11,041 vagabonds plus:
the pastel heart
"I said I'm leaving you".
"You mustn't", The Painter replied, both palms set as though bracing for the weight of the world to be tossed his way. He never got used to it every time she quit. And she resigned during every near-masterpiece, floating out of a reclining satin sheet, then out onto the street.
"This is final", the girl murmured, reaching for her peignoir, as the artist looked sorrowfully at her unabashedly revealing one-third spun profile. She looked over her left shoulder at him, wrinkles in her forehead. He was not aroused, the blood drained from his head, and losing the center of gravity, he caught himself on a butterfly table, steadying the trembling kerosene lamp by the delicate glass.
"You don't love me", she complained, her voice small and dry, a line repeated over and over in days gone by. She brushed past his outstretched hand reaching for the lovely wide hips and whisked out the door with a slam. His reaction was the same as always - Suicidal, with a desire to swallow a can of turpentine. He cursed, because he worked in limp pastels.
"Damn! Chalk"! He grabbed a fistful and fell into a cushioned chair.
The second floor studio, a hollow room, clockless save for the sun's rays keeping accurate time spotlighting ground powder splotches peppered into the wooden floor by years of nervous pacing, was dark and quiet, except for the echoing door slam pounding in his head. He sat crooked and motionless for an hour until he heard a soft plush thud by one of the open bay windows. He pulled himself up, took up the lamp, and saw it was a small motionless bird with a broken wing. Cradling the fragile companion in a shaky palm he stretched out the window and lowered it into a yellow nest forged in the dry clay gutter stopped up with last years leaves.
In the street below a gas lamp lighter gentleman reached skyward with his flame, tapping the iron stem of glowing light in time as he soloed Verdi's Aria, Ernani. Men and women came out of heavy darkened doors, drawn by the sweet tenor, a strong solo shimmering to the countryside. Before two more lamps were lit the abandoned artist was moved to tears. The lamplighter trailed off-key when he found a crowd had gathered and applauded appreciatively.
The Painter missed the girl desperately and fell into nightmarish sleep late on a moonless night upon the cold pastel floor. The girl came to him on the arm of a suitor. She was laughing like a horse, mocking him, rubbing her brick red satin dress on a blank canvas, exposing under the blankness the one thousandth version of three apples, a pear, and a cracked bowl, all in a ray of dusty light. She forced him to trade the fruited painting on the street corner for a colorless brittle crayon. He was startled awake with palms sweating. Wiping cobwebs from the corner of his eyes he saw a large man kicking a dog and the street lamps dying out one by one. There was no singing. Instead, he heard....
A soft knock at the door. He imagined it could be that little bird with the broken wing. He stood still, quickly swiveling his head like a bird searching for crumbs to offer. The splintered door opened slowly but there was no one in the frame. When he looked out into the hall the girl was scurrying away, her long dress sounding like water from a sputtering fountain.
"You. We have much to do", he called to her in a gentle questioning tone. She hesitated at the stairs with her right hand on the rail, came back swiftly, passing by him close under his chin, head down, avoiding his eyes. He thought she smelled more and more wonderful as he peeled away her garments unaccompanied.
Woman With a Towel (1898)
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