It was a fevered sweat that woke her.The bare bulb gulped into light, the coil of tungsten purring into an incandescent blur. It hung from the ceiling swinging gently as the breeze from the open window compelled it into a pendulum like dance. The emulsion was still wet, the smell permeated everything. She stroked the skirting boards noticing a few brush hairs caught in the gloss. The brushes were laid out where she’d left them, milky water dripped off the bristles onto the pages of an old newspaper. The curtains were neatly folded by the bed, dusty and mildewed. She pulled them into her lap and stroked the seams. The hooks nestled in the pleats looking like tiny Picasso ears. She began to unhook them one by one, it felt like pulling treble clefs from a sheet of music. So much undoing had happened, the paint knew it, the curtains knew it and she, she most of all knew it. Starting over, starting again had pealed all her energy.
It had been three days since the extraction. She had spent most of that time stripping the room of its ingredients. The more she took away, the more she scrubbed cleaned and painted the better she felt. Élan stroked the small scar on her finger. This was the price she had paid. Art had dripped like blood, down her palm twisting around her wrist as the man had collected it. He used an instrument that looked like a needle. It had a square nib and two small blades that looked like wings that had seemed spread out from the stem of the sunk gently into her hand. She remembered the man had pressed a small metallic disc into her palm as he did it, like some kind of twisted communion.
She was nothing like the great artists. They had endured numerous extractions and had continued to make art. She had grown up hearing their stories. Nine Elm was her favourite, he had gone through 27 extractions eventually losing a finger to the process. Whether it was her misguided adolescence or sheer sheer lust for life, this is why Élan had moved to the city, his city. His art was all over the walls of her borough. The authorities would scrub and clean it away but it would keep reappearing. He was a beast of a man with tattoos that twisted around his fingers over and across his extraction scars, he would pace the streets in her area lost deep in thought constantly stroking his fingers.
Élan lived three blocks away from Nine Elms. The nine elms he had planted were still young trees. The oldest was 9yrs. He had been one of the first test subjects and had been imprisoned until the i.i floated on the stock market. He’d become a local hero and for that reason the authorities kept him under close watch. His original works of art, especially those created after his first extraction were collected and destroyed. But his myth perpetuated and it suited the needs of the elite to let it, people thought they could beat the system and were therefore more willing to volunteer for an extraction. After all it wiped out all of your debt and that of your loved ones. The rules were complex and protocols were strictly adhered to. Most people put their name on the list at aged 16 which is the earliest you can. Research had shown that is when money means the most to people with just the right amount of naivety to paper over the cracks of what exactly they would be surrendering. This is exactly what Élan had done.