"I need inspiration," the painter said.
The girl rolled her eyes, raised her arms, and sighed. She dropped her gaze and stared down at the painter as he turned in his swivel chair and shot her an anxious look. While she gathered her hair back, she flashed a weak smile, but received no answer. The girl strode around the room whose walls were painted with sloppy coats of pink and pastel green. She stopped in front of one dotted with water stains, leaned against it, and crossed one leg on the other, smiling again.
"What can I do to help you?" she asked, staring at the jagged ends of her fingernails.
"Pose for me," the painter answered. He sprang from his chair and grabbed a sketchpad and a few charcoals from a table piled with paint bottles, CDs, pencils, and books.
She didn't stir or utter a sound. The door flung open and a stout woman with a mop and bucket marched in. The girl waited in silence for the woman to begin to work. The woman cleaned as the painter left the room without saying where he was going. The woman didn't look up at the girl, just mopped the floor of the tiny room and let out a tired groan. When the woman passed the girl, she didn't ask her to step aside. She wiped the floor as if the girl weren't there, sloshing her shoes with the wet mop. After a while, the painter returned with a cup of steaming coffee in one hand and the sketchpad and charcoals in the other.
"Shall we go in?" he suggested, looking her in the eye and pointing to the door through which the cleaning woman had disappeared, leaving a trail of water.
The girl didn't budge, but he grabbed her arm and dragged her toward another room. They crossed a narrow hallway into a smaller room with a bed wedged against three walls. On one of the walls a large abstract painting hung. Nails and screws protruded from the wooden frame. She frowned when she saw that this room was also painted green. A bedspread was placed to match the tone of the walls, but it wasn't the exact same green. It was spattered with cream-colored geometric shapes.
He dragged over a chair that had been propped up against the door, put his coffee down on the floor, and closed the curtains. The room fell into a pleasant semidarkness. Then she realized that she hadn't answered the painter's question. She hadn't said or done anything that might lead him to think she would pose. But she didn't protest when he grasped her arm again and hauled her to the bed. He forced her to sit on the bed. He went back to his chair, opened the sketchpad, and took a charcoal. He stared at her askew, as if looking through a magnifying glass or from an impossible angle. She didn't speak or smile. Then he wrinkled his forehead, pursed his lips, and said, pointing the charcoal at her, "Get undressed."
For a few moments, everything stood still. She held her breath and he seemed frozen in the position he had assumed to give his order. Then she sat up straight on the bed and began to undress slowly, without any sensual gesture, as if she were going to bed or get into the shower. As she shed her clothes, she folded them with care and laid them on the floor, in a small pile next to the bed. The painter watched her without sexual excitement, but with urgency. Only with urgency. "I need inspiration," he murmured.
She lay back on the bed and looked at the ceiling as her nipples hardened in the cold air. She covered her breasts with her arms and turned her body to face the painter. He left the sketchpad on the chair and rose to his feet. He walked directly toward her.
"May I?" he asked in a gentle voice, leaning over her naked body.
She didn't know how to answer. She didn't understand the painter's question. So she stayed quiet and still, thinking of the ceiling filled with cracks and water stains and of the bedspread that smelled clean, even though it looked dirty. Then the painter grabbed one of the model's legs and bent it until her knee was about to brush her right shoulder in an unnatural position. With both hands, he stretched her other leg and arranged her arms, extending them toward the back of her head, her eyes softly shut. He returned to his seat and began to draw.
"This isn't my place," he apologized while he drew her legs, smooth belly, and long torso on the sketchpad. "My friends let me use it until I can go home. Until the inspiration to paint there comes. Someday you'll come to my place."
She nodded with her eyes still closed. Drowsiness filled her. Her body had assumed a very unconventional posture, but she didn't feel uncomfortable. She had no idea the painter had finished the first sketch until she felt him so close to her again.
"I don't want a normal position. I want a tangled body," the painter said in a monotonous voice. He seized the model's legs and twisted them, bending her ankles. First, he gave them a twist, then another. He moved away from the girl's body and looked at it. Again, he took her legs that now formed a sort of braid and gave them two more twists until they became a knot, making it impossible to distinguish her knees from her thighs or from her shinbones. She opened her eyes and looked at herself. She looked at her twisted legs. She knew she couldn't restore them to their natural position, but that didn't worry her. To her surprise, she felt no pain.
