Several men check their Blackberries for scores—Ohio State and whoever—so they fail to notice the girl who’s less than half their age, as she lowers herself to the couch and falls asleep. One of her arms dangles and her fingers splay over the edge and grasp at the carpet. If the dog chained outside the door were let in, he’d surely rush to lick them. And she, in her wine stupor, might let a tiny smile twitch across her face.
No one can explain her presence. She arrives at the party in the midst of the first rush and quickly makes the rounds of those other men—the artists—who aren’t even aware there is a Buckeyes game. She drapes her bare inked arm over their hunched shoulders, as she screws her face in closer and closer and locks in their gaze like a relentless prosecutor whose cross-examination won’t even allow a wife or girlfriend’s defense.
But it’s too late for the artists. They’re already occupied with clay glaze compatibilities and the brand-new extruder that the hostess is showing off. This girl wants something from them–free studio space, exhibitions, art supplies, but the men she slots are playing the broke and bitter game. Their best canvasses held hostage by fantastic gallery swindles. Their best work relegated to moldy storerooms collectors never enter.
One by one the artists break free, choosing wine, sirloin tips, brie, and puffed pastries, followed by more wine–over this muse. Yet here she is, here for the taking. Her chest heaves in slumber, her dark hair spills onto the carpet in rivulets. Her body is limp enough to transport to the guest room—while everyone else is engrossed in oldies and unsettled scores—a place that’s been readied for them with turps, brushes, and stretched gessoed canvas.
Leonard Kress has published fiction and poetry in Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, Crab Orchard Review, American Poetry Review, etc. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Living in the Candy Store, and Thirteens. He teaches philosophy, religion, and creative writing at Owens College in Ohio and serves as fiction editor for Artful Dodge.
Lead image: “Emily Kaufman’s ‘Girl on a Fainting Couch.’” (via Flickr user Joe Loong)