A stuttering, socially inept college student meets his idol, a cynical, middle-aged artist who might or might not bear a resemblance to Vivien Leigh. They begin an affair that is mutually destructive...but not necessarily dysfunctional. Contains brief scenes of sexuality.
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"The Bear, " "The Old People, " "A Bear Hunt, " "Race at Morning" – some of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner's most famous stories are collected in this volume – in which he observed, celebrated, and mourned the fragile otherness that is nature, as well as the cruelty and humanity of men. "Contains some of Faulkner's best…
This story originally appeared, with some alterations, in Conte. 5500 words.
Half a dozen paintings stood on their easels, scattered throughout the large, cold space, each one concealed under heavy linen sheets. Ellis wondered if anyone else had seen these pieces yet; La Artista didn’t seem particularly close to her management personnel. He wanted to go to every one of them and throw off their coverings, to press his hands and face into the canvases, but was afraid to ask her permission.
An empty frame stood on the far side of the room, a large wooden square. La Artista laid it down on the floor and pulled a spare sheet over it. “Do you stretch your own canvases?” she asked with her back to him. She looked so thin with her blouse tucked into her skirt that he was reminded of Vivien Leigh again.
“Uh-huh. I mean, sometimes. It’s a l-lot more conv-v-venient t-to buy them r-ready-made.”
“Not as fun, though.” If she’d looked younger on the bus, she sounded it now. Her calves, clothed only in black nylons, arched deliciously as she moved over the frame.
He paced the room for several minutes, looking out each small window. Nothing but street and traffic and brightly-dressed strangers outside. La Artista hummed to herself quietly but didn’t speak to him and it made him nervous.
He went to the easel nearest her and placed his hand on the linen. “Are these really new?” In the vacuum of the studio his voice sounded small, childish.
La Artista pushed her sleeves up again and looked over her shoulder at him. “Yeah. I finished that one about three months ago”
“H-has anyone seen them?”
“My agent’s seen a couple.”
He felt a pang of jealousy. “Can I see them?”
La Artista stared at him, narrowed her eyes almost suspiciously. At last she smiled, baring her teeth, and nodded. “Go ahead.”
He felt a stirring between his legs. “Can I t-touch them?”
She didn’t hesitate. “Don’t do anything to them that you haven’t done to me.” She returned to birthing her canvas. Maybe she didn’t want to see his reactions to her work. Maybe she’d already seen the reactions of the agent and felt bored by new eyes.
He ripped the sheet from the easel and draped it over his shoulders like a cape. The painting was a rather small one, perhaps two-and-a-half feet in height. Another one of her studies of the human figure. A man, a shadowy figure, lay across a bed shaped like a violin, his eyes closed, his arms stretched out over the edge as if reaching toward the floor. He appeared to be nude. This piece was less abstract than usual but every line was still soft and gently blurred with the very edge of a fan brush so that each component seemed to bleed into its surroundings. The man was swallowing the sheets, which were, in turn, swallowing him.
“I love you,” Ellis mumbled, either to La Artista or to the painting itself, and began following the boldest brushstrokes with his fingertips.
When La Artista said nothing he embraced the painting and licked the center of it. The dried paint tasted slightly of old vinegar.
He felt La Artista’s hand on his leg.
“Save some of that for me tonight, baby,” she whispered.