“I’m beginning to feel a bit strange.”
They always say that. That is how I know the magic is starting to work. Her exquisite body lies perfecting on the long pedestal, spectacular and sublime in her nakedness. I owe my whole quest in life to it. It has brought us to this moment as it has for me and many others over time. And this time requires patience. “All good things. . .” I remind myself as I lose my thoughts to the sketchpad I am filling.
It has been a while since I did any work. I could have let my frustration make me sloppy but I have learned better. The best discipline is a simple one. I have only two criteria to fulfill rigidly before I indulge my passions.
The first is aided by the magic of the pendant I wear, a crescent of beaten silver angled to appear as the waning moon, craters filled with small black pearls. The charm has a very unusual enchantment: it allows me to know if someone is in imminent danger of death, usually within the span of two days. I’ve never had occasion to warn anyone whom I noticed outside of my work. How could I be believed? On the other hand, knowing that someone special was to meet an untimely demise prompts me to my unique solution.
The second criteria had to be determined by more earthly means. Was she alone? Did she have relatives? Anyone close who would miss her? The answers to those questions come with subtlety as we talk, making her at ease enough to let such confidences slip out as information cheerfully given.
I saw her wandering around the medium bustle of the gallery, looking somewhat preoccupied. It seemed she would have stopped and looked around more intently at what was on display if something else was not on her mind. I had to let her come to my space, if she would do so. I did not budge from my spot but I did follow her with my eyes. She was somewhat tall, perhaps 5’10” with lovely pale skin and long, full black hair. Her wardrobe was at odds with what everyone else was wearing: cotton tank shirt, white with red striping, containing a magnificently defined and buxom torso; faded jeans that hugged magnificent hips and backside; and a pair of extremely expensive, open-toed shoes of the kind that showed tantalizing hints of her magnificent feet but they just clashed with the rest of her attire. Her finger and toenails were brightly polished in Chanel Vamp, the same color for her lipstick. I risked the lingering look for a few more seconds, hoping it would not get her attention. Unfortunately, it did.
“Excuse me, do you know Lou and Mark?”
I said no, which was a lie. They were devilishly handsome and nothing but trouble. Maybe that is why my charm alerted me with its mild warmth spreading by the pit of my throat where it rested. They were snakes, but I didn’t think they could harm anyone. Still, one could never know, but I was not going to let this pass by without a good go at it. Her voice was American and that gave me confidence.
“What is your name?”
“My name is Marya. You are?”
“DeJaeger.” I put out my hand and gave her a strong but curt handshake. Good hands, I thought as she returned the courtesy.
“This is your work?”
“Yes, please feel free to browse. Alot of the pieces have sold already but they will be up here until the show closes.”
“It’s fabulous work!” Marya quickly opined.
I nodded and let her look. Yes, let the wonder of creation take the viewer in. She compared the drawings to the larger pieces from which they were derived. I turned around and kept a sharp eye out as if I were on guard for her. She should not be disturbed. Lou and Mark were in the gallery all right, fortunately in a far corner where they were working there own base spells on two blondes in matching red dresses. How typically banal -- blondes never did a thing for me -- yet I wondered what I would do if the charm warmed in their presence?
I walked over to Marya, who had that look of muted wonder I always relish and cherish.
“This is fantastic!” We got to talking and I learned she was another clichéd statistic: a down on her luck American -- orphaned no less, spent her life as state ward -- who had come to London with great but naive expectations that were never met. She was a glamour model and dancer, but too principled for the compromises many make to go into the seedier side of the business, which is always there and always rewarding, for a price. Freelancing could only go so far... I sympathized and it made me want to make Marya my newest project all the more.
“Oh, shit! There they are!” I could see she was retreating away into a corner, to avoid possibly being seen by the two men we spoke of earlier.
I asked what was the trouble and she said she was supposed to meet them here but was having second thoughts. I maneuvered her into an area where we were in no danger of being spotted. She couldn’t explain her reasons, just that desperation made her accept their offer.
