11.   Once upon a time I was a child, not the woman of the house.   Not so long ago but long enough the days of tugging on my mother's skirts in hopes of being lifted up at every whim are hazy round the edges, like a shadow bleeding into light.   It's hazy how, her belly round with brothers, Mother still made room for me to crawl up on her lap to hear a story no one else would tell.   How she'd look down  and ask me what I thought of Father's paintings, listen to my answer.   It's hazy how she made my father laugh. How when I'd startle in the night she'd soothe me with a tune to chase away the monsters.   It's hazy how her last few weeks, confined to bed, the child inside a greater weight than those who came before, and even when the child arrived                   a sister, finally, cold and blue,   and fever dreams bled into pain laced with delirium, Prudentia Montone spent the last of her strength to burn into my mind the tales of women no one else would think to tell.   Those stories of a righteous woman, her virtue questioned through no fault of her own; of a widow with nothing left to lose . . . No way to tell where shadow ends and light begins   but Mother was always                                                 the light.     12.   Light dances on the child's curls and whether Father sees or not the bond between the baby and his mother is perfection.   Twelve years with my mother were not enough but I know how to paint the love, the source of light.   The final touches that remain would go unnoticed to an unskilled eye. In truth, I could release her now. A signature the final touch,                    Orazio Gentileschi,                 (never Artemisia)   the client would be satisfied, and none would be the wiser.   But I would know her arm is                                 not quite right. It wraps around the baby, yet still looks flat.   Father babbled out some useless nonsense when I tried to ask him how to fix the problem. I don't think he understood my question. If he cannot see the problem to begin with, how could he ever solve it?   It's only a commission, doesn't even bear my name. But I'm not only painting the Madonna. I'm building a ladder, each new technique, a rung. 13.   Every time my father shoos me down the stairs away from my studio, each time he speaks to buyers                 as though I am not there, each time they leer at me                 as I descend in seething fury, my mother's stories stoke the flames inside.   We mostly deal in Bible tales, some portraits, ancient histories, myths. But all the maestros sign their names to David, Adam, Moses. Those who follow strive to leave their mark as well.   I can paint a David--king or upstart boy, but when I do there's nothing of me on the canvas. Susanna, though, is different.   My mother never held a brush but still composed the boldest images from the brightest colors drawing the eye--the mind-- to what mattered most:                   the young woman                 stealing a moment                 of peace to wash                 away the day                                   then her world,                                 stained beyond repair.   Susanna and the Elders.   Father's made attempts at Susanna, just like the other painters--men-- who think they have the right to tell the story of a woman always watched.   But one can't truly tell a story unless they've lived it in their heart.   The longer I'm shuffled in and out of the studio, used for what I can offer, not what I long to share, the more certain I am I can do Susanna justice. I can do my mother justice.   I can have justice.   But I'm holding back until I think perhaps my skills can match my heart.     14.   My arm cradles my palette, rounded, three-dimensional.   I paint  alla prima  in my mind exactly how it should look.   Why then can I not transpose                 the image in my mind                 the image of my flesh onto the canvas?   I stare at the Madonna's flat, flat arm so long my eyes begin to blur. I do not notice the creak of stairs                 moan of door                                 steps that cross                                                 the studio.   Or perhaps he does not enter like a mortal man but appears fully formed a miraculous apparition.   Then:                                 a breath                                 upon my cheek.   Not Father's breath. I grope for hiked-up skirts, fling endless, heavy layers of propriety toward my ankles. I am a model Roman girl (or I can play the part at least).   The man averts his eyes, steps back to give me space, as though he doesn't realize his mere presence in this room drives out all air. He may as well be pressed against me.   He did not mean to startle-- that much is clear. And even now as I                                 recover                                 steady my breath                                 check my skirts once more his eyes are not on me but on the canvas.                                                  My name is Agostino Tassi.                                                 And you are Artemisia. Excerpted from Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.