The Collector

“You collect art then?”

“No, not at all. Art is rubbish. I collect artists.”

“I’m still very interested in the program, but I’m not sure I follow.” He smiled across the table at her, the gentle smile of someone trying to humor an elder who had something they wanted.

She stared back, the comfortable gaze of a predator confident her prey wouldn’t escape. “My program provides room, board, and supplies, as well as a modest but sufficient allowance for personal items, for one year. During that time I have full access to your studio, and may enter at any time by any means to watch you work. Whatever you produce is yours at the end of the year, along with a considerable cash bonus, to do with as you will. It’s all in the contract.”

He leaned back in the chair, and looked her over again. Her tailored business suit contrasted sharply with his thrift store sports jacket and khakis, and he took a swallow of diet soda while he thought it over. She looked over the top of her gin and tonic as she downed a large gulp, and then stared at him with a steady poker face.

“And I have total artistic freedom? I can make anything I want with no interference?”

She sighed and nodded. They were always so concerned about their precious art, it had become rather predictable. “I suppose, if we must be absolutely pedantic, I would prefer you not violate any laws in what you make as that could increase my liability. Fire hazards or toxic waste…” She waved her hand, dismissing the ridiculous notion. “But that would almost certainly be a matter for the police and not directly in violation of our contract. Further, let me be clear: I don’t care what you produce. I am interested in passion. If you are passionate about painting, I want to see that passion, and be in the same room when it pours out of you. If you love sculpture, I want to see you chiseling and sanding, I want to breathe in the dust you make and see your muscles tremble when you carve. It is the passion I am interested in purchasing, and the final product never lives up to the moment of creation.”

He licked his lips, and she knew she had him. He nodded slightly, and she stood up. He stood up as well, extending his hand to shake. She dropped a business card on the table instead and nodded. “My attorney’s office, make an appointment and they’ll make it official. Feel free to bring your own representation, just do it soon.” She dropped cash on the table beside the card, and looked him over again, tentatively pleased with her choice. “And take care of the bill, I have other meetings today.”

His jaw worked as she turned and walked towards the exit with long, confident steps filled with purpose and determination. His hand was still out, and he made a fist, trying to figure out what had just happened. “I paint, by the way,” he called out after her.

She didn’t turn around, just waved with the back of her hand. “That’s nice.”

He didn’t see her for a month. The lawyer had told him it was all perfectly above board, and offered him a list of previous artists who had gone through the program. He’d called a couple, emailed a couple more, and they had all said the same thing: She was an odd older woman who liked to watch artists work, but had no use for what they created. An executive for some financial conglomerate who had more money than she knew what to do with, and some small amount of time to indulge her idiosyncrasies. It had been a good deal, and no one had ended up in a horror movie or been forced to do anything uncomfortable or compromise themselves. At least one of them had sounded disappointed at that last.

A month after the contract had started she had shown up, knocking firmly on the door to his studio apartment. She had breezed past him when he opened the door, and he had pursed his lips then shrugged, shutting and locking the door behind them. She turned to face him, taking him in, reminding herself of what she was buying. “I apologize for interrupting, if you would prefer in the future I can simply let myself in. I would regret interrupting your artistic process, or whatever it is you call it.”

He shrugged, and motioned her towards his work area. “It’s no problem, I’m only doing prep work anyway, stretching canvas and making some rough sketches. Feel free to take a chair.”

The apartment had come furnished, and she sat down on a chair which he now noticed naturally faced his work area. He stood awkwardly until she arched an eyebrow, then he flushed and went back to his work. She watched silently without comment or questions, and every time he looked back there was the same steady gaze and blank stare. He worked for two hours, then shrugged the stiffness out of his shoulders. He saw her standing up out of the corner of his eye, and turned to face her.

She nodded once, and then let herself out.

He exhaled, made himself some dinner, and spent the rest of the night watching classic television and wondering what the hell had just happened.

The next time she came over she let herself in without knocking.

He was amazed that a suit could be so comfortable, and annoyed that he couldn’t tell anyone here because they obviously already knew. It was like it had been kept a secret by the entire world, that a well-made and tailored suit could actually be enjoyable to wear. He strolled around the gallery with her, sipping champagne from a glass and making polite conversation, feeling luxurious and fancy.

