The Two-Legged Easel, Excerpt from Daedalus Monet’s autobiography:
(22.2) Candlelight brings that most ancient part of the mind bubbling to the surface of skin. In the evening, when others retreat into the sphere of incandescent bulbs, I rejoin the campfire that stared down the first Night of Creation. Hours are longer there—edgier. They invite words to name things out of fear as much as a desire to possess.
I recall the first time I saw the shadow of my member making mischief on the candlelit bedroom wall, and how it frightened me. Having been liberated from its lair, it was no longer content to stay put. I have since met it in my kitchen, where pointy-ended cutlery was no deterrent to its swagger. It is difficult to have company in the house because of its behavior. (Things do tend to go bump in the night.) I have even received complaints from neighbors who report seeing my member’s shadow looming in the window curtains, and on occasions when I have been out of town.
The simple fact is this: The further we venture from our campsite, the more madness we see in fires. For what was a frank and firsthand acquaintance with instinct early on has become a rare and hazardous encounter with a brute.
The painter hurried down his steps on hearing the door knock and squinted out the spyglass; no one was on the stoop. He was about to undo the latch chain when a voice called out from behind him.
“Are you squatting in this house?”
Startled, he turned to find the barista, expressionless, sitting on his dark living room couch. “How did you get in?” he asked.
She stared at a realty sign half-concealed under drapes, and merely observed, “I would have thought you lived in a trailer.”
Guest and resident waded across a floor cluttered with videocassettes; many were still in shrink-wrap; Erica took the austerity in stride. The air in the ill-tended premises was heavy and, on the trip up the steps, bereft of conversation. Candles bobbed and weaved along the way with tapering flames, but like the host they offered more solemn direction than greeting.
“Why the candles?” she questioned.
“Do you paint by candlelight?”
The attic door opened above her with a sigh, as onto a gallows; the painter passed through it.
A draft whirled around the studio. More candles, snapping in the riptide, lined the walls. Aloysius cranked down the open skylight while Erica, lost in the commotion, glared at weirdly macabre paintings stacked in corners around her. A suitcase had toppled from a table to dump charred debris over the floor. The artist wielded a broom and dustpan to sweep up the spill. The guest was struck by his quiet urgency until a singed but unburned piece of canvas was spotted at her feet: It was the eye and cheekbone of a woman. The broom raked it into a pile with the other cinders, whereupon the fragments were returned to the battered case.
Uncomfortable with the silent treatment, the bohemian wanted to push things along. She fussed with the frilly sleeves of her blouse before removing a charm bracelet and dropping it on a ledge. “You have a screen I can undress behind?” she asked palinly.
Aloysius was distracted by the gypsy flourishes, and did not answer.
Setting the mise en scène, Erica peeled away her tight jeans, as if a thin, tearing skin wrapped over an overripe pear. The sparkly, low-cut black top was easier, and preceded a pair of unattractive wooly socks into a pile on the floor. She caught his unguarded gaze halfway through the strip, but, having never modeled before, was not sure if he was being discourteous or simply contemplating her as an artistic subject.
Aloysius dawdled around his worktable, but could hardly look away.
Down to her last few stitches, the model looked unnecessarily misshapen in underwear a size too small. There was a tussle to get her panties off over her pillowy bottom, and even down over her thick ankles. On being unlatched, her double D-cup brassier practically jettisoned away as a projectile, though there was no comedy in it from either side of the room.
Erica’s hourglass figure, with waspish waist and rounded hips, spilled over his template, but in desirable directions. For all her gruffness at the coffeehouse, he would never be able to picture her again without thinking of puff pastry.
The barista turned to face him, and with large breasts nothing in his limited experience with women could have prepared him for in seeing. They resembled, in complexion, Rococo porcelain, with a filigree of delicate blue veins, and nipples stretched to pearly translucence. A smudge of candlelight shadow betrayed the presence of a small tummy, which was red and furrowed from the bite of her cruel elastic. A scrape on a shin added to her unvarnished humanity, as did a jaundiced bruise over her abdominal dimple. A mop of jet-black pubic hair, set between the injuries, highlighted wan, sun-starved skin, but a sickly raddled look (and Vitamin D deficiency) were occupational hazards where one worked indoors all day with overly shaded and addled caffeine addicts. The stark contrast, regardless, put the artist in mind of a pared-down sepia tone nude, such as typified in a Nineteenth Century French Daguerreotype.
