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Still Life by peppersweet
Chapter 1 : Still Life
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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Lucy had occasionally wondered how one might go about introducing Teddy if he were a character in a story. A novel, too, something proper and solid. At face value one might consider him an easy man to pin down. There was the straight nose, the crooked smile, the slightly unexpected Metamorphagus abilities. Teddy had black hair one minute and blue hair the next. Teddy could turn into Merlin or even you if he felt like it. Like most people said, Teddy was a real character.


But that was too superficial, Lucy thought. You knew it was Teddy because of the way he smelled: like his studio. Teddy smelled like white spirit and turpentine and linseed oil; Teddy could change his hair to match the smudges of oil paint on his fingertips. Teddy’s clothes all had a tell-tale scrape of acrylic or a hardened patch of varnish. Teddy kept paint rags in his back pockets and brushes behind his ear. Teddy sometimes turned up with a bruise of ultramarine on his cheek, a stain of cadmium red at the corner of his mouth. Teddy sometimes used the back of his hand as a palette, a means of mixing the tones of skin.


And the thing about Teddy was that, like a star, he came in a binary pair. Teddy and Victoire: their combined names were so natural that it felt strange to say one without the other. You rarely saw them apart, and even if Victoire wasn’t there in the flesh, she could be found a hundred times in Teddy’s sketchbooks. Pocket-sized, for field work. She was there in pencil, in paint, in the plastic cage of a photograph. He had a talent for capturing her, and he took her everywhere he went.


Lucy realised it was inevitable. She would never be able to think of Teddy without thinking of Victoire. If you introduced him, you introduced her too. And how would she take shape in print? Cadmium red for the lips, the same as the stains on Teddy’s paint rags. A soft, feminine form, a careful step, a sweet smile. The sort of complexion the beauty magazines would rave over. Doe eyes and ivory skin, because in the past, artists had used ivory for its delicate mimicry of human flesh. Ivory invited touch. Ivory gave the impression of the earthly in the spiritual.


To picture Teddy without Victoire was like picturing him with a missing limb. His right hand, perhaps, because if there was no Victoire there would be no muse, and no hand to draw with.


A little less occasionally, Lucy had wondered how she might appear in paper form. Lucy had auburn hair and a distinctly dowdy look; she wore flat shoes, smelled of soap, mostly wore grey, and her hem always fell modestly to her knee. A sour, gaunt complexion, almost colourless, her eyes often underlined with marks that could be fading smudges of the same ultramarine Teddy bruised himself with. Lucy was, perhaps, the least interesting of the growing Weasley clan, a family infamous for eccentricities and quirks and higgledy-piggledy cottages in lush countryside. Lucy’s father was a civil servant and the family home was a two-up, two-down in the grey North.


Lucy was, dependably, always Lucy. Always boring, always shy at family gatherings, always letting her father talk over her as he boasted of her good grades and perfect attendance. Always ignoring his disappointment at her lack of Prefect’s badge, always knowing, inside, that she was devoid entirely of charisma, that none of the students paid the slightest bit of attention to her.


Never suspecting she was entirely hollow. A hollow carving that held a riot at bay.


The thing about quiet girls is that they are rarely as quiet as one thinks. There’s a special kind of girl that dresses plainly and lives simply and does well in her own company. She has little need for others when she shares her mind with a foil within. There is always a part that wants to dress a little more outrageously, a part that wants to uproot the wallflower from the wall and be a bit more dangerous for a change. A part that wants to live a little, but never does.


Lucy was one of those girls who live part in secret, who make furtive glances across the dinner table at imagined lovers and dream of being able to break their silence.


He looked back. And smiled. Lucy had long ago convinced herself that he knew. He’d always been kind to her. Always been more patient than the others.


She knew the look well. She’d cherished it. One day, she meant to ask Teddy what he did know, and how much he understood. Lucy had a speech prepared that she knew she would never deliver, but she was desperate for him to know. In her naivety, she wondered if he might try to save her. You only saved someone if you loved them.


Perhaps he did understand, although she was certain he’d never seen what the latticework beneath her clothing looked like. But then again, maybe someone had told him. There were some people who had seen. He’d been a few years older than her, in his seventh year when she was in her second. It had started at the end of her first, and she’d been stupid then. Perhaps he knew what it was like. The marks were not meant to be seen, they were intended as a means of breathing. Each one was a way to ease the pressure inside.


At a family dinner, he was sat opposite her. Victoire was on his left, all pre-Raphaelite muted softness. It was almost as if she was there as a guest, not as a member of the family. She was Teddy’s muse. Lucy noticed that, beneath the table, their hands were knotted. But at one point she chanced to look up and her eyes caught his, and there was that smile. That slight understanding.


