This story is by Georgia Marsh and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I stare across the Brooklyn skyline, my loft window lightly opened to allow for the music of the street below to grace the grey tone walls. With every slam on the brakes of a taxi cab and honk of a melodramatic horn, a slight smile creeps across my lips in appreciation of the bustling lives each New Yorker artist upholds; a unity throughout the city. No matter the art, the connection is obvious. Whether a lawyer or a model, a doctor or a socialite, our arts are more than the work they occupy. And I, a man of the simpler arts, am constantly mesmerised by the ever bustling lives of those who’s days appear more important than mine; although pretending that one art isn’t as important as another is a sin in itself.
I lean onto the clean glass window, cigarette smoking between my fingertips, thoughtfully sucking the essence of the cancer stick from its anatomy. The smoke swirls delicately in the air, waiting, just as I am, for something to remove it from the confines of my high rise loft. Waiting for a breeze to come; although my breeze may not be so literal.
Cigarettes are an almost essential aspect of the creative process. The juxtaposition of their deathlike complexion along with the artistry of their swirling smoke intrigues the curious mind, questioning why we knowingly kill ourselves for the temporary relief. They are a torture of the human body until the heart and the lungs cannot cope with the stress they provide. Yet, are these metaphorical nails in the coffin really all that terrible? Or is their reputation a side note to the true cause of mortal deficiency – love?
A knock at the door, slight but consistent. Flicking my eyes across, I cast my ashes to the street and step clumsily to the door, overcome by sheer anticipation. Regaining my balance, I turn the handle, and reveal the sunshine in the rain. Before my tired, analytical eyes stands the brightest, most shiningly happy face I have seen. She smiles gently, and raises a perfectly manicured hand in an elegant wave.
“Hello,” she beams, her rosy lips spread across her straight, white teeth, “I’m Lili.”
“Hi,” I murmur, taken aback by her obvious sophistication, “I’m, uhh, Aaron. You’re my model?” I push my hair behind an ear; a nervous habit.
She blinks her long lashes, brown eyes sparkling despite the dim natural lighting, “Yes, your muse?” Her slight laugh resonates through the hallway, bouncing easily off the walls of my apartment.
I smile lightly, stepping aside as she enters. I am a minimalist, my style not straying from simple objects surrounded by beautiful art; with my budget, the art being a look into ‘the beauty of nothingness’. Her observance of my apartment is obvious, clearly very unlike the apartment she perhaps occupies alternatively. Like the smoke from my cigarettes, she curls delicately around the room, serving as the end to my peaceable waiting as opposed to a breeze stealing the smoke from my fingertips. Her fingers trace the edges of my antique camera resting beneath the window.
“Is this your medium?” she asks innocently, flipping her long golden locks behind her shoulders as her eyes meet mine. They suck me in, entrance me, until a blink breaks my connection to a beauty which can only be described as art.
“Yes,” I stutter, regaining my senses, “and this,” I gesture towards a light grey armchair, rounded at the edges, an air of vintage glamour, “is your throne. Every muse needs a throne,” I smile playfully, leaning on the back of the armchair.
“Oh!” she cries, eyes widening in realisation, “Should I make myself comfortable?” A question, always a question. Never states – I notice instantly.
Lili practically skips over to the chair, flopping down and lifting her legs over an arm. Her face tilts upwards to rest her lamblike gaze on my drowsy, mildly surprised complexion. Suddenly, almost instantaneously, her grin falters as I reach for my camera and prepare the lens carefully and methodically. She touches one finger gently to her lips, and flutters her eyelashes like butterflies on a flower.
“I – “ she starts, biting her lip as she stops herself. I glance up to her doe eyes, waiting.
“I just don’t really know what I’m doing,” she sheepishly admits, clasping her fingers together nervously, her words running together in agitation. Her face turns towards mine, emitting a warmth with her golden smile. “You could have fooled me.” I chuckle, raising the camera to my eye, “Just relax, smile, and I don’t know, do nothing,” I laugh, lowering the lens long enough to smile as her taught position turns reflective before pressing the shutter.
Photograph after photograph, pose after pose, with each flash she becomes more entrancing. Her laughter lifts the room from its foundations, her aura almost ethereal. As the art forms, our friendship is built alongside it. Flicking my dark hair behind an ear, I raise the camera once more, my muscles seizing as my heart is stopped in its tracks. Her glow, her beauty – it is incomprehensible. Lowering the lens to rest at my ribs, I smile at her incredible face, overwhelmed by her absolute ambience of mystique and innocent enthusiasm. At 21 years of age, it is expected that life had already begun. But when I gaze into her eyes, my life is reborn again and again.
“Ready for my close up?” she grins cheekily. Snapping out of my daze, I slowly walk closer to her like a mouse to a trap, conveying her relaxed stance. I lower a hand to her face, gently pushing a stray hair from her eye, marvelling completely. Her eyes follow my every movement, observing me as carefully as I did her. I lower my eyes, hiding my wonderment from her, and raise the antique contraption to take one final image. The final image is more than the craft, more than the anything; it is a commemoration of our journey. A love brought to life by the inklings of time and art. Like the art we have created together, our relationship blossoms under the pressure of absolution. How else to describe innocence given breath by mutual passion?
I place the camera down and catch her eyes in mine. She smiles – as per usual – and sits straight, clasping her hands lightly together. Raising an eyebrow, I question her curious stance with slight worry. Is she questioning me? Does she want to leave? A thousand words, running through my mind, question after question after question after question as I stare fearfully into her eyes, expecting the worst, surely based on childhood trauma, I should get help, is she disappointed? Why is she just looking at me? Why is she sitting so still, how can she when I can’t think a straight thought? Why? How? Why?
“I’d love to do this again,”
Far from what I expected.
My terrified eyes soften, a smile full of relief spreading like wildfire. Such insecurity eradicated by a basic sentence. Happiness, pure happiness.
“Absolutely,” I exclaim too eagerly, my hands fiddling together in a mixture of joy and embarrassment. Anyway, what concerns could I possibly have when such a gorgeous flower, invited into my home, has proclaimed that she wants to meet again? Be it business or pleasure, seeing her face will be a moment I will never forget, and never deny.
“Great,” she smiles, twirling the ends of her hair between her fingertips, failing to catch my eye in what could only be nervousness on her part. How such a gorgeous thing could be nervous around someone as unassuming as me is silly in my opinion, but people are a surprise every single day. “Call me?”
“Yeah,” I grin, “I will.”
She stands, stepping towards me lithely, stopping away from my still body. She flips her curls behind her shoulder and gazes up, eyes sparkling in the dark. Her eyes flick to the window, taking in the burning ashtray and escaping smoke, a small smile beginning as her brain ticks.
“You smoke?” she comments, gesturing towards the almost full ashtray placed underneath the open window, a common spot for me. I nod, fingers itching for a hit.
As she leaves, she clutches to the door of my apartment, half in, half out. I stand, debating asking her to stay, for a day, for life, who knows. But with a final smile, she turns on her heel, and leaves as quickly as she came. Not a sound, not a word. Nothingness.
I close the door and return to my windowsill. Pulling out a cigarette, I light it and puff thoughtfully, dreaming of art and love. Like an artistic piece, love lived in the journey, but lasted as long as the art remained beautiful. When she left the room, the beauty left with her. She is art – she was art.
I stare across the Brooklyn skyline, cigarette in hand, waiting for a breeze to come.