Cessily worked on East 11th Street. She wore the standard jeans, a wild t , and a long sleeve black and red plaid shirt. Doc Martins on her feet for stomping around the streets. Young, pretty, a bit more than petite with lovely skin that tanned nicely. Her light brown hair would blanche in the sun too so she would catch rays up on tar beach now and then. The men liked it, the women around were a little jealous.
She finished her shift at the shop and headed home. She always walked home with a workmate or acquaintance. New York had become dangerous again in the past couple of years. They chatted as they walked on a warm late afternoon in mid-September. The cloudless sky was cobalt blue. There were throngs of people everywhere and the ever-present big city odor. It made her smile. She left her colleague at the corner of Avenue B and East 3rd Street in the Bowery and double timed it to her five story walk up.
Her younger brother, Ashton, fresh from graduating Penn State School of Visual Arts, was staying with her and her roommate. He'd only been there a few weeks and was settling in. Physically he was tall and lanky. Dark hair, handsome with a prominent jaw. He was always smart and scrappy as a boy and wasn't afraid to fight. She could tell he worried about her being out there.
Their mom had died when he was a toddler. She was only eight. She looked after him all those years and here he was years later and all grown up. She worried about him too.
She opened the door to the three-room apartment with two old large windows on the street. Ashton was sitting on the lumpy couch with her roomie Shelby.
"Hey Cess. Shelby and I want to see Monets' collection at the Met. Want to go?"
After some other small talk she said, "I'll freshen up and we'll go."
They took the subway to 86th Street. Once back up on the street they decided to take a detour into Central Park. It was Twighlight and still warm but the autumn nip was whirling around in the breeze. They strolled along the Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis Reservoir dodging bikers and joggers by the score then entered the museum property at the rear of the building.
People strolled or sat on black locust wood benches along the winding sidewalks. There were full grown hardwood trees that had just begun autumn colors and beautiful flowers and shrubs in beds from all over the world. Outdoor sculptures on pedestals and Cleopatras Needle just across Park Road. More sculptures could be seen through the main buildings' rear atrium window wall. As they rounded a corner to one side of the building a pretzel vendor caught Ashtons' eye. In new clothes he stood next to his pretzel cart that was also decked out with t-shirts and banners. He wore a serene grin. His eye lids were droopy and he was just watching everyone pass by. Ashton had read a book in college called; 'On the Science of Those Proportions by Which the Human Head and Countenance, as Represented in Works of Ancient Greek Art, Are Distinguished From Those of Ordinary Nature'. In it the author explained that facial expressions and countenance could often give away emotional states but, in this case, when their eyes met Ashton immediately understood that the guy didn't need the I Love New York t-shirt he was wearing under his sport jacket.
They paid for tickets at the front counter and meandered their way toward the Monet exhibit. The Culture crowd was outforce and dressed to the nines. Cess and Shelby had toned down the anarchist look before they left and just went with trendy. Ashton was still wearing clothes from college. A few snooty up town poseurs noticed this and smirked at him. That irked him but he let it slide off his back like water off a ducks back.
They went through all Monet's paintings but Ashton couldn't take his eyes off the Woman with a Parasol, the version with Monets' son in it. They practly dragged him out of the building later but only after he had purchased a pricey post card photo of it. For days it seemed he was staring at it all the time, obsessed. It made her think about a course she took regarding obsessive compulsive behavior when studying for a child psychology degree at Penn State.
She had a degree but was playing around a little first. And she wasn't sure if it was really unhealthy for him to obsess about a painting. He was always drawing. He had set up an easel and had begun a sketch. He kept it covered and no one was allowed to look at it until he finished. He had a way of crinkling and securing the cloth after he covered the sketch for the day. He would know if someone had lifted it and he would get angry. She was used to this quirk but her roommate suffered from severe curiosity. He let them look at the sketch of the pretzel vender but his eyes were hollow. Ashton said he was waiting the inspiration and then paint the emotion to paint into them.
A few days later, as she turned the corner from onto 3rd Street, a half a block away she saw Ashton on one knee sketching on the sidewalk. He had a box of different colored chalk sticks and was drawing the Woman with a Parasol on a 2 foot by 4-foot pad of concrete. A 3D drawing.
She noticed he had gotten his hair cut in the latest style and he had bought some trendy street clothes from the shops.
He was completely focused.
On the other side of the street Swanky, whose clothes were anything but luxurious and expensive, was sitting on the sidewalk with his pal Puddle and both were propped up against a building. She didn't know what Puddles' name meant, and didn't want to. They were two local characters who didn't do much but sit on the sidewalk debating. Debating anything and loudly so everyone had to hear it. And they almost looked alike. Old clothes. Dark hair, gaunt faces, and piercing eyes that looked at her lasciviously more than once. But now they were looking at her brother.
'Rembrandt in the family?", Swanky said loudly in that irritating nasally voice that they both had.
Ashton waved to them. "He can draw", Cessily replied.
Then she said to Ashton in an almost whisper, "Don't talk to those guys, they're really creepy."
Grinning, he replied, "I see that".
