Story by Patricia A. Bow


A story by Patricia Bow, 1996

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Evrem was the portraitist of death and pain.

When the camp guards lined him up with his brothers and sisters and the black whips striped their backs with scarlet, he later drew a picture of the scene. When the people were forced to walk naked in the snow, even the sick ones, even the old men and women, Evrem later made a picture of that, too.

Later, when his hands were not so numb and his back had stopped bleeding, and when the pain inside had grown to bursting, he found a stick to scratch in the earth of the hut floor.

On rare nights, the people were passive enough to please the Borean guards and were rewarded with a small fire in the clay hearth. On those nights Evrem waited, propped in a corner to keep from falling asleep, until the fire was dead again. Then he used the charcoal from its warm corpse to draw on the plank walls.

In his portraits, pain often wore the shape of a guard: mountain-shouldered, armored like a lizard, steel-studded, with muscular hands half clenched.

Sometimes pain looked like one of the people: bony, swollen, grotesque, a skeleton puppet with hollow, black eye sockets.

When Evrem gave pain a shape, it became more real for others. Mothers looking at the charcoal puppet-figures recognized their own children, and in a rush of passion rubbed the pictures from the walls.

But Evrem kept on making pictures. The lash wounds, the hunger, the cold, the dead look in his mother's eyes passed out through his fingertips into the black images. If he had stopped drawing he would have died of his hurt, or gone mad.


Evrem had reached the years between boy and man by the time the rulers of Bor carried their war across the sea of space to the people's home world.

They found they had made a mistake.

Beaten back, forced to make terms, and keeping in mind the victors' prejudices, the Boreans set out to destroy all trace of the camps where they had penned the people.

Evrem saw his mother beheaded and her arms and legs cut off, for ease of handling, and fed to the furnace. The smaller children were thrown in whole.

Among others, Evrem was kept alive to the last, since he was strong enough to work. His work was to carry the pieces of his relatives and friends and throw them into the furnace. He looked earnestly into the face of each head he carried, to say farewell and ask forgiveness, but they only grimaced at him.

He was still alive when the liberators swept unexpectedly into the camp. His heart leaped as he saw the guards stripped of their whips and guns.

"When will you kill them?" he asked a tall soldier.

"Kill? They're going to be exchanged for prisoners."

Evrem broke for the first time in his life. The tall soldier had to call two others to help pull the boy from the throat of the Borean whipmaster. They needled Evrem full of drugs, and he never saw that some of them wept.


He woke in a wilderness of white. Soft whiteness under him, over him -- even the binding straps were white -- snowy walls, ceiling, floor.

He remembered paper. This, and not a mother's face, was the oldest of his memories, from before the time of the camp. It was wonderful flat, white stuff that begged to be stroked with the tips of soft, black pencils.

A woman came to his bedside. Evrem stared. How round and red were her cheeks, how glossy her hair, how very white her smock!

"Better, are we?"

"Better, yes. Please untie the straps. I won't run away."

"Do you want anything?"

"Charcoal," Evrem said at once.

She studied his face, then went away and came back with another woman, older, sterner, whiter, who studied him again.

"Why do you want the charcoal?"

"Only to make a picture. Just a little one. On the wall, there, under the bed. Please. Nobody will notice."

They brought him charcoal in a box, and paper as well, a block of thick, cream-colored squares, so that he didn't need to crawl under the bed.

As soon as his bindings were untied he sat up and reached for the box of charcoal. It slid open and spilled out smooth sticks of color, like a broken rainbow: the red of blood, the green of new leaves, the purple of hyacinths.

But Evrem wanted only the black. He drew the portrait of death once, twice, three times. The spiked fist loosened its clutch about his heart.

He slept, and the papers slid whispering to the floor.


Evrem was fed, wormed, dosed with vitamins, rubbed with soothing salves, bathed in healing waters. On the tenth day he was given a suit of brown overalls, so stiff and new-scented he was afraid to put them on.

He was weighed, measured, sampled, monitored. On the whole, the process of cure was painless. He never thought of the future.

But something in his mind woke up and stretched as his body strengthened, and one day he wondered what would become of him when he was too well to stay in this place, which was only for sick people.

