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Authors: Susan Israel

Over My Live Body

BOOK: Over My Live Body
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Over My Live Body
Susan Israel
The Story Plant
Stamford, Connecticut

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.

The Story Plant
Studio Digital CT, LLC
P.O. Box 4331
Stamford, CT 06907

Copyright © 2013 by Susan Israel
Jacket design by Barbara Aronica Buck

Print ISBN-13: 978-1-61188-118-9
E-book ISBN: 978-1-61188-119-6

Visit our website at
www.TheStoryPlant.com

All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by U.S. Copyright Law. For information, address The Story Plant.

First Story Plant Printing: March 2014
Printed in the United States of America

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1
Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank members of the NYPD for their gracious cooperation and generous assistance, without which I would have felt even more like a rookie describing their world. I’d also like to thank the New York Studio School as well as members of the Yale Police Department.

Special thanks to my editor and publisher Lou Aronica for your vision and suggestions.

Thank you to my family, Bob, Meri, Michael and David, who always have my back, and to my friends who believed in me and this book and kept propelling me forward.

And thank you, Mom, in whose memory I dedicate this novel.

1

Ivan is using t
he
New York Times
as a tablecloth again. I never get to read it anymore without seeing jelly stains, big blobs of coffee, and buttery fingerprints blotting out connecting words, smearing print.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” I tell him. “I have place mats.”

“It’s my paper.” He turns the page and I see crumbs fall on the floor. I hear my mother’s voice echo in the kitchen:
You’re making more work for me. You never pick up after yourself.
It’s my father she’s yelling at. I feel like I’ve flipped back the pages in some history book. My father never responded. I bite my tongue. Ivan is too argumentative lately, too quick to respond and not just with words any more. Silence is better. At least when we’re not at each other’s throats I can still appreciate what attracted me to him: the looks, the
so
-gorgeous-they-ought-to-charge-admission-for-this looks, looks that could kill. I can’t get off on this superficiality any longer; he scares me. The radio commentator droning in the background about some unidentified female homicide victim reminds me why I
should
be scared. I reach for the Metro section to see if there’s any mention of it there. Ivan pushes my hand away. “Look at this,” he points to something in Section D about bond trading. I scowl and open the refrigerator to get half-and-half for my coffee. The smell of it makes me wince and I pour it down the drain.

“I forgot to tell you,” Ivan says. “Someone called you last night before you got home.”

“Who?” I remember that I didn’t bring my cell phone when I ran out to the store to buy marinara sauce, but Ivan wasn’t home then and when I came back he was. A lot can happen in ten minutes.

“He didn’t say.” The ‘he’ hums around the room like a menacing insect.

“What did he say?”

Ivan smiles. “Expecting a call, Delilah?”

“What makes you think I am?”

“It’s not the first time he’s called.”

“How am I supposed to know who it is? He didn’t leave his name, you said so yourself. It could be anyone. Anyway, why didn’t you tell me about this before? And why are you answering my cell phone? I don’t answer yours.”

“I figured it would all come out in a matter of time.”

“What would all come out?”

“The identity of your secret admirer.”

“Secret admirer? What are you talking about?” I sip at the black coffee and scowl at him. “You’re crazy.”

A siren screeches outside. Then another. Somebody downstairs screams. Wandering into whatever mayhem lurks outside would be preferable to dealing with the brutality of Ivan’s polite innuendo. I haven’t done anything to deserve this. I feel like screaming myself, but the last thing I need is the EMS people, not to mention the police, knocking down the door. “
Hey, lady, lady,
” they would holler,
“are you all right? What’s wrong?
Why’d you scream
?”

And I’d have to say something like, “Never mind, guys, I’m sorry, he’s just shooting accusations at me and they’re not even loaded. Too bad you weren’t around the other night when he shoved me into the wall.”

Yes, too damn bad.

The ringtone of my phone revives me. Shrill even when it’s turned to low, it never fails to make me want to dance, but today it’s not a happy dance. Ivan’s eyebrows shoot up. “There he is now.”

I throw a crumpled napkin at him. “Hello?”

There’s a lot of static on the line, that and garbled voices in the distance, but no one jumping in to say, “Hi, Delilah.” No one saying anything.

