“Vanitas,” she said, with the irritability she had been trying to mask all afternoon finally breaking through, “is only supposed to include an intimation of mortality. There should be flowers, ‘n fruit, ‘n … stuff.”
She finished with an airy wave of one elegant hand, her bubblegum persona firmly re-established, but she couldn’t recall the fault, and I was glad I to have seen the slip; I was going to be working with her a lot, and I preferred the sharper version.
I moved to her side to view the piece straight on, a huge pewter bowl of roses, so far into bloom that the petals looked as if they would start to drop at the slightest breeze. It was well executed but artistically uninteresting, and veiled by a layer of varnish thick enough and discoloured enough to make a conservator weep. From this angle I could no longer see the odd brushwork that was the only indicator, to my eyes, of the image that for her obscured the roses. I had seen it only once, under special lighting, and I shuddered at the thought. She saw it, and her polite concern gave me the opening to say
“I was just wishing our founder had come up with a less spine-chilling test – though it would only be half the test if he had.”
No surprise, no eagerness. Barely even interest, though she had dropped her vapid mask again. I held her gaze for a moment, thinking to force her to ask, but she got the better of that exchange. The best I could do was make her wait until I had ushered her towards the inner door before I continued.
“There is natural variation on all things, of course, and that painting is an eye test. The image that you saw demonstrates that you can see the barest fraction further into the infra red than average. Not even enough to notice, except that some types of radiators may have a faint lambency to you.”
“But this is useful to you?”
She was sceptical. I love sceptics, but I can’t resist teasing them at this point in the induction.
“Only if it’s combined with a tendency not to be freaked out easily.”
She didn’t rise to it, and her step didn’t falter.
“That’s the second element of the test.”
There wasn’t even the hint of a question in it, and as I stepped through the door, trusting her to follow, I wondered how much it hurt her to maintain that dizzy mask of hers. There was a relief in the thought. Too often my job felt like kidnapping. This time it felt like a rescue, and I knew I was really going to enjoy working with our latest recruit.
This one comes with a whole slew of apologies. To anyone with more than a nodding acquaintance with biology or physics (I couldn’t bring myself to spoil a neat idea with research: sorry), to Angela Goff (I’ve been away from #VisDare too long, and I still can’t manage brevity: sorry), and to anyone who’s desperate to know where this one’s going (I have no idea either, but I’m open to suggestions: sorry).