“Well,” I whispered to her, “Why don’t you come with me?”
“With you? Where?”
“To my studio,” I replied looking very professionally at her. “You’re a model, no? I have some work for you, if you’d like it. I pay very well.”
She smiled with relief and took my arm, “Is there any way we can get out of here without...”
“Leave that to me,” I interrupted. We went through the back of the building from where we were, scarcely being noticed. Going through the loading dock and out into the alleyway, we were alone in the night.
“You don’t know how much I appreciate this, Mme. DeJaeger!”
“You can stay the night if you wish, as we will be working that long in any case.”
“Cool!” She gripped by arm affectionately again as we went through my own route that took alleys and second streets. It was great for shaking a tail, not that I have ever had to deal with that. But I can never be too cautious.
Unlike most artists, my studio is not in my home, though I could make it so. I find it better not to be there all the time. If it were in my domicile, I might be tempted to break my discipline, which would be disastrous. It’s at the top of an 8-story building, one quarter of the top floor with a good row of skylight windows. Lots of space and very thick walls. Hardly a sound gets in or out.
We come up through a freigh elevator and I unlock the three deadbolts to the door. We come in and she marvelled at the space, the drawings all over the walls, the sculptures an adjacent room.
“Are these all yours?”
“Some. Those over there on the far corners are my teacher’s work.”
She walks over and observes them closely. Gray and roughly modeled in a way that would suggest Giacconmetti to the educated. Some are in classic poses, some situated as if defying gravity. But they all have expressions of pain or anguish on their faces.
“They kind of creep me out.”
“My teacher liked to explore the subject of pain in her work. I found I had no taste for her approach.”
“Where is she now? It sounds as though you parted company.”
“She left me holding the bag when had our failling out, and she abandoned these works which her solicitor says I may exhibit as caretaker but never sell.”
“Not entirely,” I reply. “I did my own work of her. The only one I have at my house.”
“I see.” She was getting antsy with eagerness. She truly appreciated the work even if she could not express it with erudition. I was growing very fond of her. I went to the desk and pulled out the model release papers.
“In duplicate, if you please.”
“£250 for the night is sufficient?”
“Well, now you may disrobe and we can start the sketch.”
I moved to the studio side to get things in order. She was already unbuckling those designer shoes, thankful it seemed to be getting out of them. Elegant, but beastly on the feet. I wondered if I should offer her a hot soak before we began...
“I noticed those red dots which mean a sale on some of your work at the show. They were all on the statues. Doesn’t anybody ever buy the drawings?”
“The drawings are not for sale...”
"The sketch is everything."
“If I were a buyer, I would very much liked to have had them both.”
"That is very flattering."
“You have true talent to be able to capture such emotion & expression.”
"Thank you very much!"
I was liking her more and more. I had made a good choice. I got my materials ready and put on some soothing music.
She entered nude into the studio with poise that could not but help be noticed. Her hair flattered her shoulders and daintily caressed her breasts with beautiful muave nipples and aereolas. She was hairless, recently waxed even, from the neck down. She had that ideal of curve and muscle which made her a muse for any artist but insured she would never go down a catwalk. I could not help but smile in wonder. I bid her stop as I rought sketch the stillness she expertly went into. She smiled, not enough to disturb her face but to get her appreciation through.
“Just warming up...” My hands went rapidly over the pad. After a minute, I asked “Shall we get started for real now?”
“Well, I won't burden you with something like what you have seen in the exhibit hall. I just have a simple pose in mind.”
“Whatever you like. Tell me what I need to do.”
There was a square pedestal in the center of the studio space. I put pad and pencil down to it out of the way and replace it with a rectangular one.
"I need you to lie down on this pedestal, your arms at your side, palms up, feet pointing just a bit. You hair flowing over the edge."
She promptly lay down and assumed the post. The backs of her hand spread out her deep dark hair to splash down the side. “Like this?”
