Simone slumped atop her stool, lost in the gray, dappled paving stones of her street corner. Alise, having long since returned to her parents, still wailed at the loss of her sister.
Lucette’s parents huddled with the Archbishop beneath the porch of the Lower Pantalba building, just across the street from Simone’s easel. News had quickly reached his ears, and he arrived with a retinue of priests and nuns – all to say prayer over the fallen girl and to console the parents.
With the crowds dispersed, Simone stared into nothingness. She had loved the little girl like her own, teaching her art while she painted in the Square. Lucette’s excitement had inspired her search for the art school’s location. Now that the girl was dead, all she could think of was that she had caused her tragic death.
A police officer dressed in black boots and a helmet-style hat approached, holding his flip pad at the ready.
“Mademoiselle,” he said, readying his pencil. “I understand the little girl was with you when she ran into the path of the carriage?”
Simone looked up, using her knuckle to wipe away tears from the corner of her misty eyes. “Pardon?” she said, blinking.
“You were painting her?” Simone shook her head.
“No, monsieur,” she said. “I was revealing a painting of her.” She pointed toward Lucette the Gull, still sitting on the easel.
“Her parents just purchased the painting, and Lucette was enjoying it.”
She shivered. “She was dancing. Twirling and spinning like she was the gull. The bells rang and then…” She sniffed, rubbing her eyes – now freely flowing with tears.
“The carriage came out of nowhere. Never stopped.” She closed her eyes. “And she was gone.”
The officer wrote notes in his book. “Did you see what caused the mule to bolt?” Simone shook her head.
“No, monsieur,” she said. “Maybe the church bells? They rang about the same time.” He nodded, making a notation.
“Do you paint here regularly?” Simone nodded. “Oui, monsieur,” she said. “Every day.” She pointed toward the metal placard mounted on the fence. A crow took flight, winging away from the oak tree just behind. “I have a permit.”
“I see,” he said, jotting something in his notepad. “And has this mule done this before, mademoiselle? Run when the bells rang?”
Simone blinked and looked toward the corner. Sam always tied his mule to a hitching post while they shared a café au lait. Had he ever bolted? The bells rang all the time, always on the hour – especially the call to Mass. Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening.
“No, monsieur,” she said. “He’s never done that since I’ve been here.”
“And how long is that miss…?”
“Simone,” she said. “Simone Plachette.”
“Ah,” he said, making the notation. “How long have you worked here?”
“Almost a year.”
“I see,” he said. “Might there be anything else that would explain why the mule did what it did? Was its driver negligent?”
“Sam?” she said. “Never. He’s one of the best carriage drivers in the city. That mule is one of the gentlest creatures I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
The officer nodded. “It’s been put down, mademoiselle,” he stated.
“No!” she gasped, covering her mouth. “It was just scared.”
“It destroyed a cart in the market, mademoiselle,” he said. “It was a menace.” He snapped his booklet closed. “Final question. Why do you wear your hair loose? Shouldn’t you be wearing a tignon?” Simone wrinkled her face in confusion.
“Pardon?” she said, trying to understand why this was of importance. “I like my hair down.”
“It’s the law,” the officer said. “That is all for now, mademoiselle Plachette. If I have any additional questions, I will come around again.” He tapped the side of his helmet. “Don’t forget about your tignon, either.”
“Please know,” he continued as she nodded. “You might be called to testify in court. If so, you will receive a summons to appear.” He tore a small piece of paper from his pad and handed it to her.
“That is my name,” he said. “If something else comes to mind, you may contact me at the precinct.” He touched the bill of his helmet.
“Bonsoir, mademoiselle,” he said. “I’m sorry you had to witness such a horrid accident.”
“Merci, monsieur,” she whispered. He turned and walked toward Sam, who was being interviewed by another police officer.
“Witch!” an elderly voice hissed. Simone turned and confronted a hunched, wrinkled woman in a black mourning dress, with lace ruffles up to her chin. She wielded the cross from her rosary like a shield, forcing it toward Simone as it hung from her neck.
“Your devilry killed that little girl!”
Simone stared, tears forming in her eyes once more. It was the same woman Maria had scared off the day before.
“I did no such-“
“Vile Temptress!” the old woman stated, drawing the attention of four other people. “Mary, Mother of God cast this creature back into the depths of hell!”
“That’s enough, mother,” a man said, dressed like he’d just come from Mass. “She’s an artist, not the devil.” Simone smiled at the man, yet he kept his eyes on the old woman.
“Come with me, we’ll get you back to your home.” The woman hissed once more, thrusting the small, silver cross in Simone’s direction.
“Be gone, creature of darkness!” the old woman said, waving her rosary as her son led her away. Others walking by remained silent, yet their looks were those of agreement mixed with apathy; very little sympathy.
“Simone-eh,” Maria’s voice said. Simone lifted her head and turned toward Maria. “Dat no be ya fault.” Simone nodded, then reached for the large priestess – welcoming the woman’s enveloping hug.
“Dere ya be, child,” Maria whispered patting Simone’s back. “Dere ya be.” While it had been less than an hour since the accident, Simone finally let her emotions loose and cried completely for the loss of Lucette.
“You knew, didn’t you,” Simone said, sniffing back tears and daubing her eyes with a linen cloth. “It’s why you wanted me to give her the painting.”
Maria said nothing, instead patted Simone’s back while gazing toward the river.
“I see tings,” Maria whispered. “I be tellin ya dis. My eyes, dey always see troots, especially when dey coom from da ‘eart.”
Simone sighed, leaning her head against Maria’s chest. “Like my art,” she said, earning another nod from the priestess.
“Now what do I do?” Simone said, pulling away and sitting up on her stool. Lucette’s parents were still with the priests, but the archbishop had left.
“Everyone I’ve ever cared about ends up dead.”
“Ya go on,” Maria said. “Dat be parta life, Simon-eh.” She motioned toward the painting, still turned for the reveal. “We all be movin on soom time. No one know when dat time be.”
“You do,” Simone said, glancing around to insure no one heard her words other than Maria. “You knew Lucette was going to die.”
“No,” she said. “I only knew dat ya must be givin da paintin to de lit-lun.” She shook her head, the dark blue, checkered tignon wrapped around Maria’s head rattling its beads. “I no see she be dead.”
“You had an idea, though,” Simone said. “I saw your sadness last night.” Maria shrugged.
“Maybe,” Maria said, pointing at the painting. “Ya saw it in dere, Simon-eh. Dat why ya be paintin what ya do.”
Simone followed Maria’s eyes, seeing the swirl of color that was the girl and gull mixed together as one as if for the first time. Had she seen Lucette’s death? Her stomach knotted, clenching her breath as well.
“What if my paintings are of people dying?”
“Doan be gone dere,” Maria said. “Dat no be da way.”
Simone couldn’t help it, she already had.