After dinner, he casually mentioned over the tea and coffee that he’d had a commission to work on a new painting. An important client, he said, somewhere high up in the Ministry. A tableaux, something almost religious. He’d been studying the old masters for inspiration but, he wondered, did anyone know of a fresh face willing to model for him?


The room was quiet. To volunteer would be to undermine Victoire, who was on the verge of suggesting he look for someone professional when a cough came from the back of the room, and everyone turned to look at Lucy as she put a hesitant finger up to the ceiling and said: ‘I will.’


*



Lucy had only ever imagined what Teddy’s studio would look like, and had to privately confess to herself that it was disappointing. The art books in the school library had colour plates of artists’ studios, and she imagined an open, bright space. North-facing windows, because he was a painter. Whitewashed walls and rickety wooden furniture. But he had a studio in a converted factory on the banks of the river, with small windows set high in the walls and electric strip-lighting on the ceiling. The whole place felt dark, cramped with furniture, and the whitewashed walls had the peeling texture of tree bark.


He’d put a pile of paint-splattered sheets on a stand, and asked her to sit there. In a bundle of limbs like firewood, she perched before him. Teddy hummed and hawed and moved her about by the ankles and wrists, almost as if she were a repositionable doll. Her heart sped up.


He came closer and marked a line around her foot with charcoal. Then around her hands. Closer each time. It was as if her organs swelled and pressed against her bones, which pressed against her skin, and the latticework grew taut. and burned raw against the fabric of her clothes.


It was agony. Should she have been able to feel his breath like that? He retreated, eyes never leaving her, until he was at his chair with his drawing board propped on his lap, and then his eyes went from her to the paper, the paper to her, his pencil seeming to move independently of his still, unshaking hand.


Five minutes passed. His eyes met hers again. Then the tip of his tongue darted out like a lizard’s and wetted his lips.


‘Too rigid,’ he said. ‘I’ll re-pose you.’


The marks on her skin burned. The pressure had not eased in the slightest; she felt she’d have to slit her throat to be rid of this fire.


He returned to grasp her ankles and wrists again with delicate fingertips. The side of his right hand was grey from where it had rubbed against his drawing, and she imagined that those pencil marks were transferring to her own skin.


Then he stood and smiled, and his thumb slid around the neck of her cardigan. She held her breath.


‘Would you mind?’ he said, and explained that he needed the finest lines possible, the most accurate rendering of her body. The cardigan was getting in the way. She nodded, mute. It was stifling her skin.


It was a noble thing to do, she thought. The cardigan slipped to the floor and bared her marked arms to him. He did not react instantly, but touched them with those delicate fingertips. Shoulder to elbow, elbow to wrist.


‘Did you know?’ she breathed.


Teddy was staring down at her arms with the utmost fascination. ‘The family talked, but…’


He traced three of the lines. Lines where she’d scored her skin over the years, much like a prisoner would to mark the days on the walls of her cell. Lucy tried to gauge the look in his eyes – not the understanding she’d expected, more an excitement. Teddy was so close she could feel his hot breath on her skin.


‘It’s quite psychopathic, but quite sweet,’ he said. ‘I…’


And without another word he sprang back to his drawing board.


‘I just need a few small studies,’ he said hurriedly. ‘Maybe you can come back for a longer sitting. I don’t want to wear you out. Would you mind?’ he nodded to her feet. ‘Your shoes. Could you take them off?’


She slipped the brown loafers off. He started to draw again. Ten minutes passed this time, and her arms began to ache. Inside, it felt like she was expanding, becoming too big for the skin she inhabited. Her face burned.


‘Lucy,’ he said, after the silence. ‘Shall we try another pose?’


Mute again, she could only nod. It was the same as the last two times. He approached, marking her out with his eyes, and then arranged her ankles and wrists, moved her knee, nudged her elbow sideward. Marked out her scars again with his fingertips.


‘I can work it into my drawing,’ he said. ‘I’ll draw them in.’


She dared herself to look. ‘Why?’


‘They’re a part of you,’ he stated, quite simply, and he touched her knee again. ‘Do you mind?’


‘No,’ she murmured, and he moved it a fraction to the side. His hand rested there, warming the skin, as he met her gaze again.


‘What’s it for?’


‘I…’ the speech she’d prepared would not come to her, and she was not quick enough to make something up on the spot. As if to reassure her, his thumb circled the inside of her knee. A pale smudge of pencil lead marked the path of it.


‘I don’t know,’ she said.


‘It’s okay,’ he said, and his fingertips slipped under the hem of her skirt. A consoling gesture that made her back stiffen, her breath stop almost entirely.


‘I know,’ he whispered. ‘I understand.’


He ducked in to kiss her on the jaw, and she realised it was the first time she could think of him without thinking of Victoire too. This was a part of Teddy she had never seen before. She didn’t recognise the Teddy who was kneading the inside of her thigh like it was clay and leaving bruises on her neck with his teeth. Nor did she recognise herself, soft and malleable, but still rigid within. He was moulding her into something new.


