Al’s latest model, Naomi, liked to click the top of her cigarette lighter open and shut, which annoyed him almost as much as the smell of her lighter fluid and cheap perfume. He tolerated her because she looked androgynous. He didn’t care what anyone thought about his choice for his Christ portrait. She needed the work, and he needed a model with her look for his crucifixion painting.
“You’re meant to be dying,” he had said during their first session.
“What the fuck for?”
“Because that’s what I’m paying you for.”
“Yeah. Look at this.” She posed her hair, then her slim figure and small breasts. “Does this look like I’m dying?”
“Get the fuck out of here.”
“Yeah? Well, fuck you too. I hope you die.”
She grabbed her clothes and ran from his studio. The slam of the door shook the paintings on the wall. He slumped into his armchair. Why had he ever thought he could paint the crucifixion in a new way? Tomorrow would be different. He had to make Naomi understand the pose he sought.
Each of Al’s art students hunched intently over their easels as they tried to capture the essence of the well-muscled blond-haired model posed in front of the room.
“The body is divided into several basic units,” Al said as he strolled among the students. “First and most important is the head because it is the essence of a man. First, draw an oval and divide it into eight parts—to establish the positions of the features in relation to each other within the oval.
“Divide it into two horizontal lines across the center of a vertical line. Then, divide the lower half of the oval into three equal parts with two more horizontal lines.
“Within the face itself are several important features. First, the cheeks. The cheeks depend on the shape of the cheekbones, jawbones, mood of the subject, and the prevalent shadows. Second, the eyes. The eyes express every emotion. Strive for the essence of action rather than specific features—essence exaggerating its intensity.”
Back in his apartment, he checked his mail on the hallway table and tossed the letters into the growing pile. Mrs. Berkowitz, his landlady, opened the door of her apartment and stood before him. Her dog barked behind her.
“Mr. Findlay? It’s the stove again…”
Damn her fucking stove, he thought. He had a masterpiece to finish. He crossed into her kitchen, fiddled with the stove, turned the gas back on, and the burners burst into life.
“You should have been a repairman,” she said with a sneer. “That model friend of yours is here. She came in about thirty minutes ago.”
His studio was full of unfinished pictures of the crucifixion. The pictures of the models were complete in every detail except for their faces. Why couldn’t he get the look he so desired, the sweet acceptance of death in the eyes and the body, and soul at last in peace?
Naomi, stretched out on the sofa watching TV, played with a knife. She crushed the butt of a cigarette on the arm of the couch. Four beer bottles had been tossed onto the floor beneath the cross.
“Good show on TV. A cartoon. You ought to watch it; you might get some ideas for your paintings.”
Exasperation choked him.
She rose, turned off the TV, changed into a loincloth, and grabbed a beer. Holding the beer, she unsteadily strapped herself on the cross.
“How many times have I told you—-sublime loneliness and suffering of that morning on Calvary.”
“Fuck you. I can do only one thing at a time.”
Naomi threw the bottle at him, and it broke on the floor. The sudden tilt of the cross made her lose her balance, and she fell landing on the broken bottle. Blood spurted from her side and across the floor.
“No,” she said, “No. I’m too young to die.”
As she struggled with death, Al finally saw the divine expression he had sought for so long. In a state of inspired fury, he translated to his latest canvas. The scared look in her eyes, her hands outstretched, reaching as her blood seeped across the floor. The landlady came to