This story was written a couple days ago, based on the image linked to below. The image is from the Postsecret blog. That blog is a treasure trove of story ideas. Go check it out (after you read my story).
See the picture.
Yes, I am drawing the people around me on the train. I also want them to confront me about it. So far, only one person has. No, it wasn’t him, that guy today who nodded off even though he made eye contact when he noticed me staring. I would have liked him to stand up and wobble over to me like the molded Jello he resembled and asked me what the hell I was doing. Instead, he allowed his chin to sink into the folds of his extra chins and his fat eyelids to slide into his cheeks. When he snored, his jowls rippled. It took me the whole train ride, but I made a flip-book that captured that ripple. Unless a miracle occurs and he loses like half his body weight, he’ll be dead before I’m thirty-five.
Yesterday, I drew a skinny girl who was all knees and elbows who had that “I am starving myself to be a model” look to her. I could tell she wasn’t drinking enough water by the way the skin bunched around her elbows and knuckles, but that’s not a good opening line, you know? “Hey, your makeup looks great, but if you don’t drink two pints of water before you hit that audition, you’re just going to dry up and blow away.” When she noticed me sketching, she tilted her chin up and turned her head to what I know she thought was her “good side,” just like all those girls do, assuming that I was trying to capture her particular beauty. Actually, I was fascinated by that rough, pinched elephant skin on her elbow. She would have freaked out if she’d seen my sketchbook, with its page of cross-hatched joints and puckered hands. I was tempted to drop it in her lap as I exited the train, but I’m honest, not sadistic.
A month ago when it was not as cold—in fact, on the last fine day of fall—I boarded the train, picking my victim/subject even before I sat down. He had a romance novel-cover ruggedness about him; just the kind of person I normally reject as a subject. Seriously, beautiful people are way over-rated as artistic subjects. My all-time favorite painting is one by Renoir of an ancient lady. The quality of the light was beautiful, the stroke work magnificent, yadda yadda. But in the miles of creases and lines on her face, the painter catches the weight of the years and the sadness as some sentimental old feeling wallops her, but she tries to hide it because she is sitting for a portrait by the famous painter. God, I wish I could paint like that.
You never see that kind of emotion in a beautiful face.
Well, I never had until that guy on the train. He was looking out the window. No, he was leaning on the window, his classically chiseled jaw with its end-of-the-day stubble pressed against the glass. He had a catalogue-shoot ready grey scarf draped around his shoulders in a big “O” over his navy pea coat. If it hadn’t been for his posture and the truly tortured stare wound around his eyebrows, I would have sketched the amputee with the cigar sitting a row in front of him.
I opened my pad, tried to be discrete as I pulled my yellow pencil from behind my ear, and set to work, focusing on Mr. Ima Torturedsoul. His posture was a little challenging because I had to think of the glass as a solid thing, without drawing it as solid, which is something I’ve struggled with. Finally, I got his head-set right and began working on those eyes. The way he looked heavenward every now and then reminded me of an archangel in one of Michelangelo’s paintings, those angels who are supposed to be in “rapture,” which my mom used to say was churchy-talk for “full of God.” I always thought they looked ready to come.
Not Mr. Torturedsoul. He looked like he was trying not to cry in public by tilting his head back so the tears couldn’t escape his eyelids. That’s never worked for me, personally, but I loved the way his chin pointed to the sky like a butte, and his throat undulated down to his Adam’s apple.
When he finally threw his arm across the seat in front of him and buried his face in the crook of his sleeve, I actually said, “Shit!” out loud, but not really loud enough for anyone to hear over the train noise and the music blaring from Mr. Iwillbedeaf’s earphones behind me. I flipped to a new page and attacked the whiteness with the side of my now-dull pencil, scrubbing to get as much dark pea coat onto the paper as fast as I could. The drape of the fabric, the way gravity drew his shoulders toward the center of the earth, he looked like a Dali painting, melting, dissolving, weeping.
The train lurched. I will have to erase that line later, I remember thinking to myself. But this time when I looked up at my subject, he was staring directly at me. There was no tragic beauty about his face now. The chiseled face was stony. The eyes, flinty. I felt myself shrink away from his anger. The train slowed, and I knew I had to get off, no matter which stop it was, so I stood and scuttled down the aisle. I glanced over my shoulder and said “Shit!” again because he was standing and following me. I made it to the door before he caught me by the elbow and spun me around.
“Who the hell are you?” he hissed into my face.
“Just Jack,” I said.
“What were you doing?”
He snatched my sketchbook and stared at the drawing of him draped over the back of the bench. He flipped to the other page of him as an archangel. He visibly relaxed and handed the book back to me.
“Nice,” he said. “Remind me to sue you for invasion of privacy.”
The train doors opened, and I backed out onto the platform.
As the train slid off, he flipped me the bird.
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