An Artist and his Models won first prize in the Short Story Section of the Eastwood/Hills Branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in August 2018. Here is an extract:
“Glass of wine?”
“I have some cheese. Just bought it today. Lily doesn’t like the smell.”
He takes a goat’s cheese, a slab of blue and a crumbly cheddar out of the fridge and puts them on a wooden board spattered with dried paint. All the furniture, including the upright chair he invites me to sit on, is utilitarian; the orderliness is soothing. The only jarring note is the black slash. I peer at the painting. Patrick swings it onto an easel. It’s a nude of Lily. She’s breathing! If I touched her arm it would be warm. Her breasts and round belly glow with tenderness. Shockingly, her eyes are as lifeless as the black slash.
“Lily’s father did that. Burst in while I was working and grabbed the brush out of my hand.”
“Told me he wouldn’t have his daughter put on display for arty-farty snobs to snicker at. Said if ever I came near her or his grandchild he’ll have me arrested. Dunno what for. He’ll think of something.”
“What did Lily say?”
“He told her to get in the car and she went. Seemed quite happy about it.”
He swings the portrait off the easel and puts it on the floor facing the green garbage bin. Unable to identify what he’s feeling, I prod gently, “And now?”
“She’ll be back when I’m more famous and making more money than I do now.”
I detect neither regret for her departure nor eagerness for her return. I gesture with my wine glass to the painting he’s working on.
“Come and have a look.”
It’s another portrait, a much older woman with wrinkles quilting her face. As with Lily, the skin is alive. And as with Lily, the eyes are in contrast with the face. I gaze into them. One moment they smile at me sardonically, the next they flash with a curious kind of passion. His voice comes over my shoulder. I’m surprised by the uncertain tone.
“You don’t recognise her?”
I feel breathless. “The eyes startle me.”
“There’s so much depth in them.”
“You’ve never looked at yourself in the mirror?”
“I’ve not seen that.”
He’s silent for so long, I need to break the tension. “Your portraits are so different from the landscapes in the gallery in Manly.”
“I paint what I see.”
I turn my head. His face is next to mine. Oh that I were forty years younger! I’ve always liked dangerous men. I also have a sense of self-preservation and didn’t marry one. The dangerous man standing next to me wants everything: models, a patron, fame, money and a hand to stroke his ego and anything else he might offer. I’ve been his model, albeit unknowingly.