She looked again at the drawing and it was actually stunning. Light, shading, depth. Too beautiful for a sidewalk.
"How long have you been at this?", she asked.
"Couple hours", he replied.
"It will be trampled on or washed off in a week, "she said.
"I'm practicing to make knock offs", he said, " Maybe sell a few near the museum"
He was always hustling up a few bucks from part time jobs.
"Doesn't cost anything but chalk. I'm going to draw smaller versions around here."
The next day when she returned from the shop there were multiple smaller versions of the painting that shone brilliantly in the afternoon sun! Depth, light, shade, and color that created a glowing effect! Other people stopped and admired them.
Ashton wasn't there so she walked to her buildings' door but hesitated. She turned around to look for the two bums. They weren't around either.
Once upstairs her roommate said she hadn't seen him.
Cessily and Shelby shared hummus and tofu while talking for hours. After midnight keys could be heard at the door and in walked Ashton. His eyes were red and he staggered a little.
"Where were you?", Cessily said.
"Swanky and Puddle had me doing shots over at that dive bar on Christie Street. Hopping. West Villagers slumming, they said. Trendy hang out recently. They introduced me to some crew in the art crowd."
"Your new drinking buddies don't do much work, it seems. You bought the drinks?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said chuckling. "But I met a dude who's in graphic arts and advertising. Swanky and Puddle are in the actors guild and know everybody around. They work on sets occasionally."
He mumbled a little more then crashed on the couch.
Cessily had a worried look.
Ashton started working part time to pitch in but was hanging around with the two bums a lot. They were always at some loft in Soho that was used as an art studio and exhibit hall.
He'd come back at all hours acting a little strange. He smelled like booze.
"Let's do something together this Sunday," Cessily said.
"Can't Cess. Working on a project. S and P are there keeping the mood positive. Creative juices flowing. Reciting poetry and Shakespeare sonnets. Pretty funny. Bellowing King Lear or something until I'm almost rolling on the ground laughing. Then they get quiet and launch into a poem. James Joyce today-My Love Is a Light Attire."
They each read a line, back and forth in sincere funny voices. My sides ached from laughing. Swanky wrote it down for me.," he pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket and read;
'My love is in a light attire
Among the apple-trees,
Where the gay winds do most desire
To run in companies.
There, where the gay winds stay to woo
The young leaves as they pass,
My love goes slowly, bending to
Her shadow on the grass;
And where the sky's a pale blue cup
Over the laughing land,
My love goes lightly, holding up
Her dress with dainty hand.'
He started laughing again
"What's going on with you guys?", She asked.
" It's all happening so fast-I was waiting to tell you when I finished. Those sidewalk drawings? Swanky took pics and showed them around. A dude named Foster Prion saw them. He runs a small ad agency. I met with him and he said he's been looking for an idea for Burberry umbrellas. A new ad campaigns.", he said.
"What are S and P getting out of it?", she asked.
"It's not set in stone but we'll split the fee three ways. They introduced me to the guy," he said.
Cessily and Shelby looked at one another.
The next day Cessily called an old friend in her and Ashtons' hometown in Bucks County P.A. She was a friend of the family, her mother's childhood friend, and known in certain circles as a good witch. She tried to be a mother to them when she could.
After a few minutes of catching up she explained Ashtons situation.
"Send a few pics of them. I'll take care of it," the good witch said in a surly voice.
She asked Ashton that night if she could stop by the studio to see the work in progress. He agreed and the next day after work she took a cab to SoHo.
" Hi Cessily," Swanky and Puddle said, almost in unison in their nasally singsong voices. She forced a pleasant smile.
"Cess," Alton said. Cessily walked to the easel with an oversized canvas.
"So, this is it? Wow! It's beautiful. Wait. I know that girl," she said then looked toward S and P who were both grinning, "She's the barista at the Coffee Clotch."
"Yeah, Ruby. I asked her if I could include her. Thought she'd like it. She didn't model- just from this pic on my phone. This is going to be in an ad pre-test. They have other adds and the most popular will get installed on a bill board and in print."
After more small talk Cessily said, "Let me take a pic of the three of you in front of the painting." A little bit later she waved goodbye to the bums. "See you later, Ashton", she said.
On her way to her apartment, she texted the pic as instructed. And an address.
At Around midnight Swank and Pudd were in their large musty two room apartment. The floral wall paper had been there since the '70s and was dirty and peeling. The paint mostly peeled off. Just old and unkempt like them. Neighbors had complained that the odor escaping from under their door smelled like the Central Park Zoo. They kept the one window cracked open but it didn't help much.
There were stacks of books piled around. Every subject imaginable. Reading is what they did most nights, they themselves were like encyclopedias.
Then they would just lie back in their reclining chairs to sleep, the sounds of the street wafting through the window to lull them.
Around two am they both awoke, or they thought they were awake. Both their heads were propped back against the head cushions and they couldn't move a muscle. Paralyzed in their chairs.
"Puddy, what the hell?"