‘Have you ever done this before?’ he whispered in her ear. He seemed hungry, gnawing at her like some animal starved of meat.


He could have been asking about a succession of different things, but the answer to each of them was ‘no’. She breathed it into the collar of his dark shirt, where she was sure it was lost.


*



There were five sittings in all, and he promised her he’d start on the painting right away, although he warned her it would take months to complete. He promised her other things at the fifth sitting after he was done with her. He promised giddily that this was it, that he was done with Victoire. He hadn’t wanted to draw her for that reason. He’d always wanted to draw Lucy instead. He’d always known, you see – he’d always known that there was something to be seen beneath her sleeves. And he always felt like it had been his responsibility to take care of her.


He would take care of her as soon as it was over with Victoire. But he’d have to be careful about breaking it off. They went back a long way. They shared a family, in effect. He’d have to take his time. He could trust her to keep a secret.


He could trust Lucy. She was a quiet girl, hard to notice. Who would suspect it? When the painting was finished, he said, and bent down to kiss her. When the painting was finished – that was the time it would take for the neatest, the most gradual of breaks.


He did up the buckle on his belt and then pinned his sketches of her to the wall, like he’d been taught to do in art school critiques. Took a step back to admire them.


‘They’re some of my best,’ he said. Lucy looked up at him, and not the drawings, and never really thought much about how loosely he’d chosen to sketch her face. As if he hadn’t spent enough time looking at it. But he’d got the number of scars right every time.


*



Two months passed and she returned to school to sit her final exams, and kept true to her word, and did not breathe a word of the affair to any of her friends. She’d been a legal adult since the start of seventh year, but only felt grown-up after she’d sat for Teddy’s drawings. Too grown-up to bother with them anymore. A letter arrived with an attached photograph of the painting, halfway done. A little thumbprint of ultramarine on the envelope served as a postmark for his studio.


In the first week of the summer holidays, she went to visit the studio again. The building was deserted, but a light burned upstairs where he usually worked. Lucy climbed the stairs and found the door unlocked. He must have slipped out for something to eat, and would be back any moment.


So she decided to wait inside for him. She would tell him, first, about the thing they had crafted together. Like one of his paintings, but of flesh and blood. And all out of those five sittings. The painting was supported against the wall, although he hadn’t made much progress since the photograph he’d sent her. A pile of sketches on the floor beside it brought Lucy the image of her own face ten times over, roughly sketched.


Beneath it was another drawing on darker paper. She lifted this one out, not remembering it from the sessions, and recognised the subject immediately. Beautifully realised, in white and grey chalks, a drawing worked out of the paper instead of worked in. Victoire, of course, with her dewy eyes and full lips. All that was missing was the cadmium red. If Teddy really was ultramarine, then they were almost perfectly complementary.


There was love in this rendering of Victoire’s face, and Lucy wondered how much time one must spend looking at such a face to be able to draw it so well. To draw just not the face, but the spirit behind it – and how much love it must take to want to draw that same face so often, and to find something fresh in it each time. How long it takes to learn to love a face, and how long it takes to be able to describe it perfectly from memory in little more than chalk marks.


And how little it takes to destroy something of such love.


She could have done better than the heavy pliers with the handles caked in old plaster, but it was the only thing to hand. It did the job; she hadn’t wanted it to be neat. By the time she was finished she realised that a blunt weapon was the better choice anyway, for it hadn’t broken through the primed card, only scratched and obliterated the surface so that Victoire had become nothing more than a duet of mangled brushstrokes and ragged paper.


There was a part of her that felt bitter when she looked back to the drawings of herself, out of breath by now. Surely she should destroy them too? He’d created them with little care, like he’d created a life she kept inside her like a secret and never bothered to inquire after it. But when she looked back at them, there was little of her to recognise there save for the scars. That was enough.


Lucy wondered if she should perhaps wait for Teddy to return. Destroying the drawing had somehow made her thoughts clearer, though, and she knew she’d only wait to see him with some other girl he wanted to shape into art. She realised that now. Ten drawings of her was a pittance. It was a passing thought.


The smell of varnish was pervasive in the studio. She noticed the painting was still wet and took her leave, pausing for the briefest of moments to look at the heap of oil paints by the door. Her hand swept down and grasped the colour that felt most comfortable to her - payne's grey.



a/n: (and once again I write about art and artists!) This was inspired by two things: first, the song 'breezeblocks' by alt-J, and, second, something I read in a newspaper about a contemporary artist who'd achieved sudden fame and boasted about bedding all his models. It made my skin crawl. Teddy's channelling that creepiness here.
I'm indebted to Gubby for her beta'ing of this fic, picking up both my spelling & grammar derps and snipping round my irrelevant ramblings. I doubt I'd be posting this without her awesome input ♥




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