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Grace Ford Fiction

An Artist’s Whore

By Grace Ford

            The first stroke is the hardest—that’s what artists always say. They don’t speak much once they’ve gotten started, tucked deep into the fervid concentration required for true genius, but they tend to chatter a bit before their brush first finds the canvas. They get a little jitter in their hands, rolling and rerolling their shirtsleeves, shifting around on their stools. Creative nerves. Yes, the first stoke is the hardest. One particularly crude man told me that the same can be said about sex, and he grinned when he saw me blush. I never posed for him again.

            Once they put their brush to canvas, I become a body, my contours and angles theirs to consume and regurgitate. The exchange of money makes me a common commodity. Like a prostitute—you can wander the streets as the sun slips away, and if you have the right intentions, you’ll find one of us to strip down for you. These are the things I think about while I pose—an ideal time for useless thoughts—and the painters wonder why my skin flushes pink as the minutes pass. They ask if I’m feeling too warm, and should I like them to open a window? Sure, open a window; the passing breeze might distract me.

            “Is it the candles?” Mr. Barrow asks.

            I jump, startled. The linen sheet shifts beneath me. “I’m sorry?”

            He doesn’t look up from his canvas but stands now in a warm cast of firelight from the dozens of lit candles strewn about the room. The half-darkness is oppressive in such a small flat. His eyes flicker over his work, hungry, obsessive, grappling for a flaw.

            “The candles,” he repeats. “I like the contrast they give, but it can make the room rather hot. I could open a window.”

            There’s a window facing West, opening onto the lamplit street. It must be drizzling outside; the glass pings as its spit with rain. He doesn’t wait for my response, doesn’t even glance over to consider my expression—a charmer, he isn’t. The night air chases out the thick perfume of mineral oil and sweat.

            “That’s better,” Mr. Barrow says, and returns to his canvas.

            I say nothing, resume my pose: one arm supporting my head, which looks off with an expression of unassuming sexual allure, the other draped across my side to emphasize the curve of my waist, making sure to keep my thighs slightly crossed. Too much on display is distasteful, though not enough is boring. Art, it seems to me, must always strike a balance of provocative and socially acceptable. 

            Mr. Barrow is talker, always mumbling something, even now as he continues to paint. Technical musings about light and color theory that seem to spill out of his throat, unnoticed. It comes so quiet, I barely catch it, and I find myself straining to listen.

            Then, “I’d like to include the birthmark.”

            The beat of silence that follows is deafening. Out of instinct, my arm shifts to cover the dark, oblong shape that sits, like a stubborn coffee stain, in the crook of my waist. Part of it still shows, the massive thing.  

            “I told you up front, Mr. Barrow,” I say. “It’s my one condition: no birthmark in the painting.”

            “You don’t need to call me that,” he mutters, but I ignore him. He puts down his brush. “There’s no need to be ashamed of it. It’s very unique.”

            “I’m not ashamed.”

            “Then why hide it?”

            “Precisely because it is unique,” I say. “Recognizable.” I would kill for a glass of water at the moment, my mouth has turned so suddenly dry.

            His eyes linger on my face, and he does not pick up the brush again, instead grabbing a paint-stained rag to wipe his hands. In the glowing half-light, I lose his face to shadow.

            “Dorothea,” he says quietly. My name—I didn’t expect him to remember it. “Do people call you Dot?”

            I watch him, watch the vacant, deft movements of his hands. “Some people do,” I say.

            “May I?”

            “Mr. Barrow-”

            “If you call me Benedict, I’ll call you Dot. How’s that?” He smiles for the first time, and I think of the crude man who grinned at me over the lip of his canvas, eyeing my bare breasts. This smile is small and crooked, more of a grimace, unpracticed and unused. The opposite of a circus clown, but perhaps just as upsetting to young children. The thought makes me inadvertently smile back.

            “Fine,” I say. “Yes, that’s fine. Now are you going to paint, Benedict, or are we just going to chat?”

            He laughs, a short, keen sound, and that seems to be his answer. He plucks up the brush and sets back into his work.

            Two hours later, I pull a cotton robe over my shoulders as Benedict adds the finishing touches, of which there can never be enough, to the piece. From a standing position now, I linger near the settee, my gaze unable to settle. The flat’s layout is nauseating. It’s a tiny space, half kitchen and half art studio, the floor littered with stacks of books, crinkled paint tubes, and unfinished sketches. There’s an inordinate amount of furniture on the studio side, where I’m trapped, and a shocking lack thereof on the kitchen side. The whole place feels unbalanced, off-kilter. Reflective of the mind that put it together, perhaps. Unnerved, I start to inch towards the foyer where my coat hangs, intending to leave the man absorbed, unaware of my absence, but the floor creaks underfoot. Benedict snaps from a trance.