“Yes. And you need to maintain that dear. It may not be as easy as you think.”
“Not too uncomfortable. The pedestal is cold but it should warm up.”
“First, I need to get a feel for your figure, so we will do gestures for ten minutes. Then do that pose as the main piece.”
“Well, I never did anything like this.”
“Just pretend you’re dancing. Be dramatic. You have a good instinct for it.”
She blushed and proceeded to move her body in precisely the kind of ways that take mere posing to an essence of drama. She was so much like Kshetri the yogini I had worked with here six months ago but whereas Kshetri was calm and concentrated, Marya was vibrant. I had hoped this would show even in the stillness of the work.
When we finished, she was ready to lie back down and very relieved. Modeling is such work. She was ready. I was ready. I went to my muses shrine in the corner, and opened the long velvet-lined box of lacquer wood...
"For this sketch, Marya, we'll be using a prop, if you don't mind."
“Sure. What is it?”
"Don't move," I advised as I saw her move her head up.
I went over and placed its stony length in her left hand.
“What is it? It feels like a long , pointed rock.”
"It is my inspiration." I says in a soft but leaden tone as I go to sit down and resume sketching. Shes straightens attentively when she hears the sound of the charcoal on the pad.
"I found it in Europe. I thought it was a fossil at first, but it is something much more."
“Can I look?”
“Not just yet. Let me finish this sketch.”
I know that the object feels cold when touched and it seems to spread as a slight chill throughout the body.
“Are you familiar with Greek mythology, Marya?”
I wait a few minutes, then say, “It is called The Shard of Medusa.”
“Medusa was one of the three Gorgons, she was a trusted priestess of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, until she committed against the gods and was cursed.”
She says nothing further as I continue drawing. I get up and say, "Don't move" as I walk over to her show her the drawings.
“It’s a fantastic sketch, Mme. DeJaeger!”
I smile with pride and reassurance. I have to be careful now "I'm going to draw you from several vantage points. Just keep still for a little while longer."
“OK,” she replies again, in a slight gasp.
I continued to draw, as I could see her start to slightly fidget as if cold all over ...
“Medusa was cursed with a hideous appearance,” I explained further. “Her hair became writhing snakes.”
“Oh, is this like if you looked into her eyes, she could turn you to stone?”
“Exactly, Marya. But Perseus, aided by Athena, the goddess who cursed her, was given a shield and sword.”
She gasped slightly again as she tried to speak, “You'll have to tell me more about all this another night.”
“Please, it’s almost done.” I insisted. “He turned her magic against her by using the shield as a mirror.”
“No, I meant the mythology, it's very interesting. Please ....please go on.” her voice shuddered.
“Well, he took her head, and from her blood came the winged horse Pegasus and other mythical beings. But some of her remains turned to stone.”
“The shard is a remnant of that.”
“I see. Very rare.”
The cold sensation has gotten more pronounced as she talked, I could feel it... her muscles getting stiff and tense... her slips move a little sluggishly.
“I'm beginning to feel a bit strange.”
“Hold your pose” I insist. I can’t let things slip now.
“O...K.” Her breath sounds so labored. This is always the hardest part of the work.
At this point, where are she is holding the shard feels very cold, almost painful...
I look at the mirrors at the ceiling, positioned to bring the maximum amount of the sun into the studio during daytime... I catch her reflection there.
Even through this ordeal, I can see she feels very sexy & proud of her body. It looks so beautiful. She looks so very pale, lips slightly purplish... to match her nipples.
“Can... I let... go?”
“Not until I am finished, Marya.”
“Sorry. I feel so odd... cold.”
I know how she feels. It is difficult to get the words out to speak. It seems an effort just to try to... This is where my adrenalin kicked in... I had been an habitual snoop since childhood. Fumbling around here one night kicked me of the habit.
I get up to walk over to her and show her more drawings. They are excellent, like the ones she saw in the gallery with the statues she liked. I can see it on her face. She would smile, but she finds she can hardly move her face to...
