The First Evil Ch. 01byOximoron©
"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." -- Mal Pancoast
The sharp evergreen smell of the gloss medium I'd made fills my nose. Making painting medium using crystals to make varnish is ridiculously time consuming but nothing smells quite like fresh, pungent but with hints of pine. It was the way I'd learned to do it over sixty years ago and the process soothed me. The thick paint smooths over the canvas with a sigh. I love the sensuous stroke of the brush across the naked cotton. I looked at my model and hesitated.
Any artist will tell you that every flaw on a model's body is a decision, and not an easy one. I used to feel that you had to fall a little in love with everyone you drew or painted to truly capture them. I don't love the personality, but the graceful arching lines of them, the texture and shine of their skin that I alone can appreciate. I doubted any lover had ever paid as close attention as I did. Does any spouse know exactly how sunlight caresses the arch of a collar bone or how their fingers curl lying over a hip just so?
My present model is an interesting juxtaposition of unparalleled beauty and almost monstrous defect. Raven black hair falls in thick waves to her waist but is thinned in places that reveal angry blistered scalp in others. Skin like crushed pearls sprinkled over satin glows starkly next to patches of seeping blistered rashes. The body beneath the disgusting rash would be as perfect as any comic book heroine's but for the obvious signs of starvation and want. The proverbial "they" say you can never be too rich or too skinny, they wouldn't say that looking at the emaciated beauty being captured by oil and pigment on my canvas.
Most startling of all are her eyes, which are almost exactly the same shade as the Alizarin Crimson curling at the corner of my palette. They have highlights of a red color so pure that paint is doomed to fail to fully capture its clarity and depth. Those eyes are the subject of countless speculation. It's the reason I keep subjecting myself to this level of scrutiny by the scarlet hued orbs. Most people who saw my paintings assume I've taken artistic license to further the mood of the painting.
When I had first captured those eyes on canvas, the body had been that of a child with only the barest blush of womanhood hinting at the luscious body that graced later canvases. Her eyes then had glowed with hate, anger and just a hint of vulnerability. Looking out from that tiny beautiful face while wearing a dirty first communion dress, the painting had been compelling. Even I could acknowledge that without ego. My career as an artist had begun with that painting, and still half a century later they came in droves to see the newest Aurora Sloane shows.
I just couldn't love this model as I had others despite what she has done for my career. I've tried for decades to relish the lines and curves, the smooth white skin, and the sultry curling hair, but I can't. The eyes staring back at me from the mirror reflect all the pain that fickle beauty has brought to my life.
I've always thought it the height of irony that what was a horror to my personal life could be marketed into a success in my professional one. No one knows that it is me who is the model, that those red eyes are not artistic license and are really, only the tip of the ice-burg.
If they did they'd come in droves to stick me in a lab somewhere.
I spent most of my life ditching foster homes and orphanages to avoid people's notice. Evading authority had become my first mastery, well before the first teacher had corrected my hand holding a pencil. For all the current malady affecting me I looked to be about a quarter of my age and anyone who's ever watched five minutes of commercials in America knows how youth obsessed we all are. They all are. Whatever.
I don't know why I am the way I am, seeming to age about one year for every three that passes, since my parents are a total mystery. They could be dead for all I know about them. I used to have crazy recurring dreams about a beautiful blonde woman with long hair and bright eyes who called herself my mother, but the rest was nonsense with vampires and werewolves. When I'd told the sisters at my first orphanage they tried to "exorcise" the demons plaguing me. They called it exorcism. I called it getting the shit beat out of me for a week straight before I finally took off. It took me a few more years before I realized my dreams weren't the only reason why the nuns had feared me. I only wished they had spent more time fearing for me instead.
The relative innocence of my childhood shattered when I realized I wasn't growing up like everyone around me and that I was trapped as a child for three times as long. When you're in the foster care system, turning eighteen is like the golden ring at the end of a race through chummed, shark infested waters. I hadn't looked even close to eighteen until I was almost fifty. I'd learned early, not long after the nuns, to be hateful and unpleasant so people not only don't care when you leave, but they also don't think of you when you're gone. I'd become a master of blending in with the furniture and if anyone had the audacity to notice me or try any pleasantries I was good at discouraging that.
