#writingchallenge week 6, another short story from Jim Terry

I know, week 5 is missing. I wrote one, believe me, but when I reread it I found it to be a little too disturbing, a bit unsettling. Maybe I can polish it up a little and share it down the road. In the meanwhile I just did this nasty little bit of business if you care to take a gander:

Writing Challenge week 6


When Bailey saw her drinking coffee he didn’t see her in a thick sweater and jeans with her black hair pulled up into a large bun. He saw her on a veranda with warm sunlight slanting sideways across her, a warm glow and soft lines surrounding an impressionistic shape of white clothing settling gently in the sun. He saw a dark and flowing brushstroke, maybe sienna, standing out against a perfectly organic wave of weightless color and completely obliterated by a shock of black hair and blue eyes.

            He couldn’t say that to her, of course, so he walked across the coffee shop with his sketchbook and simply laid it on the empty seat beside her. She set her cup down, looked at it with blue/green eyes that startled him, then lifted them to him. Normally fearless with the opposite sex, he felt something stir inside his stomach that felt like nerves.

            She said nothing, so he said, “Please, look through it. My name is Bailey but I’m also known as ‘Verdant’. I would love to paint you.”

            To the naked eye, her expression did not change. To Bailey’s trained eye the threat of a grin teased the right side of her full, blood red lips.

            “If you think it’s awful I will walk away and leave you alone.” He said, and when she didn’t pick up the book he added: “After I apologize.”

            She allowed the grin to happen, her lips curving up on one side only. He was used to being fawned over, taken seriously and with adoration. He thrilled when someone didn’t know or care about him, it was a delightful chance to win a complete stranger over. She picked up the sketchbook and flipped through it, a little too quickly for his liking.

            He knew there was enough good work in there to captivate anyone with a modicum of art knowledge, so he rocked back in his loafers until she’d fanned through to the last page.

            “How often do you do this?” She asked, handing the sketchbook back to him.

            “Not very.” He fought back irritation, she didn’t seem to be impressed and this venture was looking unfruitful.

            “Why did you ask me?” Her voice was, of course, as velvet as he’d hoped.

            “Well, quite frankly, because you’re beautiful and all painters enjoy painting beauty.”

            “I’ve seen some beautiful paintings of some very ugly things.”

            “Of course. I’m talking about-“

            “Saturn devouring his son.” She said it simply, and he realized he’d opened a door to a much larger room than he’d expected.

            “Ah, you are a fan of Goya.” He smiled, motioning to the empty seat beside her. “May I?”

            She looked at the seat, then back at him and he felt his stomach quiver in anticipation.

            “No, I don’t think so. But if you give me your card I will let you paint me. It will cost you everything, but I will allow it if that’s indeed what you are looking for.”

            “That and nothing more.” He smiled, and he meant it, though he wasn’t really listening for the excitement. What he couldn’t say, if he was even aware of it himself, was that he had already won in his mind. To paint her, to capture her, would be to have owned her in some way and he felt the thrill of it course through him, down through him like an electricity that flicked about his loins and tickled his toes.

            Almost as though she sensed this child-like reaction, her grin stretched wide and treated him to her large and impossibly white teeth. They were imperfect, the incisors were too big, they were all a bit too big, but her utter disregard for this fact made them into something more than perfection.

            “Are you a pervert, ‘Verdant’?” There was no flirtation in her question.

            “Who have you been talking to?” He said, and her smile diminished and he knew his usual banter was going to be useless with this enigma. “No. I’m not what would be normally categorized as a pervert. I do, however, get a great and indescribable joy from painting. Whether that is sexual in nature or not is up to debate.”

            He said this loudly enough that it could be heard by others in the dense coffee shop, others he had completely forgotten about. Her smile came back in earnest and she did not look toward any of the patrons who’d turned to sneak a glance at him. He knew his face had flushed a bit but this seemed to please her as well.

            “Do you have a card?” She asked, finally.

            He went for his pockets, stopped. Of course he didn’t have a card. He never carried a card. That was for amateurs. He was Verdant, and now he needed a card and didn’t have one. The name was worthless.

            “I don’t, but I do have a pen.” He took the precision ballpoint he enjoyed sketching with out of his pocket and wrote on a napkin: Bailey, painter – and his phone number. She looked at it, then at him and his heart jumped at her eyes.

            “Not ‘Verdant’?” She was smiling but there was no cruelty in it.

            “I don’t think that name means anything to you.”

            “You don’t know if there is a single thing in existence that means anything to me.”

            With that, she turned back to her coffee. She didn’t have a book out and she wasn’t staring into a phone like everyone else, she was simply drinking coffee from a ceramic cup, cradling it with both hands.

            “Well,” Bailey said, tucking his sketchbook under his arm, “thank you for your time…” He waited for a name, for her to even turn her head back toward him, but received nothing. After a moment of silence he swiveled and walked away, suddenly intensely aware of every single fucking patron in the place and how they were watching him walk away like an admonished child, like some kind of goddam amateur being turned away at the door, a loser.

            He quickly gathered his things and walked out of the coffee shop and he told himself that he wouldn’t look to see if she was watching him but of course he did and she was staring into the middle distance, sipping her coffee as though their interaction had never happened.


                                                *                        *                        *

He was inspired. He draped a sheet over the still life he’d been working on and turned off all the lights save those illuminating his canvas. It had been years since he’d painted free of reference, but a power was building inside him and he had to release it. He tore his designer shirt off, the buttons flying into the shadows and tapping to rest on the hardwood floor. Rolling it into a ball, he threw it into the shadows as well, it settled noiselessly in the dark and he stood before the canvas in just his jeans and bare feet.

