We all have different sides to ourselves. Sometimes, the people around you can see sides of you that you never even knew existed.
The studio was not what Oliva Anne was expecting.
There were tables with lumps of clay, dirty tools, and half finished sculptures. There were easels with colorful smears, jars of brushes filled with dark liquid, and palette boards with dried gobs of paint. There was a blanket hung on a clothesline concealing a corner of the room. There was yellow newspaper layering the floor. There were curtains on all the windows, and it was gloomy. There was a wooden tripod with brass fittings.
It was to this, and the large collapsing camera, that Mr. Julian Guillaire led her. He kicked rags and empty boxes out of the way as he did so, clearing a path. He did not explain the mess and made no attempt to apologize. She’d heard a great deal about his photography, but was genuinely surprised at the other art mediums in the space. But then, what did she know about artists? They were a strange, unpredictable sort, and she’d intentionally limited her contact with their type. He was the first one she’d ever had dealings with and, since she’d explained what she wanted, he’d barely said two words to her.
She was out of her world.
He pointed to a stool in front of a gray wall. She sat on it. He took off his jacket and his tie and rolled up his sleeves. She waited. He fidgeted with the camera, pulling plates in and out of it, adjusting dials. He dragged over some strange lanterns on poles, with what looked like stick-less umbrellas behind them, and angled the light at her. After a while he stopped, stepped back, and stared at her.
It went on for far too long to be appropriate. She felt uncomfortable, the way he was watching her. She doubted any man had ever looked at her so thoughtfully in her life. Not even her husband. He clicked his tongue and rubbed his chin. She rubbed her palm with her thumb, waiting.
“You know that everything is beautiful, if you can see it the right way.” He said.
“No.” She responded. “I’ve never heard that.”
He continued to look at her. She sat, agonizing in the attention. He walked over, moved a bit of fabric on her collar, and stepped back. After a while, he came back and returned it to its original position.
“Your make up and powders. You did them yourself?”
He waved his hands, brushing off her protest. “I am sorry, ma’am, but there is no room for vanity here. I can do what you ask, but you must understand, the things that work for the eye of man do not have the same effect in the eye of machine. The machine is a fool and cannot see subtlety, nuance, or particular detail. While the face you present is undoubtedly suitable, and masterfully applied, for general purposes, for us, today, it will not work.”
Her heart sank. She should have known better than to get her hopes up.
“So it is hopeless.”
He shook his head. “Oh, no. That is not what I meant. This is a problem I can fix. Quite easily in fact. It is just a simple matter of you closing your eyes and allowing me to touch you.”
Her breath caught in her chest. Could she really let this strange man, this artist, touch her? To run his hands on her face? Did she really want what he offered so badly? She knew she did.
“If you must.”
He watched her face, as if he didn’t trust her decision, or was considering denying her assent. To show him she was serious, she closed her eyes.
There was no audible response for nearly a minute. Then she heard shuffling, a clatter, and footsteps approaching. He gave her no warning as he touched her forehead. There was some sort of cream on his fingertips, an oily residue. He rubbed it in, working around her temples, across her cheekbones, along the ridge of her nose. He grew more aggressive as he continued, pushing and prodding the skin of her face, working the slippery substance in. He tugged her eyebrows, pulled her lips into odd shapes, and cupped her jaw.
Then he stopped. “Don’t move.” he said. “Don’t move a muscle.”
She heard him back away. There were clicking noises from the camera. It was happening. Just like she’d always hoped. It was an effort not to smile, but she didn’t want to anger him. He’d said not to move.
“Wonderful.” He muttered. “Absolutely wonderful.”
Most of her believed him.