A moment so quiet. The quiet seeping into bone and replacing marrow with something cold and jelly-like. The pencil in his hand was only lead. Nothing magical about that. A mineral, a silvery substance, a line bleeding on the canvas in undertone and understatement and underachievement.
It snapped between his fingers. The wood splintered, an affront to silence, to solitude, the life of something negative and ending. What do you want. What do you want from me. What do you want, bastard. It chanted in a mythical voice like art, and the canvas slept nude upon its wooden brace.
His name was Jarod. Jarod Matiste. And the model’s name… the model’s name was a catalogue number, available on Tuesday the tenth, will sit for twenty minute sessions with a five minute stretch between. She wasn’t beautiful. She was what they called a “life” model. Her breasts sagged with weariness, her face sagged with weariness, her skin was dull and stretched, her belly hung low with the past burdens of bearing children. She must have been forty. Forty-five? What in hell was the difference between forty and forty-five? There wasn’t one.
When the pencil broke between his fingers, she didn’t move. She held her pose as solidly and blankly as an experienced figure model would. Not the flutter of an eyelid, not a flicker of life in her dark eyes, not the flinch of skin. Stillness. Utter stillness. Expressionless. Except for her body.
He had twisted her cruelly, as he always did. A pose painful to hold for one minute, she held for twenty. Her arms outstretched, pulling her belly back against her padded hip bones, twisted at neck, waist, and slightly at the knees. Her breasts were flattened, distinguished mainly by nipples the color of weak coffee. There was the under-curve, shadowed in pale purple. Her navel yawned, and her pubic hair curled where he’d disturbed it. Her head rolled far back on her neck, and dark hair fell like a curtain behind her shoulders.
“You can go,” he said. The two halves of pencil fell to the floor, and one rolled, making a small noise on the planks. When she didn’t move, he said again, “Go.” These weak women, they had to be told, they had to be lead. There were five minutes left on her segment, and she didn’t move. Damn her. Damn the bitch. The paper screamed. He heard it. Didn’t she hear it? It didn’t want him today. It had wanted him yesterday, when he’d had no model, and he had sketched random lines in a riot of motion that went nowhere. Now it shouted to be left. “Leave me, now!” he thundered at the woman.
Her head turned minimally.
He moved toward her, the point of the pencil grinding beneath his hard heel. “Are you deaf, woman?”
She brought her arms slowly forward. Every movement was deliberate. “I am not.”
“Then leave me!”
She stood. “Our time is not up.”
“Our time is up. It’s up when I say it’s up.”
She took the sari she wore from the hook on the wall. She wrapped it about her, its silk and color clinging to the femininity of her figure. Suddenly there was no weariness. No age. She was a young female with a softly curving body. “Stay.”
She stopped fastening the garment, and one corner fell to reveal the curve of her throat into the boniness of her chest.
And it came in a torrent. A physical excitement. The lines flowed over the page, and color screamed and softness prevailed and his mind danced with it, and his cock hardened with it, and tears came to his eyes. When twenty minutes passed, she moved out of his sight, and he continued without pause. Then she was there again. He went toward her with his fingers muddy in chalk, and he touched her face, her throat. She was beautiful. He felt the contours of bone beneath his hands, cupped her breasts, her buttocks. “You are a lovely woman,” he murmured. Her eyes remained still. Not on him. Not on anything. But it wasn’t sex he wanted. He wanted only to feel the shapes, to learn, to contact. The feel of a shadow was warm, watery. The feel of a highlight was cool and hard. Her thin lips were pillowy flesh, as were her breasts, her upper arms. Her belly was solid. Her thighs hard. Her entire body was forgiving.
But the cloth. It was the cloth of the sari that inspired his motion. He held it between his fingers. The tapastry of color he pulled to his lips and kissed. He put it to his cheek. And he returned to the standing canvas and he wrote about what he had learned.
Midnight. Ghosts. Ghosts were coming out of the canvas. The woman was gone. She had said something he hadn’t heard. He didn’t miss her, for she lay before him, and his representation of her was clearer to him than the reality. But the ghosts blurred it. The ghosts whispered in tenors about things that had no bearing on the present. Damn them. Fuck the ghosts. They had faces like Picasso painted. Perhaps it was his ghost. Come to say, you don’t do it properly, Jarod. You are a hack, Jarod. Your blood is as Anglican as they come, white and thin, flowing through veins constricted with good living. Good living. Fucked that one up, didn’t you, Jarod? Jarod, listen to the ghosts. The ghosts know what they are talking about, and you draw a nude model in a fucking nightgown, where is your bourbon, your joint, your bag of Lays?
This one, with one eye whose pupil was but a single black cube, watched his descent with knowing. Never blinking. It grew larger before his eyes, and it said, “Jarod, you are a fucking mama’s boy.”
“No, you leave me.”
“You can order your cunts around, Jarod. I am not one of them.”
“Please, Father, leave me!” And his voice trembled in an abhorrent weakness that soured in his mouth.
“You draw your mother, you always did. You were a child and you wanted to fuck your mother. You are a pervert. Look at her.” The canvas swam before his eyes, through the diaphanous cyclops. “You think this is artistic? You poor bastard. You are pitiful.”
“No! She is not Mother! She is not! She is my model, the woman who was here, you saw her!” he defended. But the portrait stared out at him with a stunning familiarity. He denied it.
“I would not let you stay in my house, Jarod. You made her uncomfortable.”
“Damn you. Damn you, go!”
The image swam and grew. It covered him, suffocating, and the sound of a heartbeat pulsed throughout the tiny room. And as he watched, the canvas was lifted up and wrent. Split down the center. Something in Jarod broke and cried out. He felt his soul tear with it. He reached to take it, to save it, but it was swept upward out of his reach.
“I never touched her!”
“You wanted to. And I said nothing. That’s your own doing, Jarod.”
“I loved her.”
“You hung on her tit until you were a man.”
“I was her offspring.”
“You were MY offspring!” it roared, and the cubed pupil blazed purple flame. “And I cursed the day I planted you!”
“Leave me.” His voice whimpered and plead.
“Have it your way. She made you a brat, I warned her.” The face swam, faded, intensified. “You are your own demon, Jarod. You don’t need me.”
Then it was gone.
The painting lay in its two parts on the floor, the flowing sari seeming to leak out of its boundery. Jarod sat against the wall. He covered his face with his hands, the shame, the fear sweating through his pores and causing his body to shiver. His own demon. He was his own demon.
He rose in a graceless lurch. Caught himself on the corner of a table. He knew it was there, in the drawer. The revolver, an old six-shooter, like the old cowboys shot up the Indians with. It had one bullet. The other five had found their ejaculation in various bottles, walls, windows, in the breath of his rages. The gun he laid on the table. The drink he poured out of a dusty bottle into a dusty glass. He wet the rim with his tongue, thought of the hardness of nipples and the depth and breadth of life and demons. Rationally speaking, he’d lived a full and frustrated life. He thought of the model, and was struck again by her beauty in the sari. He took another drink and stared at the revolver as though it were a roach. Something large and crawling. He touched himself. He wondered if God forgave every wretched sinner like they said He did.
He doubted it.