That very afternoon the white, stern, old woman took him firmly by the arm and led him to sector RJ, floor 801, room 8206, and left him there.

A man behind an enormous steel desk picked up a piece of paper. "Well, now. Evrem Kai, age about 17, interned about 12 years, no surviving relatives, education level H, literacy level G, psycho-physical assessment 74 per cent. Hmm, hmm."

The man laid down the piece of paper and fixed kindly eyes on Evrem. "So, young man. You have your life ahead of you. What do you want to do with it?"

Evrem could only look confused, for what was he to do with his life except hold onto it as tightly as possible?

"No plans yet? Then you might consider this. A certain art dealer of Arbro ... you know where that is?"

Evrem shook his head.

"Arbro. It's a worldlet in the next system over but one. A very civilized place. This dealer will give you a home and an education, and enroll you in the Arbro College of Art. An exceptional opportunity: I'd take it if I were you."

Evrem stared. "Art?"

"Art, yes. Those drawings of yours -- Mr. Enco was most impressed."

Evrem remembered that an artist was a person who created beautiful things, things that gave pleasure when you looked at them. Somebody, somewhere, had made an awful mistake. But who was he to spit in the face of fortune?


Like a diamond on burlap, Arbro lay framed by the rough hills and plains of an empty continent. This isolation was deliberate. Arbro was set apart, a treasure that deserved a museum to itself. It was The City. It was the apex of civilization, the ideal made visible. So Evrem learned from his new protector.

Jerem Enco, a plump little man with a trimmed beard and measuring eyes, was neither kind nor cruel. He replaced Evrem's sturdy overalls with silken shirt and trousers, a fresh set every day. He provided food that was fragrant and delicious as well as nourishing, and a studio whose equipment, if sold, would have paid a thousand times over for all the meals Evrem had ever eaten in his life.

On their walks about the city, Enco showed him the finely proportioned buildings, the squares with their fountains of water-glossed silver, the public museums packed with the masterworks of the ages and the private galleries (including Enco's own) where perfect forms stood submerged in light and silence. Evrem never tired of these wonders.

"The boy is a genius," Enco told his friends. "Who knows what he'll achieve in his prime?"

The prison camp pictures passed from hand to hand until they came to Rille. She studied them a while, then laid them face down and refused to look at them again. Her ivory features gave nothing away, and as always, Enco could not resist seeking her opinion.

"The pictures are horrible," she said.

"Horrible, yes, but magnificent!"

"But what must the child have suffered to draw such things?"

Enco smiled. "Out of suffering -- art!"

"I always felt that sentiment was obscene."

This touched off a fierce aesthetic debate among the other guests. Rille listened but took no part, while her short dark hair swung in slow negatives about her face.


"Is he content?"

"He says so."

Arm in arm, they crossed the blue-tiled Square of Summer Sky on their way to the college.

"I don't understand it." Enco frowned. "He lacks nothing, I've given him every encouragement."

"Perhaps he's lonely."

"Far from it. He seems a simple, good-natured lad -- too simple for my taste, but he's made friends. They play football together after classes, so he tells me. And besides there are the concerts, the plays, the classical cinema, the water-music competitions, the masquerades. Not to mention my salons. He likes to meet my friends, enjoys their talk. Especially yours, Rille." He gave her a knowing twinkle, before lapsing into glumness.

"Now, you," he said. "You were an artist, once, and you gave it up. Why?"

"I married a better artist. That stopped me for a time. Then I came to Arbro for a new start." She laughed quietly. "Bad choice! Here, I live surounded by greatness. Why be second-rate? So I gave it up entirely. Now, I simply enjoy."

"I wonder, is that the boy's problem? Is he overawed?"

She shook her head. "Not Evrem. He seems utterly at peace."

"Then what in the name of God is the matter with him, that he won't touch pencil to paper?"

"Leave him alone. It's been only -- what, two months? Remember what his life has been. I'd guess it's all he can do to cope with comfort, security and beauty on a daily basis."

"Still, I dread hearing what the masters at the college will have to say to me."


"You've been hoaxed," they said. "Look at this, and this, and this!"

