Blackie slammed her pencil down to the floor. She had been sketching for hours and everything was wrong. Her flow was now gone, the paper was a blur and her head was beginning to pound.
She rubbed her throbbing temples as the pain shot through her skull, highly concentrated and precise, like a laser beam penetrating her brain. Fumbling around on her desk she searched for the bottle of aspirin amongst the tubes of paint, empty cigarette packs, pencil stubs, brushes, and soda cans, when she finally found it, the bottle was empty.
She winced in pain as she flung the empty bottle across the room. The constant headaches were starting to worry her and she wondered if she should bow out of the gallery showing. The stress of wanting to create the right painting, compounded with the nearing deadline, not to mention the upcoming holidays, were taking their toll on her physically as well as mentally.
Capturing the pose was essential; she had sketched out in her mind the layout of the painting, the semiotics involved, the colors though sparse would be a focal point and the painting itself was to be a pinnacle, in fact her swansong. This piece was to be a dedication to her brother Daniel.
Blackie glanced over at the sprawled out form of her model. Draped on a chaise, his hard and perfectly cut torso looked delicious under the carefully positioned lights. She wanted to paint in the style of the Pre-Raphaelite artists; in her mind was the painting by Henry Wallis, "The Death of Chatterton," which depicted the poet's suicide at the young age of 17. Her use of light and color were to be prodigious as to her normal style of painting, a cross between surrealism and impressionism. As in the painting by Wallis, she too would use symbolism as a means of telling a personal story as well as light and color to set up the mood. The whole pose was affected, a mix of sensuality and sympathy, so subtle, so rarefied, so...ruined by the loud snore that came from the sleeping oaf.
Blackie walked over and kicked the sole of his foot with her boot; the sleeping Adonis woke with a startled snork.
"What the fuck?" He looked around to get his bearings.
"It ain't happening Marco, get dressed and go home." She quickly wrote out a check while he sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"Sorry Blackie, I didn't mean to doze off. Portia had me out late last night and the chair was so comfortable..."
Blackie cut him off, "Don't sweat it hon, it's not your fault." She walked over to him to hand him the check. "I'll call you tomorrow and we can try it again."
"Sure no problem, I'm not doing anything tomorrow." He took the check and gathered his clothes.
"Of course you're not doing anything tomorrow. You're owned," She thought to herself as she stared at him while he was pulling his jeans up over one of the most perfect male asses ever created.
Marco was definitely eye candy and that was pretty much the extent of his depth though he was great friend to Blackie, stepping in to take over the role of a brother. He was also Portia D'Ascenzo- Conrad's delightfully hunky boy toy and the only reason Portia loaned him out to her was because Blackie was the top featured artist that would be showing at her charity event. The event was to be held in Portia's gallery and it would include an auction to benefit Aids research. Blackie didn't particularly care for Portia, but the cause was close to her heart. Her brother's lover died from Aid's related complications three years ago and it was still fresh in her mind.
Near her desk on a side table she kept a picture of her squeezed between Daniel and Evan taken the year before Evan was diagnosed with HIV. She felt the same emptiness in her that she felt when she got the news about Daniel. The feelings of having your heart shrink in your chest and drop into your stomach, it was a constant reminder that a part of her is gone forever.
Daniel was all Blackie had left as far as a family. Their mother was killed in a car accident when Daniel was 4 and Blackie was 6, their father worked long hours to be able to support his children and make their world a happy one. The fact that Blackie was an artist like her mother pleased him greatly, the fact that Daniel was a writer did not set well at first, add to the fact that his only son was gay made it more difficult. However things changed when their father met Evan, his charm and humor had won dad over and the added perks of Daniel's father getting to watch his favorite baseball team from a luxury box helped a great deal.
