The Artist’s Model
by Kent Swarts
Paulos Vuillard stood behind his easel as if hiding from the world and only peered around the corner to view me, be it ever so briefly. He has painted me four times, twice nude always standing. Paulos never lets me see a work. “No one can view my unfinished art.” Both introverted and secretive, Paulos rarely leaves his home except to shop for groceries and drink at the bar where I work.
When I started working at the bar, I was told that he drank here only on Tuesday nights and had for the past several years. Why only on Tuesday? A patron said it was the quietest night and then saluted me with his stein. This demure, youthful man intrigued me. I asked my boss to routinely schedule me for Tuesday nights.
Mr. Vuillard stands about five ten, is slightly built and has hair to his shoulders that he keeps beautifully groomed. Otherwise, his clothes are shabby and often are spotted or smeared with paint of various colors. Vuillard looks to be near thirty, but when I commented to a patron, she said he was in his mid-twenties thus making him two years older than I. I was told he was quite gifted and well known.
The first few Tuesdays I worked, Mr. Vuillard stared at me. His eyes would follow me as I flitted around the room taking drink orders and serving. At first, it bothered me, but after two weeks, I grew accustomed to his stare.
One Tuesday night near closing, he asked if I were busy next week during the day. I must have appeared astonished because he looked worried and then frightened. Without delay, I said I was available and asked why he was curious. He said he wanted me to model for a painting or two he had ‘conceptualized’. I agreed, and that is how we came to be a couple if even for only the briefest time.
I arrived at his house at 10:00 each morning, and he would place me in the pose he wanted. After each session, he thanked me and paid me a tidy sum. I would ask to see the painting, but he said no, they were not finished.
Midway through the following month, he asked if I would model once again to which I said yes. This time, he asked me to pose nude. I, being from a puritanical family, blushed and told him I had to think on it. He apologized for offending me and looked hurt. I immediately said yes. For the next two weeks, I posed nude three days a week while he peered from behind his easel. When he told me I was done, I asked to see the two works; and he said the same thing as before.
I became testy. I told him I had spent quite some time standing like a statue neither smiling nor frowning. He said, “My dear, I promise you will see them the day they are finished, but not a moment sooner. I have to complete the background. You are quite complex. What will the setting be? I put the paintings aside until we discover.”
I nodded not fully comprehending.
“My dear, come, and together we just might find each proper setting.”
We began dating. He packed lunch baskets, and we’d walk through the park or downtown and have lunch on the courthouse steps or by the river where the old railroad bridge crossed. He was sweet, kind and laughed. He asked me to dinner one Tuesday night and took me to a French cafe I suggested earlier. I ate very little, how could I? He told me he loved me and reached for my hand. I gasped and stretched my hand to his. Joined in this way, I felt devotion.
He smiled so warmly, when he dropped me at my door. I kissed him goodnight on the cheek because he pulled away too shy to be kissed on the mouth. Over the next few weeks, he took me to dinner, the theater to watch a ballet and the opening of an art exhibit showcasing Archer Courier.
We held hands; he promised to love me always. But he never kissed me passionately. I had not told him I loved him. I wanted to be entirely sure before I did.
One day when I arrived after he asked me over, I started to strip thinking he’d enjoy seeing me naked for a painting. “What are you doing?” he exclaimed.
“You mustn’t. My wife will no longer understand.”
I reeled in horror. “Wife?”
“She returned from France yesterday. I wanted you to look at two paintings of my garden.”
“You told me you love me; you’d cherish me forever.”
“I do and I will. I love you with all my heart.”
“I really don’t understand.”
“It is quite simple. I love my wife, and I love you. I can only be married . . .”
I was no longer listening. The canvasses that held my image were no longer stacked face toward the wall. In their place stood a table with a vase of flowers. “You’re painting a table with a vase?” I screamed.
“Yes. My wife creates the scenes I paint.”
Astonished, I gazed with hatred into his eyes. “You didn’t finish those paintings of me because your wife wasn’t here to pick the damn background?”
“I showed her the paintings,” he pleaded. “She said they were not my best work, so I will start over with a subject she picks.”
I turned leaving. What a fool I had been. He was incapable of making decisions. He always asked what I wanted to do, and we did most of those things. At dinner, he ate whatever I ate. I thought these things were idiosyncrasies of this wonderfully talented artist. Now I find he is unable to make any decision even about whom he loves.
He either loves everyone or is incapable of true love.
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Kent Swarts is a retired aerospace engineer and an active astronomer. He publishes the club’s newsletter. He is a published author of short stories in three anthologies and online. He lives in Waco, Texas with his wife.