My freaky red eyes don't help so much with the blending thing but I'd "grown up" well before the time of colored contacts so just shunning people had been my choice. Some of my "families" saw my eyes and watched me too closely. They began putting some of the pieces together and figured out, at least, that I didn't want any special notice. I'd never had anyone discover my secrets who didn't take advantage in some way. I know from grim personal experience exactly how a child without the protection of caring family can be taken advantage of. My last foster father once said my eyes are exactly the color of blood splashed across a white floor. He'd been a butcher so I guess he'd know. When I'd stabbed him five years later after he had tied me to a bed so he and four of his best buddies could rape me, again, I'd sort of agreed with him.
I painted myself for the first time after that night, needing desperately to exorcise those demons in a real way. When the painting was finished, I felt better than I had in my whole shitty life before then. I had found my calling.
No one in the whole world was more shocked than I when my art teacher showed it to a gallery-owner friend who then sold it for five thousand dollars. That money changed my life. My paintings go for way more now of course, and they are far from my only income, but painting is my only solace; the only time the world truly sees me. Not that they know it, but I do and that means something. It has to.
I try and capture the maudlin look on my face with my brush and suddenly don't feel like painting. The drawback of the fickle artistic temperament, I guess. I want pensive, haunted eyes so I think of my fucked up life and now I don't want to paint; I want to drink. I clicked off the lights and grabbed the remote to turn on my stereo. I had to flip through four different channels until something with the right vibe came on.
I stand and dance over to my discarded robe, moving to Eagle-Eye Cherry's "Save Tonight" as I slide the silky fabric over the red patches that are beginning to itch as they heal.
"'Fight the break of dawn, come tomorrow, tomorrow I'll be gone'," I sang. Badly. I can't carry a tune farther than the shower doors but when you spend seventy percent of your time alone you get to appreciate the sound of your own voice.
"Ugh," I said as I shook out my arms and legs, trying to dispel the persistent introspective gloom along with the pins and needles of blood rushing to muscles that had been held statue-still for too long; far longer than the twenty minutes a so-called professional model will permit.
I felt icky, like my memories had left a greasy residue under my skin. I don't think I'd left the house in at least three days. Being shut in too long with just the smell of turpentine and my thoughts circling like vultures makes Rory a dull girl, I think to myself. I suddenly need to be out among the teeming masses so I can forget about... everything, for a little while at least. Though Philadelphia at one in the morning doesn't exactly teem, I'll take what I can get.
Philly may be all "I can compete with New York and L.A. for culture and night life," but everyone who lives here knows that the city's not that far away from its puritanical roots. Or Quaker roots, if you want to be technical. In New York, you can eat a sit-down dinner or go to a movie at 2 am. In Philly, not so much. I swear our politicians see William Penn on top of City Hall and think he's going to come down and kick their asses personally for allowing the sale of alcohol after three in the morning or (gasp) on a Sunday. I say that if you want to drink after 3 am on a Sunday, the devil has already won. What more have you got to lose by not having to drive to another state to do it?
Still it's like no other city in the world. I'm sure everyone says that about the place that feels like home, and I can trot out more than my fair share of the guided tour. There's a huge amount of history and culture here plus the architecture that really sets it apart. But Philly has a clean homey feel that's just not present in the other top five big American cities. I've lived in them all for some period of time, but I keep coming back here. For the most part, the people are incredibly kind and caring here. I, of course, account for the instances of random douchebaggery that happen everywhere, but I truly feel that Philly has a good heart. It doesn't mean, however, that I'm about to go out by myself this late at night. The dim twisting cobbled streets around my house are like Rapes R' Us and I've shopped there at least one time too many.
