by: Jill Twist
What we speak are words, but are they not sounds first? A short story about digging down to one’s core to find the simple beauty that lies beneath…
It must not surprise you when I destroy these drawings of you. I’ve made countless drawings this morning and I would have kept them all, every one, had they any life in them. You must understand, it is these drawings that have failed, not you. There is more life in you than charcoal and newsprint can capture, so I beg of you be patient, as I must be patient. We will create more drawings tomorrow, and we will destroy them tomorrow if they are anything like they are today. They will get better, I promise you. Why give you and whoever else a reason to think that is all I am capable of? I am better than that. We are better than that. And given time we will prove it.
“Tatjana,” I say. “Soon I will—. Soon we will—.” But it is no use. I hold my tongue now and it is bitter like pencil lead against my teeth. Each day I learn more about you, and that is another art form I am stumbling through. I learn that they are not words, what I speak. They are sounds, like the rattling radiator by your feet is a sound. Like the footsteps echoing on the floor above us are sounds. They are sounds that entertain you while you sit steady and quiet in my window. And they are sounds that mean nothing when you close my studio door behind you.
You are a good model. Quiet, steady, full of flesh and shadow and light. But this alone does not make you an artist. This morning you stood naked, your long coat draped over your shoulders, lingering at the corner of my desk, watching as I unpacked my supplies. I had hope just then that there was something inside of you that could understand the thing inside of me.
I finished preparing my charcoal and lead, and I looked up at you and your eyes were wide and unblinking. I was sure you had watched me as I sanded an edge on each piece of charcoal, but there was no evidence on your face. There was not a line of question on your forehead or wrinkle between your brows. You were not curious as the other models sometimes are. So did you know? Did you understand? Had you done all this before? Had you sanded charcoal and lead and tried and failed to draw a figure as remarkable as your own? Had you sat where I sat, blank paper before you, wondering if there was anything you could possibly put down that another artist hadn’t already put there?
I picked up a piece of charcoal and held it out to you, and I had hope that you would take it.
“We are done, yes?” Your coat is off the back of the chair and around your shoulders and tied at your waist in a single movement, and I do not respond. This is my favorite time of the day, watching you. You bend at the waist, your arms reaching, your fingers touching the floor with ease. And did you know your leg lifts and your foot stretches behind you as you bend?
You stand steady now on one foot, wiggle the other into a blue sock. It stretches over your toes and ankle and up your calf, and you make beautiful angles. Your shoulders and chin and eyes lift to me. There. Just now. That is the pose we will start with tomorrow, I am sure of it. And I am sure that is the drawing that will be worth saving. I will be mixing paints by noon and I will use every color I own to capture you. You, Tatjana. You have given us a reason to begin again, and that is all I need to get me through tonight.
“We are done until tomorrow, Tatjana. Then we will begin again.”
Jill Twist grew up in Buffalo, New York and now lives on island in Washington State. Her fiction has been published in Rozlyn Press. You can read more about her and see her artwork at www.JillDianeTwist.wordpress.com.