            “Oh, please,” he says. “Let me get your coat.”

            I let him because he said please, although he doesn’t sound too enthusiastic about it. He disappears into the foyer.

            I can’t say whether it’s curiosity or suspicion that draws me towards the painting, or if I even intend to take a peek at all. I seem to float towards it, thoughtless, willing to let my eyes consume it. My legs and breasts, milky white and slightly exaggerated, stretch across the velvet settee on the canvas, my face not truly my own but rather generally female. And in the middle of that Aphroditic figure, a dark brown stain.

            Benedict has returned, coat in hand. When I turn, he looks like child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, strikingly guilty yet pleading innocence with his eyes.

            “Paint it over,” I say.

            “Look at it,” he says, shaking the coat in hand. “It’s beautiful. Just look at it.”

            I repeat myself through clenched teeth, like an animal: “Paint it over.” I grab my coat from his hand as I pass him, the urge to hit him, slap him, harm him in some tangible way pounding at the thin skin of my mind as I do. He won’t do it, I know, not on the request of someone like me, but my face is burning and taught with fear that I can’t let him—a stranger—see. I leave him with a toneless “good evening” and scuffle out onto the London streets, headed for home.

⁂        ⁂        ⁂

            Lucille’s house has a leak again. Springtime showers have kept the roof damp and saturated, moisture gnawing through the wood. Drops cascade down to patter against the cast iron stove that sits against the far wall. They sizzle passively on contact—Lucille must have stoked last night’s embers back to life already, but the kettle is still in the wash basin. She hasn’t yet started her morning tea.

            The leak is a familiar trouble spot, one that my mother had patched up almost every spring when she was still around. On Sundays, when her employer insisted she take the day off—that’s when she came to see me. She’d splurge on the carriage fare to bring her down from the countryside and into London, still wearing her black maid’s dress and white bibbed apron, hair concealed under that horrid lace-trimmed bonnet. I could always identify the tell-tale sounds of the carriage horse’s metal-clad hooves clinking down the street, and my heart would swell. She paid for my stay in Lucille’s house monthly out of her paycheck, but in the springtime, she would patch the roof in exchange for one month’s rent free. I’d like to say she was generous, but really, she was just a show-off. I spent those Sunday afternoons squatted on the street outside the house, hand raised against the sun so that I could watch her work. She would hitch her skirts up to her knees— “The only time a lady can be indecent is when she’s doing a man’s work.”

            I had just turned twelve on the first Sunday that she didn’t show. I waited at the open window of my bedroom on the house’s second story, listening for the sound of the carriage horse. Lucille reasoned that the weather was too bad to make it down from the countryside—there had just been a late-winter blizzard, and the roads were slick with ice. My mother came the following Sunday, then missed the one after that, then returned again, then missed the next two. Her visits became fewer and farther between, until they stopped altogether. After the snow melted away, I prayed every night for the leak in the kitchen to spring, as if she might return to patch it up. The leak came back, but she never did.

            I grab a pail from the cabinet under the wash basin and set it on the stove top to catch the falling drops.

            “That leak’ll be the death of me.” Lucille waddles into the kitchen, stray hairs wiggling as she shakes her head at the ceiling. She has one hand on her bad hip, whichever one she’s decided is bad today, and the other on her chest as if she’s short of breath. “Either it or you,” she adds. Her cockney accent curls the end of her words. “You were out so late; I nearly went to comb the streets myself.”

            “Artists prefer the night,” I say, waving a hand towards the heavens. “They draw creativity from the moon, or something.”

            Lucille tsks at me as she waddles over to the wash basin in search of the kettle. “Cheeky, just like she was.”

            Never a day goes by where she doesn’t compare me to my mother—salt in the wound if I’ve ever seen it. I can’t blame her, of course. Old people reminisce as a form of grieving, because if they never stop grieving, the funeral is never really over. I can’t blame her, but I can’t thank her either. Best to just let her have her funeral.

            I’m headed for the door, mind set on St. James Park and the glorious show I’m sure to see today, when Lucille says, “It’s Sunday. Has she written you?”

            My next step falters, and I pause in the doorway. It’s been years since she bothered to ask that question. She doesn’t even check the mail slot for rent payments anymore, which leaves me to check it for death notices. “She hasn’t,” I say. “But she might.”