“Telemarketer,” I announce cheerfully as I hang up.

“Sure.” Ivan folds the paper sloppily and puts it to one side as he gets up. “Who’d he ask for?”


No
one. No one was on the line. Just a lot of noise. Must have been a bad connection or something like that.”

“Yes, something like that.”

A vehicle starts up outside, horn blaring, siren wailing, and then pulls away into the gridlock of downtown traffic, the general cacophony of other horns, other sirens. I’m still thinking about bad connections. Ivan gets ready to head out the door. “See you later,” he says. I take it as a threat and nod. Let him think he will. If he just simply vanished like the screech of the sirens I wouldn’t care; I’d be relieved. I have to be out all day and I’ve made up my mind that when he comes back tonight, he’s not going to be able to get in. I could stay out all night; wouldn’t he be surprised. No
.
He’d more likely suspect I’m with my ‘secret admirer.’ If I’m lucky, maybe he’ll decide he’s had enough and pack his things and go, but he’s more than likely going to come back after work and lie in wait for me. The best
thing for me to do is have a new lock put on the door, so I don’t have to worry about that. But first I’ve got to go to work.

2

It’s damn cold in this studio. Somebody must have left the windows open for days to try to air out the smell of turps and they didn’t succeed. The cyan fluorescent lighting doesn’t warm things up any. I throw each item of clothing that I take off on a folding chair. I’m down to my bra and bikini and, as I undo the hook behind me, I feel another cold breeze waft by, caused by people rushing around getting supplies, cutting through the large studio to get to smaller ones. My nipples harden. I take off the bikini. More people scuttle past me. Then a dark-haired gnome of a man who I assume to be the instructor struts in and surveys the set-up, myself included. He moves a chair here, a piece of drapery there, then gestures to a spot where I should stand, where it feels even colder. “Will somebody please go get a space heater for our model?” he asks. I notice a hint of Eastern European accent in his nasal voice. He has had to notice quite a lot about me to prompt him to request a heater. Most instructors pay little attention. Some even refer to the model as “it.” The students are too busy mixing media and trying to outdo each other to treat the model as anything other than a still-life prop; a peach, maybe, or a basket of eggs. This is the way it’s supposed to be. I’m not real. This is what I always tell the men in my life.

My pain is real enough. Ten minutes into the pose and I’m hurting. There’s a kink in my calf, my leg has fallen asleep, and there’s a streak of vermilion on my foot. I rub at it, but it’s there to stay, at least until I get home. The only thing that gets paint off skin safely and gently is baby oil, and I don’t have any with me. There isn’t anything I know of that gets it out of clothes, so I wear grunge going to and from a modeling stint and nothing on the job.

This is something I don’t always tell the men in my life. At least not right away. Not until I know them better, get a feel for how they can handle it. Ivan has
never
handled it well. I’m used to it; this is something he also can’t handle. I’m usually far more embarrassed by the dirt that sticks to the soles of my feet than by my undressed state.

But not today
. This instructor extravagantly draws everyone’s attention to me. “Make love to her with your brushes,” he urges, his hands imitating a voluptuous sable caress that makes my skin prickle. In the process his hand brushes my bare hip, the bruised one, just a light swipe, but it startles me, this breach of protocol. People who have been wandering in and out stop and watch. Someone in the hall bellows, “Hey, you! You’re not supposed to be there. What d’you think this is, a peep show? Get back to work!” I don’t know who’s being yelled at or who’s doing the yelling, but I’m suddenly aware of every pore on my areolae, every pubic hair, every part of me I was brought up to believe should be hidden, and of eyes looking at me, hundreds of eyes, what with people who don’t look like they belong here cutting through the place, people who are here to do a bit of carpentry work, perhaps, or fix the wiring, eyes of every color, every shape, sizing me up, thinking libidinous things. I can read them. I feel a sudden chill that doesn’t come from the direction of any window. Up to now I’ve been a nude. Suddenly I’m naked.

During a break, I tiptoe over to my belongings and whip out my phone to check my messages.. All I hear is breathing. My calls-received log lists a number I don’t recognize. If I call Ivan and accuse him of checking up on me, he can counter with another accusation that it’s my ‘secret admirer.’

