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Drawn in Chalk

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    Drawn in Chalk

    The sun had set over an hour ago, forcing Mani to finish the piece by his battery powered, super-sized flashlight. It was a Pyrrhic effort, because by the evening time few passersby would be heading through the small park, meaning that the completed chalk drawing would earn him no additional cash. Ordinarily, he would have abandoned the project, leaving it for the headsmen of the Philadelphia Streets Department. He would have grabbed his bedroll and wandered off to find a suitable place to rest his head for the night. This time was different though.

    This time he was drawing her.

    He'd seen her since he was a boy. Imagining her in his head usually, but every so often he'd catch glimpses of her. He would see her in the faces of the people on the street when out to dinner, or as one of the girls in the art class across the hall during night school. Once, when he was despairing in Saint Peter's and Paul after the sudden death of his father, he had looked up and seen her in the beatific face of the virgin Mary. Describing her was impossible. Her hair, her eyes, the color of her skin varied, but the soul was the same. It was an edge in her penetrating stare, the barest hint of a smile on her lips. She was a series of contradictions: ancient, yet youthful; playful, yet deadly serious. She was as experienced as a Babylonian step-dweller, but innocence and wonder still followed her. A woman out of time and place.

    The woman in the chalk, who he brought to life again and again and again. Tonight she wore a cloak of twilight, wrapping the sky around her head like a cowl against the wind. She was looking down at a sundial, cracked and covered in ivy. Mani was finishing the shading on her face, touching up spots here and there. To leave her unfinished was a personal sin, some omen of ill-fortune that he dare never let happen.

    With the last of his brighter flesh tone stick worn down to the size of a number two graphite pencil eraser, he finished, blowing softly on the drawing to clear off errant chalk dust. Pushing himself up onto his knees, he leaned backward to stretch his aching shoulders and back.

    Mani was still a young man, but not quite as young as he might have wished. Doors had closed in his life, and continued to close with every passing night. The styling that he put into his street drawings spoke to the growing pit of despair weighing down on him. Rarely did he draw a happy scene. Even when he drew her, the smile she gave her was a knowing, mocking one, as if even she were judging him.

    He stood up and brushed away his slightly ripped, olive green cargo pants, held together by a leather belt that had seen better days, cinched to its tightest hole and still a little too loose. A faded blue t-shirt hid behind a red hoodie with torn hems at the sleeves and various old stains running across the front, over a tan elephant iconography. He wore a hemp band around his neck - a keepsake from an old flame - and sported flat, low heel all purpose trainers that were worn at the heel and toe.

    He chucked the small nub of chalk back into his art kit and closed the clasps. The kit went into his orange and black backpack, next to his compact digital camera and some spare trail mix. After that, the dark-haired artist inspected his donation tin. A day's work and he'd got a few spare dollars to show for it. Adding up the small bills, he figured he had made roughly 150 dollars.

    Essentials ran through his mind. He needed something basic but filling for dinner, maybe rice would do. Then he'd need to pick up some shaving cream from the late night mart, to take care of the three day growth he was sporting. It was starting to itch, but personal grooming had taken a back seat with the recent eviction from his apartment. He still had a gym membership through the month, so he'd go there in the morning and wash the chalk off of his hands.

    His blue eyes winced shut as he put a knuckled fist to his forehead, giving into another silent, introverted shout of self-loathing.

    "How has it come to this?" he asked himself under his breath as he turned around to pick up his bedroll.

    Re: Drawn in Chalk

    A soft cool breeze nipped at Mani's face as he finished putting away his supplies for the night, only a sliver of a moon shining down upon him. There was a soft clink of metal behind him as the breeze brushed on by, almost like a muffled wind chime and then came a voice.

    "Have you seen my birdie? I let him out to stretch his wings, but he flew away. Now he's gone. They've all gone..."

    The woman standing behind Mani was disheveled like himself except it looked almost intentional. Her black and magenta streaked hair went every which way, but her skin was a pristine alabaster smooth. As the woman knelt on the grass next to Mani, she smoothed her pink skirt, setting the large birdcage on the grass to the side.

    She still hadn't looked at Mani, her blue eyes looking all around the park even after kneeling next to him, presumably looking for her lost bird. Eventually, however, she gazed at the chalk drawing.

    "She is a lady of the stars. Very pretty. They say you should be careful drawing such people. I wouldn't have done it myself, but I think you have done her justice. What do you think?"



