Clio, pregnant, banned smoking in her presence. Sometimes Johan did it anyway. She was in her tenth week. There was still time for decisions. They didn’t have the money for themselves, much less for a child. He had promised her — the last time only a few hours ago when Clio had thought he had left for work — to pull himself together, to work even harder, smile more for tips and maybe even a raise, despite it all. He flipped the cigarette into the hole. It was swallowed by the feathers, teeth of the earth. Anger hitting the wrong target. He longed to be in the restaurant, smiling, with the Wartburg unstolen, Clio unpregnant, the cigarette smoked, waiting on impatient costumers, hungry for Robert’s overpriced organic gourmet meals. Instead he was here, wearing somebody else’s dirty undershirt, this ridiculous long-haired Jesus wig. Click!, and Johan’s surprised face was captured. Pentagrass put the camera on the ground, stepped into the clearing and slowly lowered Marie. Marie, who assisted Pentagrass’ wife in her tailor shop, was wearing a climbing harness underneath her set of swan feathers and her light white undershirt. She was attached to a set of ropes, and the ropes were attached to two trees. When her head was on a par with Johan’s, Pentagrass secured the ropes and stepped out of the clearing. Marie was looking into the light coming out of the hole, Johan, entranced, was gazing at the angel’s golden hair. “Now bend your right knee, Marie,” Pentagrass said. “The other one and not so much, good, stop right there. And extend the left arm, point two fingers at the hole. Do not look at Johan.”
Pentagrass had never worked with Marie before, but now that she was solidly hanging from the sky he had a premonition of perfection. Instinctively, Johan opened his hands toward the angel. “Shall I …,” knowing how helpless he sounded as he said it, “… catch your fall?” “That’s not necessary,” the angel said with the most angelic smile. “But thanks anyway, Johan.” She stopped in midair. Her wings didn’t move. Her hair was a mystery in the light coming from the hole. Her shoulders were naked, and so were her arms and legs. As she was descending head first, her shirt had slipped, exposing her crotch which she covered with her right hand. Johan’s worries grew. He didn’t want the angel’s longing nakedness to come between him and Clio. He felt the desperate urge to hug Clio, to put his ear to her stomach and listen. Helplessly, he announced, “I do want the child. I really do and … I hope it’s not too late. I hope she hasn’t gone to the doctor yet. I hope she still loves me. And somehow, Clio,” he said as though she was standing in front of him, “somehow we’re going to make it. We are, Clio, I know it.” It had gotten so dark suddenly. For a moment, there had been no sky beyond the trees. Johan knew that the angel wasn’t Clio. But he was convinced that Clio could hear him through the angel. The angel didn’t say anything. It wasn’t necessary. Then the colors came back, fiercely, they were the colors of the dying sky, dusk sipping its misty blue, its once so reassured cerulean. Johan stared. Empires collapsed but children were born. Finally he said, “No more excuses. I’ll talk to Robert. Maybe it’s not too late. I’ll work for tips and a raise. Times will get better, they always do. I’ll stop smoking, Clio, I’ll do anything you want me to.” Then the angel was gone, and the forest settled for a dose of heavenly silence.
Like all great paintings, Pentagrass’s new one became the illusion about an illusion: reality and its flipside. A painting that is more than a painting is a vision. It is an allegory of painting. That has maybe never better exemplified than in Johan Vermeer’s painting of that name, in it a model posing as Clio, the muse of history (why of history in an allegory of painting wasn’t of Pentagrass’ concern so many centuries later), in it Vermeer as The Painter from behind. It is a painting that puts each of its objects in its precise context. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing else becomes possible. This is also true for the painting The Ritual: Just look where the red curtain is and how it folds. How the root hovers. How the woman disapproves. Look at the ropes. How they hang. Look at The Painter, how he holds the rope that holds the painting together. Look at the mysterious sign, how green it glows, how we’re not supposed to really understand it like a geyser of light erupting from the wounded earth.
Intensely, Pentagrass stared at the new work. He had worked on The Interference of Angels for six weeks, and now it was finished, leaning against a wall in his naked studio. Now the only consolation was the slow drying of paint. He stood back and thought of Johan who, in the meantime, had lost his girlfriend and his job. It was overwhelming, the perfection of art and the imperfections of life. He looked at the angel’s hand, covering her crotch, but could only think of the layer of green primer and the canvas underneath. “Miracles have even deeper roots,” the angel said. Johan’s child — a girl — grew inside Clio. She would do well in this difficult life. Quickly, Pentagrass turned the painting upside down, and suddenly everything made sense.