The artist cured Ursula’s corpse in a mixture clear and yellow-green like dew. When revealed to her mother, when he was not quite ready, she said how her daughter looked like a marble statuette rosy with having been formed by a man. In fact he had rushed to the job and brought almost no materials with him. She was pearlescent-complected from the hyaline veins of his dried tears.
Hers was not the first burial gown Van had to pick out, but he had never dressed a nine-year-old for her funeral. He asked Cam to come with him. The selection of endurable, sky-colored cambric would not redeem her petty dislike of the little girl. She was inclined to say yes to whatever Van held up, even knowing how the wool he favored would imperil the integrity of the girl’s dead skin.
He steered her into a store but encouraged her to choose her own dress. For every one she admired she felt him breathe heavier. She took one—solid black, brocaded chest, sleeves that flattered her slim wrists—and made for a fitting room. She hooked it and let him latch the door after himself. She took off her burgundy beret. She unfastened her belt and above her head lifted her grey raw silk dress. She fussed with the new dress prone in her slip—light-canceling white cotton—a band of skin widening to visibility as her slip slid off her black stockings. To put the dress on, she stood and tunneled into it by hands and head. He blocked it from getting farther down her torso and lifted her slip. Casqued in brocade she missed his breath until it indicated him along her thighs. He met her inside the dress.
In the brash dawn light the clots of marble on the church ceiling reminded Cam of epidermodysplasia verruciformis. When she relaxed in the fourth pew, they reminded her of dragons’ paws. The brass-hinged, clawfooted glass casket occupied the erroneous-looking, crib-ish mahogany bema. In the front row the father of the deceased rested his head on the railing in front of him, having constructed the casket overnight. The mother of the deceased greeted guests. Most guests were transfixed with her tattoo of a black gem on her chest that shimmered with perspiration like a real, rare mineral.
Bunched in a pile of rhododendrons and white lilies the child model was inaccessible to her mourners. Her vinegar instilled in her pallor a slick sheen. The smell of the flowers was constrictive. Her father felt high from smelling her. He sat on his hands. He was afraid a steam would emanate from them that would drive the funeral party to rip off their clothes.
Around the bema photographs of the dead girl ivied up thin iron stands. One spine was of her father’s photographs of her, the other of her mother’s. According to her mother, she clapped her hands or held them around her pouting face to the exclusion of everything. Her legs dangling bare from some swath of tight, gasp-thin lace, unable to reach the floor, looking invariably occupied despite her pose, she was watched by a doll, barely in-frame. In the bema she was still suspended. Even when she was sultry, leaning over bouquets, combing through them with her fingers as fine as blades of just-cut grass, her look had all the gravity of an Empire State plunge.
According to her father she was always shocked by her own actions, the costumes she wore, and the animals she communicated with. She reclined across furniture with a shock of the effect of her own photograph. Her environment was always accessing her. Cam’s favorite was of her hiding in the Trevi from a strolling tiger. The tight is shot, as losing the child would be easy in a shot so opulent, with the tiger as vivid in the foreground as a guillotine. Through a slice in the curtain of fountain-current the little girl, naked, breastless, thrust her head out gently, balancing with her hands back, to regard with awe the enormity of the tiger.
Cam leaned over the bema. No one troubled her peek over the railing at the glassy stone mosaic adorning the floor: an avirginal female icon cradling a pearl. The child model, unrecognizable as an ex-person, collapsed across the flowers into spongy polyps. Her pennies in her pocket, her tiger’s eye: personal affects rested on her surface like they bobbed there by chance off the spindrift of an active little girl.