The House of Mystery: The Art Lover, Chapter 1: The Perfect Woman

by Starsky Hutch 76

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The long-nosed, bespectacled man looked up from his book, peering over his glasses. “Good evening! It’s so nice to see you again, here at my humble abode. I was just reading a book on art history. Do you enjoy the arts? I do. What I can grasp of them, anyway. There are so many different styles of art. Sometimes, it’s really quite subjective what one can consider art.

“This reminds me of a couple I once knew: Jamie and Laura. They were really quite opposite. Jamie considered himself an artist, while Laura was more the pragmatic type. Theirs is a story I like to call ‘The Art Lover.'”

***

The cold air whipped around Jamie, causing his body to shake uncontrollably. It was also ripping to shreds a banner that one of the fraternities had put up to advertise one of their activities. Luckily for them, it was already Thursday, and those they were aiming their message to had already seen it. Since that wasn’t really Jamie’s sort of thing, he didn’t care one way or the other.

Right now, all he cared about was the fact that the concrete of the railing had soaked up the cold and was doing its best to transfer it to him. He could see the skin beneath his fingernails turning blue. The temperature didn’t make for a very hospitable environment. Only the day before, one could have found a crowd congregating at that very spot to smoke and socialize. Now, those who wanted to socialize did it in the snack area, and the ashtray mounted on the wall opposite him was filled with half-smoked cigarettes, because the smokers weren’t willing to freeze to satisfy their nicotine cravings. One of those cigarettes was his, left over from the break in his earlier class when the cold had driven him indoors. He wasn’t enduring it now much better than he had then, and he was beginning to think he could have chosen a better spot to pick for the landscape he had been commissioned to create.

“How’s the painting coming?” he heard a voice say. Jamie turned around to see who was speaking and saw his fiancée Laura walking toward him. He hadn’t recognized her voice at first. The sudden change in weather had caused her to catch cold, and now she spoke with a throaty, Lauren Bacall-like voice.

“It’s not a painting yet,” he answered. “I’m still doing a few preliminary sketches, and freezing my butt off in the process.”

“Don’t do that,” she said coyly. “It’s such a nice butt.”

He pulled her close to him and kissed her lightly on the lips. “I thought about you today.”

“Yeah?” she said softly as she brushed her bangs out of her eyes.

“Yeah. There’s going to be a student art show in a few weeks, and I need something to knock the judges’ socks off.”

“Well, that shouldn’t be any trouble for you. You’re a wonderful artist,” she said, laying her head on his chest. “But what does that have to do with me?”

“I want to do a sculpture — a statue. And since I want it to be the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen, I’m going to need you to pose for me.”

“What kind of statue?”

“A nude.”

She looked up at him and said, “I’m sorry, Jamie. I can’t. I’m not comfortable with the idea of posing nude.”

“I don’t understand. Why would you be shy with me?” Jamie asked.

“Not you. Everybody else on campus. You’ll be out in another semester, but I still have to go to school here. I don’t want everybody seeing me like that.”

“This will be faculty from the art department. Not a bunch of drooling, sex-starved maniacs. They see nudes all the time. Their only interest in it would be artistic.”

Laura gave a half-smirk that said, yeah, right. “I’m sorry. I just can’t. Why can’t you just hire a model?”

“You know I can’t afford one. Besides, you’ve taken a couple of drawing courses. You know what a lot of these models look like: people who should never take their clothes off in front of anybody. I want this piece to be perfect. I want it to be the best thing that’s ever entered this show.”

“And you feel that you need me to pose for it in order for it to be that way. I’m flattered, Jamie. I really am. But I’d just die if anyone saw a nude of me. You know that more than just the art department would see it. Knowing you, you’d end up winning the thing, and then your piece would end up being put on display for everyone to see.”

Jamie gave a halfhearted display of a smile at her compliment.

Laura put her hand on his cheek and said, “This is really important to you, isn’t it?”

“I really want to win this thing.”

“And you will, babe. You’re great at what you do. If there’s anything else I can help you with, besides posing, I will.”

“No, there’s nothing else,” Jamie said, downcast. “That was it.”

“Well, if you think of anything, let me know,” she said, resting her head on her arm.

“Sure,” Jamie said, gazing off into the distance. “If I think of anything, I’ll let you know.”

***

Without Laura to pose for him, Jamie was going to have to work strictly from his imagination. He tried to find as much reference material as he could to help him put an image together to work from. His sister gave him several of her old-fashioned magazines, which were filled with pictures of some of the most beautiful women in the world. He also found stacks of old Playboys at the flea market that he was able to buy for practically nothing. He was able to take the best parts of different pictures to make preliminary sketches in order to get an image of what he thought the perfect woman would look like.

When he finally had an idea of what it was he wanted to show, he was ready to begin work on the sculpture itself. He put together a framework for the skeleton of the figure. He had chosen to have the figure on its knees, leaning forward with her back arched, her arms to the side, and her face raised up, as if she were looking into the sun but with her eyes closed. Her long blonde hair would be slicked back as if she had just come out of the water. Her skin, too, would look as if it were beaded with water droplets.