The painter returned to his chair and drew for a few minutes while the model drifted between sleep and wakefulness. When she felt the painter's warm hands on her body again, curiosity forced her to open her eyes. At that moment, the painter turned her ankles in such a way that her feet pointed in the opposite direction from the rest of her legs. They seemed to be made of rags. If she had stood up, she couldn't have walked. Panting a little, he bent her twisted, transformed legs into one, until he managed to link it to the model's upright chest. He stretched her arms until they encircled the area that must have been her knees, but it was just a jumble of flesh. Then he tilted her head as if it were quietly floating on the tangled body.
He gulped down coffee and went back to sketching her. His hands were smeared with charcoal and his hair was disheveled. While she watched him, she tried to remember if her body had crunched, if she had felt something broken, or if she had been in pain. But she remembered nothing, felt nothing. He stopped to watch her from time to time. For a few seconds he stared at her, then returned to the paper on which he sketched her.
"It's going to be an enormous painting." The enthusiasm in the painter's voice made the model happy. "You could be an angel. I'll paint wings on you."
She said yes and tried to sleep, but her disfigured body intrigued her. She could identify one of her knees and a part of her heel and her elbows. The rest was unrecognizable. She tried to feel pain, but she couldn't.
"I feel sleepy," she said, feeling drowsy again.
"Sleep. Don't worry."
She felt dizzy, then a surge of pleasant sleepiness. She didn't notice when he came near her and twisted her body a little bit more. Now he tried to tangle up her arms. He brought them toward the back of her head, around her neck as if they were a scarf of flesh and bone, and finally fitted them to her ears like a most unusual bra. He also moved her legs. It took him a long time to undo the knot he made. When he managed to untangle her legs, he passed them over her frail shoulders, over her breasts, until her toes touched her shoulder blades.
"You're very beautiful and shapely," he said, putting one hand on his hip. His erection bulged in his pants. He sat down again and began to draw her in this position. She resembled no human body, but a basket with only breasts and a tilted face. Half-asleep, she thought he had finished his drawing because she saw him coming closer to her body again. He lifted her, making an effort, panting again, and put her facedown. Just before she fell into a deep slumber, he moved her arms from the previous position and toward the back of her neck in exactly the opposite direction.
The painter untied the knot of flesh that was her legs, trying to handle her body, which was becoming more limp. This way he could place her knees over her face, almost crushing the model's closed eyes. Her feet, one under her thighs and the other next to her navel. He stared at her for a few moments and rearranged her right foot to insert her big toe into the orifice of flesh. He also bent her torso, splitting her spine into two. He turned her face to his. She let out a soft moan, her breathing barely audible. He began to sketch her this way, then sprang from his place to turn on the light. When he saw her again, her body was half sinking into the bed. He leaned over her to change her position, but when he tried to adjust her legs, her frail thighs slipped from his hands, as slippery as fish.
He left her as she was, without moving her an inch, and sat down again to draw. Now only a part of her torso and her face were visible. Her arms and hands seemed to have melted into the bedspread. The painter rubbed his eyes and sketched only what he could see. He went up to the bed again and touched an inexplicable substance around her body—wet and sticky. He wasn't able to hold onto anything, his hands failed to grasp any part of her body. He took the charcoal again. Before he went back to his sketchpad, he wiped his fingers on his pants, smearing the unknown matter into the fabric.
His gaze solely on his sketchpad, he drew her face and her thick, sensual lips. Her closed eyes and her straight, thin nose. Her long, wavy hair. He sketched her twisted, perfect, slender shoulders, her long neck, her collarbone, the only visible part of her arm, a part of her chest, and the last curve of her hip that could be glimpsed. Without glancing at the bed, he drew a pair of large wings spreading out, ready to fly. The model's invisible, non-existent body parts floated on a sort of sea. He finished his last sketch with a look of satisfaction. Then he looked up.
The model was gone. In her place was a dark stain. In the middle of the bed lay the silhouette of her body that had been there, her clothes remained on the floor as she had left them. The painter leaped to his feet and threw the curtain open. He left the room and shut the door behind him, taking home his sketches. He had a burst of inspiration.
Julieta García González is a fiction writer and essayist based in Mexico City. In 2004, she made her literary debut with the novel Vapor. Her most recent title, Cuando escuches el trueno, was published in 2017.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in LiteraryTranslation from the University of Arkansas. His recent translations have appeared in Asymptote, Clarkesworld, Samovar, and The Cafe Irreal.