I’m not here. Well, to them, I’m not. And even that isn’t true. I’m here all right, there on the wall; my face contorted, a close-up made the moment he pierced the artery in my throat and murdered me. Not a drop of blood or a clue of the horror they put me through in sight. The camera focussed on the whites around the irises. My eyes are so easy to read. I remember the plastic cable ties cutting into my wrists, my hands behind my back, unable to move my feet with them tied to either leg of the chair. But that’s over. No physical body to torment.
Buddhists believe that the hearing is the last sense to go, even after the blood stops pumping, and the brain’s dead. The next of kin shout messages into the ears of the deceased; their loving last words, things only thought of when it is too late. They shout directions; apparently, you can see two lights the moment you die, and only one of them leads you to your afterlife. At my death there was no next of kin and no bloody light, just him and his assistant, the man who lured me into the studio, pretending. Ah, not pretending—I was to model for the great man, the upcoming artist and they would pay me for my effort. That’s what I did for weeks. Sure, I needed the money. The streets were no place for a homeless teenager like me and I could never return home as a failure.
I move over to my picture, (can’t call it walking as there are no feet to take me there), and look into my eyes. There must be some clue about the murder in them. Nobody’s perfect. Outside the whiteness reflected from his lights, humanlike figures loom up from the darkness. In the corner of my left eye, I can distinguish a flash. Could someone ignorant of what the artist is capable of recognise a knife in that lean, metal object just out of focus in his hand?
I turn, look at that face of the great artist man standing over there now. It is all so clear to me. Are they all gone in the head? It is all there to see, in my eyes, all you have to do is look into my eyes. Look!
Look at them, the art lovers looking for an investment. Look at the face of him, the artist, my employer—butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. He cut it very close last night; I haven’t even disposed of the body yet. Its still waiting there upstairs in the studio, cold, lifeless, rigid, rolled in black agricultural plastic. I’ve only just scrubbed the blood from under the nail of my left index finger. There had been a hole in my glove, I hadn’t noticed, the boy’s blood had seeped in. The photo isn’t dry yet, as it hangs from four nails pierced through each corner attaching his Lord’s masterpiece to the wall.
I walk over and stare into the eye. That gigantic eye stares back at me. I am visible in the pupil, me the dark silhouette standing there in the shadows, me, his assistant, waiting with old newspapers to mop up the blood for if it should dribble off the plastic. Why do I do these things for him?
When I met him, I thought he was marvellous. The photographs he took of me. In my eyes, only love. He was the first man I had ever been with. There had been girls. I hated them in my bed, their smell, and their soft, clammy, boneless bodies. He knew more secrets about me than anyone else ever did. I couldn’t stand it when he turned to younger, more virile men. The boy was alone. Sleeping rough, addicted to drugs, letting himself be lured up like a kitten by a plate of milk. He won’t be missed. These jolly boys never are. I discard them like rubbish when they have fulfilled their tasks. Who’s there to miss them? A father? Mother? He came from a family where one son is so easily replaced by another. They breed like rabbits those simple folk do. No unique personality traits to cherish in boys like that, just the same stupidity as the one before and the one before that in that long line of vibrant young men.
Young men’s faces can all be so much alike; the same mangy hairstyles, the same clothes. The rugged look seems to be the fashion right now. I haven’t spoken to him for a year. Off to London he was, had enough of the hole we called town, he said. Words uttered just before he slammed the door on me. I thought he’d be back. One day is what I gave him, one day, and he’d be back for his dinner. And me, his mammy. But when that day turned into two, then a week and slowly, torturously slowly into months, I went to look for him. His Da said he’d be back. But I wanted him back now.
Only by chance did I discover this gallery opening. My son’s face plastered on all the posters across the city—an artist’s model, they say. I can see the creativity of it, his face so twisted. He could be an actor; I’ve always said to his Da he could be an actor.
But where is my darling now? I try to walk as inconspicuously as possible between the other guests, art-lovers who size me up; I don’t look like one of them. I want to shout to them, that I’m not an art-buyer, I’m a mother looking for her son, worried sick he might not be all right. But for his sake I keep quiet and meander between them as I look at each youngster’s face to decipher my son’s features in them. I’m looking for tiny alterations. His face may have changed by adulthood. But he doesn’t seem to be here. Well, at least I can’t see him. Maybe I should ask the artist, that pompous little man over there, that shining star of pride, that son of God, the messiah, glutted with overindulgence. He looks like he’s been soaked upside down in a jar of Vaseline. His mouth all twisted, spittle forming in the corners of his lips as he speaks. Oh, he’s so full of himself. I turn my back to him and see my son’s face hovering above the crowds. Oh, dear boy. Your eyes, your eyes. I try to make my way through the crowd, make my way over to the photograph, and then touch its corner as if touching my son’s shoulder. I stare into his eyes, his eye—the reflection in it—I gasp and cover my mouth in shock.
Anita Salemink ©2020