            The silence that follows is filled only by the ping of waterdrops from the unpatched roof.

            It’s late in the morning as I reach St. James Park along the River Thames, and the sun is almost at its pinnacle, preparing a lazy slip into the afternoon. The park is packed—absolutely stuffed. Tents hoisted, blankets spread, tea chairs erected for posh bums to rest on. The greenery is strewn with an amalgam of tussore silk, Dutch linens, and fine gingham. I stare, lips curving into a grin, and staring back at me are the perfectly circular tops of dozens of parasols, blushing ivory and crepe under the new spring sun. Of course, they must have parasols, lest they burn and ruin their porcelain skin. I find an empty spot on a slope, close enough to observe the scene but far enough away to not disturb it.

            If there’s one thing that’s predictable in life, it’s the schedule of the high society folk. It is spring, and the rain has eased for the time being, and therefore the lovely ladies and gentlemen of high society simply must promenade by the riverside. The tents and tables would be those of their families, their mothers taking tea in the shade while counting how many gentlemen beg to kiss their daughters’ hands. A mating ritual, that’s really what it is—the showing off of this year’s most eligible wombs.

            The scene plays out in front of me: the languid movements, the perfectly paired, color-coordinated couples strolling the garden paths, the hush of the Thames shifting in its bed. I could almost convince myself I was asleep, dreaming of a strange world in which humans were really just animals. Peacocks and tigers flashing their colors and stripes. How ridiculous it looks from afar, how absurdly lavish. I wonder if my mother ever thinks the same thing about the family she cares for, or if it looks different when you’re on the inside. Perhaps, despite their extravagant clothing, she knows them to be just as boorish as the rest of us. Perhaps she feels affection for them.

            Of course, she does. Didn’t she also promenade like a peacock when she came of age? She had a different gown for each gala, each ball—the daughter of a wealthy country gentleman is never to be caught in the same ensemble twice. Didn’t she, too, carry a dowry so large that young bachelors tripped over their trouser cuffs to win her hand? Before she got pregnant, that is, and threw it all away for a man whose name I’ll never know. Perhaps she shouldn’t have fanned her plumage so wide, and she wouldn’t have been sent off to servanthood under the hush of propriety. I might have known my father, my grandfather. I might not have been born at all.

            But then, who am to judge who a woman gets naked for?

            The ground vibrates close behind me—footfalls—and I glance up to see Benedict Barrow towering over me. He grimaces, the smug bastard, as if we should be happy to see each other. I look away, drawing my knees up to my chest.

            “Dot,” he says in that flat tone of his. “Haven’t seen you here before.”


            “I come here to paint sometimes,” he says. I imagine he motions to a little easel set-up somewhere in the distance, but I don’t care to look. “May I join you?”

            I let out a grunt, some noncommittal noise that he apparently interprets as the affirmative. He settles on the grass beside me. My eyes fall to the ground, suddenly uncomfortable with the idea of him watching me watch the rich folk, although that’s what I came here to do. I have no other excuse at the ready, but I know the question is coming.

            “What are you doing here?” he asks.

            “It’s a nice day,” I say. “Just thought I’d enjoy it. Not much work on Sundays, anyhow.”

            He nods, stretching his legs out in front of him. “Even the wicked must rest, contrary to popular belief.”

            If it were anyone else, that would have gotten a laugh from me, but I can’t bear to give him the satisfaction. Wicked, indeed.

            A cool breeze blows in off the Thames, sending the tents and parasols swaying in a lazy dance. A large white sunhat tumbles across the grass with a man in pursuit close behind, undoubtedly on behalf of some beautiful lady. If I were alone, I would giggle, commit the scene to memory. Unfortunately, I am not.

            “I’m sorry about what happened last night,” Benedict says, and I go stiff. “I didn’t realize that it was so important. I painted over it, of course, like you asked.”

            My only response is, “Good.” I know he’s lying by the casual slip of his tone, but if I say anymore, I’ll give myself away.

            He seems relieved by my easy acceptance, visibly relaxing, crossing his legs Indian style. “Can I ask why it’s so important?”

            My fingers tear at the grass beneath me, and I look at him, take in the calculated eagerness of his expression, the shadow of genuine confusion. He wouldn’t understand my fear even if I explained, couldn’t comprehend my reputation’s fragile state. He is a painter, a generally disrespectable profession, saved only by the fact that it is a pursuit of the arts. Benedict Barrow can claim passion as his vice, the betterment of humanity as his goal, even as he sinks closer to impoverishment. There is dignity in his purpose, whether actual or performative. His mother can disown him while taking solace in the fact that he’s simply a “dreamer.” There’s no solace in your daughter being a whore.

