He had done it again, descended so far into his work that he lost himself. The little beep, to let him know someone had entered the gallery, had snatched him back to the present.
He pushed away from the easel. He always fretted that he’d never get back to that spot to continue, to finish, but he always did find his way there, and being a color pencil drawing, he didn’t have to worry about what dried and what didn’t.
Matt turned off the light and moved to the window at the door from the studio to the gallery. From the gallery side the widow was a mirror. Matt liked to know who was there before he entered.
The woman was only a few steps inside, doing a slow sweep of the shop as if lost. Her eyes were wide and her mouth slightly open. She took a tentative step and stopped again, staring at a painting.
Matt hesitated. Something about the woman. Her lines. He grabbed a sketchbook and drew a 10 second gesture. Not quite it. The rhythm of her body was off.
The woman moved closer to the wall. Matt couldn’t see the painting she was staring at, but knew it. He smiled. A lot of customers did it. The pool. It did look like water. She took another step closer, glancing around as she moved.
Matt did another gesture, this one catching that allusive rhythm she projected.
The woman reached out with one finger, then pulled away, as if burned. She glanced around.
That face! That angelic face! Matt would have to find a way to get her to model!
Ah, but he had waited long enough. He had to face this apparition of beauty before it escaped into the wild of the world outside of his doors.
“Can I help you?” he asked as entering the gallery.
She swung around, her expression that of a five-year-old getting caught taking a cookie an hour before dinner. He inwardly smiled. Could she be any more enduring?
“Oh! I didn’t see you! Are you…, uhm, you must be…”
“Matthew Andrews, at your service.” He performed a small theater bow. “To answer your question, yes, this is my gallery and these are my paintings. Do you see anything you like?”
She hesitated for a moment, then pointed.
“I like her. I mean, that one, that painting.”
Matt’s heart sank. Jennell.
“You caught her essence so well. I mean, I don’t know her, but I do from looking at this. Her aura is just… She seems so alive!”
He was madly in love with Jennell and had been for ages before she consented to go on a date. He had painted this after they made love for the first time.
And then he never saw her again.
“The price on this particular painting is very high….” He set it far out of reach because he never wanted to let it go. “But if you like it…”
“I love it, but I don’t want her, I want me.” She smiled, the shy smile that had caught his attention earlier.
“I want a portrait. A friend of mine, Renee, posted a portrait on Facebook. I think you did it… I loved it! I, well, at first it was envy, but after seeing this one,” she pointed at Jennell, “I just need it.”
“OK, let’s go over here and discuss it.”
“You said that you love Monet?”
The woman, who now had a name, Constance, though she called herself “Nance”, blushed slightly. Monet was a bit of a cliché, and Nance obviously knew it. “Yes. I have a few books of his work.”
He snapped a photo. He was holding the camera at chest height, so it wasn’t a distraction. The back of the camera was flipped up so he could glance down and see if she was still centered.
“Have you ever studied Matisse?”
“A little. Yeah. Interesting.”
He nodded. Not much of a reaction from her, but he took another photo. Monet it was, then.
“Do you like Monet’s lilies?”
“Oh, yes! They’re great. The water…”
“What do you think of that painting?” He pointed to the painting of the pool that she had touched when she didn’t realize she was being watched.
She flushed slightly as she turned to it, but pretended to see it for the first time.
“Oh, that is just lovely! The water looks so real, as if it is really liquid. Like the Master… Uhm, Monet.”
He took a photo. This was closer, but not it.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people actually touch this painting to make sure it isn’t real!”
There! That was the expression he was looking for. That shy little girl, all innocence but with a hint of the devil.
“Uhm, oh,” she regained her composure, but he had the shot. “I’m sure they do…”
He laughed. “Don’t worry, I always put watercolors behind glass, and with this one…” He winked at her.
She laughed. Perfect. He grabbed a couple of photos.
“OK, I’ll admit it… Anyway, I need to be going. Did you get any good photos? I didn’t see you take any.”