I tuned my ear back to the radio; Kris Allen's "Live Like We're Dying" was playing and Nickelback's "If Today Was Your Last Day" had just been on. You'd think the radio was trying to tell me something, as if it's officially time to go out and seize some opportunity. I believe very strongly in listening to the subtle signs life sends your way. Now all I need is my phone.
"Hey chick, I have received a message from the radio gods who have decreed that tonight is for partying like it's twenty-ninety-nine," I say, completely ignoring the disgruntlement on the other end of the line.
"You know hearing imaginary voices is a sign of Schizophrenia; besides, I thought you said you were painting," the voice retorted. It still sounded groggy but almost ten years in an urban ER had trained Juliet Martin to be reasonably coherent even while trying to cling to sleep.
"I am painting, or I was before I got all introspective and gloomy so now I want to go out. We could hit Voyeur for an hour and then follow the bouncers to the after party?" I plead. Some might call it a whine but they would be mistaken, as I don't whine. I continued pleading, "I haven't left the house for three days I'm starting to regret living in the age of technology. If I couldn't sustain myself from my computer, I'd have to leave even if only to restock the essentials at least once every other day."
"I asked about your painting, not because I suddenly got amnesia about your defective personality or your questionable personal habits, but because I thought you were going out in the sun for this whole series. Some sort of artistic claptrap about the juxtaposition of blah, blah, blah, social commentary."
I looked down at my arms where my robe had fallen back.
"Haven't you been baking in the sun for the past couple of days to blister for the 'realism'?" I could picture her doing the air quotes to an empty room.
"I mean, what kind of artist can't use their imagination? And you know I'd rather go to Woody's or even Sisters than Voyeur."
"What kind of twenty-something still uses words like claptrap?" I said giving her snark for snark to camouflage not answering her question as the angry red marks faded before my eyes. I hadn't told her that I had been healing more quickly recently, because then she would assume that I might be getting better. I wasn't, my symptoms were just changing.
I didn't tell her that where it used to take the sun all day to give me blisters it now only took minutes of exposure to give me what, on a normal person, would require an emergency room visit. I was healing faster but I could handle less time in the sun before there were more severe consequences. I have an hour max before it feels like someone set me on fire. I only have to open my curtains for fifteen minutes to get the effect I needed for my paintings and I had to add low-level UV spots to maintain the affect after the sunset. If I tell her, she'll want to do whole battery of tests to see how my condition is changing and I'm just not really up for all that. More than that, I just don't want her to be optimistic about my chances right now.
We met when I got hauled unconscious into the ER during her residency. She looked me over and seemed to know something no other doctor I'd ever seen knew because she gave me a shot of something and a transfusion. Instead of dying like I was expecting, I'd felt better than I ever had. We've been friends ever since. We both still have our secrets: she doesn't know how old I am really and I don't know how she knew how to help me (or even what was in that first syringe), but we kept them while hanging out and having girl-time. Girl-time being the only time I have since I don't really like to be touched intentionally by men. I don't like being touched unintentionally, either, but I refrain from maiming those men. Barely.
She seemed to take my continued silence for hurt or anger because I could hear her scrambling out of bed as she said, "Look, you know I'll go out with you even if you do look like a rotten cherry tomato, but just remember how much you hate attention, and how gay men can spot a flaw at fifty paces." I could now hear the faint screech of wire hangers sliding over a metal closet bar and I knew I'd won.
"Yes, I do seem to recall something like that from that time you wore pleather," I joked, smothering laughter as she grumbled about misleading sales clerks. "I'm good, just make sure you don't slut it up too much. That draws attention too in case you haven't noticed."
I laughed when she called me a wench and we agreed to meet at her place in twenty. I wander over to my closet and flip past all of the too revealing clothes Jules had gotten for me in her quest to help me "reclaim my sexuality." As if I would ever wear a corset where anyone but me would ever see it thus defeating its entire purpose.
I always get dressed in front of the mirror I use for my paintings since it shows my entire standing body without having to be on the other side of the room. I need to make sure that there really are no marks or scars showing, though all the skin I could see was pink and healed. I pulled on pewter grey leather pants with a subtle metallic sheen and a black silk tee with horizontal slits climbing the entire back at one-inch intervals.
