The stool in Westmore Community Art Center was cold. It had chilled in the night air, the windows left open for the mild Georgia winter to creep through the hall and pool in the studios—the preference of the county’s janitorial brigade. Anders sat, hunched and naked, in Studio C before a dozen seniors, technical school professors, and housewives. On the stool next to him was a new model: one Rose C. Lee.
Before last week’s class, Westmore’s director, Karen, had scheduled a meeting with both Rose and Anders, introducing them, and letting Anders know that Rose would be modeling for the classes now as well, but that the funding allotted for models would remain the same as would the class times. They would share.
Rose had looked lesser in her clothes, Anders thought. A short woman in paint-smeared jeans and a shirt with the neck stretched out. Hair and eyes an unremarkable brown. She sat slouched down in Karen’s pleather chair, hands in her jacket pockets. These were not the things that one longed for later. Things missed if not drawn out.
“I think this is a change for the better. The best possible thing,” Karen said, clasping hands over a herringbone skirt. “A man and a woman. A woman and a man. How complete for the class.” Though, when Anders thought of Rose standing next to him in Studio C, he did not imagine them in harmony, standing like Genesis with fig leaves and forest animals about them and their hair blown out; he could only imagine invasion.
In the hallway, after the meeting, Anders gave Rose the names of several other community centers and studio spaces in bordering counties. “You won’t much like these geezers here,” he said. “All old. Not very skilled. And the pay.” Anders made a thumbs-down.
“I think I’ll stay on,” Rose said.
“Well, it would be best to split the classes by day,” he said. “You can start with Sundays.”
“That works,” Rose said. “And the Tuesday/Thursday classes as well. I’ll be at those.”
Rose sat in on the day’s session, sitting upright in a folding chair and doodling with a ballpoint and not saying much as the geezers sketched and jotted and Anders moved through his usual forms. All of Studio C was invited for post-session wine at the town bistro or the house of one of the geezers. Rose came along to familiarize herself with the group. “It’s not Lee like ‘Robert E.’” she clarified.
Anders scoffed. “I don’t think you need to worry about Lee. Sherman, maybe.”
“Lee like an island,” Rose said. “Leeward. Away from the storm.”
Several geezers moaned affirmations at this, or else nodded their heads slow, or else crowed from the table head for her to “say again?!”
Her wine glass still full, Rose cleaned her teeth with a napkin edge. She was new to the group, a transplant come down from Iowa or Idaho or some such place. She was new and Anders was king here, and as such, he could welcome her with ease. One touch of his hand, one kindly smirk, and she would be accepted. She would be whole. And, when the weight of the crown shifted against her, when she felt unloved and unstudied next to him, he would make her understand that Sundays are where she should live. The weekday classes were his domain. He would get to sleep in on the weekends, and things would be fine.
Anders reached across the table, his hand appearing before him as the marble palm of David, if a deal hairier. Open with fingers slightly bent. He sensed the table of novices lean in to glimpse the powerful swell of the thumb, the wise tracks set in the cup of the palm, if their eyes were sharper, they might see the colored suggestions of veins. He looked at Rose meaningfully, in olive branch and broken bread. He wished he had a ring, that she might press it to her lips. “We’re glad to have you,” he said.
Rose stood and wiped her mouth. “The john?”
“Back left,” Anders said, but Rose was already gone.
“I much prefer your lips,” Phyllis said next to him. She had gone to school with Anders’ mother. “So angular.”
Phyllis was drawing a fried egg into her napkin. No, an oyster. Anders recognized the murky reflection of his own left ear and sucked in his breath. He tucked the ear behind his hair.
“Your lines were sloppy today,” he said without looking at Phyllis, and the old woman wilted away.
Now, at the next week’s session, a steel rivet was pressing through the meat of Anders’ right buttock, like a finger jabbing to the bone. He was in his “Thinker” pose and had been holding a hunch for twenty minutes. His back ached, but the muted scraping of a dozen pencils serenaded him. It was his metronome, the drowning, unifying cadence, when his joints begged for reprieve—the sound of being remembered. The sound that accompanied the airy mass of rheumy eyes flying about his every surface. It almost tickled, the eyes landing and flitting back to their pad and then lighting on his skin again. Except, it wasn’t all the eyes. He could feel it: the absence of adoration. A syphoning of ambrosia.
Rose sat with her chest thrust out and her arms locked behind her. Her legs were crossed at the ankles and outstretched, so her long muscles raised themselves to glow in the naked, overhead light. Her triceps and shoulders stood rocky, and there was a marvel in the way her veins buried and unearthed themselves—appearing, just beneath the skin, as the splintering of a river across her shoulder before resurfacing over bands of muscle in the bicep, the forearm, the bulges of the hand where it gripped the lip of the stool. What had she done to earn veins like that? Anders imagined her in the morning dark, hoisting bags of cement with a pulley and chains. Deadlifting truck axles. Drinking eggs from a pitcher.