John Malone died the year before Evan did, they never told him what was wrong with Evan, just that he was prone to colds. It was all for the better Blackie thought; until Daniel killed himself after finding out he too was HIV positive. The stress of losing his mother at such a young age, then his father's death too early in Daniel's mind, followed by his lover's was unbearable, he took the last of Evan's painkillers leaving behind a most eloquent suicide note to Blackie. Seeing the pain her brother endured was evident in his words, though she had seen it in person, she assumed her little brother was the stronger of the two. His death threw Blackie into turmoil she began painting again, almost non-stop to keep from having to face the world, a world less colorful, less exciting, and less beautiful now that Daniel and Evan were gone. Her best and only friend Di, persuaded her to show her works in a gallery, Portia's gallery to be exact. Blackie had made it finally, but she was alone in a bittersweet twist of fate.
Portia was a pretentious and gorgeous, rich bitch; her ex-husband gave her the gallery in the divorce settlement. If Portia liked you she would spare no expense to promote you, if not you could be sure that you would never show your work in this town. She had plenty of rich friends that were willing to buy from Portia as well as many investments, a yacht, a fabulous penthouse and a young handsome boy on her arm. God she hated her.
"Hey, you okay?" Marco had been watching Blackie wince and reach for her forehead.
"Hmmm? Yea, just hurts." She made her way over to the sofa and rested her head against the back.
Marco stooped down near her and placed his hand on her knee. "Can I get you anything?" He said softly, his brow furrowed in concern when she stayed silent. "You better get checked out babe, this is the third one this week."
Without moving or even opening her eyes she managed a weak smile and reached for his hand. "I'll be fine sweets, it's just the stress from the show coming up so soon and the holidays too. I just need some rest is all."
He gave her hand a little squeeze and smirked. "You're so full of shit girl, you hate the holidays and you're making up excuses. Look, call me if you need anything, okay?"
Blackie gave her head a slight nod 'yes' and listened to hear Marco walk towards the door, pause momentarily and then she heard the click of the door closing behind him. She reached blindly for the throw that lay across the back of the sofa, pulled it around her as she settled against the armrest and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
She woke up to the sound of the answering machine receiving a message. It was Marco checking up on her. She didn't pick up but let him leave his message while she slid her feet to the floor to stand up. Confused and a little groggy she realized that she was still fully dressed from the day before. A dull ache still remained lodged in the back of her head; deciding a hot shower was just what she needed to make the residual pain go away. She shuffled toward the bathroom peeling off her shirt and bra and tossed them to the floor. As she let the water run she glanced at herself in the vanity mirror. Her hair was in disarray; dark circles were starting to show under her eyes. She stuck out her tongue not sure what she was looking for and sighed heavily. "Who the fuck are you?" Rubbing the back of her neck she answered herself. "Oh yes. You're that washed up, no talent, pathetic, brain damaged artist."
After stripping off her yoga pants and panties she stuck her hand under the water to test the temperature, finding it to be fine she stepped into the shower and pulled the curtain closed. The steady stream of hot water felt good, it started to dissipate the pain in her head and would cleanse her of the film of failure she felt was glued to her skin. Grabbing the soap and a washcloth she scrubbed her skin roughly leaving red blotches behind, then washed her hair in the same rough manner. She felt suddenly alone; the memories of last night came back to her without mercy. Slumping down in the tub the stream of hot water began to sting her skin making her realize that she was still alive, alone and unloved. The wracking sobs that shook her body made her draw her legs up to her chest and the tears that ran down her cheeks were indecipherable from the rivulets of hot water that washed over her face. Curling into a fetal position in the bottom of the tub she lay there crying wishing she would dissolve and flow down the drain. She lay there until the water ran cold and finally forced her to turn off the icy spray. Shivering and wet she rose to her knees and pulled a towel down from the rack that hung on the wall outside of the tub. Wrapping the huge body towel around her she rose and gingerly stepped out of the tub onto the mat. Her teeth had begun to chatter and she decided to go to her bed, choosing the warmth of the comforter and blankets over the cold air of the bathroom.
The softness of the flannel sheets and the way the comforter compressed her further into a small safe cocoon made her feel warmer. The thought of having a lover's arms wrapped around her made her a little warmer but then again reminded her, she was lonely. She was also hungry. It was time to get dressed and get moving the thought of coffee and a bagel made her empty stomach growl. Hopefully the change of scenery, being with other humans may help her to refocus all together.
