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I stepped away from the painting and arched my back to relieve the ache. The large canvas required me to stand, but the years and a legacy of arthritis from my father made it difficult. I always managed to become swept up in the brush strokes and the blending of subtle hues, and it wasn’t until I stopped that I knew I‘d been on my feet too long. The coffee was cold, and I poured it back into the pot to re-heat.

This painting was special, but in their own way, I guess each of my works was special. She taught me that, and it was largely due to her influence that I was asked to do this work. The commission read that I was to deliver one painting, thirty-six inches by sixty inches minimum unframed dimensions, and the medium and subject were to be of my own choosing. The contract was signed by the director of the University of Alabama Art Museum, Dr. Karen Reason, and was to be part of a permanent display of work by southern artists. The year allotted for completion and submission of the work had almost run out, but I would make the delivery date by a couple of days unless the weather stayed damp. In that case, they could take the painting and store it while the oils dried, or wait. I didn’t think it would matter much, really. Karen was a personal friend of mine from college, and she’d smooth out the bureaucratic wrinkles.

The ten artists selected were all about like me; we were all in our fifties, had grown up in the South, and were recognized as major talents in the art world. I’d never considered myself to be a major talent, and certainly my income didn’t indicate that such was the case, but it was satisfying to be included in this select group. Barbara had jokingly said that they probably just wanted to obtain the work before I died. It’s a well known fact that artists eat hot dogs and their heirs eat steak, and the museum would save a considerable sum by purchasing the painting directly from me. Barbara had also received the same commission, and I pointed out that it would be tit for tat, since one of us would be the sole heir of the other. She just laughed and said her tit was worth at least two tats any day. I had to agree; Barbara’s body has fueled my fantasies since that day at Debra’s, and thirty-six years later, she’s still one of the few things that can make me lay down my brushes.

I sipped the coffee and studied the woman sitting nude on the stairway. The contrast of the straight lines of the stair and the soft, rounded curves of her body would capture one’s eye, I thought, but something wasn’t right. No, the silver streaks in her hair were fine, and the various shadows on her body were projected correctly. I couldn’t find a technical reason for my unease, but it was there; she didn’t seem to be alive, and that fact ruined the painting. I wished Debra were here; she would have known. If I had learned one thing from her, it was how to critique artwork, and she taught me to be especially tough on my own.

In September of 1964, I started my senior year of high school in the small community of Gallatin, Tennessee. I had waited since first grade for this year, because at the end of the school term, I would be free to start the life I wanted rather than that held in esteem by the parents, teachers, and other students of the town. My difficulty was that I didn’t fit into the proper suit of sports, hunting, and fishing that clothed every other boy. I had always been small for my age, and even as a new senior, I weighed only about a hundred pounds. Even if I had been interested, my size eliminated football as anything other than a suicide sport. I wasn’t tall enough for basketball, was too slow for track, and could never bring myself to kill anything. I was also a year older than all of the students in my class; a bout with scarlet fever had cost me the penalty of repeating third grade. Of course, the repetition of a grade had branded me as stupid. I had discovered girls, but since I didn’t drip testosterone from every pore, the word had been passed that I must be gay, and so even at the ripe old age of nineteen, I had not had even a single date. After a couple of years of fights and the resultant black eyes and punishment of an hour’s detention for each incident, I just withdrew from nearly everything and everyone at school. I had one passion in my short life; I loved to draw and paint, and I lived for the day that I could pursue art as my vocation.

I think I was a real disappointment to Dad, even though he tried not to show it. Mom kept pushing me to stretch my skills, but she didn’t have to fit into the masculine myth that deems anyone not at least watching all that stuff to be either gay or mentally deficient. The only person who seemed to understand was Miss Renaldi.