Anders watched the right side of the room, those geezers more directly in front of Rose were absorbed in the worship of her knees—the charm of the patella, the elegant union of the lacing quadriceps with the true line of the shin. A bead of sweat rolled from Rose’s armpit and cut a jagged path to her waist over Victorian white skin. When Anders looked back up to Rose’s face he saw that she was watching him. He shifted his eyes to the crowd of seats, and saw that they were all watching her then. Every one of them, turning for fresh sheets to discard the half-finished pages of Anders and begin pages of Rose.
“Pose shift,” Anders said, and stretched his back. He took a short wooden bat from his bin of materials and turned at the waist while he gripped it, stretching left and right and eventually freezing in a left-facing trunk-twist, his legs spread in an athletic stance. His eyes looked out into the high-nowhere of the room, finding the familiar corner where a spider had lived and died and now hung in a mausoleum of its own design. “The Modern Man,” this one was called.
Rose’s arms reached beneath Anders’ to clasp over his chest. They were heavy. The fingers were calloused. Her breath smelled of cigarettes. “This ok?” she asked him.
“Of course,” Anders said, though he had never posed with a partner before. Murmurs rose from the crowd of artists as materials where readied and exchanged. Chairs were scooted about in the constant game of light and eye, each shift revealing a new scene.
Rose matched her feet to Anders’, and mirrored the twist of his back. He could feel her breasts rising and falling against him, and where the slight round of her belly rested, just where the rise of his glutes smoothed into the small of his back. A heat grew where her body touched his. He began to sweat.
“Dr. Jervais,” Rose commanded, and Claude stood as if trumpeted for. Traitorous, big-shot Claude, so eager for a new form. “Let’s get the big light involved. And cut the overhead here.”
Oohs and Awws circulated the room. They didn’t often use the spotlight in the corner, an ancient steely thing, rusted from someone’s garage.
“That’s fine,” Anders said, but a few of the geezers were already positioning the spotlight, dragging it, squealing, over the linoleum so that it shown, hot and unblinking, on Anders’ shoulders, cooking the wafer of his ear and bathing the long line of Rose where it curled against his back.
Anders knew that the muffled squeaks of the pencil tips, the taps and scrapes of the pens, they must be out there, filling the room, but the humming of the spotlight and the harsh of its beam had made him blind and deaf—marooned. Then the hands around him shifted and Rose’s palm pressed into the hollow of his sternum.
“When Sherman took Savannah,” she whispered to his ear. “He left it unburnt.” Her head rested below his left shoulder, away from the room of eyes. “That’s how I’d like to leave you,” she said.
“Merry Christmas,” Rose said, and nudged the back of Anders’ leg with her knee, causing his weight to shift, falling on the heel of his right foot and stinging under the load. “Sherman gave the city for a gift.”
“I know,” he said. “Everyone knows that.”
“What was that?” Phyllis asked from somewhere in the room.
“Maintain focus,” Anders called to the geezers.
“I’m Sherman,” Rose said. “And Lincoln. We’re the Union, these oldies and me.”
“I’m Savannah?” Anders asked through the corner of his lips.
“You lived in Savannah. You’re like…” Rose let her head rest on the high of Ander’s back, on the trapezius he had lovingly, daily, hardened and stretched that it might rise just so above his shoulder. She sighed. “You’re like a man. In Savannah. A statue of a man. You don’t live there anymore.”
“Why are you here?”
“This is my work,” she said. “I’m good at it.”
“But why are you here?”
“The weather’s nice. Karen’s a friend. And there’s a museum gig here. Long term.”
Karen, Anders thought. Of course Karen. Karen who worked part-time at the art center and part-time for the historical society. Karen who had never once invited him to model in the traveling “Life Size Civil War” dioramas put on monthly. There had been hints she might try to be rid of him. Unexpected drop ins during sessions and long, meandering meetings afterwards, making him late for wine socials and bistro dinners on the geezer’s dime.
Karen wanted something from him. Something “universal.” Anders wasn’t sure what that meant. There was a universal quality to his body. His body that was like any body. His body that could be anybody or anything, when viewed in the correct light. The arc of his back might well be the Knife Edge summit of Mount Khatadin. The dip and dark of his navel, the shadow of areola before the rise of his nipple, these were universal; they might be the pits and shadows of the moon. The poses he employed were meant to be all of these things. All of these and more. He had tried to explain this to Karen, who only nodded over her tea.
“You’ve been here, what? A month?” Anders whispered. “I’ve been running this for two years. People have come. People have died. I’m on refrigerators. Living rooms. Bathrooms. The women, their husbands are gone. It’s me over their beds.”