            In my mind, I see his painting, my birthmark on full display, the birthmark that my mother used to trace with her fingers as she bathed me. She would say it looked like a cloud, and I, ever eager to be right, would tell her, “No. Clouds are white.”

            “Clever girl,” she’d say, pinching my side.

            I imagine her in her employer’s great hall, carefully polishing the silver as she does every Tuesday, only to look up and see that a new painting had been brought in. It might take a moment or two, as buried as I am in the recesses of her memory, to recognize it. Her eyes would linger on the brown cloud-shaped mark until they filled with hot, shameful tears. My stomach clenches in my gut.

            It’s only now that I feel the sting behind my nose, feel the slide of warm liquid down my cheek. I swipe the tear away with the back of my hand. Benedict stares out over the park, not seeming to notice. He might have forgotten that he even asked the question.

            “There’s someone who would recognize it,” I say. I hesitate, trying to ease the tightness in my throat, then add, “If they saw the painting, with the mark, they’d know what I do for a living.”

            He doesn’t acknowledge that I’ve spoken, not even a nod, just lets the words hang there like some limp, dead thing. I draw my knees closer to my chest. A game of croquet has been set up near the gardens, and the young men stand with mallets propped up on their shoulders like lumberjack. Fancy lumberjacks. The thought lifts my mood just a bit.

            “Pose for me again,” Benedict says, throwing the words out into the breeze.

            A sharp laugh explodes from me. “No,” I say, and he laughs too.

            Another minute passes in silence.

            “If I gave you something to wear, would you pose for me again?”

            “Something to wear?”

            “A dress. A gown.”

            “What’ve you got a gown for?”

            “Nevermind that. Would you?”

            He’s quite quick with his words when he uses them, isn’t he? I study his expression, eyes narrowed. I search for the hidden intentions there, on his countenance, the plan he’s undoubtedly spinning as we speak, but I find nothing. His gaze is characteristically vacant of anything but impulse and desire. I leave him longing for an answer as my mind wanders back to the painting, sitting on some easel in some corner of his flat, waiting to be sold—inaccessible. Just out of reach, existing only because I’ve allowed it to exist. Something hardens in the pit of my stomach.

            “I can’t paint the birthmark if I can’t see it,” Benedict adds, and one corner of his lips turns up in a smirk.

            I look out again over the grass, at the ladies in their glittering garments. A few have stopped to watch the croquet game, and they clap silently with their gloved hands when one of the boys makes a good shot. Benedict watches me watching them. He thinks he has me.

            “What kind of gown?” I ask.

            He offers me a hand and tugs me to my feet.

            His flat is just a few streets East of St. James Park, around the corner from an ornate catholic church that stands packed between rows of low-rent, low-maintenance residencies. I recognize the lane now in the light of day: a stretch nicknamed rue des affamés, which loosely translates to “street of the starved.” An affectionate nod to the creatives that flock to the area. How fitting for him.

            The flat is even more jarring in the day, without copious amounts of candlelight to romanticize its humility. It seems the décor simply fell from the sky, and Benedict never bothered to rearrange it. I wander to the middle of the room, uneasy, stepping around loose papers and books. Benedict retreats to a corner behind a folding room divider without a word. I glance at the front door, aware of all the empty space in the room, filled only with inanimate objects and our two bodies. My eyes flit around the room in search of the painting. They catch on canvas after canvas, some blank, some smattered with brushstrokes but ultimately unfinished, and a handful of completed paintings lined up against the far wall beneath the windows. None of them are mine, but I almost want to destroy them in its stead. My fingernails dig into my palms. He’s hidden it somewhere. If I try hard enough, I can pretend he did so out of shame.

            From the corner where Benedict disappeared comes the sound of a door opening, then closing again, and the swish of fabric against hardwood.

            “Here,” he says.

            I turn to him. From a coat closet in the corner, he’s pulled a dress, a full-length scarlet evening gown studded with false rubies and trimmed in gold lace. The film of dust and old age on the surface is apparent, but the color is as vibrant as if it were new.

            “The sun hasn’t touched it in years,” Benedict says. He carries it over, giving it a light shake. “It was my mother’s, but she has no use for it now.”

            The glow of the silk seems to pull my mind from the painting. I want to reach out, to touch it, but I hesitate.  