She is also trying to let go of the shard but she can’t move her fingers.
“What's... happening... to me?” she coughs.
I turn up the music a bit and resumes drawing.
"We are still not done yet. Please be patient."
Her mouth tries to assume a mute protest.
"Hold your pose."
She tries to mumble "Help me!" but her tongue is no longer part of her.
She can see the stillness enveloping her in the mirrors, getting even paler, gray streaking through her hair.
The fear deepens in her but she won’t be able to grasp it. That is good. Though there is confusion, maybe even panic, there still more wonder than not.
Her nail polish greying up...
If Louie & Mark had expected her, they will wait hours before even worrying, but they don't know where she is.
I am more relaxed now, humming to the music and just scribbling away.
I show her more drawings that are better than when we began...
I can see she is impressed & amazed at my talent, despite the waking nightmare.....
She knows she is turning to stone, I think to myself
"We can take a break, now." I declare with relief. I get up and start putting on water for tea.
As the kettle whistles, I wonder if she can feel the resonance.
I go through her clothes and rifle though her wallet you hear. Not much there and easy to dispose of. The boiler room down in the basement will take care of the clothes. The shoes will have to be wiped down, wrapped in plastic, and taken far away.
"You have a lovely signature, Marya!"
Her mind is likely in screams that I am mad but I have saved her from a worse fate than this. She may be crying out to Lou & Mark to miss her, worry, come find her but she knows that she will not be missed.
Bundle up her stuff and put it in a sack.
I kneel beside her reverently and my pendant taps her shoulder.
I explain to her what it is. I tell her the bell was tolling for her but not here. I have rescued her.
“Now I have to go and run some errands, but I will be back soon." I stroked her head and knew the warmth was incredibly incredibly exquisite.
When I return, I look and perceive the cold sensation has eased up somewhat...she is even paler. Her hair is almost completely grey and solid...Her eyes are losing color.
"Marya? How are we doing?"
"I am glad we had this time to work together!"
I sensed she is puzzled.
Sit down on the floor beside her.
“You know, I discovered the shard and its power by accident. It was my teacher’s secret and she used it cruelly, You see, it was carved to function like a weapon, a crude dagger. Which is how she used it at first. Usually when the subject started to have problems, she felt the only thing to do was to put them out of their misery."
I pick the shard up out of her hand and show it to her.
"But then I got to thinking that I should just leave the shard with the subject and see what happens. You see, when you stab someone with it, they turn out too rough and abstract. The only person to test this one was my teacher. She had a thing for the bubbly, which gave me an opportunity. She was so peaceful, if drunk. She is in limbo now, better than she deserves. You see, the shard doesn’t kill when used this way. When Kshetri modeled for me, she a master of yoga and had the discipline to endure. I knew I had done the right thing when I noticed her airline ticket. If she had gotten on that plane, she would have died in the crash it was involved in. I feel she understands though I have thwarted fate. I don’t know what awaited you but I daresay it might have involved Louie and Mark. You can’t trust their kind."
"Unlike my teacher, I have no need to study pain."
I get up and caress her shoulders and forehead... room temperature... there is the faint but endless vibrations of the last beat of her heart echoing subtly through the stone she is now.
"You have made a valuable contribution to the world of art, Marya!"
I bend over and kiss her forehead.
“Now, I am going to have to leave you for a while. I have to get back to the gallery and mingle before it closes down for the night. It may be some time before I am back in the studio, maybe weeks.”
“Another thing. I don’t just sell to the highest bidder. I sell only to those who are worthy, doesn’t matter what they offer. If they are unfit, bugger off! You will never be sold!”
“In the meantime,” I say as I open a cabinet. “You will be made comfortable.” I take out a black silk double size sheet and lay it across her. I love the form it makes as it settles over Marya. She is both offering and altar to my dark muses. No one may miss her now but me in the time I am away.