La Vie En Violet
I slipped off my robe, trying to appear casual, as if it wasn’t my first time. I had assured him I’d done this many times before. I tried to look anywhere but his face, because he must know by now I had been lying, the red blush staining my skin and revealing my inexperience and self-consciousness. I looked up at the window, high, forbidding, and remote, then down at my feet on the splintered and peeling wooden boards and lastly, the closed and bolted door. The silence of the room echoed around me broken only by the uneven pattern of my loudly beating heart. I hoped I was the only one who could hear it. I wished I had come more mentally prepared. I told myself not to be nervous about anyone looking at me naked, or whether or not I’d be good at this, or if it would be painful. I was just doing it for the money. He approached me purposefully and instructed me how to position my body. I arranged myself comfortably and tried to habituate myself for the long ordeal ahead of me.
Twenty sets of eyes followed the teacher as he nodded and said, “Okay, we’ll start with a few five minute poses so the students can sketch and then move you into the two hour pose.” I nodded slightly to indicate my consent and settled into the first pose, an easy one, just sitting slumped against the wall. Though the seventh arrondisement outside was posh, the art studio itself was damaged and filthy, the ceiling cracked and the paint peeling, but the job paid well. In just these few hours posing for art students, I would be making almost 100 euros, more than I made in a whole weekend of babysitting. Some of my friends at school had done it, and they’d given me Mr. Price’s phone number. He’d seemed hesitant, so I had told him I posed for art students all the time back in California. My friends assured me that it wasn’t bad, just a little boring, and your body would really start to cramp after a while. You had to stay still from your eyes to your tippy-toes, for two hours straight.
Mr. Price turned on some music, (the Amélie soundtrack, how fitting), which began to relax me. I was okay just sitting here. I could zone out and pretend I was somewhere else other than this dingy art studio. In all honesty, I was just thankful he had hired me. I could no longer afford my rent for next month. My apartment was a single claustrophobic room, in an elegant area, but miniscule compared to what I could get in California. Still, I was paying 1000 euros, or $1,600 USD a month for it. I figured a few student modeling jobs could get me through to the next month.
My thoughts drifted back to when I had first moved here. I remembered one joyous day when I thought I was walking to class, but I had made a wrong turn. I turned the corner, and instead of school, I found myself staring at the Eiffel Tower, the entire left bank of Paris spread out in front of me like a treasure map. While most students my age were using college to sneak beer into their dorm rooms and rack up long lists of sexual partners, I would be having a more evocative experience, sipping wine on the Champs-Élysées and going to art museums. I’d had such high hopes for myself, and now I was on the verge of getting evicted.
To fight boredom, I decided to look at the students working. All girls, except for one boy. He was cute, with curly dark brown hair. He seemed intent on what he was doing, hunched over his large pad of paper, and working with fervor. I couldn’t see his paper but I wondered what part of my body he was working on capturing with such intensity. He glanced up from his painting and we unexpectedly locked eyes. I temporarily broke the pose in my face out of surprise. He looked equally shocked, as if his mind had been deep in a creative zone and I disturbed him by snapping him back to real life, reminding him that I was a living, thinking person, and not just an amalgamation of shapes and lines and lights and darks. We both glanced away immediately, embarrassed. I didn’t look at him again for the rest of the class, though I wanted to.
I pondered my decision to move to Paris, a city where there was no such thing as overdressing. Women walked their dogs in high heels, girls came to accounting class in fur coats, and even homeless people carried Louis Vuitton bags. This city was aesthetically stunning but its beauty was deceptive. Similar to this art studio, elegant on the outside, but dirty and faded on the inside, Paris was a city that seduced you but didn’t make you fall in love.
Hours later, when my whole body was numb and throbbing, the teacher finally announced the cessation of class. The students collected their utensils and walked off to clean their brushes in the row of sinks in the opposite room. I wriggled myself off the table and slipped on my robe, wincing in pain. I was curious to see what everyone had been working on so diligently for the past two hours. My friends had warned me to never look at the paintings when I was done posing. There was no guarantee of talent in these classes, and I was sure to be horribly offended if I saw how someone had depicted me. My curiosity got the better of me, though.
I walked around the room slowly. The first girl had painted me in crazy colors; blue skin, green hair, with random bruise-like splatters of yellow. It didn’t really look like me, but it was imaginative. Not bad, I thought, impressed. Kind of abstract.
The following girl however, was not so kind. She was extremely talented, that was for sure. She had painted me exactly as I look when I stare into the mirror. I cringed as my eyes immediately jumped to the fleshy folds of the midsection, where she had clearly strived for accuracy instead of attractiveness. Next.
Next was the boy with the curly hair. I saw his painting and immediately froze in surprise, transfixed. What he had painted was me, undeniably, but… so much better. He had painted me in different shades of purple, my skin lilac and the shadows created on my body darker violet. He clearly had the talent to make it look like me, but unlike the previous painting, he had softened some of the details. Hers was perhaps more accurate, but his made me look exquisite. I looked simple, alluring, and almost heavenly. He had taken my nudity and transformed it into art.
I was still standing in front of his painting when he happened to be the first one back in the room. He colored a deep shade of crimson when he saw me gazing at it. “Bonjour,” he mumbled, his hands twitching as if he longed to grab the painting and shield it from view. I understood immediately. An artist’s work is like an intimate peek at their soul, and nobody wants to have their soul judged.
“Bonjour,” I breathed, equally embarrassed and fascinated.
Suddenly, the teacher walked over to me, a wad of bills in his hand. “Merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle!” he beamed at me. “Such a pleasure having you pose for the class. We’ll need you next week as well.”
I smiled, slightly disappointed at the interruption. “Je vous en prie,” I replied. “You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.”
I watched as curly-haired boy wrapped a charcoal gray scarf around his neck before going out to brave the cold. He clutched his painting and rushed out of the classroom without another glance.
Suddenly, I couldn’t wait until the next art class.
I grabbed my bag and went to get changed back into my clothes in the bathroom in the back of the studio. I walked out, springing lightly on the pavement. I was a little hungry and I had a wallet fat with crisp euros. How about a pain au chocolat as a reward for my first successful modeling experience? I asked myself grandly.
I sauntered out of the studio toward the sidewalk. My heart fell and my breath caught in my throat as I walked past the building and spotted a glimmer of violet in the large trash bin next to the art studio. He had thrown the painting away.
I fished it out carefully. How could he throw this away? This perfect image of myself… I won’t let it go to waste, I vowed, tucking it under my arm carefully and turning down rue de Grenelle toward the boulangerie.
— by Shanna Perplies
Copyright © 2012, by Shanna Perplies. All Rights Reserved.
Originally from Los Angeles, Shanna Perplies has had the opportunity to live and study in California, Paris, Berlin, and Barbados. Now 23, she keeps a dream journal beside her bed from which most of her short stories emerge.