She changed into comfortable jeans and a black thermal shirt, dried her hair and brushed her teeth. Slipping into her favorite pair of motorcycle boots and grabbing her long black wool coat she headed towards the door. Something caught her eye as she reached for the doorknob. Tucked into the light switch near the doorframe was a pale blue business card. She pulled it out and found a handwritten message on it. "B, call this # tell them I sent you. It will help you, M." She almost expected to see a little smiley face drawn underneath his name. Flipping the card over she read, "The Restoration" and a number. "Must be one of Portia's flaky friends." She thought as she stuffed the card into her jean pocket and headed out the door.
Outside she was greeted by an overcast day, a few light flurries floated through the air, she pulled her coat around her before taking in a deep breath of the gloom and started down the street to her favorite café.
As she walked in she noticed it was more crowded than usual, Christmas shoppers popped in to warm up with a quick cup of something-a-chino. The tacky Christmas decorations glared out at her as she approached the counter and ordered her usual coffee and bagel, she blocked out the retro Christmas music playing on the portable CD player. Reaching into her pocket for her money she pulled out the pale blue card at the same time, it fell near her feet. She bent down to pick it up, "The Restoration" smiled back at her and she rolled her eyes before slipping it back in her pocket. Gathering up her order she looked for a place to sit amongst the yuletide shoppers and regulars. Spotting a single table in the back corner she pushed past a few people trying to figure out if they should go for the skinny cappucinolatte or carb-free mochalattechino.
Setting down her real coffee and bagel, she then removed her coat and placed it on the back of her chair before she sat down and dove into her bagel with double cream cheese. Food can be a good thing she thought to herself not remembering when she last ate anything. The hot coffee was just what she needed and she began to relax. Nibbling on her bagel she read a discarded newspaper left on the table. Flipping through the pages of Christmas ads, news of the war, reading the art and book reviews she soon found herself looking at the obituaries. Her heart felt like it flipped over in her chest when she saw the name of her best friend in Art school. He was an awesome artist and fashion designer, when they graduated he was snatched up by one of the European fashion houses. They lost contact after a while until Blackie saw him again in the hospital when Evan was in for his last time. It wasn't listed that he died of Aids, she knew that's what it was, he had told her when they had rehashed what had been going on since the last time they saw each other. The stigma would be too much for the family, so there would be a memorial service and family viewing only. Just like it was for Evan and Daniel.
A torrent of memories came rushing back to her and it wasn't until she noticed the dark spots spreading across the newspaper that she realized she was crying. She wiped her eyes with her shirtsleeve and took a sip of her coffee. It was cold. Christ how long was she sitting there weeping? She needed to get out of there right away before some good soul full of holiday spirit tried to console her, being left at the mercy of her emotions was not something Blackie liked to do in private, let alone lose in public. Hurriedly grabbing her cup and bagel remnants she threw them away wrapped her coat over her shoulders and ran out the door.
Once outside the door the cold air stung her teary eyes, she put her head down and pushed her way blindly through the happy multitudes until she reached her front stoop. Her head started to hurt again, she cursed as she fumbled with the keys in the lock, working up a sweat until finally opening the front door. Blackie leaned back against the door trying not to hyperventilate. She took off her coat and hung it near the door before sitting down on the sofa, as she started to sit she felt a stab in her upper thigh. Startled, she stood upright slid her hand into her jean pocket and pulled out the pale blue card.
"What the hell is with this anyway?" she yelled as she threw the card onto the coffee table. Her head throbbed more now making her nauseous and she ran to the bathroom to vomit.
Pulling herself up to the sink she washed her face and rinsed out her mouth. After drying her face she leaned against the sink and looked hard at her reflection. Combing her fingers through her short shock of bleached blonde hair she saw an apparition of herself, pale and wane, her blue eyes were dull. What the hell happened to her? When did it all go to shit? A wave of fury swept over her.