            “Do you like it?” he asks. “I know it’s a little outdated, but it’s the most expensive thing I own.”

            He says that as if it matters. “It’s beautiful,” I say.

            He holds it out to me.

            It’s ridiculous how fast I give in. I slip the dress on behind the room divider, telling myself that the painting could have been back there, and it was a good opportunity to check. It wasn’t.

            A long, oval mirror on the wall reflects my image, and I suck in a breath seeing it. The dress fits like a glove, the waistline falling just below my bust and hiding all of my curves in the flowing skirt. A stiff gold chiffon collar frames my face, the square neckline hides my breasts from view. Everything is enclosed, encased, like a suit of armor.

            Benedict sets me in his best armchair, an acceptable champagne-colored thing that could be passable with an artist’s touch. He gives me a book—System of Transcendental Idealism—and tells me to pretend to read.

            “Cultured ladies read,” he tells me, and I sneer at him. As if I don’t know what cultured ladies do.

            He moves me how he wants, until he finds the perfect angle, sun slanting in through the windows to fall across my cheek like a spotlight. Then, he takes up his position on the stool, and tucks into his work. At first, I try to turn my head ever so slightly this way and that, still searching for the painting among the piles of rubbish, but Benedict tells me to keep still, and I know I won’t find it today. We stay like that for hours, taking a break only to eat, until the sunlight ebbs away and casts the flat in graying night. He’s forced to abandon the piece for now, but I could have gone on for hours more—my muscles are barely tired, my skin white and cool under the touch of silk.

⁂        ⁂        ⁂

            I pose for Benedict Barrow twice a week after that day, always in the red gown; standing at the window, paging through a book, taking afternoon tea. I feel an ease in the work that I never have before, but then this isn’t work I’ve ever done—dressing up instead of dressing down.

            Every day, I look for the painting. The easels, canvases, books, and other rubbish moves around the room almost daily, but the one thing I want to see never appears. More than once I try to build up to the nerve to ask him about it, to quench my fears and leave the whole ordeal behind me, but I can’t seem to find the words. Benedict never seems to notice my pensive silence. He talks, constantly distracted, while he paints—stories of the family he never sees, the father he loathes, and I am more or less forced to lend an ear. Not that I mind it all that much. It seems to me that he hasn’t had someone listen to him in a long time, someone to think of as a friend. I haven’t either, although I refrain from telling long rambling tales about my childhood, content in the knowledge that I could if I wanted, and he would be forced to listen. We seem to have found a rhythm, the artist and I, come to an unspoken agreement about our relationship: he talks and paints, I listen and pose.

            As Spring is melting away into the long days Summer, the clandestine search for the painting fades from the forefront of my mind. If it were here and of any value to Benedict Barrow, I would have found it by now. I start to believe that he’s gotten rid of it, shoved it in some cupboard or closet to be forgotten by both artist and model. The new paintings are so much better. In the gown, my figure stands out like a bloodstain against the drab background—royalty among poverty—and I seem to almost lift off of the canvas toward the eyes. There’s no reason to keep the old pieces, strewn with the nude bodies of strange women. These are the real masterpieces.

            Benedict beams at each canvas when it’s finished, tells me it’s beautiful, tells me I’m beautiful, though only while riding that crazed, inspired high that plagues him in the afterglow of a finished work. His other pieces seem to disappear from the flat as the days go by, and with them, I imagine, my own nude depiction. I don’t ask, happy to see them gone, happy to let the memory of the night we met fade into surreality.

            It’s a humid Saturday night when Benedict meets me at his front door, breaking our little ritual. I usually knock twice, wait for his call from the main room, and then let myself in. The dress will already be slung over the lip of the room divider, and he’ll offer that crooked grimace of a smile, tell me he’s been expecting me.

            Tonight, he’s waiting at the door, and opens it as I raise a hand to knock. I jump back, startled, but Benedict is all teeth and hands, giggling as he pulls me inside.

            “Mr. Barrow.” I say his name with a mother’s scolding edge, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He bundles me through the foyer. My feet catch on various objects strewn about the floor, and he has to hold me up by the elbows.

            “I’ve done it, Dot, I’ve really done it,” he’s saying. He’s pulled me to the center of the room, closer to the table where a lamp is lit, the only light source in the room.

            “Done what?”

            “It’s happened, that’s what I’m telling you. We did it.”

            His hair is a mess, a flopping mass of dark spikes and curls—he’s been dragging his hands through it repetitively. His eyes are cloudy, glazed over as if he’s inebriated.

