The clock said 5:32 p.m. It was Thursday, and I sat in a chair with my legs up in another chair, and my book was open in my lap, and I was writing. The doors to the gallery were propped open, and the sky was turning from blue/white to pink/yellow/red as the sun got closer to sleeping. The sky was a color that only Miami knows. Electronic music bounced off the walls in the background even though I was supposed to play jazz always, no matter what.
When she walked in I barely looked up, I barked out a hello and went back to my business. She moved around the gallery like a wound-up toy, spinning in no real direction, her teal top burning against her dark brown skin. I put my eyes back down to the paper. My body language said don’t bother me, and I concentrated my eyes while imagining laser beams. From the peripheral I could see her coming, shining, on fire—
(Comes up to Maggie, stands directly in front of her. Bends down and touches Maggie’s leg.)
Excuse me, I want someone to paint me. I want to be painted and I want it to be sexy, you know. I want women to see it and feel good about their own bodies.
Well, I can ask the owner about that.
(Shifts and rises from the chair, moves slightly away from Veronica.)
Do you see any pieces that you like, anything that you would want your painting modeled after?
(Gestures around the room. Her voice is light and courteous, but decidedly bored. Starts
walking around, pointing out different nude pieces.)
(Follows Maggie around the gallery. Studies each naked woman analytically, brow
furrowed, mouth scrunched into a squiggly line.)
Hmm. I want something sexy, you know, but not raunchy. I want people to see it and be like Damn girl, You fine, you know.
(Stops in front of a painting of a nude woman lounging across a large orange chair, her left leg limp on the chair’s front, her right leg thrown across the chair’s right arm, bent like upside down V. Points at the fleshy legs, open.)
Shit, I bet your owner likes him some pussy.
Um, I guess, I don’t know him very well. This is only my third week.
(She remembers running into Syd, the owner, three days before at a bar down the street. He was stuffing a meaty sandwich into his mouth, wiping his hand on a greasy napkin from the table. He stood to shake her boyfriend’s hand as she introduced them. The next day at work when he would look at her, he would tilt his head to the side like he was thinking of something. He asked her if her boyfriend liked to burn. She said Does that mean smoke weed? And he said Yeah, pot. And she said, Well, yeah. She remembers she’s working at the gallery now, looks up at Veronica.)
(Grabs Maggie’s wrist and holds it tightly.)
Girl, let me tell you why I want to get this picture painted. I’m a breast cancer survivor, praise the Lord, you know. I’m thirty-six and I battled cancer for three years. I had to have one of my breasts removed. Completely!
(Still gripping Maggie’s wrist, pats her chest with her free hand.)
And after that shit I was feeling real down, you know, and my husband didn’t look at me the same way. And I didn’t want plastic surgery, but all the prosthetic breasts were, you know, like your color, Caucasian. And I thought once I got better I’d try to get women prosthetic breasts to match their own color. They can’t be sexy with white breast attached to them.
Wow, that’s really great. What interesting work.
(Looks down at her trapped hand; she sighs, smiles, tries to wriggle free.)
My grandmother died of breast cancer, actually, both grandmothers did. I’m sure you could help a lot of women get their confidence back. One grandmother had breast cancer and the other had lung cancer, then that turned into brain cancer and, well, just all-over cancer, I guess.
(Lets go of Maggie’s arm.)
Okay, honey—what’s your name?
Maggie. I’m Veronica.
(Releases Maggie’s hand to shake it. Quick up-and-down handshake with Maggie. Looks
to the table in front of the low-set window. Picks up a fashion magazine from the pile.)
Okay, Maggie, I used to be a proud, confident woman. Hell, I’m still a proud confident woman. I like my body and I like sex, you know.
Sure, I guess.
(Lowers her voice, as if sharing a secret.)
Has he tried to get that pussy yet?
(Surprised, not by Veronica’s vulgarity, but by the feverish look in her eyes.)
Shit, that pussy-loving owner you were talking about. Has he tried to get at you?
No. God, no!
(Physically recoils. Acts as if everything’s toxic.)
And he’s married. He has a little girl named August. She’s four, I think, maybe three.
I bet he’s sucking that wife’s pussy all the time. Ah ha ha! Good for her.
(Picks up a magazine from the table, moves closer to Maggie and flips through
Look at all these white women. Oh, look, this is a fine-looking woman. Her make-up is done real nice, and her clothes are pretty. Look at that blouse with all the ribbons.
(Shows Maggie the magazine ad.)
Where do you think I could find a top like that one?
I don’t know.
(Starts to walk into the back office.)
I’m going to grab pen to get your contact information. Then the owner can find a painter willing to paint you. I’ll be right back.
—The back office felt cool and comfortable, and I sunk into the cold metal chair. I liked that it felt like a cave, the filing cabinets hugged against me coolly like a lofty mountain range. My hands stretched flat on the desk looked so small, like they could just disappear. I thought of my bed waiting for me at home, wide open and rolling with blankets and pillows. Brazilian Girls echoed in the small square office, shooting from the parallel walls in a redundant dance. The clock said 5:46 and I wanted desperately to leave, in my head I walked the quick two blocks back to the apartment, past the green/gray parking garage entrance, legs pumping and blood filling them up and making them throb against my rough blue jeans, past the gated gravel/grass patch growing wild with stray city chickens, into my building into the elevator up to—
Maggie! Oh, have you found that pen yet, honey?
—I had to go play the part. A show required my participation and without me it would hang waiting like a held breath, like a bird poised for flight, frozen—
(Flings the door open and produces a pen.)
(Hands Veronica a sheet of paper and the recently produced pen.)
Thank you hon.
(Takes the paper, hinges her body down to the table and moves the pen to a writing
position. Pauses. Turns her head to look at Maggie, stands upright.)
