When I paint portraits the faces are inadvertently askew, chins and cheekbones jutting or pulling somewhere, maybe off-camera where things are interesting, where people are real and bodies are healthy, sturdy. But the eyes look right at me. Always right at me. And they are sullen, they’d rather be somewhere else. They have whole lives to garner. They are drawn to me. I draw them there. Jane says it’s because I feel invisible, dismissed. I tell her all women are invisible, especially in waiting rooms and on cold crinkled paper in doctor’s offices. Jane says a lot of things. Like how I shouldn’t keep it in the closet. She says it’s morbid, it’s no way to move forward. But I don’t know how to move forward. My inertia is queerly set, determined. Jane tries to pull me because she craves trajectory but I am weighted, anchored to my calamity. Jane is made of smoke.
The portrait I’m painting today is called The Doctor. He doesn’t have any ears although I know how to paint ears. I once painted a single ear, a little chasm with a flesh petal looping nearly all around it. The cartilage brushed with easier tones to show light source on raised bits. So I know about ears. The Doctor just doesn’t have them. He has hands, though. Too many in fact. Five of them. One for every practice, every misdiagnosis. They are useless, obscured like the hems of a Boldini gown. Jane says come to bed. She says I don’t have to paint the doctor. She says I can make better use of my time. The word *time* leaves her mouth like she is in possession of its meaning. She doesn’t know how its form undulates in expanses in the minds of the fit. I paint The Doctor’s mouth pursed in the way Jane’s sits on her face after the word leaves it. The same lips that eventually draw me into bed. Tomorrow I will paint the noose in the closet, round as usual but not straw-colored. Vermilion like the sun before it slips the horizon.
Jenny Stalter is a new writer living in West Texas. Her work is forthcoming in Typehouse Literary Magazine and she was longlisted for the 2018 Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction.