Miss Understood"I'd like to see your flash." Her voice sounded sure, but slightly too loud in the small space. He looked up lazily.
"We don't do 'flash.' We're a custom shop. If you're looking for that street stuff, you're in the wrong place. If you'd like to see our portfolios, they're here." He cast a derisive eye over her conservative outfit. She was modest, even dowdy. Her dress was a bit boring, her sweater too envelopping. She wore flat shoes, cute sandals that betrayed a sense of exoticism, but she had no sense of spark about her, no visible magic to speak of.
She could feel he had already dismissed her, but she hefted the metal-bound portfolio from its stand nonetheless. Her hesitant step betrayed her nervousness. Taking a seat by the door, she leafed through the pages, paying attention to line and detail, precision and fill.
One style leaped out at her. The artist had fixed the attention of multiple pieces off the centre of the work, highlighting shadow and void over content. Her focus was steady, she paid no attention when he rose from his chair.
He approached quietly, re-evaluating her mousy appearance. She had taken care with her hair, an intricate braiding pattern securing her wiry curls. Her nails were short and neat, her makeup faint and precise.
He witnessed the moment she came alive. He could see she was in Rafa's work- that section was least paid attention and the pages were stiffer to turn. When he appeared before her, she started. There was something oddly compelling in her brown eyes, something between hunger and fear, the needy gaze of prey. He no longer longed for it, the potential for dominance, the petty power plays. He just wanted to ink flesh, to make a living and go home to his dog and his egg salad and watch Martha Stewart reruns.
That was why he had opened the shop, in the first place - he was no longer inspired by the art, only he recognised the need to parlay a marketable skill. There were always new artists struggling to become distinctive, and Rafa was easy enough to teach. But the light in her eyes was growing more intense, and he felt himself shifting in attitude. He dropped a business card onto the portfolio page and watched it slide unimpeded into her lap. She stared steadily up at him, her courage almost impolite.
"Thursday afternoons, he's here."
Her gaze flickered over his bare left arm, ignored his colourful sleeve on the right. She spoke quietly now. " Not him." She gathered herself and stood, and he saw that she was not, in fact, petite. Nor was she bland or boring. What she was, he found himself thinking, was understated.
She had spoken again, but he had missed it. Clumsily, he asked her to repeat herself, and felt the balance of power shift. "I said, who taught him ?" She met his eyes directly. "Obviously, I don't know the proper terminology. I don't know if you apprentice or what. But I'd like to work with the person who showed this man how to make the images move."
And just like that, he felt the inspiration. He had had no desire to design for months. He'd considered a fine arts class, a vacation to Belize, a part-time job at the health food store on the corner. He knew they made almost no money on weight training supplements. Him, selling!
But she, she saw. She saw ! And he wanted her to see him. His gruff voice reached out feebly; he cringed, cleared his throat. "Co-come on back a moment."
He saw the flicker in her eye and for a moment felt the rush of blood. Resolutely he strode away. He did not turn to see if she followed, but he knew a moment's insecurity as her flat shoes padded on the commercial carpet. He heard her catch her breath when she passed the Escher print, and saw the reproduction of it in skin - his own first error. He had had it fr
He held his breath. He despised receiving compliments for it. It cheapened the obsessive detail of his work and devalued the Escher itself in a way that his accidentally open staircase never could. He had not realised he was testing her until she voiced her concern.
"How long does it take to heal enough to fix?"
"That was twenty-two years ago. There is no fixing it. But I have never made that mistake again."
She smiled, pretty in her compassion. "No, there's always a new one to make, isn't there?"