The smell of pine is like my father's work quarters, as lonely as this room, pushed into the angles of the attic. Shafts of the dusk sunlight fight their way through clouds and city walls and throngs of life to rest upon my profile, I can feel the shadow move across my eyelid as the artist scribbles, scribbles. His tools scratch along the surface, erratically and forcefully. He exhales and the little room seems to sink with him. I hear his short, sharp breaths like a sleeping child, with their lungs not quite big enough for adult breath. He takes a break for a cigarette, and signals for me to stay as he walks away. I allow myself to look about the room for the first time, all bare and sterile, framing his table, fat and heavy and too large in the centre of the room. It is covered in tiny splotches of paint that have formed into bumps, like brail, along the surface. The blues have bred with the reds, purples and greens swilled together, blacks that are dangerous and dark, masking the colour beneath. His tools are everywhere, scattered about in strangely shaped pots and boxes. Murky tins of water lie stagnant by pieces of thick, blank paper. My neck creaks, feeling bruised from the stillness, as I inspect the canvases that line the floor. Echoes of paint and women before me spring and scream from the works, tucked away in rectangle boxes, trapped like spirits in jars. They all stare at me, judge me, warn me, sitting on the wooden stool, bathed in golden sunlight. I imagine some are singers, others are florists. There's a housewife, a maid and a prostitute. But they are all daughters, forbidden from the artist's attic, from the weasel-like foreigner who brings women home from the city, and men alike. Who laughs in the earliest hours of the morning, before the sun and after the moon, with unseen guests. I saw him once, from a friend's second-story window, as thin as ever, thick, black stubble lining his jaw, singing as though he were in an opera. We giggled at the foreigner, looking like death, sounding like the morning birds. I never thought I'de be in his attic.
I turn away from the other women, giving them my shoulder of superiority, it's my turn now, don't be jealous. But I can still hear their warnings, like dainty ripples in a river, spreading through my thoughts. I feel their glances prick my neck - 'Get out now!' 'Don't let him finish!'. But I'm pinned to my stool, to my awkward position, gaining some strange satisfaction from the numbing pain in my back. Have I moved? Is it the dying day's light thats changed the shadows on my face?
He returns, appears livened, his eyes are now quick and eager as he moves the angle of my face and hands. He mutters his mother tongue under his breath, it dances around my ears like siren music, calling to my body and my senses like the chill winter wind. I try not stare at him whilst he is working, but the hop of the brush is entrancing, like a conductor mastering the music from above. I am suffocated by the silence, an awkwardness that only I feel, the straight, flat girl with stubby fingers and dark eyes misplaced by the artist. But the sounds of the darkening city seeps in, and saves me. Shop vendors closing for the day, a clatter and a rattle. The shouts from the street, an occasional laugh, thrown about by the wind.
His anxieties start to fill the room. He is no longer flowing, but irritable, spilling over onto the rough wooden floor. Did he pick the wrong girl? Someone older perhaps, graceful and sleek and knowing. A woman to scold the artist for his errors, not threatened, but above his judgement. And then she laughs and sips wine and smokes cigarettes. She is innocently sexual, her pretense of naivety is unforgivably seductive, leaving his glass with a scarlet-lipped stain. The proper muse.
But I am me, on the street, with the people who only felt like echoes in the attic. His work is as unfinished as I feel, cheated and cold in the bitter airs of December. Shame follows me home, stalking my shadows, listening to my steps, whispering its cruel sermon to the quickening beat that plays beneath my shoes.