Patty lay on her side, an ancient Lhasa Apso flopped like a throw pillow beside her shoulder. The only sound aside from their breathing was the manic sketching and scratching of eleven pencils, brushes, charcoal sticks and pens. They captured ten minutes of her at a time, then a break for coffee and cigarettes, then back for twenty.
The man in the second row hadn’t looked at her for almost an hour. Except to occasionally use the shading on the underside of a forearm or to copy the lines in her knuckle. He was borrowing really, adding to the first pose he’d caught and committed to. He wasn’t one of the thieves she’ had in the class before; those were always ‘new to the class,’ they’d pretend to sketch yet, given a chance, would throw dollar bills at her.
The timer went off. She leaned up from her pose and picked up a long brown shirt, no buttons or collar, purchased for ease of removal. Only her boyfriend and mother knew she traveled four days a week without need of panties or a bra. She raised her arms and slipped the shirt back over her head, warming her Columbian skin.
Rachel, about sixty and working with a new acquisition – the waterpen, addressed the room.
“OK, that’s a ten minute break. We’ll come back and do another twenty.”
Patty looked up. The dog lay still. “Twenty?”
“Yeah. Right? One more twenty, then a break, then one more twenty and that’s our day.”
She looked around the posing area. A blanket, pillow, a couple chairs within reach if she wanted. She crawled around on hands and knees, a content caged animal, shaking blood back into her feet. She snuck a sideways glance; he was still painting.
Long ago she’d made it a policy not to notice anyone – especially men. If she noticed she’d feel naked and that couldn’t be the job.
She rolled around on kneecaps and wiggled her ankles, shaking blood back to her veins as the Tuesday afternoon artists, retired hobbyists mostly, made their way to a coffee pot. She watched as, from beneath his bench, he produced a plastic tray of store bought cupcakes.
“We had plenty from my birthday, and I know yours is almost here, right Rach?”
The waterpen lady smiled. “Yep, tomorrow!”
Patty pulled her knees to her chest, arms wrapped around to keep her centered. His stackable easel/bench was front and center to her model’s platform. He offered her the cupcake tray. She smiled and accepted. He smiled and turned to Rachel and the rest of the class. She watched as he made the rounds. He had a nice behind; as a model she’d seen nicer of course, but there was a gentle, almost friendly nature to the slope of his back. She could see what the lady behind his wedding band certainly saw, a strong back calling to a woman’s touch, a woman, she thought as she chewed the cupcake, fortunate to wrap her hands around him from any angle she desired.
He passed the tray around. Mouths began chewing. Chocolate particles stuck to teeth. He returned to his bench, slid the empty plastic try beneath it and picked up his version of her; he dipped a long, thin brush into a water cup and focused back on the paper. She shifted slightly, leaned on one cheek and jutted a knee to rest her elbow. He drew his brush slowly, smoothly along her back.
Students returned to benches. She pulled the shirt back over her head, leaned over, twisted the oven timer and selected a pose. The scratching and swishing resumed. She cleared her mind of everything and allowed her body to become a prop; in here she has easily, and often, lost a once strong sense of self. After ten minutes, pins and needles begin to creep up her left cheek. She held still. Her eyes darted toward his bench and away again. He’d stopped working. He was just looking at her.
Ding. With the timer’s cue papers ruffled and a few casually dressed bodies – polo shirts and jeans, t-shirts and back-supports – joked again toward the coffee urn. He was still looking at her. She looked into his eyes. His arms had fallen on his lap. He seemed rested, relieved, completed. She smiled. He said hi.
“Thank you for the cupcake. It is your birthday?”
“Was. Yesterday. Now it’s Rachel’s turn and Bonnie,” he pointed two benches away to a frosted blonde of about fifty, “she’s on Sunday.”
“Ohh! Es nice.”
“My wife made them and sent them with me to share. We’re a pretty friendly group.”
“I like it,” she said earnestly. “I’ve come here few times. Three.”
“You were here my first day.”
“Really. When was that?”
“Oh, last year. July?”
He pointed at her companion. “I never forget a dog. How long have you been modeling?”
She smiled with a tweak of comfort at the routine question. “Eight years.”
“How many times a week?”
“Four days. Maybe two, three a day.”
His eyes drifted up, seeming to bounce as he did the math. “So there are literally thousands of pictures of you out there.”
“No.” She looked down, wanting to hide a smile she didn’t usually allow. It wasn’t the smile so much as how genuine he’d made her feel doing it.
“Do you ever ask for the pictures people do? I mean, have you ever kept anything you’ve liked?”
“Oh two or three.” She alternated cheeks to get the blood back to the other side. She hadn’t put her smock on and the angle created waves along the small rolls in her side like fleshy ribbon candy. But if she leaned her head just enough, long locks of frizzled black hair covered her weakness for brownies. The space heater warmed her spine but her small nipples stayed hardened. Talking helped the circulation.
“I love modeling, but my mom…” she drifted.
“Mom wants you to have a nine-to-five?”
She waved a hand. “She wants me to be safe and married and all that.”
“She’s a mom.”
“All mothers want that for their kids,” Rachel said across the room.
The model had opened her mouth but one of the painters, a small thin woman with a charming English accent spoke first. “The trick is to let them do what they want and not pull our hair out letting them do it.”
Patty smiled. When she looked back, the man was painting again, smiling contentedly. This, she thought, is one happy man. He didn’t see her anymore and she imagined he didn’t hear anymore either, just stroked a new brush into her hair. She bent over, reset the timer, stood up straight, and struck her David pose. Her mind was alight now, active.
My name is Patty. She had one hand cocked on a hip, her right knee struck forward, a naked hoodlum to be reckoned with. My name is Patty. She hoped he’d hear this through some transcendental line but, instead, she stared straight ahead into the thick oatmeal-colored curtain that protected her from daylight and the passing eyes of a world untrained to see what these eleven others understood on Tuesday afternoons.
He looked up for her butt. It was right there, jutted out, the light just right. The shading below her hand created an almost bulbous quality her girlfriend had once called ethnic. She was a fine model. The ones that stood still always were. He dabbed the brush into brown gauche, generous as her skin, rich as Italian coffee, and satisfied with the first touch to paper, his mind strayed off to errands; the bank deposit he had to make by noon, his wife’s prescription filled and ready, two quarts of oil for the car. He swirled the brush in a light pool while she stood still. She watched a plastic tree in the corner, unnoticed. Its plastic leaves occasionally rustled with the temperamental swirl of the air conditioning vent.
My name is Patty, she thought. She stood still, then twenty minutes later, she breathed again.
MATT McGee writes short fiction in the local library until the staff makes him go home. His collection, Leaving Rayette, is available on Amazon.