeia stopped breathing entirely.

Andromeda feasted on an unfinished painting. Her eyes scanned the field of white asphodels, half-bloomed flowers that crawled up their spear stems. In the center of the image was the void.

Andromeda turned back from the painting to Cassiopeia, and for a moment her face filled the blank swatch of canvas. The details sharpened, and the image, much like the painting is now, ossified and lodged in Cassiopeia’s throat.

Andromeda spent the next three weeks living. If Andromeda had a life, or responsibilities, or anything at all, she did not make them known to Cassiopeia. They spent long days with Andromeda standing, posing, and sitting while Cassiopeia painted her into the field of asphodels. Like a predator, when Andromeda was not hunting, she was still and lazy. They expended their passion in the daylight, behind and before the canvas. They slept next to one another because there was one bed and because it seemed natural that they would, but there was no energy or need for sex.

When Cassiopeia finished the painting, Andromeda went for the door. Cassiopeia stopped her with an arm on her shoulder. She was terrified of Andromeda’s gaze, but she needed it.

“Wait. Look,” she said.

“I am already full,” Andromeda said.

“You’re beautiful. It’s beautiful. Please.”

“I’m full. When I’m hungry, I hope it feeds me.”

She left. In the void where she’d been Cassiopeia realized how little she knew of her. The next lonely hours felt like coming down from acid. Everything was sensible but emptied.

Nine months later, she displayed Asphodel in a friend’s gallery. Andromeda came to the opening and Cassiopeia saw her from a distance. She waited. Andromeda stood in the gallery’s center and flicked her sharp eyes across the paintings. She looked at Asphodel, rolled her eyes, and left the gallery entirely. There’d been nothing to eat.

Later that night, Cassiopeia sold Andromeda Among Asphodels to a nouveau-tech-millionaire. This gallery description affixed on the side of a wooden crate, sits in storage at the Geneva Free Port, where it can be held and accrue its value without the burden of taxes or human eyes. In a dark box tucked next to dozens of other dark boxes Andromeda Among Asphodels sits, pinned to the darkness, feeding no one, flowers crawling up their stems in the black.

Spencer Nitkey is a writer of literary, speculative, and literary speculative short fiction. He lives in New Jersey, happily, while missing California, always. His stories have appeared in Apex Magazine, Apparition Lit, Fusion Fragment, and others. Links to his published works can be found on his website

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