            The white fucking canvas was challenging him. With darkness around it the gesso made it absolutely glow and he stepped away from it, squinting his eyes. The blazing white rectangle blurred and disappeared and he pictured her looking up from his sketchbook.

            Those eyes. Her absolute indifference. It was magnificent. He would abandon the veranda idea and simply recapture those eyes, that look. If he could do that it would surpass anything he’d done. In his life. He thought of Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” and the swirling blacks, the dreamy and muddy colors emerging from those very physical blacks. He pictured this painting in his mind, and her eyes emerged from within it, wavy, hypnotic and ridiculous like the cheap “water” dissolve in an old horror film. 

            He assembled his colors and laid them out, squirting healthy amounts of pigment onto the palette and selecting his largest brush. Excited, he destroyed the white gesso with slashing strokes of darkest brown. Soon the canvas was almost a shadow with the darkness of his studio. He stepped back from it and admired the stillness of the room, the window was open to combat the linseed oil and the sounds of the city, of the streets below were distant and part of a different world than the womb he was in.

            He began on the eyes. He closed his own and pictured hers, larger than the canvas, piercing beyond the canvas, swirling smoking tumultuous tremors vibrating from that oily darkness. Bailey rubbed his hands on his jeans and put the big brush in the oil. A one inch brush is what he needed, and he selected it, a flat head, and pressed it into the fat blob of cerulean blue even though he knew that wasn’t the proper color. That would come. He would let it go through him until it was right.

            He painted. For hours he painted and the street sounds diminished until he was completely alone in the city, in the world, in the universe, just him and the canvas and those eyes. He could hear her voice, could almost feel her presence in the darkness, milkily swirling, liquid, intangible. Her essence permeated him, guided his hands, his wrist, the very beating of his heart. He let it, he surrendered, and the colors came. The shapes came and he stood finally before the canvas as though he were standing before a god and he’d just slain it. The brush was weightless, an extension of him, as the work before him was an extension of his being made physical.

His hands shook when he stepped away from it, his heart hammering and his breathing intense.

            He had done it. Before the sun rose, in the darkest hour of the night, from a place completely within him, he had created his masterpiece. It was the purest thing he had done, he had transcended Bailey and Verdant and become something completely new. He had created a masterwork. In his heart he knew the clouds had literally parted and gifted him with the One Work. He fell to his knees on the hardwood floor and wept. The brush dropped from his hand and he cradled his head in them and continued to weep until they turned into sobs of gratitude and he found he could he hear himself choking out the words “thank you” until they where whispers.

            When he heard her voice from the shadows he was not completely surprised.

            “What have you done here?” She asked gently, smoky, from the complete darkness beyond the canvas.

            He looked up, wiped tears from his eyes. She emerged from the shadows, completely nude and washed with warm light. Her skin was not pale, not even her powerful thighs or the soft belly, a perfect chiaroscuro into the blackness of her pubic area. Perfect flesh emerging from oil-black pools of shadow, her heavy breasts casting ink shadows down past a ribcage rippling in perfect mechanics as she padded slowly, silently toward him.

            “How…” he began to ask, but he knew. He said nothing more as she neared him, like a leopard, and he could feel the electricity in the air, into his body. He knew. Bailey inhaled her faint scent and it wasn’t like flowers or even the clean skin smell of someone who’d been in the sun, it was cold and had the tinge of meat. Not rotten meat, but salty, coppery meat.

            She smiled and put a hand on his forehead, ran it through his hair. The palm was rough and intensely hot and he did not resist. He closed his eyes and could hear her thick breathing, could smell the meat on her hot breath. His face was an inch away from her stomach and he wanted desperately to rest his head against it.

            “Go ahead,” she whispered, and pulled his face to her belly and he felt her burning skin against his cheek, so hot, but not clammy. Soft, perfect. His eyes remained closed and she continued to gently rub her hands over his scalp.

            “You… gave me something beautiful.” He croaked, inhaling her smell deeply. He felt as though his feet were invisible, as though invisibility and weightlessness was spreading through his body from the legs up.

            “You did well.” She replied softly, and he sensed she’d turned her head to look at the painting. He was pleased to his very soul by how long she remained that way, she was studying it and he felt deep within that she was impressed. Something in his heart exploded warmth and it shot through his invisible limbs.

            She gently took his face in her hands and lifted it toward her. She said nothing, just waited. He knew she was waiting for him to open his eyes, but he held on to this indescribable warmth for as long as he could. His breathing intensified and his bladder released and hot urine spread across his crotch. Bailey suddenly became aware of the price. He did not want to pay the price, he knew this now. A realization shot through him that this was indeed happening and it was beyond his comprehension.

            Panic shook him and he squeezed his eyes tighter but her hands were strong, stronger than he could possibly have imagined anyone’s hands being, unwavering and unbendable. He grabbed the wrists and pulled as hard as he could, his eyes still squeezed shut, but he couldn’t even budge them.

            “Stop, Bailey.” She whispered, and he did. His name from her lips punctured him and he gave up all resistance.

            Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and looked at her but the overhead light was behind her and cast her completely in silhouette. Only those eyes. Those eyes were glowing inside the dark outline of her face.

            “It’s time.” She whispered, and he cried out, then nodded, whimpering. From the moment he laid the brush to the canvas he knew the price would be paid. He smiled when the shadow-shape of her head grew and he felt the hot meat breath wash over his face and the large teeth stretched and scraped like tectonic plates and his head was in shadow and then in her mouth and all receded into inky blackness.