Barbara Renaldi, the school art teacher, was about twenty-two when I took my first art class, and when she saw that I could draw, she also pushed me. I lived for her class; for one hour each day, in that small room saturated with the smell of paint, turpentine, and pastel fixer, Beylikdüzü escort I could be the person I so desperately needed to be. Barbara was also a fringe benefit of the class; she was shorter than I, and almost as slender, but her body was more matured than the girls in my class, and she seemed to be confident in her sexuality. While the high school girls never wore anything that revealed more than the occasional outline of a bra strap through a sweater, Barbara wore v-neck blouses that had a way of gapping open invitingly when she bent to look at my current project, and I knew she preferred satin and lace bras over the cotton ones my mother wore. Her dresses were shorter, and the blend of her nylon clad legs and high heels with my active imagination forced me to hide more than a few erections with my sketch pad. I was sure she knew her effect on me, but she appeared to be only acting as a normal teacher. I knew that her position would allow her to do nothing else, but in my shower fantasies, she offered her body to my hands, and we made passionate love.

The second week of school, Miss Renaldi called Mom for a parent-teacher conference. I waited outside while they talked, and then Mom drove us home.

“Miss Renaldi says you have lots of talent, but that she’s taught you everything she can. She says you could probably get a scholarship for college if you can put together a portfolio of really good work, but you need help that she can’t give you. She recommended a woman just outside of Nashville who sometimes takes private students, and has arranged an appointment for you on Saturday. Miss Renaldi says she’s a little odd, but there would be no better teacher for you. I told her we couldn’t pay much, but she said you should at least go talk to this woman. Her name is Debra Hastings, and according to Miss Renaldi, she has some paintings hanging in the Capital.”

On Saturday morning at nine o’clock, I drove through the overhanging white oaks that shaded the mile long lane. The house must have been one of the last remaining ante-bellum mansions that were built by the tobacco and cotton barons of the old South, but it had fallen into the disrepair commonly seen in these stately old homes. The brickwork seemed solid, but the porch flooring under my feet creaked at accepting my weight. I knocked on the huge, oak door and waited.

My first thought was that saying Debra Hastings was a little odd was equivalent to saying Hell is a little warm. The woman who opened the door was tall, slender to the point of almost being skinny, and the oversized bib overalls and man’s shirt did nothing to reveal any curves to her body. She had silver-streaked black hair that reached to her waist, but the ends were kind of ragged looking. Even my mother used makeup every day, if only for a short trip to town, but Debra’s face was freshly scrubbed and without any artificial enhancement of the tone or texture. Her lips were a pale shade of pink, and there were little wrinkles at the corners. Through my eyes, she seemed really old, but I now know she was in her late forties. The small pink mouth pursed shut and the thin brows wrinkled, and I got the feeling she really wasn’t expecting me. She seemed to stare at me forever before she cleared her throat and spoke.

“Yes, may I help you?”

“I’m Mark West. Miss Renaldi said she made an appointment for me and – “

“Oh, yes, Barbara did call. I just didn’t realize it was already nine. Come on in.”

The inside of the house smelled like the art room at school, and none of the rooms we passed seemed to be used. Debra shuffled ahead of me in doeskin moccasins that made little scuffing noises against the bare wood floor. She apparently didn’t take the time to get her heels inside the backs, because they were mashed down against the sole, and they flopped against the bottoms of her bare feet with each step. We ended up in the kitchen and she asked if I wanted a cup of tea. She placed two cups that steamed peppermint aromas on the table and beckoned me to sit down.

“So you’re the boy Barbara asked me to talk with. Let’s see if she knows what she’s talking about.” She picked up a pad and pencil from her side of the table, passed it to me, and pointed to her left. “Draw that window over there. The one with the cracked pane.”

This seemed like a strange request to be coming from a famous artist, but I drew the window as she asked. I took a little extra time to get the morning shadows at the right angle, even put in the chipped paint at the lock, and, of course, didn’t forget the jagged crack. Debra quietly watched and drank her tea. I finished the drawing and turned the pad to her orientation. She pursed her lips and her brow wrinkled as she studied the picture on the pad, and then smiled when she looked across the table at me.

“Well, that’s a nice picture of the window, but I asked you to draw the window, not a picture of it.”

“What do you mean. That’s the same thing, isn’t it?”

“To most people, Beylikdüzü escort yes, but to an artist, a drawing or painting must have life, dimension and texture. Your picture is flat. It’s no good.”