She had invited him after a long afternoon of watching him paint, making the question somehow sound like a blunt command. Her voice was flat, not particularly interested in his answer, and he wasn’t sure if it was because she genuinely wasn’t interested or she had already known what he would say. She had offered to get him a suit for the gallery show, and promised to introduce him to people who could help his own career, and had done exactly that so far this evening.

He had gone to the fitting nervous, well out of his usual world of ripped jeans and old heavy metal band t-shirts. It had been awkward, but the staff had been courteous and polite, and eventually he relaxed and started to enjoy the process. The suit had been delivered and after the internet had taught him how to tie his tie, the cab had picked him up and she had met him at the opening, leading him inside and walking around effortlessly. He had tried to talk to her about the art on display, and been met with her usual indifference.

He half-expected to be invited back to her place when they were done, but she merely led him outside and scanned the boulevard, eventually pointing to a yellow cab. “That one is yours, the fare has been paid for, including a standard tip. Thank you for the evening.”

And she walked away.

He carefully hung up the suit, and laid in bed that night, thinking.

The next morning, he started a new painting.

She arched an eyebrow when she saw it, then walked over and leaned closer.

He stepped back and smiled.

She went to her chair and sat down, looking at him with the usual poker face.
His head jerked, and he waved his hands from her to the painting. “Well?”

“Well what?”

“Do you like it?”

She inclined her head, looking from the painting back to him. “It is, from my understanding, technically adequate. The likeness is accurate. I seem to recall I was wearing a necklace when we first met, but I may have had it on under the jacket. In any case it is only a slight discrepancy.”

“And?” His voice got higher.

“And it is hardly original. About one-in-three of my artists seem to think they’ll thaw the frigid cunt with a painting, or a sculpture, or a song about her. It never works, and do you know why?”

He flinched at the sudden profanity, and his face flushed red. He shook his head with violent, jerking motions. “Why?”

“Because I don’t give a shit about art.” She had stood up and walked towards him, not even acknowledging his flinch and backward step. He couldn’t even tell if she was angry or not, her voice had continued in the same monotone she always used, and her eyes had never wavered. He took another step backwards and cautiously asked, “What are you doing?”

She picked up a pair of shears from the kitchen, and held his gaze as she walked past him. “Attempting to convince you of something I have repeatedly told you, young man.”
He frowned, but she just walked over to the closet and opened it, taking out the suit and holding the hanger in one hand. “Hey…” He put a hand out, but she didn’t even look at him. The scissors made a metallic rasp as they opened, and he took a step forward. “Please… don’t.”

The scissors made the same sound as they closed, cutting a sleeve off the jacket. He stared in shock as she cut it into pieces, placed the hanger back in the closet, and glided past him to return the shears to the kitchen. She then walked out, firmly closing the door behind herself.

He stared at the closed door. She hadn’t destroyed the painting, she had destroyed the suit. He picked up the pieces, regretfully putting them in the garbage can, and then sat, thinking. It got inside his head, and he couldn’t live with it, couldn’t stop thinking about someone he couldn’t reach with his art no matter how hard he tried. He couldn’t dismiss it as ignorance, or write it off as cultivated rudeness. She just hadn’t cared.

The next day, two men in blue shirts and tan slacks arrived to install the cameras.
They mounted on brackets right behind her chair, in the corner, pointing at his work area. They had pulled down a decorative wall sconce, quickly put up the two cameras, tested them, and handed him a work order. He had numbly signed, and then sat down in her chair and stared at the painting.

Across town, she clicked on a monitor, and watched him stare for awhile. Then she clicked the power button again, and started answering her email. She checked in on him from time to time, rarely watching for more than a few minutes. It had been another bad investment, but one which she could afford.

He was getting thinner, and painting more, all pictures of her over the same canvas, layer upon layer of her face and body. They had started out as portraits, conservative and accurate images of her in stern poses. As he painted more she watched less, becoming less interested as his strokes became more mechanical, plotted. They both knew she was watching, and his calculated pleas for her attention grew more and more boring. She would still check on him, usually first thing in the morning and last thing at night, seeing him painting her into increasingly bizarre and strange scenarios.