      Re: Drawn in Chalk

      Startled by the sudden appearance of another person, Mani dropped the bedroll he had just picked up and flinched instinctively. His eyes fell on the odd looking woman and he had to take a moment to steady himself from the sudden spike of adrenaline.

      "Jesus, you scared me," he said putting his right hand over his thumping heart. Shaking his head, the danger seemed to pass. She was a thin, weak looking thing, probably homeless. He cursed inwardly at this, depressed in the realization that technically so was he, unless some happy patron magically stumbled across his artwork and thought of giving him some real money.

      He looked at the empty cage and shrugged.

      "Nah, haven't seen your bird. You know what they say about setting birds free though. If it's really yours, it'll come back to you."

      He didn't know why he said that. It probably wasn't a good idea to indulge a the bird lady's fantasy. He doubted if there even was a real bird.

      When she made a comment about his artwork, he reverted to more stable ground.

      "Lady of the stars. That's an interesting description. I've never given her a name. It's art though. Open to interpretation." He smiled down at the woman in the drawing. Despite the way she seemed to mock him as she stared back, he had a fondness for the lady drawn in chalk that was inescapable.

      "Why do you think I need to be careful?" He asked, suddenly curious. He picked up his bedroll as he asked, preparing to leave as soon as the odd girl became uninteresting. He double checked his money roll to make sure it was in place. She might be a thief.


        Re: Drawn in Chalk

        "Really?" The strange woman said in wonder upon hearing Mani's birding wisdom. She looked around at the sky, staring off at a particular set of trees before opening the hatch on her bird cage. "I'll keep the door open then. Just in case."

        While Mani talked about his artwork, the woman smiled but kept looking all around as if she was only paying half attention, maybe even less than that. When she replied, however, it was clear she'd listened to every word.

        "It can be impolite to draw people without their permission. Especially a demoness. They can be such picky, vain women. Get even the smallest beauty mark wrong, and they kill you. Or they turn you into a cute little bunny."

        The woman suddenly giggled, offering an innocent smile and scooting closer. "If you drew Veronica, she wouldn't mind. Will you draw her? Please?"


          Re: Drawn in Chalk

          Mani actually found the woman's birdcage antics sort of endearing. Not that he wasn't still aware that she was a few screws short of a bookcase, but her making him laugh a little as she opened her cage for some imaginary bird in the trees did enough to soften the young man's opinion of her.

          "Demoness?" He looked at the woman again. He'd never thought of her like that. "Well, I've only met her up here," he said, tapping the side of his head. "And she's never raised a complaint. Besides, I do her picture pro bono. Everyone else usually needs to pay a commission."

          He paused, watching the girl scoot closer. "And are you Veronica?"

          He looked up at he stars. "It's pretty late. Not enough light to start a new drawing. I could put you into a picture tomorrow morning, slide you next to the star lady if you wanted." He smirked. "But if you want a picture now, I'd need more light. And uh, maybe some cash for a meal."


            Re: Drawn in Chalk

            The girl nodded quickly to confirm Mani's guess that she was indeed Veronica, her face lit up with an effervescent charm beneath the soft moonlight. "Yes.. draw her! Draw her!"

            Veronica followed Mani's gaze to the stars dreamily. His words, however, evaporated the strange girl's smile just as fast as it appeared.

            "No... We can't..." the small vampire whispered, suddenly clawing at her hair, pulling at the strands haphazardly, her slight frame quivering uncontrollably. Veronica pulled her hair and rubbed her skin like there was something dirty, something awful that she had to be rid of now.

            "I don't like mornings... The rays are everywhere... like sand in her shoes. No matter where she goes, they always following... they burn, scald, and smoke her poor, poor skin. Cannot pose for portraits in the morning. It is bad time for pretty girls, kills her, bleaches her soft white skin to the bone. Colombian says coffee will make it better. He lies! Nothing makes it better... Nothing protects her from the awful sunshine except her nice black blanket. No mornings... No mornings... Can't..."


              Re: Drawn in Chalk

              "Oh - oh - okay, settle down! Settle down. Forget the morning. Bad idea, okay?"

              Poor girl must have had a skin condition. Her flesh was nearly as pale as the moonlight and she was really getting worked up about it. As far as he could tell by her eyes and the coloring of her hair, she wasn't an albino, but still she must have had some disease that was reactive.

