My agent stands back and has another look at the sculpture. It’s the next in a series that I seem to have been working on forever.
“Why do they all look so tormented?” he asks.
“It’s very painful, being turned into stone,” I answer with a straight face, my big blue eyes blinking innocently.
“Oh ha ha,” he says, and wanders around the other side to get a better look at the face of the sculpture, his own face a picture of greedy distaste. He’s good at PR, this agent, but not really arty. He likes what he likes, and he doesn’t like these. They sell really well, though, so he has to appreciate them. A true appreciator of the arts, is old Marty.
Good old Arty Marty. He’s sold my work for me for for years, left me free to pursue my calling and made me a good living as well.
“Good old Arty Marty,” I say.
“Arty Marty or not, I hate these bloody things. Can’t you put a smile on one for once? ”
“Very likely,” I say. “But it won’t sell so well. The rich old ladies like them tormented. Some sort of revenge for all the pain they’ve had from you lot over the years.”
“Not my lot. They’ve given some my lot some grief too,” Marty says resignedly.
We both stand and contemplate the young man of the sculpture, kneeling there in a classical greek posture, supplicating to Marty, who happens to be in front of him. The sculpture is a beautiful figure of a man, body all muscled and carefully sculpted, naked except for the real gold medallion that hangs around his marble neck.
“I wish I knew where you found your models.”
“You wouldn’t have been his type. He was a right lady-killer, that one.” I turn back to my newest canvas, impatient to have Marty gone and lose myself back in my work. Marty takes my subtle hint and snaps a couple of photos to show to the old ladies, then makes himself scarce. These days most of my sculpture is sold before it leaves the studio. Very convenient.
“No, you weren’t his type, were you?” I rhetorically ask the sculpture, who has so recently supplicated to me instead of Marty. How satisfying to finish that job and go back to my canvases for a while, my beautiful historical scenes. People comment on how different the two things are; those tormented young men and the lavish gentle scenes of the past, but I see one as work, one as love. We must all work, but we can do what we like for love. My paintings flow with love, so detailed that you could almost step into them. Wouldn’t I like to, sometimes? Oh, all the time.
Then the day comes in this present when I must start another sculpture. Only ever one at a time, and with long gaps in between. Stone takes a long time to carve.
I put on my hunting outfit and go out to find a new model. My hair is long; long and dark with natural ringlets all the way. It’s my best feature. My nose is too big, my lips are thin, but the startling contrast of my blue eyes and the dark hair are quite hypnotising, I’m told.
Sometimes it takes a while to find a model, but tonight I am lucky. A man comes to me at the bar of the very first night club I go to. He is dressed in tight jeans, white shirt, nice smile…sincere smile, but his eyes are the pale yellow eyes of a dragon. Good, the hunting has got boring and I am glad I’ve found him so quickly.
“Is that a ladder in your stocking, or is it the stairway to heaven?” he asks, looking cool and confident. I’ve heard that one before, and it isn’t even the worst, so I manage not to show my amusement, instead looking nervous and shy. Can I bring myself to giggle? It will make the hunt quicker.
“Oh you!” I say, and giggle a little. It’s half-hearted but better than nothing. He likes it anyway. VICTIM! It says to his twisted dragon-mind. VICTIM!
The resulting dance is the best bit of hunting. The bit where the hunter pretends to be weak to lure in the vulture, then has it caught before it realizes its mistake. Except this time it’s not a vulture, but a dragon, and I am a sculptor, not a…well not just a hunter.
So we dance around each other, both manouevring for the same end, but he doesn’t know that, and I do. We have a few drinks, then a real life dance, and he is so very charming, like a snake-charmer with a new snake, but all the time those eyes are speaking to me of the truth of his soul and I know I have picked the right one, or that the right one has picked me.
Late in the night I tell him I must go.
“Oh you can’t,” he tells me. “We’re getting along so well. Stay with me, or come home with me.” His dragon eyes caress me and devour me at the same time.
“I can’t,” I fluster. “There’s no-one home to feed the cat. I’ve stayed too late already. Poor puss!” and I pull away from his suddenly hard grip and head for the door, but not too fast.
Poor puss, I think, poor lizard. This is your chance.
But he comes like I know he will, and follows my silly high-heeled steps to my car, back there in the shadows where I can only feel him. He follows me all the way to my front door, and then he follows me in through the door so absent-mindedly left unlocked.
The trap has sprung.
I wait for him in the studio. “Where’s the cat?” he asks menacingly, as he glides from moonlight to shadow to moonlight across the big room. I cower back against the far wall, near my newest precious painting.
“How did you get here?” I demand in a high panicked voice, as if trying to sound tough. I hate how they always love this bit, but I need them closer.
“None of your business,” he says gently; savouring. Savouring the moment. “I said you couldn’t go, but you went, and you teased me all night.” He is coming closer, those pale eyes shining in the half light. I coax him in my mind; closer, closer, poor lizard. I can imagine him flickering his tongue in anticipation, but of course he isn’t. He is ready to pounce now.
“What do you want?” I quaver, and put my head into my hands as if the sight of him is too much. He makes a sound of pure pleasure and reaches for me, but I look up to see him reach and suddenly he is still, still as stone, a last cry of agony escaping his lips as the white, white marble travels up his frozen body.
I tuck the blue contacts into my pocket for safe-keeping and rub my eyes, which I know now resemble the deepest pools in a dark cave. How tiring those contacts are! It is nice to see properly, and I use my lovely unburdened eyes to survey my newest artwork.
Damn! He’s not smiling. I had thought that taking him by surprise might make the change quick enough to let him keep his smile. Marty will be disappointed, but not for long: The pose is wonderful!
