“Ashes,” whispered Gwen.
“What?” Joshi pretended to be surprised.
“Your hands. They smell like ashes. Have you started a fire?”
“Maybe” was all Joshi could say. She pulled out her paint set to tint a new canvas. Gwen shrugged and walked away.
“Help! Joshi, lift this curse from me!” the paintbrush Nataku cried as the sour pink paint washed into its bristles. Nataku was a Chinese wolf hair brush that had once belonged to Joshi’s mother, a master watercolorist. Joshi’s medium was acrylics. Nataku was versatile enough for almost any type of paint, something rare for any kind of brush.
“Be calm, my friend, its evil will soon be rinsed away.” Every canvas started an ugly pink and was then layered over in parts of the picture from backdrop to foreground. The pink (Joshi’s least favorite color) would ensure that no millimeter of the canvas was left uncovered.
After relieving Nataku of the pink paint, Joshi squirted out blue to form the sky behind the invisible face that would later be placed on the canvas. Nataku got excited seeing the blue tube of paint. “Yay! Being surrounded in blue feels like you’re being hugged by a million friends.”
Joshi opened the blue tube. Squirt! Little droplets fell out onto the empty pie pan Joshi used as a palette. “We’re here! We’re free!” The color wiggled. Blue was the loudest of any color, and Joshi’s favorite. “We love you, Joshi!” They screamed upon seeing her. As she painted, lots of blue rubbed off on Joshi’s hand. It was unavoidable. The paint knew its master.
In fact, the blue loved Joshi so much that there was a blue spot Joshi could never get rid of. One day after painting, Joshi discovered a blue area above her right eye. As Joshi wiped it off her face, it came off on her hand. It did not fade as she washed her hands either. It always stayed on the surface of Joshi’s skin.
The water in the brush cup grew swirled and became blue. Ukyo said that when the water was swirly like that you could read your fortune by the patterns and hues the water made. Ukyo was Joshi’s ink stone, on loan from Master Kobayashi. Ukyo was over a century old and had been handed down through generations in Master Kobayashi’s family. For that reason Joshi kept three layers of fabric instead of the usual two wrapped around it. She never argued with Ukyo either in case Ukyo should crack. Samurai had the Samurai Code. Ninjas had the Ninja Code. Joshi had the Joshi Code, and that was part of it.
Two days later after continual work the painting was almost done.
“Your eyes aren’t dark enough.” Said Nataku.
“Your eyes aren’t scary enough.” Said Ukyo.
“I wish my eyes were blue,” said Joshi. Joshi knew what to do. She shed a few tears and held Nataku under her eyes to catch them. She then dabbed the tears on the eyes in her painting. They immediately turned darker to match Joshi’s own, when suddenly Joshi’s hand jerked. Water squirted onto Joshi’s cheek in the picture. Now both Joshis were crying.
“I’m sorry, Joshi.” Nataku apologized.
“No, it was me,” Joshi whispered. “Sometimes these things were meant to happen.” Wiping her eyes, Joshi sat back and gazed at her work. It was the best she’d ever done. Of course, that’s what she had thought about the last piece. Joshi took her camera out of her pocket and took a picture. She then walked over to the fireplace and started a fire in the pit where dismembered wooden canvas stretchers lay. She walked back to her painting and picked it up.
Crack! Sizzle! Joshi gently fed the flame with her canvas. The world would never know her secret.
“If you didn’t like the picture, you could have just painted over it,” said Nataku. That’s what your mother used to do.”
“No, I liked it,” said Joshi. “It was almost too lifelike. Anyway, I knew I had to give it to God.”
Nataku sighed. “You’re such a Viking.”
“You could have shown it to Kobayashi first,” said Ukyo.
“But then they would know about my talent and… and God would get less of a gift the more people that saw it.”
“What you’re really saying, Joshi, is that people would realize you’re good at something and give you attention you don’t want, that’s what,” Nataku clarified.
Regardless of ulterior motives, Joshi wanted to give something back to the God who had given her talent.