1492 — Birthdate of Michelangelo
Annalisa hated most of the people she had to deal with since the Collapse.
Before, she walked each Saturday to the Farmer’s Market that sprang up every weekend beneath the highway overpass. Different stalls sold organic fruits and vegetables; farm fresh milk, eggs and cheeses; homemade breads. Although products varied according to season, she always had a good idea what she’d walk away with in her reusable canvas bag. Vendors listed their prices on handwritten signs, so it was easy to compare one stall to another, to see which had the best deal. No need to barter for a lower price — a practice which made her uncomfortable.
Now, every price needed to be bartered. She was always uncomfortable.
Out of habit, sellers collected at the same weekend location — although the overpass had crumbled during the Collapse and now pieces of highway surrounded the unpaved lot instead of offering a concrete and asphalt canopy.
Vendors traded items out of grocery carts or wheelbarrows. Sometimes it was hard to distinguish what items they offered. In better times, purple root vegetables might have been a type of carrot with more antioxidants; today, the darker color more likely represented rot. An orange wasn’t really an orange if its skin was brown with blue and white bits of fuzz. An egg should not make a strange sloshing noise if you picked it up to inspect it.
Money was useless. Annalisa brought different items from her home to offer in trade, all stuffed into her canvas bag. Practical items got the best response: batteries or candles; hammers, screwdrivers, or other tools. But one seller, an elderly man who traded canned goods, showed a rare appreciation for craft items. He often accepted a piece of broken glass she’d polished to a smooth shine, a tile she’d painted with bright colors, or a tiny sculpture she’d constructed out of wire.
She’d brought a wire dragon for him today, but the can-seller wasn’t in his usual spot between two sections of fallen highway. Annalisa sensed his presence, though, as if he watched her from part of the shadowy crowd.
As she stepped around a fallen pillar of rebar and concrete, a bald man with a gray, curly beard stepped out and blocked her path. He held up a small knife in his right hand, his own canvas sack in the other, and at first Annelisa thought he was planning to rob her. “I don’t have much of value,” she said, “but I’m always willing to make a fair trade.”
He seemed puzzled by her remark, his expression a strange mix of fear and anger. His canvas sack drooped limp by his side, the paring knife still raised. If the man’s bag was empty, perhaps he was selling the knife?
Something about him was disturbingly familiar, and she still couldn’t shake the sense that the can-seller was nearby, watching her.
Annalise reached into her bag and pulled out a small item. “I was thinking to trade this with someone else, but perhaps it might interest you.” She held up the wire dragon, and hoped the man would put away the knife to examine her sculpture.
The knife blade was dull and rusted. Possibly the rust was dried blood.
She feared the man was insane. For some reason, a name for him popped into her head: Saint Bartholomew.
Something about his pose brought the name to her — the knife in the air, the drooping canvas at his side. More memories flooded from her other life: the art classes she took in college, where she learned to polish and paint and sculpt; where she studied art history, including Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment.
The painting depicted a muscular, beardless Christ at the center, blessed souls rising around him into the heavens, and the damned souls tormented below. The most famous element of the painting is the figure of Saint Bartholomew, brandishing a knife, and holding a flayed human skin in his other hand. The flayed skin is supposed to be Bartholomew’s own, but historians consider it to be a self-portrait by Michelangelo.
Annalise again examined the man’s raised knife, imagined its small blade slicing through human skin. She tried not to look too closely at the canvas bag in his other hand, again tried to shake off the uneasy feeling of the can-seller’s face, watching her.