For my whole life, the only thing at which I had been better than anyone else was my drawing, and now this woman was telling me I wasn’t really an artist. Her statement angered me, and I got up to leave.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m leaving.”

“My, my, aren’t we the sensitive one? If I’m going to help you, you’ll have to grow a thicker skin than that. If you’re good, I’ll tell you, but if you’re not, you’re going to hear that too, and why. I imagine you’ll hear lots of whys and not many goods before we’re through.”

“But you said I wasn’t any good. You’re still going to help me?”

“I didn’t say you weren’t good. I said your picture was flat. We can fix flat, but I couldn’t help you if you couldn’t at least draw a pretty nice picture. I told you it was pretty nice, remember? Now, look at the window, and tell me what you see.”

“It’s just a window. It has a frame and some glass, and I can see through it.”

“Exactly. What do you see?”

“Well, I see the barn out back, and a tree. There’s a grasshopper sitting on the frame…, and some parts look wavy.”

“And those things are the depth and texture that will make the drawing come to life. If you’re to be an artist, you have to learn to look through what’s at the surface and capture what’s inside the things you draw. This lesson was easy, but the rest will be harder. Still think you want to do this?”

I sat back down. “Mom told me I should ask how much this is going to cost.”

“Hmmm, that is the question, isn’t it? Well…, I only take one student at a time, and we’ll spend a lot of time together, so I suppose I should charge a lot. Since the only students I spend time with are really talented, I usually don’t charge anything. I don’t need the money, and it’s my way of giving a few people the start I got when I was young. Now, don’t think this is going to be easy since it’s free, ‘cause it won’t be.”

Debra laid out my schedule on the second page of the pad. It looked like I would just about have time to eat and sleep somewhere between school and her house.

On Monday afternoon, I drove to the old house directly from school. Debra was sitting on the porch swing. The long cotton dress was wrinkled and covered her body all the way down to the same doeskin moccasins. I walked to the porch and sat in the chair beside the swing.

“Catch.” I almost dropped the golfball sized, polished black marble that she tossed in my general direction.

“There’s the pad and pencil on the table. Draw the marble.”

I determined not to make the same mistake as Saturday, and carefully examined the small globe before doing anything. Try as I might, I could not discern any significant feature that Debra would be looking for in my final drawing. I thought about the window, and tried looking through the surface, but nobody could look through black glass.

“You’re not drawing. Is something wrong?”

“All I’m going to end up with is a black circle and a shadow, and you’re going to tell me it’s bad again.”

“Sit the marble on the table and look at it for a while. Find the dimension and texture we talked about. You’ll have to put everything else out of your mind to see what’s there.”

I placed the marble on the rough wooden top of the table. What the Hell did she expect me to see? I looked at it from the side. I looked at it from the top. I walked all around the table looking at the obsidian orb. My total focus centered on the sphere on the table. I made a second circuit. I grew frustrated. Dammit, it was just a black marb….

It really wasn’t black. The polished surface reflected a myriad of colors and shapes depending on the angle of view and the incident angle of the sun that peeked through the cottonwood trees. Here were the reflected white lines of the porch siding and if I moved, a blob of green appeared. From one aspect, a tiny Debra could be seen looking back from the flawless surface, and I decided to use that perspective for my drawing.

It was difficult to stay in the uncomfortable crouching position and, at the same time, control the strokes of the pencil over the pad. The drawing took almost an hour, and my left thigh developed an intense cramp before I put the final shading strokes to the surface. I was proud of my ability in shading a drawing to represent shadow and light areas. It was hard to do in pencil, because you couldn’t paint in white to represent reflected light. You had to leave the reflections as the virgin surface of the paper, and shade everything else. It was kind of like drawing in reverse. I limped to a standing position and gave Debra the pad.

“Hmm, nice selection for your viewpoint, and the shading is done very well. The highlights that define the shape bring out the depth in the drawing. Escort Beylikdüzü You finally figured out what I wanted you to find and your picture of me is very lifelike. Only trouble is, that picture stinks.”

“Whadda you mean, it stinks. It looks just like you, you said so yourself.”

