Work of Art – Aileen Santos

Work of Art

She disrobed for him. The luna tattoo on her bottom half moved as if waving to the sky. She felt awkward at first, disrobing in front of strangers. Then oddly enough, the feeling would melt away like a good grilled-cheese sandwich; the crusts crispy enough and her attitude, just the right amount of spunk for this type of photo shoot. When she first started modeling, she told herself, I have limitations, no nudes. She believed she had standards, but quickly they dissipated just like her clothes.

She moved her body at just the right angle – the light hitting the moon and her pale face to make it look like they were both glowing. Chin up, sister, she told herself, you look good – hot, even, and it won’t take but a few hours to get this session done.

The photographer moved parts of her to fill in the frame of his lens. He had a vision and he’d fulfill it, at whatever cost. He was an artist and he needed models who understood that. He liked this girl, because she was professional, knew how to listen to direction, a natural too. She exuded both confidence and humility, grace and passion. Even with her abundance of talent, he would still need time to make it work. He moved her right arm above her head, lifted her chin even higher, spread her legs apart.

She hated when photographers touched her, but knew it was all part of the job. She kept her chin up, sideways now, facing the wall. How many shots would he need before he was satisfied? I’m glad I didn’t get my period yet, she thought to herself, but that’s a good thing about the pill – you were able to control when the visitor would come and the possibility of having kids again.

Unlike life, when people would just come and go as they pleased, loving you one moment and the next, they’re gone, she thought to herself. Much like modeling, actually. She was only 20 so her body was firm and her face still young, but give it a few more years, maybe one, and she would be obsolete, a feeling she knew too well.

Her mind wandered to faraway places, to nights long gone and not quite forgotten. She was sipping wine on a rich man’s yacht, waiting tables at a local diner, a mother, then childless in the blink of an eye. Her face tightened.

“Listen, loosen up. Think serious thoughts but not sad ones. Are you okay? Do you need a break?” The photographer was exasperated. If they were to take a break it would definitely set them back. He asked mostly to feign compassion. Sometimes the models worked better when they had a sense that you cared for them. Everything had been going so well then she stiffened up. This will take hours at this rate, he thought. Shit. “Okay, okay, you ready to start again?”

She changed the expression on her face, serious, not sad, don’t think of her, don’t think of her, just don’t think, she told herself. But the more you tell yourself not to do something is the moment you cannot get it out of your mind. Her curls, rosy cheeks, the way she grabbed my finger, she thought. Her little digits that would hold on tight and never let go. The trace of lilac kid detergent and the smell of her when waking up from a nap, sweaty and sweet both at the same time.

It’s 2014 and I’ve just lost her. She was run over by a car, my car. I was rushing to a job and did not see her follow me outside. She had run after me into the night and stood on the driveway. I backed up out of the garage when I heard a scream then put the car in drive not knowing the running-over-rocks sound was bones crushing and snapping, skin-tearing, little legs splayed looking as if they were still running sideways. I did it. I did it, and I could no longer live with myself, a shell of my old self, an uninhabited body. I’m too weak to die, to follow her there meekly, that would be getting off easy. Instead I needed to suffer, for the night I howled at the moon, tearing at my own flesh, wishing it was me.

“Perfect. That’s just perfect. Hold still now. Whatever you’re thinking, just keep doing it, we’re shooting magic gold right now, magic gold I tell ya.” He kept shooting her, focused on her face, he was making art. She was a work of art and he knew art when he saw it.

Aileen Santos has published in literary journals and zines in Canada, the US and the UK. She lives in Acton, Ontario with her two children, two fur-babies and partner of the last 19 years. Her debut novel, Someone Like You, is slated to be published this spring by Two Wolves Press.

6 thoughts on “Work of Art – Aileen Santos”

  1. Very nice Aileen. The description created a vivid imagery and I could feel the emotion of the girl in the story. Well done.


  2. This was such a beautiful read. Loved the transition from modeling work to distant past to the joy of having a child to her loss and utter sadness. The last paragraph was really great too.


  3. This piece took me through so many different emotions and presented a perspective on pain that was both familiar and foreign, yet fully felt. I appreciate how the story surfaces the different ways in which pain can be experienced and exploited – by ourselves and others. What I appreciate the most is its ability to make me feel empathy, rather than judgement. The story offers us such a complex circle of grief, regret and love. Thank you, Aileen Santos.


  4. I like your style Aileen. I love prose that delves deep into the character’s thoughts and make up. This story is heart wrenching and I look forward to finding out where this journey will take your character and your readers. Count me as the latter. 👍❤️


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