Salsa Verde


She stands on top of a chair, which rests on the back of a prone, handsome, black-haired man: possibly thirty years old; possibly older.  The legs of that chair must be biting fiercely into his back—they must be—but so far she has heard from down there no suggestions of pain.   Neither of them are clothed.  She, responding to the painter’s latest suggestion, adjusts her pose yet again.  Now her feet are facing away from the painter, but her torso is turned so that she halfway turns back to him.   She pushes out her buttocks ridiculously far and and lifts both of her arms so they are level with her chin: hands turned into fists, each pointing outward.  She flexes her biceps and sends the veins of her muscles moving along her arms, across her back.  She tilts her head just slightly, smirks a negligent portion, and stares back at the viewer, as if to say, You think this is the craziest thing I’ve ever done?

The painter—he’s somewhere in his twenties, she would guess—adjusts his feet, grips his paint board, and starts again slashing oil onto the canvas.  He has promised to keep her only an hour, and yet they are about to enter their 96th minute of posing.  So far, she doesn’t really mind.  After all, this is second nature to her: allowing her physique to be studied and marveled at.   The marveling is what she most enjoys.  In some ways, it is exactly the point of her existence right now.  Apparently, it’s different for the handsome male model.  What’s the point of his existence?  Letting the sharp legs of a metal chair wedge themselves micrometer by micrometer deeper into his back?   Oh well, to each his own.  She knows she weighs more than he, possibly considerably more, her greater bulk localized on, and transferred to, the chair, which through the legs, then transfers the weight—or rather directly inserts it—into his back.  A regular person would find such pressure excruciating, if not destructive.  Even so, even in their 96th minute, the handsome man refuses to utter a single note of protest.

She met the painter in an appropriately greasy diner, called Nala’s, on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, roughly midway between Brewerytown and Temple University, and not far at all from where she is currently posing.  She was, that morning, consuming steak and eggs and toast and orange juice.  He was having a muffin, a black coffee, and a banana.  She pretended not to hear his overture—rendered within minutes of their first speaking to each other—about modeling for him.  Or what he said next: I can’t pay you very much, but I’ll pay you what I can.  The truth is she had never modeled.   Not professionally, not formally.  Unless one counted the posing she carried out every day at the gym just before or just after she threw back the titanic weights. Oh, but did she pose then.  She posed for real.  She wanted her body to amaze the morons around her.  She wanted to mystify them, stun them, scare them, maybe even seduce them. So, yeah, nothing would please her more right now, during this stage of her strange adulthood’s strange journey, than to strip and show off this proud new physique.  Front and back.  Without even a tiny string bikini for cover.  To be eternalized in whatever the young man was painting.  Nothing would please her more.

She had wanted so badly to model for him that during their conversation at Nala’s she pretended not to hear or understand his overture.  If he knew how much she wanted it—that she would have done it for nothing, just for the asking—he might not give her the job.  And it was a job, definitely, not a come-on.  She’d had plenty of come-ons over the years; the more, and the weirder, it seemed, as she became stronger, tougher, more muscled, less like a softly-alluring girl and more like a cross-gendered version of The Incredible Hulk. She picked up no signals of a prurient interest—certainly not of perversion—from this painter.  His hair was auburn.  His eyes were hazel.  His face was like a doe’s.  The wispy moustache he sported did nothing to masculinize him; maybe it made him less masculine.  Really what it did was make him look like her brother.  Who was about as harmless a person as you could find.  This painter was skinny and airy and idealistic and probably asexual.  Or just a gay man who hadn’t realized it yet.  Good.  That was fine.  She didn’t want to fuck.  Certainly not with him.  She wanted to show off.  She wanted to expose herself.  She wanted the whole world—not just the gym-loving Neanderthals—to see her.

They left Nala’s that cold January morning each knowing they had come to an agreement.  He said a last trailing word, which disappeared into the frosty vapor rolling from his mouth, and then he turned away, to go home, to his studio.  She turned to go to the gym, her head and her body alive with new ideas, new excitements.  Today she might do an extra 10 reps, on every weight.   She might try to break her record.  And tonight, in her apartment, she would strip, grease her whole figure, and stare at herself in her full-length mirror, front and back, just to understand, really, what the young painter would see when he looked.  To give herself the extra pride, that motivating arrogance.

As she proceeded on the sidewalk that morning, she glanced down at the business card he’d handed to her.  It read, Julian Decklenberg, Oil Painter and Mixed Media Artist, followed by a phone number, an email address, a website address, and an address for his studio.  Julian Decklenberg.  She wasn’t sure about that name.  She worried it was too pretentious-sounding for the kind of painter that she ought to pose naked before.  That she deserved to pose naked before.  What kind of painting would someone named Julian Decklenberg create?  What kind of painting would he love?  And why was he painting her, for god’s sake, instead of just snapping a photograph?  A series of photographs?  Why waste all that time, make all that mess?  Why buy all those supplies?  Especially when the result could not capture her as exactly and remarkably as a photograph could.  A photograph would really show her.  But whatever.  It was his decision to make.  And if this worked out, maybe someone who did just want to take her photograph would approach her.  Would beg her.  Would pay her a lot of money.

He had mentioned to her that someone else might be included in the portrait too; and while she accepted that when he’d said it, as she stepped along the sidewalk she wondered.  What kind of person would somebody named Julian Decklenberg insert into a portrait with her?  A clown?  A mutant?  A genius?  A lover?  An athlete?  A gunman?  A thief?  Would this be a person she even wanted to stand next to?  And why, in a portrait of her—that’s what he had called it, after all, a portrait of her—would it be necessary to include anyone else?  She stopped and sighed.  She wasn’t an artist.  She didn’t know how artists thought.  Or what they did.  She didn’t know if she could trust them.  She curled her hand into a fist and squeezed hard, feeling the firm thick paper of the business card bend and then crumple, and then turn to mulch.  It was gone; it was gone.  But it would be better for her that way; better for her to wait for a surer, less accidental, less inexplicable opportunity.  But when she opened her fist again, she saw the card there, still mostly flat.  And she read his name.