TW: Sexual assault mention, suicide.
I am Marquise L. Lanford.
I am an artist. An aspiring artist to be exact, my current work of art was deemed "too insipid," for its trouble. A leaf is what I painted, a simple fucking leaf is why I am at odds with my work.
Where did the inspiration for this painting come from? I remember it vaguely. The lies I tell, I remember it as clear as day.
"Open your legs," I instruct the nude model as she wears a blank expression. She is twenty-two years old. A child in my eyes since I am middle-aged. But something about this child fascinates me. Her inability to feel discomfort is astounding, I've hired and instructed her to participate in many mortifying activities. Still, she hesitates none, no reaction whatsoever to my requests. Am I defiling this little woman? No. I haven't touched a hair on her head, only do I instruct and she follows my directions. My desire remains unclear though, I have not a sexual desire for this adolescent individual, only pure fascination. What has this child been through, to show no hesitation in the exploitation of her innocence?
Money is what she desired, money is what brought her to my studio. I declined her first offer of impurifying her body. "Are you ashamed of it? Of me?" I assumed she was referring to her body's supposed abnormalities, which she was. To ask me, a stranger if I was ashamed of the way her body looked. This child is looking for reassurance, the poor soul is on the brink of destruction. Say the wrong thing, a barrel to the dome in the next breath. I saw not a hint of abnormality, nor a stench of impurity. "I don't want to fuck you," is what I explain to the child, blunt at best. The strangest thing suddenly happened. The little woman began to cry. She is taking my decline of sex as a rejection of her entirely. "Take off your clothes and sit in the chair," I instruct her.
"Are you going to touch me?" She asks. "I am going to paint you," I answer quickly. "Only that, nothing else."
Why does this child keep testing me? That's if it is a test at all. She constantly expresses an urgency to be taken advantage of. "Do you not like the way my body looks?" On the contrary, her body was perfect in my eyes. She held a supple pair of breasts to her hairless figure. Natural curves and a few stretch marks along with a doll-like face. This woman was the epitome of American beauty. Why was she so insecure?
She's back again. Looks to me as if she'd lost weight, and I doubt it was from a healthy diet and exercise. This time, she takes an initiative. As I sit in my chair, a steady hand reaches for my face and I grab it quickly. "Don't," the irritation in me is beginning to become hard to hide. What irritates me is her desperation, what does she want from me? Again, tears form in her eyes. "Show me then, undress," I instruct. She does as I tell her and I approach her slowly. A short woman she was, looking up at me as if I were a god. As I tower over the girl, I realize something. The expression she wears, it is no longer a face of confidence. There's fear in her eyes, the girl is looking at me as if I were a predator about to attack its prey. Is the little woman a tease? What the hell is wrong with her?
"Sit in the chair and raise your arms up," she wipes her face and does as I tell her. I've started to pay her more than I usually do as my fascination with the girl increases. "Why do leaves fall from trees?" She asks suddenly. "Because they've died and no longer need support from the tree," I say in response.
"Will I fall too?" The question causes me to stop my work abruptly. "Will my tree stop supporting me soon? Will I fall like all of the other leaves mister Lanford?"
I've decided, this girl will become the death of me.
"Marquise, call me Marquise."
The little woman has brought me a gift. A drawing of an apple tree is placed in my hands. "They say an apple a day keeps the doctors away," she says with a forced smile in my direction. "All bullshit," I say in response which brings out a small laugh from the girl. It's no secret that her presence has started to become a natural comfort for me. Each day there's always a new face she wears, always a new side to her for me to see. I've painted many portraits of the little woman now, each more exotic than the last. I'm sure she has more than enough money to support her needs and desires and yet she still arrives each day.
She is the most beautiful woman I've ever encountered in all my years, and not because of any physical feature. Again, she undresses and takes her usual seat across a blank canvas. What should we try today? "Have you ever made love before, Marquise?" She asks in a questionable tone, suggesting an attempt at seducing me. "Little woman, I'm old," I start to say, "I've bedded many women in my prime."
"What about now?" This again, she places her hand between her legs, stroking her inner thighs. Now she's pretending to masturbate? What is her goal? I stand from my seat and walk over to her slowly. "What do you want me to do for you?" I ask with an honest curiosity. "Will you catch me, Marquise? Will you catch me when I fall from the tree?" She looks up at me again with those eyes, eyes that show fear and innocence. She places her hands on both my shoulders and stands on her tip-toes. She wants to kiss me? The little woman doesn't want a kiss of love, but a kiss of reassurance. I don't feed into her false seduction, removing her hands and stepping backward.
"I'm not good enough?" She asks in a sullen tone.
"Little woman," I start, "If I made love to you against your will, would you hate me afterward for doing it?" She looks at me briefly then smiles. "No, because I'd want you to." The realization of the girl's supposed feelings for me became clear. I approach her once more and lower my face to level hers. "Touch me then, if you want me." The little woman's hands began to tremble as I guide them to the lining of my pants. The child is scared out of her mind. She looks at me then swallows hard as she touches the zipper. Her eyes dart from side to side as she shakily pulls my zipper down. Before she can continue, I grab her hands and level her body with mine. "What you feel for me is not love, little woman," I say as the frustration in me takes its toll. I shove her away slightly and return to my seat.
To be so desperate as to throw yourself at me, what is it that you can accomplish by having me deflower you?
It's been days since my "fight," with the little woman. She hasn't shown her face in my studio and has since become the only thought on my mind.
I reminisce about her beauty, her unique features, and complex personality. Suppose I had given in to her requests, what then? Would I be further developing the deterioration of her mentality? I began to work on a new painting without a muse. Although I've painted dozens of portraits of the little woman, I cannot recall her beauty on the canvas. Where is she? What is she doing now?
As my thoughts consume the time, I paint subconsciously. Green is the first color that comes to mind. Leaves are green, most of them anyway. On the large canvas, I paint the outline of an oval, shading its center with the green paint.
Why do leaves fall from trees?
To cover the innocence of adolescence, I think to myself as I began to create another outline beneath the first. I was drawing a figure beneath the leaf, a woman. The woman had tan skin and black hair. A curvy figure she had, I added the detail of her tiny stretch marks. A beautiful woman with a sullen expression, hidden beneath a fallen leaf, that was what I had drawn.
Little woman, I miss you.
Still no sign of the little woman, an unsettling feeling begins to creep within my mind. Where is--
"You're the man that's always drawing pictures of that little girl, ain't you?" A boy arrives at my studio drenched in sweat. He'd run all the way here, but why?
"She's gone man," the boy started to say. "On the news, haven't you seen the news!?"
The little woman's face had appeared on every television within the city.
DEAD AT TWENTY-TWO, read across the headlines. She had supposedly taken her own life a week prior to the current. A gunshot wound to the dome, reports informed.
The little woman had been living with her father, a convicted sex offender. Reports say there was evidence of sexual abuse within the home the two shared. I understood everything completely now.
She needed sexual reassurance. She did not love me, she wanted to be loved by me. In her eyes, sex was the only way I could ever love the little woman. But she was wrong.
You are so wrong little woman because even without the dozens of portraits I've made of you...
I would have fallen in love with you anyway.
I stand at her gravesite, picking up a single leaf from the ground. I've stopped painting since then, discarding all of my work except one. The portrait of a little woman beneath a leaf remains at the center of my studio.
Why do leaves fall from trees?
I scan my eyes over the little woman's headstone, eyeing her name.
You tell me, Rucci.