Most things lessen with time. Time itself for one. There’s something slavishly-liberating about being unable to tell time or even notice the change from day to night. The moments merely punctuated by the Chinese water torture of the dripping of a tap I cannot see from here.
Funny how laughter is hush-muffled by stones that have never heard it before. It’s like they’re on my side. There’s a thought. Perhaps there is only so much horror that can be absorbed – even by granite, and they hunger for more cheerful noises, take them in, swallow them whole.
The stones themselves seem to shrink into their mortar, timid graduate witnesses of the art of pain. They don’t want him to come back down today. Me? I’m undecided, but that’s a secret the stones can’t be told.
The water knows. The water sounds too much like yes for coincidence.
Time. Yes, I do remember time. Don't think I've forgotten the before, because I haven't. I never will. It's just that it no longer holds any interest for me, that bright, brilliant life, full of ticks and tocks, and shares and stocks. Rushing from shower to office to wine bar to office to wine bar—and all for what? Chasing the money, chasing the deal. Time was never on my side, then.
On my side. Left side, right side upside downside. Doesn’t matter. All the same. All the same when he chooses his pallet with the care of a maestro. All the same when he leaves purple fingerprints on flesh where only freckles remember the sun. There. And there. Those are older, or...I think so. It’s getting hard to tell. They bloom slowly, small round photographs of possession and I count down their arrival. They take about two hundred slow measured drips to show fully, but he’s always gone by then. You’d think, with the pleasure I give him as he creates his finger-painting, that he’d stay around to watch it blossom.
I understand though. He leaves a torch which burns for the length of time it takes for his art to show itself. His art is not for him. It's for me.
It’s not the fruition of his work that inspires him. It’s his canvas. I’m his canvas. His inspiration. He calls me that. He’s never called me by my name. But he doesn’t think of me as a name, and now, neither do I.
The skin is the truest canvas, he says. Unappreciated in this day of blobs and cartoons and people who throw paint onto mere paper with little understanding of what they create. Art takes a lifetime, he says. Art cannot be ripped early from a womb and thrown to the voyeurs, too new for appreciation.
In fact, he says, people have forgotten about art. The last true artists were the Inquisition.
I rejected all this at first, rejected his creativity, as a body rejects an alien object. I screamed, I damaged myself, attempting to rip the bonds from my wrists, cried out every time I heard someone crossing the floor above my head. On those days he didn't paint, but left me in my fire and fury, and like a wounded fox I would have tried to gnaw my hands from my arms to escape the trap I had landed myself in.
He was angry at the welts I made to my skin. And he punished me with such gentle violence that I cried blood-soaked tears of humiliation. Even his anger holds such imagination, a mind that can make marvels from the darkest implements. But he - unlike my ungrateful self – he has never scarred me; he is too careful in his preparations, and oh, the reparations. Sometimes he spends hours preparing me for a session with his steel palette, rubbing my skin with the finest oils. Praising me for my erection, rewarding my emissions with the most subtle of delights. Nimble fingers that can prolong a pain or a pleasure indefinitely; depending on his style of the day.
I am treasured now; I am acquiescent. The jewel of his collection. The calmer I am, the gentler he is, and he prepares me, treats me like the masterpiece I will become.
Skin, he says, is the only canvas that recovers, that can be sketched upon with whatever tools the artist desires. Skin, he says, is the only canvas which can take a lifetime in the execution of a work of art.
So now he explains to me about the techniques, and now, now all hope - all care - of rescue is gone, I listen to him. And he's grateful for that. As my blood drains onto the floor, he teaches . As he scores my flesh, crosshatching, with such exquisite care for me that he now uses a knife so razor-sharp I can barely feel it. Chroma: how the purity of the red is intensified when compared to the greyness of my skin as I near death. Chiaroscuro: the effect of light and shade, especially where strong tonal contrasts are used. He sorrows that he cannot show me the perfection I am become, and I kiss him, with lips blue with lack of pigment, and tell him how little it matters.
Now I know that it has to take time for a canvas to truly appreciate what art is being wrought upon it. A canvas is not born ready for the painting. It has to be prepared. It has to be primed. It has to learn to accept what the artist creates.
And in the end, I think, skin is the only canvas that forgives.
Erastes is the penname of a female author living in Norfolk, UK. She has four novels and five novellas in print and her short stories have sold to places such as Gay Magazine, Bold Strokes Books, Alyson, and many more. Her latest novel Junction X is set in the suburban claustrophobia of England in 1962 and comes out this week. She is represented by Prof. J. Schiavone.