Illustration by Henri Ghosn
Nick and Jake sat in silence in their shared studio, each staring at the paint-smeared patch of floor between his own legs. Nick twisted a long, greasy strand of hair around his finger and looked up out of the window. The bright light of the studio made the black sky outside almost invisible, but he could feel the chill of the November night through the gap where the window didn’t quite meet the frame. He tried to ignore the pencil, made short with much use, which Jake was spinning round and round on his thumb and first two fingers.
‘I just don’t understand how you can think it right on any level – morally, qualitatively, philosophically – for one artist to make another artist’s work his own,’ Jake said.
‘Well I don’t get why everyone is so uptight about collaborating on their work. Take your nude drawing of Phoebe. It’s brilliant, one of your best. Masterful, almost, but – ’
Jake looked up and frowned at Nick; he had never been able to tell when he was being sincere. Confidence was the only solution, he decided, so he took a swig of his beer and asked, ‘Almost?’
‘Even if you didn’t know her you could see from that drawing’ – Nick waved a pale arm toward it – ‘that she’s empty inside. Not in a thoughtless way, you know what I mean. She’s exhausted, all her anger and love have been used up.’
‘How in fuck are you in a position to be making comments like that about her? I’m the one she’s sleeping with,’ Jake burst out, half standing up.
‘One of the ones,’ Nick said, under his breath.
‘I said I hadn’t finished. I was going to go on to say that my experience of her, of what she represents, is different. I’d say she’s got a bit more left in her.’
The beer had got to both of them, but it had got to Jake more, Nick realised. He picked up the white hog hair brush which he’d been using when they’d distracted each other into conversation and this whole disagreement began.
In the second or two it took him to move across the room he considered that perhaps more discussion, rather than demonstration, was best in this situation. But the thought hadn’t reached its conclusion before he was running the red down Phoebe’s back, and by the time Jake could react, he had taken it on around her buttocks and along the underside of her thigh.
‘That’s how I’d make it better,’ he sputtered, ‘and Phoebe would agree with me – she always does.’
As he lurched toward Nick Jake caught the leg of the stool with his too big foot. In spite of his clumsiness he managed to get his fists at him. But Nick was screaming far too much for his less than powerful punches.
When Jake pulled his hands back he saw the pencil just below his friend’s eye. It was sticking out jauntily like a stick a child put in the hand of a general’s statue.