Chapter One CHAPTER ONE Remedios had been looking for a friend like Leonora her whole life. She linked elbows and drew her close while they walked along the bank above the Seine, their legs syncing as they increased their pace. "Have you been painting at all?" Leonora asked. Months ago at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, their paintings had hung near each other. That was how they'd met. Remedios didn't want to admit that the only things she'd been painting were forgeries for Oscar Sanchez, who then sold them to aristocrats with more money than sense. She wasn't sure how Leonora would react to such a thing. Not because Leonora would oppose the illegality of it; Remedios had met very few people as unconcerned with convention as Leonora. And not because she'd object to Remedios taking the money; they all needed money. Remedios suspected it would be the inauthenticity of aping someone else's artistic style that Leonora would object to. "Yes. Every day," Remedios said, leaving out exactly what she'd been painting. "Me too," Leonora said, hugging Remedios's elbow to her side. Leonora smelled of cigarettes and an old-fashioned violet perfume that made a striking contrast to her generally rebellious attitude. "Dailyness is the most important thing. Creating that time every day for the muse to come through. Even with everything we're facing." The muse. Leonora spoke as if she were on intimate terms with inspiration, as if her muse were a constant companion, like a well-loved pet or guiding angel, and not something smothered by faking another artist's muddy color palette and depictions of stolid masculine buildings. Yellow leaves windowpaned the dark pavement, wet from an early fall shower. Remedios pulled Leonora toward a bouquiniste, one of those bookstalls that had lined the river for centuries. An old lady in a man's canvas jacket with a bright blue foulard at the neck, the vendeuse, smiled at them. Remedios was aware of the picture she and Leonora were creating--two young, fashionable women, some might even call them beautiful, untroubled in the face of war. Sometimes it thwarted Remedios to be thought of as just another pretty young woman. Today she enjoyed the buoyant image she and Leonora projected together, the fleeting sort of power it gave her. Or maybe it was being with Leonora that lifted her, Leonora who radiated a unique kind of magic. Everything from the lazy accent with which she pronounced her French to the pendant from her Irish nanny that she wore around her neck was the product of an upper-crust British background she'd rejected with the blithe self-assurance of someone who had always had more than enough. She'd run away from art school with Max Ernst and come to Paris where her behavior quickly became notorious. Once, she'd taken off her shoes and painted her feet with mustard at a café. Another time, in the middle of a party, she'd taken a shower fully clothed and then attended the rest of the evening in clinging wet clothes. Max called her "la petite sauvage." And maybe to seem a little savage herself, or maybe it was the coming crisp autumn air, or maybe because she'd been searching for a breakthrough in her own painting wherever she could find it, Remedios picked up a deck of tarot cards from the bookseller's stall. She needed something that would help her reach the next level of her art. She wasn't sure what her art was anymore, since she'd spent these last months imitating de Chirico's. She was still trying to decide if it had improved her skills or knocked the originality right out of her. She'd come to Paris to be with her lover, the poet Benjamin Péret, who'd bombarded her with an arsenal of poems when they met in Barcelona. Poems so ardent that after two months she couldn't remember why she'd ever resisted him. This she had in common with Leonora. They were both in love with famous, much older, married, intellectual men. But while Leonora spent her time in a spirit of rebellion and pushing boundaries, Remedios existed in a state of perpetual searching and absorbing. "Let me buy those for you," Leonora said, as reflexively generous as only those favored by fortune can be. "Nanny knew about these things. She told me you should never buy tarot cards for yourself." "You had someone who taught you about the tarot, mademoiselle?" asked the vendor. "Only a very little bit, but she taught me that." "But this is a very old superstition, meant to keep women away from a source of knowing. Anyone who desires the knowledge of the tarot can buy a deck of cards for herself, can avail herself of that power." The seller turned to Remedios. "Buy what you wish, mademoiselle. No need to wait for someone to give you what you need. You must acquire your tools for yourself. You are the agent of your destiny." And even though this speech was likely part of the seller's skills refined by years of surviving off the little stall, Remedios dug a few bills out of her deep pockets and handed them over. With her first touch of the cards her shoulders lowered, something settling in her, and she exhaled with the rightness of a key fitting into a lock. Excerpted from Alchemy of a Blackbird: A Novel by Claire McMillan 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.