All I know is during my next break, I’m looking up locksmiths.

3

I’ve gone from posing in one studio to posing in another in less than an hour. Ordinarily I don’t complain about the cold. I don’t move before I’m told to. I try to be the model I’ve never had the good luck to hire. But today I feel like I’m lugging around a portfolio of hypersensitivity along with my usual artist supplies and it’s not even justified; I’m among
friends
.

The instructor of this class has drawn a chalk outline of where I’m supposed to lie and indicates the pose she wants me to strike, that of a classic come-to-my-casbah odalisque. I feel my calf muscles tighten as I scrunch up into the framework of the drawing on the floor. There are no new faces in this class, no surprises; I’ll be forgiven if I twitch or scratch an itch. Morgan, one of the best artists and my best friend, has brought poppy seed pound cake and stops what he’s doing to tiptoe over and feed me morsels of it. “Should be grapes,” the instructor says. Someone down the hall is playing Carmen on a boom box. “Should be Scheherezade,” Morgan says, winking at me.

The wink isn’t misunderstood, wouldn’t be even if Morgan weren’t gay.

We artists are like a cast ensemble in repertory. Many of us have seen each other nude in classes. I’m dressed in the part I’m playing. It’s when I change locations, freelance in other schools, that I’ve felt uncomfortable, and I’ve tried not to do that too often. I try not to, but sometimes I need the money to buy extra supplies or pay off mounting bills and I have to do it, like I did last night. I sometimes say
never again
! What do I need this aggravation for? I feel smarmy; it makes me fight with Ivan more. Except, like a new enrollee in some 12-step program, I’m learning to recognize what I have and
haven’t the power to change, and ironically, now that I’ve decided to kick Ivan and his half of the rent money out, I’m going to have to pay more bills than ever, starting with the new lock I’m having installed.

“Delilah, you moved!”

I look down and see my arm and leg protruding from the smeared outline marking where they’re supposed to be. “I’m sorry.”

“Delilah rarely strays,” Morgan says with a smile, holding a pencil up to me to gauge the span of my body stretched out in front of faded brocade. Another artist, Keith, moves in for a closer look, so close that I can smell the eucalyptus cough drop lodged in his cheek that I first thought was an abscess. The others take turns approaching me, walking around me, appraising me with the dispassionate curiosity they would exhibit while looking at a piece on display in a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. The instructor, their tour guide, calls attention to my posterior as the center of gravity upon which all else rests. She points to my right shoulder with a well-sharpened Conté crayon and lightly touches it, then moves on to the sole of my right foot. My toes curl. “Notice how the light is distributed here and here, how opalescent these areas seem compared to
this
.” I feel the pencil glide along the base of my spine. “I want you to pay attention to these tonal differences in your drawings as if you were painting them, because you will be.”

The door bangs open suddenly, unexpectedly; no one casually walks in and out of this studio. “Phone call downstairs for Delilah,” someone hollers, retreating down the hall.

“She can’t come to the phone right now,” the instructor bellows back. “Take a message.”

“Tell whoever it is I’ll call back,” I add, “unless it’s Ivan.” I know it’s Ivan.

One of the graphic arts students backs into the studio and looks around furtively, like one more step and she’ll be accused of breaking and entering. “He said he’d call back.”

“Who was it?”

She shrugs. “Beats me. He didn’t say.”

“Another member of your burgeoning fan club, Delilah. Maybe someone who’s seen your exhibits and wants to buy all your sculptures,” Morgan suggests, smudging the charcoal on the page with the heel of his hand.

“I wish.”

“Hey, you never know.”

I know it was Ivan on the phone. He’s the only person who has ever called me here. I can feel his heavy-breathing impatience wafting all the way up from Wall Street. He knows a call from him will unsettle me, make me put my clothes on to rush to the phone at the very least and not be able to get back into the right pose and the right mood afterwards. He gets off on this. I’m not taking any calls until I’m through for the day.

“Delilah!” someone else calls. “Telephone!”

“Jesus, again?
Doesn’t he take a hint?”