From the perspective of his model, the artist’s look bordered on prurient curiosity, fueled by equal parts titillation and repulsion. She wanted to arrest his stare. “When are you going to start painting?”
His voice was thin. “Actually, I want to draw you.”
“Okay.” She glanced around. “Standing or sitting?”
“Sitting. In the chair behind you.”
With only a few calluses left to her reputation, Erica moved to grab the back of the wooden chair.
His finger was pointing. “Don’t turn it around.”
She puzzled. “Facing completely away?”
The model complied and plopped down in the rickety chair. “With my back touching the rungs?” she inquired.
“Yes, but with your legs spread and feet touching the back legs of the chair.”
Erica did as he requested, even though she wished to see rather than feel his eyes on her. “Like this?” she asked.
The girl squared herself with the chair, drawing attention to a tattoo above her tailbone, which was off-center on her body. The image was one of a skull tied up in two thorny rose stems, though the poor execution of the design reminded Aloysius of something drawn with a hot cigarette butt. He feared no landscape setting could improve the girl, as Erica was top-heavy, and predestined to be stoop-shouldered. Whatever eroticism attended to her breasts did not extend to the barrel shape of her back. To see her topless, on any regular basis, would be to always anticipate her entering a room last, immediately preceded by two lubberly live-in relatives.
She listened intently for the sound of pencil on paper, but heard little of it. The quiet was unnerving, and after thirty minutes of nothing but creaking chair, the model’s legs began to cramp.
“What is your perfume?” he inquired.
“I’m not wearing perfume.”
“Is it your shampoo?”
She shrugged. “Body wash, maybe?”
“What’s the scent?”
“Sweet pea. Sweet pea and violet.”
“Would you care for something to drink?”
“On the table. There’s refreshment on the table.”
Erica looked over to see a new, unopened bottle of Peppermint Schnapps beside her, and two intimidatingly large glasses. “I need to use the bathroom,” she announced.
“There’s one in the bedroom at the bottom of the first flight of stairs. Second door on the left.”
The model, now doubly tattooed with wheals from the chair’s crosspieces, rose and turned around; the artist’s bottled-up stare was no less diluted. She wished to cover herself on what seemed a long walk to the door. Regardless, she caught a piece of the drawing in his lap in transit. There was nothing of her—just a detailed rendering of the chair. Confused, the girl paused on the staircase landing, yet was only resolved to scare up a sheet to drape over herself away from the pose.
She entered the bedroom downstairs to find more lit candles: scented candles. The floor was dirty on her bare soles, though the sheets on the bed were freshly laundered. The barebones motif of the house carried through to the adjoining bathroom. The linen closet was empty, and no towel was on the towel rack. She opened the medicine cabinet door out of curiosity and unearthed fossils of decrepit bachelorhood: a corroded old disposable razor, a crimped tube of toothpaste, and an empty aspirin dispenser.
Having exhausted the possibilities, the frustrated model turned back to the bedroom with a mind to strip the sheet off the bed. To her shock she found the painter sitting on top of it—utterly and unabashedly nude. He made no attempt to cover himself. The pitiable expression on his face was as inescapable as his evident enthusiasm for her.
“I didn’t know how to ask you,“ he squeaked.
Erica wrapped her arms around herself, crackling, “What the hell is this?! Some pathetic attempt to get laid?!”
Aloysius reeled at the glancing blow and immediately cowered behind a pillow. “I thought…”
“Thought what, you freak of nature? I’ve been sitting in a drafty attic in an uncomfortable chair for almost an hour because you can’t get a date?”
“I’m terribly sorry…” he began.
“Bring me my clothes!” she demanded, slamming the bathroom door on the peepshow. She tersely added, “And put some clothes on yourself!”
Chapter Thirty, Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.