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Loud Awake and Lost Adele Griffin 2022/8/3 13:55:44

But not that painting. Never that painting that has given Anthony Travolo this moment of fame—the online posts, the tribute pages. Carlos himself promised in his email message, inviting me to the event, that the painting never would be sold. Its worth, he said, was personally incalculable “as a memory of that fine young man.”

I know that part of my presence here is sensationalism. I’m the crucial bit of the story that is whispered—she must feel so awful, so guilty, he would have been a big star, maybe. My role in the tragedy is still, in moments, almost too crushing to bear. Too much story. And it makes me glad that I don’t live here anymore, and likely never will again.

Alice is navigating me through rubberneckers and well-wishers and bloggers, gallerinas and critics, collectors and scenesters. She’s done this a hundred times before. But ever since I contacted her about Anthony’s painting—along with the taped photo he’d printed from our day in Coney Island, plus the sketches he’d left in his notebook—she has become proprietorial of his art, of me, of our meaning. I’m grateful.

Anthony’s art is raw, mostly potential. Even my untrained eye sees that. He’s trying to find me in those freezing January dunes. But my shyness of his prying camera phone, my desire to be beautiful for him, my heady joy in our brand-new romance—he found all of it.

I stare at the painting and I find that girl, and I see all the things that lit me up. The palette of thick dream-dappled colors, my cold bright cheeks, the peek through my fingers—shy, but I couldn’t resist seeing and being seen by him.

“It’s about love,” murmurs Alice at my shoulder.

“Yes,” I agree. I can taste again the salt in the wind. I can feel my fingers splayed against my face. The oily chop of the brush, my half-closed eyes.

He has captured our light exactly, that stark and glowing afternoon. I never wanted it to end. On oil and canvas, forever, Ember was here. Even if cell by cell and day by day, I am aging past that moment when Anthony laid bare everything he knew about me.

In this painting, he has found our eternity.

Lucia, who has approached noiselessly to stand at my side, breaks my trance. “Uncle Carlos is taking the piece to Italy next week,” she says. “It will be part of a group show in Florence, and then another in Rome.”

“Oh. That’s cool.” Anthony, who had not even owned a passport, who would have wanted almost more than anything to be at home in the world. How he would have loved that.

They leave me with the portrait, and I am alone with it until I feel him.

I turn, shading my vision. The sun is behind him so that he is all shadow, a crisp cutout of darkness backlit by the window. I hear his voice in my ear again, that night in the Tribeca apartment, when he brought me to the dining room and showed me his painting of me for the first time—“Look. Look at you. You’re my best work, the best that’s in me.”

I never saw him again after the night I went back to the bridge. I never wanted to. I’d found some peace in my grief, and in many ways I’ve traveled far from that hour. To build a new life, to become another Ember; I’d had to.

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Tentatively, I raise mine. As I watch him, I let his image burn through me, and then I close my eyes and let the impression, as if on the slow beat of a hawk’s wing, take flight.

“Ember.” Hatch has bounded over. He is taller than I, finally, and filled out—there is substance to him. A junior this year; next year he will be the same age as I was when I met Anthony. And then a year older. And so it goes.

“What’s up?” I don’t need to look to know that Anthony is gone.

I give Hatch my full attention.

He smiles his brother’s smile. “A few of us are heading out for dinner at this Moroccan joint in Bensonhurst. Supposed to be great. If you want to join up?”

“Yeah. That’s it. How’d you know?” He looks surprised. “You ever been?”

“No,” I say. “Not yet.”