He nodded. “Yes, thank you. I’ll start doing a few sketches. It is also important for me to get to know you, so this chat was great.”
“You said that. Not sure if I understand.”
“Look at Jennell there.” He pointed to the painting. “You said you knew her just by looking at the painting. How would you know her from it if I didn’t know her when I painted it? Without knowing her, I might as well point a still-life. I remember your friend, Renee. I got to know her a bit. We had lunch and then dinner before I attempted her painting.”
Nance smiled. Did she know? Did Renee tell her? He never intended to take Renee to bed, but it happened.
It always seemed to happen.
After he finished the portrait, Renee had left with it and had never returned. At least he had a photograph of the painting, along with his photos and sketches of her.
Just like Jennell.
And the others.
He still had that empty spot from Renee’s absence, a desire, a…
Nance’s eye’s smoldered. “I’m sure you did get to know her very well. I look forward to getting to know you as well.”
All of her previous shyness had magically transferred over to him. He could feel his face warm as she watched him with her bold, burning eyes.
“Yes, for Art’s sake….”
“Here is to Art!” She toasted with an imaginary glass. “Anyway, Matt, this all seems great. I’ll meet you for dinner tomorrow. We can talk and such and plan the actual portrait sitting. Right?”
“Yes, perfect. In the meantime, I’ll do some sketches. It’ll help me get to know the shape of your face.”
“I see you got another flower for your collection.”
Matt jerked his head up.
His landlord, Mr. Blackwell, was standing in front of him. How did he get in? And how long had Matt been in his creative haze?
Mr. Blackwell nodded down at the sketchpad.
“I assume this is another commission for a portrait.”
Matt looked down at the drawing in front of him, as if seeing it for the first time. He had wanted to capture the essence of Nance the second she left, without referring to the photos. The drawing was a very good likeness, excellent for a preliminary sketch. It was that shy look, with the devil in her eyes, captured perfectly.
“Lovely, but they all are, aren’t they? You have a way…”
Mr. Blackwell was smiling, but the lines in his face were more of a dog snarling over a bone than a friendly complement.
“I mean in your paintings. Of capturing the essence and all.”
The edges of Mr. Blackwell’s mouth curled. How did he know?
“Their inner beauty, as well as that of their flesh, shines through.” Mr. Blackwell turned towards Jennell, on the wall. “I remember when she came here. Lovely. And she is still lovely, and always will be. As they all will be. As this young lady,” he gestured towards the sketchbook, “will be.”
A shudder went down Matt’s spine, but he smiled up at his landlord.
Mr. Blackwell slowly turned, taking in the entire gallery. “You haven’t sold many lately, have you?” Matt shook his head, even though Mr. Blackwell was looking the other direction. “I guess this young beauty walked into your life at exactly the right time. So you can pay the rent on this place and all, I mean.”
“I’m sorry to bother you. I’ll let you get back to your work. Have a great day, Matthew.”
“Thanks, Mr. Blackwell, you too.”
Matt watched his landlord’s back as the man slowly walked out of the gallery. They alarm buzzed, as it should have but seemingly didn’t on Mr. Blackwell’s entry, and then the man was gone.
He was gone, but his presence lingered, like smoke in the air.
Matt grabbed his camera and a pad of better drawing paper before heading to the door. He made sure the sign said “Closed” and the door was locked. He wouldn’t be back for the rest of the day.
The lines were beautiful, graceful. Even though their owner was perfectly still in her sleep, the lines danced and swayed. Part of him wanted to remove that sheet that covered most of her body, but he didn’t want to disturb the vision of perfection.
A quick sketch, and a turn of the page before a better, more detail drawing.
The flowing water of her form under the sheet rippled under his pencil. The lines of the hidden breast, enticingly half visible under that thin gauze, was drawn in marble, but with a feel of silk. That heavenly face, a pool in itself, reflecting the lines of her body, surrounded by a glow from the dim light. Those liquid eyes, watching him as he drew.