              "I'll draw you now. Okay?" He didn't really know why he was agreeing to do this. Maybe because he felt sorry for the homeless Veronica. So many mentally unhinged people ended up on the streets, and she couldn't have been there long. Underneath that wild hair and unkept clothes, she was still quite pretty. In a way, he felt she'd be fun to draw, and it would calm her down. Maybe after this, he could get to some place that would help her out.

              He bent down and started to take his chalk kit out again. He chose a place a bit farther out from the park trees, where the moonlight was bright. He then took out his electric lamp and turned it on again.

              "How about you sit here, and have your cage next to you with the door open like that. Okay?"

              After that, he'd begin to sketch out the portrait of Veronica. Letting it take shape. If she left him to his work, he'd draw her as she was, with an arm wrapped around her birdcage, looking upward expectantly with a hopeful smile on her face. In his mind, it was her waiting confidently for her bird to return. The final touch, as he intended, would to be draw a curved "V" in the distance, suggesting that the bird was indeed coming back to her, though it would be open to interpretation as well, that the bird could be flying away. Either way, he hoped it would calm Veronica down and make her happy. It would probably take a good half hour to fully flesh it out though.


                Re: Drawn in Chalk

                "Ahhh... N-no posing in the brands her with blisters, white hot ones." Veronica continued to writhe like that for a little while, pulling strands of her black and violet streaked hair. It was almost as if the mere thought being in the sunlight irritated the poor girl all over. It was like an itch that couldn't be scratched - or maybe she just didn't like being rejected. Either way, the strange but lithe girl eventually did calm down with Mani's encouragement. Once she did and she stopped pulling at her hair and clothes, Veronica seemed to go back to normal.

                "Like this? Oh yes, it will be perfect. The Mona Veronica... a masterpiece of chalk to go with your demon star lady, hehe." The girl's smile was confident now as she eagerly followed Mani's instructions. Veronica proved to be quite the interesting subject, holding the birdcage just like Mani suggested, looking off toward the stars with a small smile. Even still, the girl just couldn't help but look back toward Mani every so often to watch what he was doing. She seemed to enjoy just watching him draw even if she couldn't see the results from her spot.

                Veronica stayed quiet enough for the next half hour or so while Mani worked on the chalk portrait. She kept up her pose masterfully. In fact, she seemed uncannily good at maintaining a position for long periods of time, even despite her frequent looks in Mani's direction. Her body stayed pretty much in the same position. Other than the occasional quirky comment, she didn't say much until Mani was finished.

                After he'd put the finishing touches on the drawing though, Veronica quickly bounded over to see the results. As soon as she saw it, she was in love with it. The girl clapped her hands, beaming brightly with excitement. "Yes! It is beautiful. You are like the Renoir of chalk, painting lovely portraits of young ladies in the park. You should make more money! But...but... AH!!"

                Veronica gasped out of a sudden, covering her mouth with her small, pale hand. She looked back at Mani nervously, starting to quiver gently but keeping herself under control just barely, teetering on the edge of despair.

                "O-Ooh nononono... Do you see how lovely it is? Magnificent! Beautiful! Radiant! TOO lovely maybe. Is it really Veronica? It cannot be can it? She doesn't think she is very pretty... do you think she is? Does she really look like that?"


                  Re: Drawn in Chalk

                  Veronica's transformation from intensely anxious freakout into calm, sedate, and happy model was a welcome change from Mani's point of view. He only worried that she would be unable to sit still long enough for him to sketch her out properly. To his pleasant surprise, the girl with the wild eyes and violet streaks in her hair turned out to be an ideal sitter.

                  "Good, good. You're holding the pose nicely," he said after a while.

                  She must be stonger than she looked to be able to sit like that, her arm out holding the birdcage, and not even waver. He never even saw her blink. He had to admit that he liked the attention and appreciation of his work, even if it was from an unhinged waif from the streets. The people in the daytime who dropped money in his jar were nice enough, but Veronica was taking a real shine to his technique, following the movements of his lines, the shading, and the texturing.

                  "You're an ideal model," Mani grinned as he added the finishing touches after about thirty minutes of work, give or take. The time had flown by, and when he tossed the used chalk back into his kit, he was rather proud of what he'd managed to do. Veronica's image was recognizable and clear in the cement of the footpath. Her bird was coming in on the horizon, and she was looking happy, glowing with a soft inner light.

