(Stories are the property of Kirsten Lincoln.

Please do not reprint without my permission)

The Transfiguration of Kyoko Yamamoto

by K. Bird Lincoln

When I first met Kyoko Yamamoto she was a beautiful 200-pound comet, streaking through the San Francisco art world.

In that tiny SOMA gallery, whether pressing cheeks in greeting or discussing the frenetic and unabashed colors of her urban landscapes, Kyoko's inner fire shone.

We bonded over mutual love of Gewurztraminer wine and quests for identity as Asian American artists. We complained about the blonde icons of the media and the dutiful images of womanhood shadow-cast by our parents.

"I'm trying to see the world through my own eyes," she whispered. Her fingers caressed the intricately carved wood of a picture-frame, as if starved for sensation.

"You don't strike me as blind."

Her show was a success, but Kyoko was admitted to the hospital a few months later with sky-high blood pressure. I didn't recognize her the next time we met for coffee. There were no fiery sparks dancing from her eyes, and the compulsive hand movements were stilled.

"I'm sorry I'm so quiet," she said. "I've been practicing serenity."

"What?" I said.

"The doctor says I must lower my stress level." She mumbled something in a singsong voice and sighed, her hands folding gracefully into her lap.

I blinked. I could see the very flesh on her cheeks slough away with the soft syllables of Kyoko's strange chant. Her pink blouse was now one size too large.

"What's going on here?"

"My grandmother taught me a chant in ancient Japanese. It was a magic spell used by her great grandmother, a Shinto priestess, to tame the passion of a spirit that loved her."

"I can't believe this!" Kyoko was melting before my very eyes.

Two days later I visited Kyoko at the hospital. Her eyes stared at me out of a famine survivor's face. With every breath, flesh dissolved and dissipated into thin air. Despite her condition, I could see her translucent skin was spattered with the oils of Kyoko's uniquely fervent palette.

"How can you still be painting?"

"Bee," she spoke in a stream of warm syllables, "I can see so clearly now. It's the stillness."

There was a small article about her mysterious disappearance in the Chronicle last weekend. The nurses swear they never saw her leave the room and security cameras registered no movement.

I am saddened by my loss when I look at the painting she gave me that last day in the hospital. Kyoko painted only herself, standing very still. Her eyes look directly into you, no matter where you are standing.

She is gone, but sometimes, in the stillness after a gust of wind ruffles my hair, or the instant of expectant silence before a phone rings, I can still feel her even gaze upon me. I imagine she is so serene now, she can see everything.