He dropped his pencil.
She was awake.
“What’cha doin’?” Nance asked, as she lifted up on her elbow.
He picked up the pencil then smiled.
“Just doing a quick sketch.”
She pulled the cover off of her.
“Here, do want to do a nude?”
He thought of Manet’s Olympia as he leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“I want to see it when you’re done!”
He turned the page in his pad of high-quality drawing paper and, using his 6H, began with a quick gesture lightly penciled in. The rhythm perfect, he lightly put in the centers of her mass, of her rib cage, pelvis and head. Taking out a 2H pencil, he started the outline. Within a few seconds he was no longer aware of pencils or drawing pad or anything else in the Universe, he was totally lost in the process.
Only the music of her beauty still occasionally made it through his artistic trance.
Matt moped around the gallery, pretending to take interest in dusting and arranging, but lost in a black fog.
Where was she?
He had given Nance her portrait and collected the fee with a kiss, a kiss that promised more, and then, there was no more. She left the shop and his life.
It had been over a week. She didn’t answer his texts, calls or emails.
It was just like her friend, Renee. Just like Jennell.
Just like all of them.
Matt half noticed the beep from the door.
A man in a jacket approached. There was a police officer on either side of him.
“Mr. Andrews? Mr. Matthew Andrews?” the man in the jacket asked.
“Yes. How can I help you?”
“I am detective Franks.” He held out a badge. “Do you recognize this person?”
Matt took the photo, but almost dropped it.
The photo was of Constance.
The detective took the photo. Matt only half saw that the two uniformed officers were looking through the shop.
“You were seen with Ms. Gilbert on the 14th. Did you have any contact with her after that?”
“I’m not sure. I painted her portrait on Wednesday and she picked up Friday. What was the date Friday? The 16th? I didn’t see her after she left with the portrait.”
The detective stared at him, as if asking for more. But there was no more!
“Did anything happen to Nance, I mean Ms. Gilbert? She was just a client, but I care for her, I…”
One of the uniformed officers was holding Matt’s drawing pad. He realized he had left it open to the nude of Nance that he had drawn as she lounged on his bed.
The detective took the pad, brushed his eyes over the drawing before aiming his stare back on Matt.
“Ms. Gilbert was found brutally murdered last night. A couple of months ago we discovered the body of a Ms. Renee Carter. Murdered. A month before that, a Ms. Whittmen. Murdered. Before that… Do I need to go on? We didn’t have any clues until we realized that they had all been seen with you just days before the murders. All of them, every last victim, had a portrait painted. By you.”
He shook the drawing pad of the nude Nance.
“And we believe they all had sex with you.”
The detective turned to one of the uniformed officers. “Cuff him and read him his rights. He’s coming with us.”
“So lovely, so very lovely. Her life has been captured in this painting, like a bug in flypaper, or a saber-tooth tiger in tar.”
Mr. Blackwell carefully removed the painting of Jennell from the wall of Matt’s gallery. With the painting tucked under his arm, he took one last look around the gallery.
Matthew Andrews was such a great artist. Perhaps the perfect artist. He made such a great tool.
Mr. Blackwell patted Jennell’s paining.
“You’ll go join the others. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? You’ll be right beside Constance Gilbert and Renee Carter and Adelle Whittmen and all of the others. There you will stay forever young, forever beautiful, even as your body turns to dust. That beats old age, doesn’t it? That awful fading? The lines sagging the color growing pale? And I am not even jealous of Matthew. No, not at all, even if he was able to know that gorgeous body, now gone. He only held you for night, I will hold you forever.”
“But he will be hard to replace, no?”
He reached up and touched the reflecting pool with his forefinger, before stepping back for one last look at that almost real pool, the essence of its light perfectly caught.
“Yes, very hard to replace.
The idea of this story was based on a story by Adele at the web site Notes fro Women (see her 100 word Friday Fictioneer story here). The clip at the top was actually from a painting of a melon. the photo is of its texture, which I liked.