The Artist

Artwork by Neil Aschliman

Impressing Marla was like sucking his own dick, something Paulo didn’t really think was possible, but he would keep trying at it until he either broke his neck–or succeeded. Fortunately for Paulo, he was more talented with a welding torch than he was flexible. Who said that glorious day would never come when he would move her?  Today could be the day, he thought with his grease-stained hand wrapped around the cool, brass door knob, but then he wondered if he was just a fool in love. Lost in the moment of hesitation, he let his fingers slip away from the handle and tugged the key loose, courage retreating. His eyes flickered up the length of darkened art gallery corridor, to the paneled ceiling above him, and then to his feet.

“Never mind,” he told her, cursing his chronic self-doubt and the weight of Marla’s eye’s that ultimately forced his own back up.  His heart always fluttered when their eyes met.

I am a cliche.

“I want to see this piece,” she said. “Paulo. I’ve never seen you so excited.”

“I just,” he said, fumbling for the right words. “Your sculptures, they are really amazing.”

“Chicken bones and wire, Paulo,” she said dismissively, “But thank you.”

If you don’t try this now, you won’t have another chance.

The thought paralyzed him and he focused first on her pale hands and then the dark wool skirt that the hands rested upon. He wanted to push that skirt up over her slender thighs–past her delicate hips. Staring, he imagined her hands atop his, guides helping him climb her skin.  When he lifted his eye to her face, he caught her frowning.

“It’s late,” she said, breaking the silence. “Perhaps you could show me some other time. I have to be somewhere soon.”

Because that was the deal with Marla. She was important and always had somewhere to be, unlike Paulo, who never had anywhere to be.  Her rigid posture and her constant glancing at her watch telegraphed her thoughts: I’m better than this. I’m better than him.

Quickly, he stabbed the key back into the lock and twisted hard, acting out of fear that his only opportunity was slipping away.  Much like the moment, his opus wouldn’t last forever.

“It will just take a second,” he said and pushed the door open. “I promise. Just a second.  I want you to see…since you’ve been such an inspiration to me.”

“I’m flattered,” she said, but Paulo didn’t believe her. “That means a lot.”

He stepped into the dark studio trying to not be mad at her for feigning understanding and gratitude.  He didn’t want to be angry with Marla, but was having a difficult time quelling the urge to slap her.  She followed behind him and he took a deep breath, expelling it slowly and the frustration with it. Once she was inside with him, he closed door, submerging the studio into complete darkness.

“What is that smell, Paulo?”

“Just another second,” he said and fumbled on the floor, cursing under his breath until he found the plastic remote.  He pressed the power button.

Beside him, Marla gasped and at the sound Paolo’s sullen features came to life with a rare grin, the smile nearly splitting lips that were chapped from hours of toiling in the wind and rain the night before.

“I…” she spoke but her voice faltered.

He turned and admired her expression, her face frozen in a mask of awe, eyes wide and her mouth a silent ‘o.’  Just as he had always pictured her.

Marla’s lips were a perfect circle.

“The dirt,” he pointed at the piles of brown earth spread across a mattress-sized, illuminated box.”That is the real dirt. I saved some.”

Above the dirt piles, hanging from a black, metal frame that reached to the ceiling was his masterpiece.  The vulture, it’s likeness intentionally crude,  was welded from rusted strips of metal that Paulo had found at a nearby scrap yard. The beast clutched a rotting cadaver in it’s large talons, funeral clothes shredded to soiled rags by Paulo’s own skilled hands.  The body had been so stiff when he’d unearthed it that he had to break bones and sever muscle to create the effect of limp hanging. The work had been overwhelming, but he considered himself lucky for finding a body in the right state of decay on the first try.  He inhaled through his nose, pleased that the smell of his vomit and sweat had all but faded away.

“It’s not real,” Marla said and he took it as complement, self-doubt fading for the first time in his life.  He turned to her, sure their first kiss was imminent, but she was backing away with her hands covering her mouth. Marla was revolted and Paulo struggled to comprehend what was happening, but he could not.

“Your chicken bones inspired me to do this,” he said in a last ditch effort to make her understand, he didn’t want to be angry with her again, but if she didn’t understand… “I call it Dead Scavenge Dead.”

She screamed, the note long and warbling.

Paolo put his hands over his ears.


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