Here she was as a prison warden with dozens of images of his face behind bars, here Aphrodite on the half-shell in a blue pantsuit. In a Biblical painting of the apocalypse, God with her face raining down fire and damnation on a devil with her face. Her eyes staring out of a plain dress with a man next to her holding a pitchfork. She had noted them, shrugged, and dutifully skimmed the expense forms for paint and brushes before handing them off to her accountant to be paid in full.

It had been an intercontinental meeting, and she walked into her dark home at 3:00 A.M. The security pad blinked red as she pushed in the combination, then returned to green. She turned on lights as she moved through the house, not worried about waking anyone. For the sake of ritual she flipped on the monitor to his apartment. Expecting to see only darkness reflected back at her, she almost flipped it off again before she paused.

He was sitting on the floor in jeans, barefoot and shirtless. He had gotten even skinnier, and his body was all hard angles and pale skin. He was cleaning brushes automatically, his eyes never leaving the painting in front of him. She hesitated, then zoomed in on the painting.

It was of him, painting her. Angry reds swirled around him, distorting the apartment into a kaleidoscope hell. He was wearing the same jeans, and his body was dark lines and pale flesh stones. The canvas barely seemed to contain the energy in the painting, and she leaned in closer. It wasn’t the first painting he had done of her, she wasn’t even sure he had ever actually painted the image on the canvas. But it was certainly her, calmly at the center of all that energy, that passion falling into her at his direction.

She had stared at it for some time then pursed her lips, and made a decision. She went back out to her car. This time, she knocked, but impatiently.

He opened the door with the confused expression of someone who had just gotten to sleep when they were woken up. But he smiled when he saw her.

She pushed past him, walking closer to the painting, looking it over carefully. Studying it while he shut the door again. “I want this painting. How much?”

He blinked several times, then laughed. “You actually like it?”

Her head tilted ever so slightly to one side. “Do not mock me. Just name your price.”

Instead he sat down on the couch, a heavy thud of tired bones and muscles. His hands dangled between his knees, and he stared at the floor. “I wasn’t mocking you, I was just… fuck it, just take it, it’s yours.”

She had nodded, and looked at the painting again. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you. I’ll have someone by in the morning with a deed and a van to move it in.” She was staring at the painting again, reluctant to leave it, afraid he would destroy it overnight in a fit of artistic pique. She bit her lip, and forced herself to turn away from it. She had apparently been wrong, and extending some trust would help to begin mending their relationship. “If you have a frame recommendation, please be so kind as to pass it along with the delivery people.” She nodded again and left.

They picked up the painting at 9:00 A.M., waking him up again. He watched as they carefully put it in an oversized carrier, and signed the form they presented. That day he cleaned the apartment, shaved and showered. Went out and bought groceries, and read the news. The next day she came over, letting herself in without knocking again, and wordlessly hanging two suits in the closet before sitting down to watch him paint. Things returned to normal between them, for certain values of normal.

It wasn’t a difficult piece, but it was giving him trouble. He sighed and sat back, staring at the canvas, and consulted an art book. Finally he shrugged, and acknowledged that sometimes the best thing you could do is take a break. He spoke without looking at her, so used to her presence that it was little different from her absence. “I think I’m done for the day, it’s just not coming together.”

He heard her footsteps, but didn’t realize she was walking towards him until he felt her hand on his shoulder. He jumped, and turned to face her. Her eyes locked with his, the same expression as always on her face, and then her lips were on his and her tongue was forcing its way into his mouth. His breath came out in a surprised rush, and he pushed his body against hers. She stepped into him, pushing him back, walking him across the apartment towards the bed. His legs hit the edge and he fell back with her looming over him.

She unbuttoned her jacket and blouse, hanging them on a chair before she reached behind her to remove her bra. He sat up and kissed the soft skin under her breasts, sucking and then biting along the base as she moaned. She climbed on the bed, straddling him on either side and holding on to his head, running her hands through his hair, guiding his kisses and gentle nibbles.

Her shoes clattered to the floor, and she pushed him back down, laying on top of him to shimmy out of her slacks. She stood back up and looked at him with a gaze so intense that he blushed as she unzipped his pants and jerked them down. He pulled his shirt over his head as she dragged his underwear down and off, her nails scraping the skin on his legs. Her panties joined his underwear on the floor.

