Untitled (Unknown Artist, circa 18th century, oil on canvas)
He’s here again. Staring at me. I am motionless as he scans my figure. Look as close as you’d like. He steps forward, halting at a red rope sanctioning off my exhibit. As his chest leans over the please do not touch sign, I get a closer look at his face; his dark brown eyes follow my strokes as the composition guides him up my silhouette.
Patches of darker skin around his face hint at acne in his youth while his patchy beard reveals a lack of care, of self-awareness. Calloused fingers stained with graphite scratch at his face: an artist. I can see every memory in his irises glittering back at me like a moonlit ocean— fast and pure. From this distance I can feel his breath, his life brushing against my frame as he bleeds out his very being unto me. To me, he’s beautiful.
My varnish, shining in the gallery lighting, blurs the fine detail in my dress, the restorationist work on my hair, the scratch in my canvas, the blemish on my cheek, the soul of my creator, and thus myself, inhabiting my turpentine. He can’t see anything. I won’t let him.
Layers of pigment and rabbit-skin glue stand between us like sentinels. I see him as he looks at me. To him, I must be dazzling.
This isn’t so bad. I pull out the trocar from my chest, flattened from a lack of fluid. Better I do it than inconvenience another. Yeah, that’s right. This way no one loses time or energy. I never liked those that chose the most selfish ways to do it. Taking people’s days, health, joy. Jumping in front of a train, leaving themselves for someone to find, falling onto a busy street—I refuse to be like them. I draw formaldehyde through the trocar and inject it back into my chest. It’s fine. I thread the needle through the incision to suture it close. My hand which pulls my skin taunt is freezing to the touch. After this I plan to dig myself a grave, somewhere small on the side. I would do it in a graveyard but I’d hate to ruin the grass. Sure, the mortician could do all this, but they’d have to do it for free—no one would pay for me, and it’s not like I have the money. This is just easier for every party involved.
I dip a makeup brush into some foundation and swipe it onto my cheek. Then blush, contour, highlighter, until my skin looks full of blood. I don’t know why I’m doing this. It’s not like anyone will see me. I fix my hair. I should just go. I cross my arms over my chest. I really need to leave. I lay back on the table. I close my eyes. I don’t know if it’s the formaldehyde or the deep guilt that freezes my chest as I fantasize about the mortician walking in, seeing me, asking who are you, where’d you come from, touching my sutures and asking who did this to you. Their hands would be so warm.
Biographical Note: Sophie Najm is a young Lebanese American author from the San Fernando Valley. She’s a UCSB undergraduate for Writing & Literature, and has been published in ZAUM magazine. A true “Valley Girl,” Sophie spends her free time ordering complicated Starbucks drinks, buying ridiculous earrings, and creatively incorporating “like” into her vernacular.