I really loved this shirt when I first bought it for the classy/sexy/punk vibe it has. Now that sexy part is coming back to bite me, because in the last few weeks I've probably lost about twenty pounds. I tug the shirt down over my thighs so it doesn't bunch too much around my waist. Trying for the perfect slouchy balance because if I pull it down too much it will cling to every new curve and hollow. The very last thing I need is for Jules to see me looking like one of those anorexic stick figures that are so trendy right now. I twist in the mirror, looking at my back peeking through the shirt. Nope, no marks there and not too unbearably skinny.
I turn around and do a shimmy in front of the mirror to check the jiggle factor. I had been very blessed by the bosom fairy and this shirt wasn't exactly bra friendly. All the weight I've lost has brought my breasts down to an almost reasonable level. Now the profile. Ok, well at least out of the porn-star realm. The boys at the club will certainly still appreciate them.
Ok quick comment: I don't quite understand the gay male obsession with a perfect female form. Gay men will gush over a pretty woman or a stacked one sometimes even more than a straight guy. You'd think they wouldn't care either way, but most gay men seem to really appreciate a nicely feminine shape.
Non-sequitur aside, I need to assess not how I look but how my outfit conceals my flaws. I stared at the woman standing in the mirror and tried to see her like Jules would, and realized I looked like exactly what I was: a woman living her last days. My skin, normally pale, was now slightly grey and there were deep purple circles under my eyes. I could probably cover that with makeup but I still noticeably lost weight since she last saw me. I don't know exactly what's wrong with me.
I'm just an assorted collection of random symptoms that add up to nothing but will probably lead to my death. Here's my disease in a nutshell. There's whatever is up with how I age and I'm extremely photosensitive, even more so now. I do seem to heal significantly faster than the average person, and only the worst wounds scar my skin. I have trouble processing certain organic proteins, which is basically a fancy way of saying that I can't eat a lot of different foods. I have a slightly enlarged heart but low blood pressure and some slight hardening to my bones which makes me feel my actual age most of the time with the stiffness it causes.
A doctor more than fifty years ago had named it Achenbach Syndrome, after himself of course. I'd come to his notice through an orphanage and had let him run weeks of testing hoping for answers that had never come. When I realized he was far more interested in the progression of a disease he could make his career on than actually saving my life, I ran. Since then I've had four heart attacks with no warning signs. Only hope and modern technology kept me sort-of-alive long enough for help to revive me.
Now to add insult to injury, it's getting pretty hard to eat. I usually have to stick to a special diet but even that hasn't been staying down lately. The longer I go without any real intake of calories the weaker and thinner I get and the harder it is to eat. I've seen other people as sick as I am waste away simply due to lack of information but I won't risk being exploited again to learn anything new. I'm coming to the end of my run, which is fine, and has been since the second heart attack more than five years ago when I met Jules.
I've had a long and good life; at least it's been good recently. I'm somewhere near eighty years old, give or take a decade. The first dates I ever wrote were during the thirties and I was pretty coherent then, however, my life hasn't made it easy to plot a timeline. I don't know my birthday so I used to just celebrate New Years extra hard. Now I'm tired and achy most of the time. I have a few really good friends who'll care that I die and think of me from time to time when I'm gone and I've had a career that will ensure my immortality. It's more than most people have and far, far more than I ever expected.
I expertly cover the worst evidence of ill health with make-up. I glance at myself in the big mirror one last time, fluff my hair over some of the spots that are still a little thin and pause, noticing the orange pill bottle sitting on the night stand behind me. Shit, I hadn't taken a pill today. I haven't felt any need to but I'm still supposed to take one once a day, like an aspirin regimen for preventative care. But I want to go out and some times, more often lately, they make me feel woozy and weird. I don't want to waste my last days feeling like that or stuck in my house, not for the ambiguous promise of more time. More time for what? Exactly.