She climbed back on top of him, working her way up his body. She teased his cock, dragging her slit across it until she straddled his face. His tongue came out eagerly and she lowered her cunt onto it, holding his head with one hand and massaging her breasts with the other.

She hissed out a “Yesssss…” as his tongue found her clit, and she pinned his head between her thighs. He kissed her there, running his tongue across the short hair and judging where to suck and lick by her reactions, working his tongue in a circular pattern, pushing against the sensitive nerve endings.

She ground her teeth against each other and closed her eyes, imagining the painting while riding his face. She came hard, and ground down onto his face as the violent imagery filled her mind. Breathing hard she leaned down to kiss him, then slid her cunt over his cock, working it inside her body with her hand. He groaned and arched his back as she sighed and licked her lips. She slowly started to ride him, trying to draw out the pleasure as long as possible.

He could feel her body working his, taking control and using his cock for both of their pleasure. His eyelids twitched as she pushed herself up and down, controlling the tempo, slowing when she felt his hips start to twitch, speeding up, then slowing again, teasing him and keeping him on the edge as long as she could. She reveled in the feeling of ownership and control, knowing what she had inspired in him, trying to recapture that feeling of energy and life she sound when she looked at the painting.

Her back was arched, and when she felt her toes curl she finally had to let go, slamming her hips onto his body over and over as frantically as she could. She came, spasming and moaning, seconds before his orgasm exploded. He shrieked underneath her in white-hot pleasure, thrashing on the mattress with her above him until they both collapsed.

She stood up and went to the bathroom, and he sat up, still breathing hard. He was trying to think of what to say when she returned, but he could only watch, stunned, as she calmly dressed herself and walked to the door. She opened it, and not bothering to look back, calmly informed him, “Tomorrow is the last day of your contract. If you’d like to meet over breakfast at the same restaurant as our initial meeting, I will have your check and we can take care of the paperwork.”

The door thudded shut behind her.

“I believe that concludes our present contract, but I have an additional proposal.”

“Oh?” His voice was distinctly chilly, and he finished his drink, looking around for the waiter.

“I would like for you to move in to my house.”

“Come again?” His anger had simmering below the surface all morning, and only the setting kept him from screaming.

“I…” She looked up at the ceiling, and then directly at him. “I apologize. I have treated you poorly, and you are doubtlessly confused. Please, let me explain.”
His lips were still pushed tightly together, but he had nodded once, a quick jerk of his head.

She sipped her drink, and nodded back. “I’m not looking for a husband. In my world if I were to marry I would instantly become my husband’s shadow, no matter what his accomplishments were relative to mine. So I collect artists, and I have an opportunity to share their passions for a time. Many of them, as I told you, think that my vice is vanity and I will melt if they appeal to my ego. You are the first to show me through your work that I inspired passion in you, and for that I am very grateful. I would like to spend more time with you, and see if it happens again. The terms would be the same, I have a cottage in back of my home. It is private, and you could come and go as you please and have relationships as you like.”

“I suppose…” She stared down at her drink, swallowing and forcing the words out. “That my vice is pride. I want to win at everything, but it is very nice to know that just once, I inspired that sort of feeling in someone. I regret that I was not there to watch you actually paint it, to feel it being created. If you were ever to create something like that again, I would like the opportunity to be present.” She looked up with a sad smile, the first emotion he could remember ever seeing on her face.

He leaned back in his chair, and thought carefully. He wanted to be furious with her but his anger melted away thinking of that painting. “Ever since I painted that piece, I’ve been trying to recapture that moment. It was the most beautiful, pure moment of my life. Like what mothers describe giving birth as, and I want to feel it again more than anything. I think you can help me with that.”

They had smiled at each other across the table, and she had signaled for the check.

He pushed his glass to the edge of the table, and grinned at her. “Should I stop by your lawyer’s and fill out the paperwork.”

She stood up, and held out her hand. “I think a handshake will be sufficient in this case.”

They shook on it, and he moved in that night.

Copyright Jerry Jones. Unauthorized use is prohibited.

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