“She said you do the same three poses every class. She said there’ve been complaints.”
“If it were bull, Karen wouldn’t have called.”
“Hold still please!” Mrs. Orbee called from the back of the room. Anders and Rose straightened some.
“You’re going to get a phone call,” Rose said. “I give it a week. Maybe less.”
Sweat ran freely down Anders’ back where Rose clung, content. He squinted out to see where the spider web was, but it was lost. What was out there for him if Rose was right? Not much. There was his day job, serving lunch at the State Veteran’s Home, changing the trash bins and playing the geezers in checkers and walking them to and from their beds. There were the other venues he’d told Rose about, underfunded or extinct. Anders had visited them all and sat alone in his robe more than once. This was where the eyes were. This was his little slice of fame, and if it was nothing, what of it? In the grand scheme of things, it was all nothing. If the bombs dropped tomorrow and the world were mostly ash, it would all be nothing. Let him die, at least, with his love of self intact, knowing that he was beloved in the way the amoeba under the microscope is beloved—in that he was studied and picked from the millions and billions by way of his occupying the lens and that his all-in-all was relished and repeated in parts and in wholes.
And if the bombs stayed asleep, resting in their bunkers and warehouses and hanger bays, what then? A generation lives; a generation dies. But the portraits of Anders, the many, many portraits of Anders, those lived on. Those were put behind glass. Those were rolled and stowed in an attic box that would one day be given to a child and put in their attic and then another attic and then, one day, found, when cars fly and people design and order children like pizzas from their phones, portraits of Anders will be rolled out again! “Look! Jesus look!” They will say in the future. “Here is a man!” And in the way that all art is prized, if old enough or foreign enough or related to the finder in some way, Anders will be prized. Even the Anders that lives and comes to life through the sluggish hand of the dotard Phyllis will be prized. And, the fact is, this is where the dotards live. This is where the dotards sketch. And this is where he must be.
“Pose shift,” he said, and broke from Rose’s arms. The air reached out to dry away the sweat and prickle his skin. If there had been complaints, the geezers were complicit in this. For all Anders knew, they had their calendars marked. Had invited Rose over for lunch and ridden together to her first session. Anders eyed them now, scuttling and adjusting and waiting for him, who had for so long been the light of their Tuesday and Thursday evenings, to decide on a pose. Doubtless, they were expecting “Ascension” wherein he stood like Christ in the center of the room, with his legs together and his arms held out at a “T” and his face inclined to the fluorescent lights like: “Father, forgive these backwards, yokel geezers and their frail attempts to capture me on their pulp sheets.” It was a favorite, but today he crouched, head and arms down like a sprinter. “Sixty seconds,” Anders chimed, and the pencils raced. From between his legs, he watched Rose mount her stool and sit with her hands on her leg, as if massaging a knot from the muscle.
“When Sherman took Atlanta. When he shelled and burned it. He spared Newnan,” Anders said. “It’s a little bedroom community.”
“I know,” Rose said.
“Well, do you know what happened after he left it?”
“He marched to the ocean, took Savannah, crushed the heartland of the South, and named his horses Dolly, Duke, and Sam.”
“Yes,” Anders said. The clock on the wall hadn’t made a circuit yet, but he wanted to move. “Pose shift,” he said, and walked out of the spot to stand dead center in the room and assumed “Ascension,” his reflection foggy in the buffed, grey tile. The room of geezers surrounded him now. And he was, again, the Sun. He was of solar importance. Anything that lived behind the geezers eyes and squeezed out on to their page, it was all his energy passing from one form to the next. In the way the farmer trades the corn to the mother who makes the child who grows the corn are only trading and made of the energy the careens into our sky—so too were the geezers making and trading and being Anders on their pages and in their minds. In their very brains and blood, was Anders: their all-in-all.
“When Sherman left, the rest of Atlanta came to Newnan,” he said. “And they looked at the buildings Sherman and his armies had left. And they knew they had left them because they were beautiful, and it was Sherman’s vanity that saved them—that he saved them because he wanted their beauty for himself—the long wraparound porches and the wide-branching pecan trees and the brick roads with white-pink azalea beds along with edges and railcars—Georgia’s first railcars—running through the streets.”
“It was worth keeping,” Rose said.
“It was worth stealing. But when Sherman left and the people of Atlanta got out to Newnan and saw what Sherman wanted—to save it.” Anders lay down on the floor with the big florescent lights over him and made an angel with his arms. “Pose shift,” he cooed.
“When they saw Newnan, they burned it themselves.”
“Belligerent,” Rose said.
“And powerful,” Anders said. He looked down lovingly at his body, his arms at his sides now and the length of him curling like a fish on the floor, offered up to the geezers to be made permanent. He looked at them all from the floor, bent like monks over vellum, quills loaded with the blood of the lamb.