"It should have been you!" she screamed as she glared at the soulless reflection and stormed out of the bathroom not before throwing a can of hairspray at the mirror sending thousands of shards imprinted with Blackie's pained expression scattered across the bathroom.
Back in her studio she noticed the light flashing on her answering machine as she searched for a pack of matches. Playing back the messages, two from Marco and one from someone trying to sell her a timeshare, she decided she had better return Marco's calls before he came over and broke down the door. Picking up the phone she dialed Marco back and reassured him that she was fine, just not in the mood to draw today. He asked if she had found the card and made her promise to call the number. She did so to pacify him so he would chill for a while.
Walking towards the easel she stared at the blank paper waiting for her touch, then she looked over the sketches scattered across the floor. She pulled out a cigarette, lit it, took a long drag and slowly exhaled. The smoke lingered, wrapping itself around the easel giving it an ethereal frontage back lit by the late morning sun creating swirling, dancing figures that mesmerized Blackie. As she stared hypnotically at the undulating smoke the image of her brother appeared to her, mouthing her name. Startled she jumped back a step rubbing her eyes and when she looked again, he was gone. Reaching out she touched the sketch paper, it was cool and smooth, there was nothing of Daniel there, it had all been in her mind. She was losing it, her mind was failing her and now she was hallucinating.
"I'm standing on the threshold of madness." She thought. "But aren't all artists mad?" she asked of no one, pacing the floor and smoking feverishly on her cigarette. "Van Gogh cut off his ear, Latrec indulged in absinthe, Chatterton and Plath killed themselves how many other artists, writers, poets and musicians had gone mad or died? Was it the curse of the creative thought process that tormented them, the pursuit of artistic integrity or the deep passionate yearning to show the beauty only they could see? The line from an Eliot poem came to mind...I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas."
Blackie felt weighed down, angry, hurt, sad and hopeless. All her emotions were confused, as was her mind. She hated being alone in her own head with her own mental demons; it was if they laughed at her failure, constantly reminding her of weaknesses, feeding off her pain. They needled her endlessly invading her sleep with dreams of what she didn't have, yet desired, whispering deliberate imperfections in her ear, they were like leeches on her soul suckling away what was left of her spirit. She paused and realized she had ended up in the living room. As she bent to stub out her cigarette the pale blue card caught her eye as if beckoning to her. She picked it up, rubbing her thumb across the embossed print, "The Restoration".
Blackie stood outside of the townhouse checking the address she had written down. It looked normal; nothing unusual about this one made it stand out from the rest and the neighborhood was in a nicer section of town. She took a deep breath and walked up the steps to the oaken wood and glass doorway. Pressing the buzzer she fought back the urge to turn around and go back home.
"Can I help you?" the unattached voice asked. It was a woman's voice, almost sensuous and sort of husky, not what Blackie expected. She had talked to a gentleman when she first called.
"Um...Blackie Malone, I have an appointment."
"Come in please." The buzzer sounded to let her inside the small foyer where another door stood, unsure she opened it and stepped inside.
The room was small with a high ceiling, the floor was a glossy hardwood dotted with a few tatami mats and the off white walls were decorated with scrolls that depicted some kind of calligraphy. Clusters of white candles were lit on the floor and on small tables in the sparsely decorated room, the only color was from a huge swath of purple silk that hung from ceiling to floor. A large gold hook suspended it splitting it into two sections that were tied back with gold silk braids secured to the wall serving as a framework for another doorway. Blackie could smell incense burning; it was Sandalwood as far as she could tell. She wondered what she had gotten herself into; she knew nothing about these people or what 'Restoration' meant.
The sound of footsteps broke her from her reverie and a woman appeared in the doorway.
"Hello Blackie, would you come this way please?" The voice was the one she had heard earlier at the door. "I'm Vivienne, welcome." She held out her hand to Blackie and smiled. Blackie extended her hand to shake it, but the woman took her hand and pulled the tall blonde close to her, hugging her.
Vivienne released from the embrace and looked into Blackie's eyes. "Such pain." It was all she said as she pressed her hand against Blackie's cheek.