                  She showered him with praise, to which he tried his best to appear humble. He didn't think he was a vain man, but a starving artist lives or dies by the praise they get. To have anyone tell him that they were happy with a portrait was validation that he had skill, and that if he just managed to impress the right people, maybe one day he would get himself back on track.

                  "I'm glad you like it," he began to say but stopped as Veronica drew in a sharp breath and covered her face.

                  "Too lovely?" He tried to ease her concern by having a light laugh in his voice. "You're too humble. This is how you look. Anyone can see that."

                  Artistically he hadn't changed much. He'd kept that confident look she had while modeling and transferred it to the pavement quite accurately. She was a pretty young woman when she wasn't freaking out and grimacing.


                    Re: Drawn in Chalk

                    Veronica kept her hand over her mouth for a few seconds, looking from the drawing and back to Mani and back again. Gradually, the strange girl's body stopped shaking, her expression shifted from nervousness to wonder, and she slowly approached Mani with a spark of curiosity gleaming in her eyes.

                    "This is how you see her in your mind's eye?" Veronica asked curiously, drawing ever closer to look up into Mani's eyes. Her eyes were a soft blue like a serene Caribbean bay, a striking contrast to emotional maelstrom that was her personality. Veronica reached out to caress Mani's cheek as a smile suddenly lit up her features, realization dawning on her. "You think Veronica is pretty!" She exclaimed in delight, bouncing forward to press her lithe body against Mani's stronger frame.

                    As Veronica wrapped her arms around Mani's neck, smiling up at him so happily, Mani suddenly felt a staggering emotional rush. Whatever feelings he had at the moment quickly inflamed to the boiling point. His emotions ran so high that it was hard to think of anything else except those feelings, those bubbling sensations rippling all through his body and mind.

                    "What are you thinking painter man?" Veronica asked curiously, looking up at him as innocent as ever as her small body pressed close to his own.



                      Re: Drawn in Chalk

                      Veronica's sudden steady approach made Mani apprehensive. He didn't know what it meant. The look in her eyes was an enveloping one, like she was peering right through him into his mind. The strange grace with which she held herself added to her imposing stare. In the midst of feeling good about himself, Mani felt his mouth going dry and goosebumps start to prickle on his forearms.

                      Those eyes of hers were like glass marbles filled with turquoise, calm like the sea on a cloudless day. He found himself thinking of how extremely pretty they were, and in an instant, Veronica was picking up on it too, because realization struck her face and she practically bounded into him, still gazing right back at him, with a cheery smile on her face. The feel of her light, bubbly, slightly disheveled form against chest felt better than he thought it would.

                      Perhaps he should have been more worried about all the red flags. The fact that she referred to herself in the third person, her imaginary birds, her general zaniness. But in truth, he was disregarding all of that at the moment. He was really just a boy who had decided to try and impress a girl, and had managed to do so. And making pretty girls happy made Mani happy.

                      As she wrapped her cold arms around his warm neck, the street artist grinned wide. Then he started to chuckle, his face going flush with bashfulness. And another part of him, his curious side, wanted to know what it might be like to kiss this girl.

                      Then, all of a sudden, his feelings lunged forward like a catapult. Mirth, pride, and flirtatious curiosity all soared through him.

                      "Hahaahahha! What am I thinking?" He asked, his voice rising as he wrapped his arms around Veronica's waist and hoisted her into the air against him. "I'm thinking this pretty Veronica likes my drawing! And it makes me..."

                      He spun his body around in a 360 degree circle, taking Veronica for a spin as well.

                      "Happy as a wolf among lambs!" He laughed as she dropped her back to her feet, but still kept her in his hug. Pretty girls liked dancing right? He adjusted his grip so that he was holding her hands in his as he began to skip and dance around her.

                      "Mani wants to dance with Veronica!" He said, leaning back so that his arms were fully extended, using Veronica herself as a counter-weight so he wouldn't tumble back wards as he circled about.

                      "Dance, dance the cold away with his pretty Veronica, til her bird comes in! And let the star lady get jealous as she watches! Hahaha!"

                      He embraced her again, putting his cheek up against her ear, burying his nose in the black-violet hair that had no particular smell.

                      "Mmm... I want to dance and dance, and then when we're really tired..." He paused for effect, lowering his voice. "I want a kiss from Veronica."