"I don't understand. You saw those charcoals -- "

"Not by the same hand! Those are startling, powerful, alive. These are -- pah!" The master tossed the sheaf of drawings aside.

Rille picked one up. Side view of a partly draped nude. Technically competent but pedestrian in feeling. Dead as plaster dust.

"It took weeks of coddling and coaxing to persuade him to produce that." The master snorted. "No wonder! He knew we'd spot the deception at once. No genius, Jerem, I'm afraid. Not even a spark of talent. It looks like you sponsored the wrong boy."

Enco snatched up the drawings and marched out, his round face flushed.

Classes were over for the day. They found Evrem playing football with the other boys on a field of leaf-green carpet near the college. When he saw them he came at a run, bright-eyed and laughing, his brown hair in a mop over his eyes and his shirt pulled out at the waist.

Enco held out a shaking fistful of paper. "Are these yours?"

The boy peered at them, then nodded. "Why, yes.

"Then you've been lying to me!"

"Come, Jerem, there must be some explanation." Rille touched his arm.

Evrem was suddenly blank-faced. "I never lied. I never said I was an artist. Somebody made a mistake."

"But, Evrem," Rille said. "Those other drawings, the ones you brought with you from the refugee centre. Weren't they yours?"

"Yes. I made them."

"Then why," Enco implored, "why won't you draw like that now?"

"Because I'm happy."

Enco clutched at his head. Rille met the boy's puzzled eyes, frowned, then smiled. "I see! You were unhappy then, so you made unhappy pictures."

"Right. And after, I felt better."

"Well then! Now that you're happy, why not make happy pictures?"

"I can't."

With agonized patience Enco asked, "Why not?"

"Because happiness doesn't hurt."


"What am I to do, make him miserable? It makes no sense!"

"Patience, Jerem!"

"A non-functioning genius is worse than a mere technician: the technician at least is useful. What am I to do with the boy?"

"Leave him in peace. What's in him is bound to come out sooner or later, even here."

"What do you mean, even here?" Enco swept his wine glass in a circle to indicate the room with its treasures set like icons in glowing niches.

"I mean Arbro. This room is a microcosm of it."

"But, my dear, there isn't a park or square in the city that isn't more beautiful than nature. Look at Obi's lapis trees! Can random vegetable life compare to one of those? There isn't a formless space or a meaningless line anywhere!"

"I know. The city is a work of art in itself. It is complete. There's nothing left to shape."

"I don't agree, but that's beside the point. The point is, what to do about that boy!"

"Well, you're rich enough to support him indefinitely. Give him a few years at least."

"To play football," Enco said bitterly. "Why don't you support him? You're almost as rich as I am."

"Perhaps I will, if he's agreeable." Rille reflected, then decidedly tossed back her hair. "Yes, I'll take him off your hands, Jerem. You've grown mud-minded in your middle age. Utility, economy, that's all you can think of!"

As she rose and crossed the room, a new energy quickened her step. Enco looked after her with a cynical smile.

Evrem's rooms were dark and empty. In the bedroom, in the studio, everything lay as neatly as it had done the day he arrived. Only one sheet of paper had been marked and pinned to the drawing table.

"I never lied but I guess it was something like a lie. Thank you for the food and clothes."


"But where could he go? How will he survive?"

"Just tell me, does he know the way out of the city?"

"Of course, I showed him the all the gates. He seemed to admire the one by Avian, on the western side."

"Then that's where he's gone. Oh, Jerem, don't fuss, and don't look so shocked! It's not a howling wilderness out there, and if it were I think he'd get by. He's a survivor." She pointed. "Give me those."

"The photochromes? Why? They're the least likely things to tempt him back."

"Perhaps, away from the city... well, we'll see. Now that jacket -- and a hat. Good. Now I'll need food, something warm. Are you coming with me?"

"Out there?" Enco took a step back. "Good God, no!"


Beyond the gates of the city there was nothing. No buildings, no fields of grain, no trees, no people. And no road. Rille's air-propelled car hissed over the hummocks and hollows of the plain. The sun was nearly gone. The faraway mountains showed dark faces under radiant haloes.

I painted mountains once, Rille thought.

Topping the next rise, she spotted a white speck on the dark shoulder of a hill. Next time up she looked again. The speck was fading. The land ahead of her was soaking up darkness as the blaze on the peaks intensified.