He is leaning forward and reaching with both arms, that agony on his face, as if his love has just told him she is leaving him and he is begging her to stay. The fingers are tortured, as well they might be; the last thing to become stone and the last place he can show his pain. I make myself busy cutting off his hunting clothes, just in case I get an early visit from someone who might be surprised to see a sculpture wearing clothes. I never lack for painting rags.
Marty will be pleased. Tomorrow I will start a painting of an ancient Greek scene, an idyll just as it was, before the monster came to destroy the peace. So many monsters, and I’ve been killing them for so long. At least now I’ve turned my hate into an art. How boring otherwise! Its not an easy art either. So many of them take hideous poses, or they are too ugly to start with. These I smash and strew about to play at the chippings of my art. Not many are as perfect as this one.
Marty will be pleased.
So I have gone on from year to year. Self-defense practice in case of mishaps in dragon-handling. Holidays to countries I once lived in, though they are much changed. A few sculptures every year, a few new paintings to people the walls of my home with those I knew, places and times I have loved. Some years there are no monsters. Some years there are more than I can take without attracting interest in the speed of my workings. Time goes slowly. I have no friends and no lovers. I am too terrible for that. I have only my work, and my love, and these must suffice for company.
Funny how people are frightened of me. Perhaps they can sense the years I carry. I remember them all, all my lives and all the battles; the triumphs, and the shame and pain of defeats. I have been beautiful and deadly and a betrayer. I have been so ugly that my gaze alone meant death, and inside me the snakes are still writhing. I don’t look in the mirror often.
Lucky for old Marty that he doesn’t see me, doesn’t look at women full stop, and the power of the money I can make him would draw him anyway. “You ought to get out more,” he says when he notices me at all, but he doesn’t really care if I do or don’t.
So here I am at another bar. My hunting gear is on and I am looking for prey, but there are no takers. A man watches me from across the heaving mass of the room, across all those revellers, but he makes no move to come to me. Sometimes it is this way. Sometimes they prefer to stalk from afar, so after a few more hours of waiting (and what are hours to me?) I get up and pull my tight skirt down my long legs and make my slow way down the room and out into the night. So many monsters out there. So many who look like people, and the real people never know it. If I don’t catch my model tonight there will be another night.
He is good, this dragon. I only know he has followed me when he enters the studio, where I’ve gone to admire my paintings.
“I didn’t even leave the door unlocked!” I say, surprised.
“You didn’t,” he says and he comes toward me just like all the others. I am a little startled by this. Never in this time has it happened that someone has come under my guard and entered unexpected.
“You were watching me across the bar,” I say, mainly to distract him while I get myself in the right mood for some sculpture. I like to be angry at least. “Why didn’t you come over and talk to me?”
“Because I knew what you are,” he tells me. His voice has none of the usual tones of anger, fear, lust, joy. He is matter-of-fact. Something is very wrong here. He is moving around the room to get to me, touching the walls as he goes, and he will not look at me.
“Where are the snakes?” he asks.
“What snakes?” My voice is sounding startled and nervy, but this time it is not false.
“The ones you used to wear on your head, of course,” he says.
“Times change. It’s no longer fashionable to wear reptiles for hair. I felt too obvious walking down the street.” I know who he is now…or who he was. Not again, its not fair. “You’ve got it wrong, you know. I’m one of the good guys and always have been.”
“You were never a good guy. Not from the very first time I came to your cave and not now.”
“You came to my cave, matey. I was just minding my own business, which incidentally is one that does you humans a lot of good. What happened to your stupid flying sandals anyway?”
“They were repossessed by the owner,”
“I hope he wasn’t annoyed by finding all my blood on them?”
“Didn’t bother him a bit. I just explained to him that I’d been doing the worlds a great service and he forgave me.”
“This conversation is a mite ridiculous,” I say, because it seems so. We are such a long way from Gods and Goddesses and flying sandals and snakes in the hair that it seems like a dream to me, although I know it was real enough at the time.
“I like your paintings,” he says. “They bring back happy memories.”
“For me too,” I reply, feeling a sense of unreality so intense it is hard to keep my wits about me. I must remember this is a fight to the death.
“I saw one of your sculptures, you know, then it all came back to me,” he tells me conversationally as he moves to come sit at my side on the raised sculpture dais, not too close. “It reminded me of all the bodies of the young men strewn about the mouth of your cave, and all the animals and creatures you’d turned to stone.”
“Ah well, it was harder in those days without the contact lenses. People and such would keep coming in. It was no choice of mine, and the young men were not young men, but the very monsters I was created to battle. Where do you think all the dragons went? All the sea monsters? All those eaters of virgins? You think you heroes killed them all? They hid from you then and they hide from you now.” I look around at him carefully, and see a pair of mirrored sunglasses before he turns his face away. Those won’t work, they haven’t worked before.
“Ugly old women always think young men are the enemy,” he says smugly.
I laugh until I have to hold my sides and wipe my eyes, then I look up and grab for him, this smug murderer, and look straight into his mirrored sunnies. “Now die, you fool!” I shout and want to cackle like the evil witch in a disney movie, but manage to stop myself. Trouble is, he isn’t stiffening and dying like he should.
“Mirrored…and painted black on the back!” he laughs, then grabs at me to stop me pulling off his protection. We are now clasping at each other, neither willing to let go of the other because we know death lies there for one of us.
“I’m not so ugly!” I yell into his face.
“You were,” he shouts back, “You were ugly and evil and I killed you once and I’ll do it again!” and he smiles at remembered triumph.
“I’m not so trusting any more either,” I growl, and before he can react to that, I head-butt him right on the bridge of the nose, just the way I learnt, so that the glasses break and the last thing he sees as he loses consciousness is the black pits of my eyes. There is still a beatific triumphal smile on his stunned lips as he begins to turn to stone, and this time the smile is going to stay there, I just know it.
Arty Marty is going to love this one.