“And vain,” Rose said.
“But it was their vanity over his. They would rather the whole thing go than have it taken because, really, all the parts of it that were essential couldn’t be burned—not by Sherman. If Georgia burns by Georgian hands then the memory is one of sacrifice, not conquest. It’s spit-in-the-eye, not a loss.”
“You gonna spit in my eye?” Rose asked from her stool. Her toes were fanned out before her so that light made little shadows between each one, like stages of the moon. Why hadn’t Anders ever thought of that?
“No,” he said and then laid still on the floor to consider the lies he had been spinning and where, if not here, he might live and be drawn. He reached out to the blurry lines of Westmore County in his mind and felt around them for some secret commune of mediocre artists, and he strained to think of another way to go about the work of becoming immortal.
There are pools of marsh mud that dried, from time to time, and hardened to make a sort of cement, and if the course of the salt-river shifted and the tide line moved, those cracked stretches of earth might remain. He could go to the tidal muds and make presses of his chest and hands, his back and buttocks—two shallow divots to live and breathe for him when he was gone and mutants walk the earth. There wasn’t much else that he could imagine.
Anders stood from the floor, graphite and eraser flecks and stray hairs falling from his arms and back. “Time,” he said, but the geezers kept working.
Rose hadn’t moved from her pose on the stool.
“Time,” he said again, but no one budged. They were transfixed. Locked in the study of Rose’s toes, which she arrayed like a hand of cards. “That’s it!” he shouted. Possibly they had all died and were stuck in some sort of joint nerve twitch. Perhaps the bombs had dropped and this was the fever after-wise that would last until the dead rise to say His name. Perhaps, perhaps.
“A few minutes more?” Rose asked, and the geezers murmured in agreement.
Anders walked the room, looking at the easels and sketchbooks. On them: Rose’s back. Her spine, a mountain ridge. Stars and cirrus clouds for freckles and scars. Flower blossoms for ears. Phyllis’s study of Rose’s hands, with only the wispy afterthoughts of his chest hair beneath them to highlight the edge of her palm. Maxwell’s reflection of Rose’s breasts. Claude’s good black ink poured over Rose’s shoulders, the impossible line of the triceps where it fused stool to hand to arm to back. And nowhere was Anders. Anders was gone.
Rose called “Time.” She un-balled a terry cloth robe from the corner of the room and slipped it on while the geezers shuffled out.
Anders sat on the window sill and felt the night’s first breaths slide past his hips. “I don’t understand,” he said.
“That’s not bad,” Rose said. From the door of the studio, she took a picture of him with her phone, naked and in the sea of empty easels and desks. “When Sherman sent Lincoln the letter—that Savannah had been won. You know what it was worth? What the whole city was worth?” The smoke of her cigarette coiled over her head.
“Yes,” Anders said.
“250,000 bales of cotton. Dried. Unburned. Packaged and gifted and shipped to Boston to make blue shirts and blue pants and baby clothes and a blanket for someone’s horse. It was a job. And nobody died. And the Sun went down and the Sun came up.” She raised her phone again with both hands, her cigarette clenched in her teeth. “Smile.”
“That’s only half the story,” Anders began, imagining heroes with names he hadn’t formed yet hiding away secrets from the invaders—sealing them in burlap and skins and sinking them into the Savannah river, maybe with barrels for floats, and they could have painted the barrels white and red and pretend they were for guiding ships and so even when the city was taken and the ships were captured and converted and the people made subjects, even then, there would be gold under the water and waiting. Maybe still waiting, on the bottom of the river now, cleverly packed and still dry. All the heroes of Anders’ mind were like that: conditionally defeated, but never entirely stripped. And so, eventually, when the world had spun ten thousand more times and the memory had been warped and warped again, and the occupiers were gone, and all that remained were old portraits and photographs and you could shift and change the facts to suit your needs—you could win. It might be portraits of Anders to survive in the self-storage center while Rose’s toes burn with the house. Who says what will last?
But Rose had not stayed for the story, and he was alone in the room of easels now. Outside, in the parking lot, the geezers were loading their work into their cars and calling out to one another, arguing about where to sit in the bistro and who the waitress would be and how much she should be tipped.
In the corner of Studio C were clay projects left by Monday’s ceramics class, most wrapped and covered in plastic so they wouldn’t dry out. Anders pulled back the plastic to see the chubby legged horses and too-tubular dolphins and other blobs of the clay tortured into wobbly bowls. One by one, he smashed the pieces into a singular mound, dousing it with water and working the pile to a smoothness before carrying it, wrapped in a towel, to Karen’s office desk to tender his surrender. Gripping the desk and bending at the waist, he forced his face into the clay. When he was finished, he had made a hole.