“Go back to your viewpoint and look again.”

Debra was right. As I would come to know well over the years, Debra was always right. The woman in my drawing looked just like her. The only trouble was, the image on the marble was grossly distorted by the curvature of the surface, while my drawing was as flat as the photograph it appeared to be. I had not yet learned to take her criticism very well, and argued with her.

“I saw that, but I didn’t want to make you all funny looking. I wanted to show you as you really are.”

Debra laughed at me. “You’ve known me for two days, and you think you know how I really am. You must be really perceptive, because I still don’t know how I really am, and I’ve been studying myself for longer than you’ve been alive.”

“I meant I wanted to show you like I see you, not all weird like the reflection. Artists can do that. Miss Renaldi said it’s called artistic license.”

“Barbara is right, but you misunderstood what she meant. Mark, art of any kind is the representation of one person’s vision in a format that lets other people understand what the artist saw, heard, or experienced in some way. Artistic license is what happens when the artist changes some aspect of reality to help people understand this vision; it isn’t an excuse to cover technical mistakes. When you drew me as I appeared to you sitting on the swing, instead of drawing the distorted me on the surface of the marble, you changed reality, but you didn’t do anything to help me understand what you saw. See, what you really saw was the warped image, not the one you drew. If you can’t make me see the warped image, the drawing is wrong. Now, I want you to make the same drawing, but leave the reality as it is.”

I started the drawing over, and Debra sat patiently until she saw me adding a few finishing touches. I thought reality sucked, because the bloated face and body that stared back from my drawing didn’t look at all like her; in fact, I thought it made her ugly, and I told her so.

“Well, maybe you really see me as ugly, ever think of that?”

“No, I don’t think you’re ugly, but the reflection on the marble is, and I don’t like it.”

“Where does it say you’re always going to like everything you see? Just because you don’t like the vision doesn’t mean you can change it. Things are what they are, and an artist’s job is to record his visions for others. If I look ugly, then I look ugly. Don’t make me better just because your vision doesn’t fit your idea of how I should look. That’s no different than telling a lie. Now, you just stay there so I have the same perspective, and let’s see what you have.”

She knelt behind me and looked over my shoulder. I felt her hair fall against my neck, and when she braced herself with a hand on my shoulder and leaned forward, it became difficult to pay attention to her comments. Her words puffed in warm breaths against my right ear, and I felt every sense intensify until I thought I would explode from the tension. As she talked, she reached over my shoulder to point out areas of the drawing, and I was sure her chest brushed against my back at least once. I heard what she said, and made the corrections she wanted, but my mind and body were concentrating on the nearness of the woman. Other than an occasional brush in the hallway during classroom changes, the only woman who had ever been this close to me was my mother. The sensations which tingled my body were those of youthful lust; that lust was going to make it impossible to stand up.

The feelings were confusing, really. She was old enough to be my mother, and although I hadn’t actually made any advances to the girls in my class, I was smart enough to know that I was supposed to like girls my own age. Barbara was a special case, and anyway, she wasn’t old. No guys in my class ever said anything nice about older women; if they said anything at all, the statement was usually quite the opposite. Raucous laughter would break out anytime Jerry told about listening in on his dad’s poker nights. The group of men played cards, drank beer, and talked every Saturday night, and as the alcohol loosened them up, the subject of conversation would always come around to women and sex. Jerry would always keep the rest of the guys updated on the conversation when we changed for PE.

“I heard ‘em say that old wimmin got teeth in their pussies, and if you ain’t careful, they’ll chew on your dick. Goddamn, I ain’t fuckin’ no old wuman, not never.”

“Yeah, old Mrs. Crosley’s got big knockers, but Dad’s poker buddies say they prolly hang down to’er belly button when she’s naked. Shit, couldja imagine that. Them big tits’d prolly suffocatecha if she ever got ‘em in your face. And everybody knows that old wimmin got big holes. Harry told Dad his wife’s so big it’s like fuckin’ a cow. Now, Sherry Jean’s stacked purty good and you oughta see that ass in some shorts. I’d fuck that young lil pussy to hell and back, anytime.”

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