by Joshua Blanc
Gerald stared into his wallet. He didn't like what he saw there.
With a sigh, he shifted his gaze to the painting on the wall. The subject
was a boxer, who pulled desperately at the waistband of his slipping shorts
with unwieldy gloves. Subconsciously, Gerald's hands went to his own belt,
which was tight almost to the point of cutting off his circulation.|
He closed and pocketed the wallet, and was about to leave the gallery when he sensed a presence behind him. He turned with a start.
"So sorry to startle you, friend," said a man with a syrupy voice, and a hint of a Romanian accent. "I see you are enjoying my painting?"
The man was tall and thin, had gangly arms, a gentlemanly face, thick lips, and sparkling eyes. His blonde hair, greying at the sides, was slicked back, and he wore a black suit and ruffled white shirt. Gerald guessed he was in his fifties.
"Y... you painted this?" said Gerald.
The man drew up beside him. He didn't walk so much as float.
"Yes," he said. "You do like it?"
"I love it," said Gerald. "I wish I could own it, but..."
"Cannot afford?" said the man, with a complex flexing of fingers.
Gerald sighed again, and focused on the agonized face of the boxer.
"My friend, I can see you live this painting. You covet it with your very soul."
Gerald looked up at the man.
"How did you know?"
"I must confess to watching you stare at it for some time. How would you feel if I said you could have it, for just a small favour?"
Gerald's face grew bright.
"What kind of favour?"
"Model for me? For my new painting, I mean."
"Me? In a painting?"
"You'd be perfect! Just look at you; frail of frame, uncertain frown, that button nose, those heavy-lidded eyes, those shiny thick-rimmed glasses, and your hair... the way it thins on top and sits so beautifully over to the left."
"I comb it that way," said Gerald.
"I don't doubt it, my friend. Tell me, what is your name?"
"Amazing -- it fits you so well!"
"Uh, thank you."
"Now, Gerald, what do you say, will you pose for me? That's all you need do, and the painting is yours."
"Will I have to... get naked?"
Gerald's stubby fingers clutched his belt again.
"Certainly not, I wouldn't think of asking it. I shall paint you just as you are. I want to capture your very essence, your air of... sad charm."
Gerald looked once more at the painting, took a deep breath, hoisted his trousers, and said: "I will do it."
"Yes, Mister Deguire?" said a shorter chap in a more colourful suit.
"Wrap this painting, with care mind, and have it ready for this remarkable man to take home with him."
"You got it."
The painter Deguire led Gerald into a dingy room, behind a door marked: "Do Not Disturb -- Painter At Work!"
The room was like a large cardboard box. Gerald looked up at the ceiling, expecting to see folded tabs. Instead, there were ceiling tiles and a solitary light bulb with a pull-chain. The only furniture was a painter's easel, and a crate which stood a foot high, six feet long, and two feet wide.
"The box?" said Gerald.
"Please," said Deguire, with a smile.
Gerald stood upon the crate and Deguire fussed about in a small case beside the easel. He produced a sharp piece of paper and handed it to Gerald.
"What's this for?"
"It is the theme of the painting. May I position your arms?"
"Er, go ahead."
Deguire moved Gerald's hand so that it held the paper just in front of him. The other hand he positioned above the paper, with outstretched finger.
"Excellent. Now please hold that pose."
Deguire narrowed his eyes. His gaze seemed to pierce Gerald's skin, and the room became darker, just for a moment. In a flurry, the master set to work at his canvas. Colours drab and grey and creamy went to the picture, and at the very end, a touch of red.
"Thank you, Gerald. You may relax now, and claim your painting."
Gerald hopped down, surprised at how easy it had been.
"Thank you. Uh, may I see it?"
Deguire gave a sly grin, and turned the easel to face his model.
"Oh," said Gerald.
Paul stared at the empty void in his wallet that so many dollars had called home. With a deep, pitiful sigh, he returned the wallet to his pocket and moved his eyes slowly up the wall to the painting. Captured on canvas, a postal worker stared back at him through thick-rimmed glasses. Paul's hands tightened into fists when he looked again at the envelope in one hand, and the nasty paper cut on the index finger of the other. He wrung his hands, as if they too were deeply cut.
"Hello, friend. I see you are enjoying my painting?" said a golden voice which reminded him of faraway castles and bats.