How old are you?
Oh, Lord, have you had a mammogram? They found my cancer when I was thirty-two and now I’m forty-one. It’s been six years that I’ve been cancer-free. I battled for two, three years and now I’m cancer-free and fighting back. I found this company in China that makes prosthetic breasts, you know. I told you I couldn’t find a dark one to save my life. Well, they’ll make them to match any color you are. And that’s where I come in. I’ll help these ladies feel good about themselves, I’ll help them match the color that their chest is to the color that the company paints the prosthetic. And I want a big ass painting in the consultation room. A painting of me, proud. Sexy.
That sounds lovely, ma’am. If I can—
Don’t ma’am me! I’m not that old.
Sorry. Veronica, if I can get you to write your information down, I can try to find a local artist that will paint you. The owner of the gallery really has the contact with the artists. I haven’t met any of them. Well, I’ve met TD, but he doesn’t paint women, or people.
What does he paint then? Flowers and still lives and shit?
No, he mainly paints energy surveys, the flow of energy; it’s wild. He uses oil and these brilliant, bright colors. There’s such movement and electric harmony to everything, and he sees it. They’re great pieces. Like, he understands the way things spark other things. You can think of a person from your past that you haven’t thought of in years, and the next day you get a call from them. All this loose energy, all these loose electrons bouncing around, invisible, but still felt.
(Pauses, picks up the paper and extends her slim arm towards Veronica.)
(Grabs the pen and waves it around.)
Girl, I don’t believe you answered my question. Have you had a mammogram? Those things might explode on you one day. You don’t have much, but they might explode, what you do have.
(Taps the pen on Maggie’s breasts.)
Have you HAD one?
(Looks down at her breasts, towards the door, towards the clock. Dark red light fills
the room from the open doors, the sun making its daily exit from this side of the earth.)
I don’t really see doctors often. I mean, I don’t have health insurance. So it’s—
(Abandons the pen on the table.)
Maggie, let me tell you, there are free clinics all over the place that will do a complimentary mammogram. There is no excuse for you not to get one, with both your grandmothers dying of cancer. Shit.
(Raises her right hand, as if to take an oath.)
Promise me you’ll get a mammogram.
Alright. I promise.
(Grabs Maggie’s paper-free hand and raises it. Guides her other hand to the magazine.)
Go on, put your hand up. Swear. Swear on this bitch’s face.
Okay. I swear to get a mammogram. God.
(Lowers right hand, removes left hand from Natalie Portman’s grossly perfect profile.)
All right, good. I’m glad. Shit, you know I don’t want to mourn for your ass. I don’t want to be saying I TOLD that skinny white bitch to get a mammogram, but that girl didn’t listen, and now she’s dead. You know I won’t mourn for you, I’ll just light up a joint and suck on it, I’ll say, Damn, I told that skinny white girl. And my girlfriends will be on the porch, we’ll be shooting the shit, you know, passing around a joint and talking about some boney white girl dying, those breasts like death-sacks on your chest, weighing you down girl. Only a little, ha!—but still weighing you down.
(Looks at Maggie’s breasts and laughs. Opens mouth, extends neck, tilts head back to an
obtuse angle, laughing.)
Funny little things. So prissy.
(Pins Maggie’s hand between her thumb and forefinger. Leans in closely to Maggie.)
You remember what I said now. I don’t want to be matching you for your breast color. Bet they don’t even make them white as you. Ha! You don’t have a grandmother so somebody has to tell you what to do.
I remember. I’ll do it. I promised. Let me get your information. I’m sure the owner can find the perfect artist for the job.
(Submits; writes her name and address and phone number and email address on the
All right. Tell him to find me someone that does sexy shit, not skanky or nasty stuff. I want it tasteful, classy, timeless, you know. Like a chocolate-colored Marilyn, soft colors and real sensual.
You got it.
All right, I’ll be in here the next few days, coming to shoot the shit with you and seeing what this old dirty boss of yours is like.
(Hugs Maggie fiercely and walks out the open gallery doors.)
—It took me several seconds to snap into reality, and I moved toward my bag. I go through the steps in my mind, turn off AC turn off speakers shut down computer empty trash record daily sales (none) leave note for Syd turn off back lights turn off front lights put up CLOSED sign lock door leave. I find my cell phone and check the clock—
(Appears at the door.)
I just saw a sign in the next window! You be careful, girl, there’s a rapist in the area. If anyone comes up to you, you turn the crazy on, you know. Make lots of noise, flap your arms, pretend you know karate. Hell, you probably do, show them those karate kicks, you fuck that fucker up, you hear me?
Yeah, sure. I’ll fuck that fucker up.
(Mimics a karate chop.)
Good girl. All right.
(Waves her hand and exits.)
—The closing duties done, I locked the door and walked briskly from the gallery. It was the last time I was inside. On my way out, I dropped the gallery’s key into a wastebasket lining the streets while fuzzy baby chickens followed their mother blindly. I didn’t go back and Syd called four or five times and I kept ignoring him. Once I got home that night I shivered and shivered and then I got high. My hands rested on my breasts and I hoped they weren’t time bombs. They didn’t seem like bombs, not at all. I liked the firmness. I didn’t know how I’d feel about having to slice them off, perfectly round apples cut from their life source, left to rot. It was dinnertime and my boyfriend and I went to eat sushi at our favorite place, the lights glowed red inside and we grooved to Blue 6 while devouring hand rolls. The hand rolls are called Ladies’ Choice on the menu. I always think that’s funny since they’re my boyfriend’s favorite, and he’s a man.
© Jessica Bates
For pay, I write search engine optimized copy for various websites. Otherwise I work for the muse. I have a needy dog and a nerdy husband. I blog infrequently at jessicaabates.blogspot.com