            “Have you been down to the pub today?” I ask, only half-joking.

            He laughs, giving me a good whiff of his breath, which reeks of Earl Gray but nothing else; he’s completely sober.

            “Tell me what it is and maybe I can be excited too,” I say, smiling. He holds me by the elbows still with clammy hands, gives me a gentle shake, hot breath wafting over my cheeks. For a moment, my stomach turns.

            “I sold a painting.” He breathes the words out. His eyes flicker wildly between my own. “At St. James Park, this morning. To a fine couple, a gentleman and lady with a daughter just of age this season. Rich folk, Dot. I mean rich.

            Though the sale of his art means nothing for me, I find his excitement infectious. “One of ours?” I ask.

            He nods, a sharp jerking movement.

            “That’s wonderful,” I say, if only to match his joy.

            Benedict releases me, letting out a long sigh and running both hands through his hair. In the lamplit room, his eyes glimmer—he might be crying, or maybe it’s just a trick of the light. He turns away, towards the little stove and wash basin in the corner, as if to take stock of the life he has now before he leaves it. He’s already forgetting that I’m there.

            “Wonderful,” I say again, a little too loudly. There’s a swimming in my gut that I can’t understand, so I try to swallow it. “You’ll be the talk of the town soon enough,” I add. 

            Benedict stands stock-still now, half-lost in shadow, gazing at the far wall. He could be in a painting himself, just now, the way the light is bathing his backside in a divine yellow glow. The way he stands removed from me, now the artist.

            “Which one did they buy?” I ask, quietly so that my voice doesn’t disrupt the refuge of the moment. I cannot end this, this pause before he says what I already know.  

            He is silent, glistening palms running through his hair again. My throat tightens. “Was it Lady in Red at the Window?,” I ask. My mouth is so dry. “That was my personal favorite, but you did such fine work on all of them-”

            “The nude painting,” Benedict says.

            “Oh,” I say, just before reality strikes me.  

            He half-turns back toward me, toward the lamp on the table. His features are a mask. He doesn’t look at me, won’t look at me, and if he did, I’m not sure that he would even see me. The bastard can’t even see me.

            My teeth are clamped down hard on my bottom lip, and I taste blood, though in my shocked state, I can’t understand where it’s coming from. My body trembles with each twitchy beat of my heart.

            “It was beautiful,” Benedict says. A smile is slipping absently over his face.

            I want to scream at him, but there—yes, of course, there it is—the wet electricity of tears behind my eyes. If I scream, I’ll cry, and maybe that’s what he’s wanted this whole time: the knowledge that he could have me and break me. My hand is over my mouth, holding it all in, and I’m running, running through the door, down la rue des affamés, passed St. James Park where high society promenades on spring afternoons, now sleeping under the blanket of night. I run home.

            Lucille greets me in the kitchen when I stumble in, ready with a dry towel to wrap around my shoulders. I hadn’t even noticed it was raining. I’m soaked down to the skin, wet hair matted to my face.

            “What a nightmare,” she says after a good look me, and I can’t help but agree. The painting is gone. My marked body is displayed like an exposé of my sin on some rich man’s wall for his wife and children to see. For his staff to see. For a maid who was once a mother to see, to recognize the cloud-shaped seal on her daughter’s side and know that she raised an artist’s whore. Despite all logic, my mind whispers, she knows, she knows, she knows.

            My limbs quiver as Lucille helps me into the bathtub. She doesn’t speak, keeps her eyes down and hands busy, for the sake of politeness if nothing else. I let her guide me like a child, settling me in the warm water, rubbing a washrag over my trembling muscles.

            She opens the drain once I’m clean enough, and gravity pulls the water into a torrent of yellow and brown, a whirlpool littered with debris from my body. My skin is exposed in the water’s absence, slick and red from heat and friction. My breath comes ragged, and my breasts heave in front of me, those bulbous lumps of flesh that men so covet, that they hang on their sitting room walls in front of the world.

            “She’s never coming back for me,” I say, and I choke on the words.

            Lucille kneels beside the bathtub, rubbing a calloused hand across my naked back.


Grace Ford is an undergraduate student studying creative writing at the University of Illinois- Urbana Champaign. Ford is attending the university on scholarship from her high school where she was awarded the Timothy Robert Creative Writing Award. She grew up in rural southwest Michigan, where she discovered her passion for writing at the age of nine, and she now lives in Springfield, IL with her family.

The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.



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