“It’s okay, take a five minute break, you’re marked,” the instructor says as I scramble to my feet clumsily. I grab a blue-and-white pin-striped man’s shirt from the back of Morgan’s easel and throw it on and pad down the cold corridor and down the stairs, pulling the shirt closed around me, grumbling, steeling myself for what I have to say to him, and that is, “Leave me alone!”

“Is that any way to answer the phone?”

I look down at the way I’m dressed. Is that any way to answer the phone? “Who
is
this?” It’s not Ivan’s voice. He’s the only person who has ever called me here, but it’s not him. Someone he put up to calling me, though, I’m sure of it, one of his co-workers wearing an oxford shirt not unlike the one that I’ve got wrapped around me like a toga, only stiff, as if starched, and buttoned down. “Get him to come to the phone.”

“You don’t want to talk to anyone else,” the voice declares. “It’s
me
you want.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Don’t say that!” the voice snaps. “You do. At least you will.”

The receiver nearly slips out of my hand. “Who
is
this?” I hear static in the background and several muffled voices and then nothing. I’m still holding the receiver when Morgan comes looking for me. “They want you back up there.” He takes a good look at me. “Are you okay? Who was that?”

I shrug. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know if you’re okay or you don’t know who it was?”

“Both.”

The instructor yells down the stairs, “Delilah, you’re off the phone. Good. Hurry up, we want your body.”

Morgan puts his hand on my shoulder. “Want a Snapple?” I nod. He retreats to the kitchen, to the well-stocked refrigerator. His lover is a gourmet Italian chef in an uptown trattoria. On a good day, my stomach might growl at the thought of the array of goodies meticulously stored in those labeled Tupperware containers, but right now I’m feeling slightly queasy.
Someone called you last night before you got home. It’s not the first time he’s called.
Morgan reappears with a raspberry iced tea. I chug-a-lug it. “Thanks,” I say, handing him the nearly empty bottle. “I needed that.”

“Guess you did. What’s going on, exactly?”

“I’m not sure, exactly. That was a guy I don’t even know telling me I want him. Ivan told me someone’s called me and didn’t leave a name. My bad for leaving my cell phone where he can get it. It’s probably coincidence. Can’t be the same person. Anyway, I’m not even sure if I can trust Ivan’s account of things. He might have set someone up to make that call. I wouldn’t put anything past him now.”

“Threatening phone calls. There seems to be a lot of that going around.”

“What do you mean?”

“Vittorio got a couple. Something to do with work conflicts. He changed his schedule so he could be free for our anniversary party Saturday night. Remember when you ate with us at the restaurant last week and he excused himself to talk to the manager? Well, someone apparently didn’t like it, said he’d be sorry. Sounded like a scene from a Fellini film. You should’ve heard.
Mamma mia
! Anyway, he shrugged it off as nuisance calls.” He finishes off the tea. “Yours don’t seem like nuisance calls.”

“It’s just one phone call, Morgan.”

“Did you report it?”

I shake my head. “Did Vittorio report his nuisance calls?”

“He talked to somebody in
Italiano.
I don’t know who. Probably the head chef. I think you
should be talking to the police. Especially after what Ivan did to you the other night. Did you report
that
?”

“It was just a little shove.” I walk back upstairs to the studio. I’m starting to feel guilty for holding up the works.

“A little shove that made you look like you fell down a flight of stairs.”

“It shoved me into action, Morgan, that’s good enough. I’m changing the locks on him as of this afternoon. A locksmith’s coming at four. Before he comes back from Wall Street. He won’t hurt me,” I lick my lips. “I don’t think.”

“What are you going to do if the locksmith doesn’t show?” Morgan frowns. “Go back there and act like nothing’s wrong?”

“I’ll call Sachi to see if I can crash on her couch. ”

Morgan snorts. “Have you ever
been able to reach Sachi when you need her?”
Noooo
. I shake my head. “
Cara,
if you’re in a pinch, you can spend the night at
our
place.”

“Thanks.” I peel off the shirt and watch as everybody’s attention focuses on The Bruise. Morgan winces. “Men!” he says, and rolls his eyes, “They’re such beasts!”

BOOK: Over My Live Body
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