"I don't kn-"
Then two ghouls appeared, like something out of a fifties black and white horror film, all in black with gaunt faces and black orbs for eyes. They had towels and bottles of water. They skillfully draped the towels over the guys' heads and began to pour the water up their noses.
They both started choking and gasping while trying to scream.
Then the two ghouls said in unison in booming, horrible voices, "Stay away from that kid."
The two of them really woke up, jumped out of their chairs and started panting and yelping at each other.
"Wait, wait. Deep breaths," Swanky said.
They paced around the rest of the night terrified.
Two days later in the apartment Ashton said, "Cess have you seen S&P around? Haven't seen them for days. They don't answer their phone"
Cessily hesitated for a moment. She looked at Shelby who promptly turned away.
"Well, I heard they left town. They told somebody around here that they landed some film work in LA. Hopped a Greyhound apparently."
"What?", Ashton replied in a definitely perturbed tone.
"I finished the ad and I was going to take them to that new Indian restaurant. They said they loved curry chicken."
"Weren't you partners? Why couldn't they pay?
"In the beginning we were partners but as the weeks passed, they said that what they saw was my talent flow into the ad. They said my work is too beautiful for the current state of the art world. They just wanted to watch a real artist at work. They said my work is a bit immature in style and substance but the explosion of light, shade, color, beauty, depth and movement make up for it."
Cessily wanted to laugh and Ashton was waiting for it but a cold flash passed through her.
"Rude New Yorkers. Not even a 'see ya'. I'll miss 'em though. What's the matter?" he said.
"Nothing", she replied. Guilt nagged at her. But mostly she needed to speak to the good witch to see if she herself would be held accountable.
"Are you almost done with that side project?", she said, changing the subject and pointing at the easel in the corner of the living room.
"A few touch ups then the unveiling. Next week."
"That's what you said two weeks ago. "
A month later Alton asked Cessily and Shelby to meet him at an apartment in the West Village. His ad won! There was a launching party at his employer's apartment.
When Cessily arrived with Shelby a poster of the ad was set up on an easel and lots of people were standing around chatting and smiling. Excitement filled the room. This was the first big ad Ashtons young employer had gotten and Ashtons 3 D painting was gorgeous. He rented the space on the side of the building at 494 8th Avenue and the installation was to begin over the next weeks. It would be a computer generated copy and applied on outdoor paper and a seal coat, Foster explained.
Ashton, clad all in black street clothes and obviously the center of attention, was leaning against the small bar beaming and so was Ruby the barista who had looped her arm in his.
"Cess this is-", Ashton rattled out the names of the others in the room. His employer, Foster, a starkly handsome model type with short black hair expertly quaffed said, "I was looking for Swanky and Pudd for some leg work but apparently they skipped town on a bus to LA", he said in orotund Standard English. "I met them through theater people a few years ago. Part time actors and stage hands. Hustlers too. A little pushy and annoying sometimes. They call in favors forever." Everyone in the room looked at Cessily briefly. She blushed a little. They looked away and the chatting continued a tad louder with a few cackles and chuckles.
Ashton gave Cessily a sidelong glance. She turned away and she and began chatting with the other guests. At the same time, she was thinking how her little brother had matured. Ashton saw a possible opportunity in the bums so he painted his best on the sidewalk. Guilt shot through her.
The next day Cessily walked into her apartment after work and Ashton was sitting on the couch reading. He looked up and said, " Ready for the unveiling?" Shelby heard that and came running from the bedroom. "Let me see, let me see!", she said. All three stood in front of the easel.
"Ta da," Ashton said as he removed the cloth cover.
The picture was a beach scene with a pretty lady standing and looking toward the sea with a pleasant smile. She was wearing a bathing swim skirt. There was a large purple beach umbrella stuck in the sand. On one of the beach blankets sat a little toddler, a boy, looking down and playing with a bucket. Baby fat made him look like the Michelin Man which Ashton exaggerated a little. Standing nearby was a young girl in a ta da stance on one leg. She was looking out at the viewer and smiling a cute and goofy toothless grin. They all laughed.
"That's our mom", she said to Shelby. She was crying. Then Shelby cried.
"I found the old polaroid in the attic", Ashton said.
A few days later the ad was finished-40 stories up! A four hundred foot dark red brunette-Ruby- towered above 8th Avenue in a deep, dark purple Edwardian skirt with a matching blowse and a small decorative breast plate made of stained glass in coordinating colors. She donned an Edwardian hat in the same deep purple shade. She was walking down a New York Avenue with an open Burberry umbrella. Her demeanor suggested contentment. She looked out at the viewer with shining green eyes. Burberry was written in large script across the top of the ad. It was so amazing to see that people were doing double takes. It seemed as if she were alive, actually strolling under an open umbrella. It was art in the Style.
A week later two plumbers from Brooklyn were cruising in their van along West 33rd Street and made a right turn onto 8th Avenue.
"Look at da size of dat gorgeous witch", the 1st plumber said staring up through the windshield.
"Dat I would marry," replied his partner.
Copyright 2022 by Mark Donnelly
MORE STORIES AT MY BLOG; https://martianconcerns2070.blogspot.com/2021/02/martian-concerns.html