Finally, he was ready to begin work with the clay. He popped a New Age cassette into his stereo; it was part of his work routine. Once, he had taken a class on drawing on the right side of the brain; the instructor had played New Age music, which seemed to lull him into an artistic trance, and he had produced the best work he had ever done. Since that day, he had always played such music when he worked. He pushed the play button, and the room was filled with soothing music accompanied by ocean sounds and seagulls.

Jamie began to pack the clay onto the skeletal framework. The love he felt for creating began to fill his heart. He wasn’t an experienced sculptor, having always preferred painting, but it seemed as if this were an art form he could come to enjoy even more. The clay had a pleasant feeling as he worked it with his fingers. As the sculpture began to take on a more humanoid appearance, he pictured how beautiful it would look after he was finished. It would be more beautiful than any woman who had ever lived.

Finally, he came to the part where he did the actual sculpting. He gave more care to creating her features than he had ever given toward anything he had ever done. As she began to look more and more realistic, he began to think of her as he would a real person, rather than a dead thing made of clay. He would often talk to her in a soothing, comforting voice, saying things like, “Almost through, almost through. You’re going to look so pretty after I’m done.”

The trouble was, he couldn’t seem to finish. There were always things he could find to do to improve her. He was never satisfied with what he had done and would always have to come back to touch up his previous work. He wanted her to be perfect in every way. It became his driving passion. It was more important than eating. It was more important than sleeping. It became more important than Laura.

***

Laura didn’t take kindly to all the dates he had broken. He never seemed to have time for her anymore. He was always working on that stupid statue. She came to his studio to voice her complaints and was shocked at what she saw. Jamie looked as if he hadn’t slept in a week. He hadn’t shaven in days, and he was much thinner than the last time she had seen him. His hair was a tangled, unwashed mess filled with bits of clay. His clothes were equally smeared with clay from days of work.

“What are you doing here?” he asked dizzily, grimacing at the light that poured in the doorway.

“Hi, yourself,” she snapped at him. “That’s some way to greet someone you’re supposed to be in love with. Why haven’t you been returning my calls? I’ve left message after message on your machine, but you’ve never bothered to call me back.”

“I haven’t been checking my messages. I didn’t want to interrupt my work on the sculpture.”

“Yeah,” she said, barging through the doorway past him, “I just bet you didn’t. How is it coming along, by the way?” Laura made a beeline toward the center of the room, where the sculpture was hidden underneath a canvas drop cloth. She was just about to pull it away to reveal what was hidden underneath, when Jamie grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around to face her icy stare.

Don’t. I don’t want anyone to see it until I’m finished.”

“Why?” Laura asked, emotion causing her voice to shake. The look in his eyes unnerved her. Jamie was normally a very laid-back and easygoing guy. “You’re usually in such a hurry to show off your work that you let me see it in progress.”

“Well, not this time,” he growled.

“Come on, Jamie. Let me see it. It can’t be that bad.”

“Bad?” Jamie said, aghast. “Bad? My God! It’s not bad. It’s wonderful!

She looked at him strangely and said, “So what’s your problem?”

Jamie began to realize how strange his behavior must have seemed to her, so he tried to force a smile. “I want it to be a surprise.”

“You’re really acting weird, Jamie. I think you need professional help.”

“Oh, great. You’re feeling neglected, so suddenly I’m going crazy,” Jamie said, waving his arms dramatically. “If you don’t think I’m spending enough time with you, it’s your own damn fault! I asked you to pose for me, but nooo. You were afraid to have the faculty see your tits!

“Don’t give me that pseudo-intellectual bull$#!* about art people looking at nudity differently than everyone else, Jamie,” Laura said. “They get off the same way everyone else does.”

“You always have to reduce everything down to the lowest common denominator, don’t you?”

“Don’t try to turn this around on me like I’m the one acting strange. You’re obsessed with this thing.” She walked over to the wall and picked up a stretched canvas that was resting against it. “This is the sketch for the landscape you were doing for next year’s campus handbook. You were working on this when you asked me to pose. That was over three weeks ago!”

“I’ll get around to it.”

“It’s too late. They’ve already given the assignment to someone else.”

“Oh, well…”

“‘Oh, well’? That’s all you have to say about it? ‘Oh, well’? Don’t you care about anything anymore? You’re letting everything go to hell!”

“Laura, if you’re through ranting, I really need to get back to work.” Jamie turned his back on her and began setting his tools by the sculpture. As he pushed the play button on his stereo, the music with the ocean sounds and seagulls began to fill the room once more. He walked to the sink and began to fill a bucket with water, then turned to Laura and said, “Don’t forget to shut the door on your way out. I like to keep the room a certain temperature to keep the clay from drying out too quickly.” Laura’s face turned beat red, and she stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

Jamie carefully lifted the drop cloth off the sculpture and looked down at it lovingly. “She just doesn’t understand, does she?” Then he kissed the sculpture on the lips.

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