FEBRUARY 17TH, 1954
My first sight when I opened my eyes was her face. Edmondine. The light behind her was so bright, the halo of an angel.
“Are you okay, sir?” she said to me.
Her brows skewed. “Failed what?”
“My end.” I shivered at the memory of the desk leg, the pain. “I am sorry for having done that to your body. I see now what you tried to tell me. But I took no heed.”
“It’s okay, you didn’t scare me that much. But, do I know you?”
What an odd question, since we were spending eternity together. I opened my eyes slightly wider and found Edmondine wearing a white laboratory coat. And her face, her freckles. It looked like her, but it was not! There were less than fourty-four freckles! I was laying on the floor. The wrong floor! Where was the wood? This was, this was…
Before this unknown woman could jump back, I was already on my feet. The walls were not the Chambre’s walls, yet I recognized these bricks. Above me was a bulb of light, it hurt like the sun to peer at. The ceiling was wrong, the walls were far away, the floor was grey, the furniture was off.
And my hands…
I looked down to my hands. No, they were not my hands. This skin was dark, the freckles gone. I had thicker fingers, thicker arms, and my chest was flat! This body spurred in me something I had lost long ago, something hidden deep down that only now came to surface. I was no longer the lady in the painting.
The woman before me spoke. “Should I ring security?”
“Where am I?” I asked.
I grabbed her by the shoulders. “Where am I!”
“The restoration workshop!” she blurted.
“Of the… National Gallery?”
National Gallery… National Gallery… The words rung in my head as I remembered that night. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, I knew them! This room was filled with desks and paintings and no people but I and her. It was dark in here, just one glowing ball hung over the woman’s desk. And on it was the Dame de la Chambre. It had its frame. It had its glass.
“When am I?” I asked.
The woman’s face was blank as concrete.
“What time is the present?” I rephrased. “Has eternity passed? Is it judgment day at the end of time when the trumpets sound and our sins are laid bare?” I gasped. “You’re not Satan, are you?”
“What, no?” she said. “It’s Thursday. And I’m Carina Toth, just an art restorer.”
Toth… That name. I knew it. For so long had I cursed it.
I stepped energetically, so much room to move. I came to the painting and pointed to it. “This painting, it is by Toth, yes? Christian Toth? The painter? Know you him, do you knowing?”
“Do I know him?” Carina repeated. “Yes. I am a descendant of his. In fact, he’s what got me into art restoration. We found this painting a few days ago under one of the shelves surrounded by shattered glass. I just finished putting a new frame on it.”
I turned away, astounded. Edmondine tried to save me before, but I did not listen. Now Carina saved me.
“Are you okay, sir?” she asked. “What’s your name?”
“Thank you, Miss…Carina.” The beauty of the name rolled from my tongue. “You may not understand, but you saved my soul from eternal damnation.”
Every inch of my astoundment confounded her further. “H-happy to help?” She studied me, a fear in her eyes. Not of me, but for me. “Who are you?”
“I am King Edmo—” No. I know who I am. “I am Edmond Fisk.”