In the darkness she would lose him. Rille made the car soar, clearing the ridges with a metre to spare. Up, down. Up, up, down. And up again. The hill rose like a wall ahead. Rille clung to the seat at a frightening angle. A fan of white light swept the slope to its summit: rock and turf and no Evrem.

She found him just on the other side of the crest. He stood motionless at the edge of a stone platform that dropped away into a deep valley before him. All below was empty darkness and all above was arching light.

The car bobbed to a stop and settled on the crest.


No answer. He hadn't heard. He was all eyes.

Rille looked, at last,where he was looking. The hidden sun was bleeding. Its lifeblood seeped upward until it soaked every wisp, bank and streamer of cloud. Overspilling, it flooded down to touch the iron-stained rocks behind Evrem, and the tiny yellow flowers at the edge of the chasm, and the skin of Rille's hands, and all warm-toned things. All were flushed like lovers: they seemed to shine from within.

The whole world was engorged with light.

Evrem raised his hands to his face, fingers crooked. His spine bent back, his face stretched in agony. But no scream came.

Horrified, Rille slammed at the wrong button and pitched the car forward. Too sharp a drop, too fast. The car flipped in midair and landed upside down on the rocks. Rille felt herself fly free, and then she felt nothing.


A strange awakening. The sky was ashes of roses, yet colored light blazed around her. She was lying on grass, cloth bundled under her head. A rough crescent of stone rose about her for twice a man's height. The stone walls glowed like the coals at the heart of a furnace. Colors of noon sun and cremation, of roses and blood. Every cranny was lit.

"You're awake? All right? Good." Evrem peered at her for half a moment, then his attention snapped back to the rocks before his face. He stood at the midpoint of the crescent, a pot of photochrome in one hand, while with the other he painted.

Rille climbed to her feet and limped closer to watch.

At the heart of the burning color stood a naked man. The light seemed to radiate from his body. His arms spread wide; he strained as if to burst upward in flight. Rille longed to free him from the rock.

Evrem added a streak of light to the left thigh. Then his hands relaxed. He wiped them on his shirt and turned away from the rock picture as if it meant nothing to him. His look at Rille was wary.

"I don't know what to say. I used all your paints."

"Your canvas was large enough! But they weren't my paints, they were yours."

He flung himself down on the grass and closed his eyes. Rille sat down beside him. She studied his face: a man's face, with strength in the cheekbones and jaw, but the mouth was still a child's.

The man had pillowed her head on his jacket; the child had overlooked the possibility that she might be badly hurt, consumed as he was by the need to paint.

Her fingers twitched. She reached for a sketch book that lay on the grass, picked up a pencil that had speared the earth, swept a hand over the paper in what had once been a habitual caress, and began to draw. The hand still knew its business.

"I thought I was happy in the city," Evrem said suddenly. "But this -- " He stammered to a halt.

"That wasn't really happiness. Call it contentment."

"This hurt. I thought I was going mad. Till you flew down with the paints."

"Is the pain gone?"

"Not all of it. I don't want it all to go," he added in a tone of surprise.

She tore a sheet from the book and dropped it onto his chest. He sat up, caught it and held it up to the glow of the painted rocks.

"It's me! Was I hurting you?"

"You stung me to life, you set me going again. But hurt -- no. Not everyone is like you, Evrem."

"Yes, you're an artist; I'm not. All I can paint is screams. All I know is pain, and no-pain. There must be so much more!"

He scrambled up, stared this way and that into the darkness. "I'll find it. All of it." He headed for the edge of the drop.

"Wait, not that way! Oh, Evrem, you're a child, a savage!"

"Where, then?" He sat on the brink, still feeling downward with his feet.


"Back to the city? There's nothing there for me."

"There's money, clothing, a spaceport." She held a hand up to stop his tongue. "And I'm going with you."

"But Arbro is your home!"

"Arbro is nobody's home."

She urged him up and firmly turned him eastward. They returned to the city, then, after a short time, left it.

Evrem Kai was never seen there again. But the citizens of Arbro often heard his name, as if the sound of it blew across a vast gulf from the land of the living.


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