The Painter and the Girl

There’s a certain time of day when the light comes through the window just right.  It’s only about thirty minutes, but during that time the painter works furiously.  He’s a tenth degree ninja master with a brush.  Colors are his mistresses.  Shape and shadow, his muses.

Angie is his model.

Since there’s only thirty minutes a day in which he can work, and he spends some of that time examining angles and perfecting his colors and making the most minute corrections on what’s already there, she doesn’t have a lot to do.

She sits on a stool in the most gorgeous flowing red dress she’s ever seen.  It demurely accentuates her curves.  She loves it.  The red hat has a net that falls across her eyes.  The jewels are all real gold and diamond and ruby, though there’s only exactly enough of it.

Prior to sitting, she spends an hour or more perfecting her makeup, a tint of rouge for blush, bright lipstick to make her lips kissable, shadow to smoke her eyes.  She does not eat or drink anything once she’s begun, and she moves as little as possible.

Angie seeks perfection as much as the painter.

At the end of the thirty minutes, she removes the dress, the sparkly bits, wears a gray or yellow shift, nothing fancy.  She and the painter will sit in the insufficient light of the dying day, drink coffee, and talk about the world.  Not the big picture things, like wars, famine, earthquakes, starvation.  Nor the frivolous things artists should discuss, fashion, poetry, music.

They talk about people.

“I saw a woman today at the fountain,” the artist might say.  “She had a baby in a carriage, she wore mostly black, but the carriage was yellow and the baby wrapped in blue.”

“Was she in mourning?” Angie might ask.

The painter would shake his head.  “No, there was nothing of mourning about her.  She was caught up in the riptide of modern life, she was drowning, but she tried to make up for it with her baby.  With the colors.”

Sometimes, the painter made sense.  Sometimes, he did not.  He might just as easily say, “The butcher, today, when I asked for a rack of lamb, he eyed me and sized me up and said I could not do justice to his rack of lamb and refused to sell it to me.  So I went to the baker instead, and now we’ve got this beautiful baguette.”  Perhaps there’d been a businessman who recently lost his job.  “He wanted to cry, he wanted to scream, I could see it in his eyes.  I can see a lot in a person’s eyes.  He wasn’t confused.  He wasn’t hurt.  He wasn’t uncertain.  He was angry.  And perhaps bitter.  And he had no intention to focus that in a way that might help him.”

Sometimes, they shared a bottle of wine, or two, or three, so sometimes it was well past midnight before Angie walked alone to the bus stop, wrapped now in her overcoat, hair tied back, heels in a bag, still in the full, if fading, glamour of the session.

She wondered why a man who saw so much in a person’s eyes didn’t see in hers the things she didn’t say.

She might tell the painter, “On the bus today, a student, reading some thick textbook, she didn’t look up, she ignored when she was jostled.  When I sat beside her, she turned the page.  Technical things.  Chemical symbols and scary mathematical squiggles.  She missed her stop.”

The painter would smile.  That was exactly the kind of story he loved, the kind of observation he would make.  “For thirty minutes a day,” he would tell Angie, “I have the same focus.”

Those thirty minutes, Angie looked directly at the painter, she looked into his eyes, she saw wisdom, aloofness, passion, frustration.  She knew his moods via his eyes.  When a stroke of paint had gone wrongly.  When a color didn’t shine the way he meant for it to shine.

Those thirty minutes, Angie didn’t move.  Not a muscle.  She didn’t blink or shudder or swat a mosquito.  She didn’t sweat.  She didn’t tighten up from staying so still.  She posed.  Angie posed well.

Those thirty minutes were an eternity, and in her mind a great many thoughts came and went, like breezes, like hurricanes, like echoes of untapped emotion.  She saw scenes, memories of things that never happened: she and the painter strolling alongside the Seine, or the Mississippi, or the Hudson; she and the painter in a garden or museum, in a ballpark, in an Italian sports car, a circus, a movie theatre; she and the painter at a cheap buffet, a breakfast bar, at the private table of a gourmet chef; she and the painter holding hands in the rain.

Those thirty minutes, the painter brushed, he wrinkled his eyes, he made funny thoughtful shapes with his lips, he sighed in joy or exasperation, he wrestled his inner demons to capture some essence, the slightest semblance, of perfection.  He held his breath for minutes at a time.  He touched neither food nor wine nor water while he worked.  He was alone with his oils, and the canvas, and yes, the model, ever still, ever patient, ever beautiful.

He sometimes paused and stared at some part of her, her collarbone perhaps, the curl of her lip, the arc of her calf, the shade of her fingernails, and in his mind he would regret his inability to replicate such fine features.  How to paint her inaccessible and light-hearted, confident and strong, and fragile, and tumultuous even in her stillness.

One day, he promised himself, after the painting was complete, after he needed the girl as a model no more, he would take a risk, make a gesture, pray and hope but not beg, but he would invite her, after their wine, which would perhaps fortify him, he would invite her to stay the night in his loft.

But she took everything with her when she went to the bus stop, her clothes, her makeup, her magazines, her heels, her smile, and though he could read the eyes of a million random strangers on the street, he could read nothing in hers.

One day.  She hoped.  He promised.  If the painter ever finished his painting and the girl ever finished her posing.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply