“Aren’t you hungry?” asked Ruth. She nodded to the tray on Lynda’s night table where a chicken salad sandwich was growing stiff. “That’s your favorite.”
“Take it away,” Lynda muttered. “I can’t stand to look at it.”
Ruth was surprised she even noticed it, the room was so cluttered. Canvases in various stages of completion stood on three big easels, and more were leaning against the walls and piled on the rug. The makeup that had once covered Lynda's dresser was now pushed aside to make room for tubes of paint and brushes.
“You haven’t been eating,” Ruth said.
She studied Lynda’s face in fascination. Beauty, Ruth understood, was mathematical. Renaissance artists calculated faces by a golden ratio—1:61803399 to be exact. A pretty face was 1.5 times longer than it was wide. It was comprised of three equal sections: hairline to eyes, eyes to nose, nose to chin. The width between the eyes was the width of one eye. Add those all together and you got pretty. You got Lynda.
Ruth ran a stubby finger over a sharp cheekbone. Malnutrition and neglect had robbed Lynda’s hair and eyes of their shine, and turned her peaches and cream complexion sallow, but it brought out the symmetry of the bone structure beneath. Bone structure so unlike Ruth’s own. What had that boy at Andover called her? Neanderthal. That was it. And the other girls laughed. All except Lynda, who was sorry for Ruth.
“Do you like it?” Lynda asked, turning her head on the pillow to follow Ruth’s eyes. She had been staring at one of the paintings without realizing it, a Thomas Cole landscape. “That one’s my favorite,” Lynda said softly. “It’s so sunny. And the grass. It makes me feel warm.”
Lynda had no understanding of art. She had no understanding of anything besides makeup and boys and what songs were most fun to dance to. Ruth’s heavy (Neanderthal) brow furrowed. There weren’t many things Ruth Stark couldn’t understand, but try as she might she couldn’t make sense of that. How could someone as mathematically perfect as Lynda was physically be so inadequate mentally? It didn't add up. If only a person’s mind were reflected in her face, Lynda would look like…Ruth.
Hey Stark, don’t you have a bridge you should be living under? You’re one ugly troll, bitch.
Insults didn’t bother Ruth. Lynda was the sensitive one. Comments about her lack of talent and brains—-those that didn’t fly over her lovely blonde head—-sent Lynda crying to her stuffed animals for hours. She so desperately wanted to be good at something.
That’s why Lynda couldn’t believe the truth about her sudden gift for painting. It wasn’t really Lynda filling these canvases with landscapes and pointillism and what looked like a cubist study over in the corner. Lynda was just a conduit, a medium for the ghosts of real artists long dead. She was just receiving information, like when she remembered her past life in Victorian England, or when Ruth’s ESP told her what was in a book before she read it.
No, not like that, Ruth corrected herself. Because Ruth could understand the math equations that flowed into her head each night. The ghosts who spoke to Ruth did so to an equal who deserved the knowledge they shared.
Lynda muttered into her pillows. She wanted to sleep, but the ghostly artists wouldn’t let her. Some of them had waited a hundred years for a pair of living hands to get their ideas onto canvas. They weren’t going to wait just so a teenager could sleep, even a teenager with gold hair and blue eyes and breasts that could hypnotize teenaged boys. Teenaged boys didn't make masterpieces.
The ghosts were, quite literally, working Lynda to death. She would not last long without rest and a hot meal. She already looked half dead. Someone really ought to do something. Ruth picked up a hand mirror off the floor and regarded her own face in it. A little pale, perhaps, but no great loss. Not like Lynda.
“You ought to grow your hair longer,” Lynda whispered. She was looking at Ruth—really looking at her—for the first time in days. And she was offering beauty tips, like the old Lynda always did, in that kind, gentle voice. Did she think Ruth couldn’t hear the pity beneath it? “You should grow it down to your chin,” Lynda said. She lifted a hand from the tangled sheets and waved it vaguely under her own chalk white face. “Softens the jaw line, my mother says.”
“Looks aren’t worth anything,” said Ruth. She tossed the mirror aside.
“My mother,” Lynda continued, as if she hadn’t heard Ruth at all. “In a movie. She wore a long evening gown with a diamonds in her hair….” She gazed past Ruth at some imaginary screen filled with the blandly glamorous face of Margaret Storm. “Like a beautiful dream you just remembered having.”
Leave it to Lynda to quote cheesy movie reviews by heart and never remember 9 times 3 was 27.
“Once my mother played a fairy queen,” Lynda went on. “She wore flowers in her…”
“But she’s not doing that now, is she, Lynda?” Ruth said, and she made sure the pretty girl was paying attention. “What kind of work does your mother get these days? A few guest spots on TV? Diet supplement commercials? Who really remembers the silly pictures she made? Art—real art—is the only kind of beauty that matters.”
Lynda’s eyes went fuzzy again. They darted to the landscape canvas on the easel. Then she was hoisting herself up on her elbows and off the bed. “You’re right, Ruth,” said Lynda. Her voice was hollow and tired, but determined. Lynda was tougher than people thought. “I need to get back to work.”
Ruth took the chicken salad sandwich and plate away. Lynda had more important things to do than eat.