The Requiem was a secret between me and Finn. Just the two of us. We didn't even need to look at each other when he put it on. We both understood. He'd taken me to a concert at a beautiful church on 84th Street once and told me to close my eyes and listen. That's when I first heard it. That's when I first fell in love with that music.
"It creeps up on you, doesn't it," he'd said. "It lulls you into thinking it's pleasant and harmless, it bumbles along, and then all of a sudden, boom, there it is rising up all menacing. All big drums and high screaming strings and deep dark voices. Then just as fast it backs right down again. See, Crocodile? See?"
Crocodile was a name Finn invented for me because he said I was like something from another time that lurked around, watching and waiting, before I made my mind up about things. I loved when he called me that. He sat in that church, trying to make sure I understood the music. "See?" he said again.
And I did see. At least I thought I saw. Or maybe I only pretended I did, because the last thing I ever wanted was for Finn to think I was stupid.
That afternoon the Requiem floated over all the beautiful things in Finn's apartment. His soft Turkish carpets. The old silk top hat with the worn side to the wall. That big old Mason jar filled to the top with every possible color and pattern of guitar pick. Guitar pickles, Finn called them, because he kept them in that canning jar. The music floated right down the hallway, past Finn's bedroom door, which was closed, private, like it always was. My mother and Greta didn't seem to notice the way Finn's lips moved along with the music - voca me cum benedictus... gere curam mei finis... They had no idea they were even listening to a death song, which was a good thing, because if my mother had known what that music was, she would have turned it right off. Right. Off.
After a while, Finn turned the canvas around so we could see what he'd done. It was a big deal because it was the first time he'd let us see the actual painting.
"Take a closer look, girls," he said. He never talked while he worked, so when he finally spoke, his voice was a thin, dry whisper. A flicker of embarrassment shot across his face, then he reached for a cup of cold tea, took a sip, and cleared his throat. "Danni, you too - come in, have a look."
My mother didn't answer, so Finn called into the kitchen again. "Come on. Just for a second. I want to see what you think."
"Later," she called back. "I'm in the middle of something."
Finn kept looking toward the kitchen like he was hoping maybe she would change her mind. When it was obvious she wasn't going to, he frowned, then turned to stare at the canvas again.
He pushed himself up from the old blue chair he always painted in, wincing as he held on to it for a second, steadying himself. He took a step away and I could see that, other than the green tie at his waist, the only color Finn had was in the little splotches of paint all over his white smock. The colors of me and Greta. I felt like grabbing the paintbrush right out of his hand so I could color him in, paint him back to his old self.
"Thank God for that," Greta said, stretching her arms way above her head and giving her hair a shake.
I stared at the portrait. I saw that Finn had put me slightly in the foreground even though we weren't sitting that way, and I smiled.
"It's not done... is it?" I asked.
Finn came over and stood next to me. He tilted his head and looked at the portrait, at the painted Greta, then at the painted me. He squinted, looking right into the eyes of that other me. He leaned in so his face almost touched the wet canvas, and I felt goose bumps prickle on my arm.
"No," he said, shaking his head, still staring at the portrait. "Not quite. Do you see? There's something missing. Maybe something in the background... maybe a little more with the hair. What do you think?"
Excerpted from Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Copyright © 2012 by Carol Rifka Brunt. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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