by Aimee DeLong
Andre’s question smacks of shocking reasonableness. Why do I come here? As I stare down at his feet I feel like a fool. Andre’s feet make me feel foolish. The contrast between who Andre is as an idea and who he is as a reality.
“It’s important to remember to let yourself be touched once in awhile,” he says as he massages my shoulders.
Every muscle in my body is terse and awkward as Andre’s invisible layer of mystique seems to collapse like a fallen shroud around him. Coming to Andre’s studio is a pilgrimage to a post-industrial Mecca. The genius of ubiquitous archetypal images invading the failed attempts to overthrow itself. Incestuous and interchangeable advancement cycling. The aesthetic revolving the mechanical.
He lives in Red Hook off Smith and 9th, where the F train emerges above ground. It’s an hour to his place. Once off the train I have to walk under an overpass that hangs like an eve of exhaust ivy over a mundane underworld of fast food and gas stations. On the other side stands a funnel of old warehouses all along three long desperate blocks that stretch toward the water like rain gutters of polluted sweltering tar. The last one on the right is Andre’s studio, where I am now sitting between his legs on his napping cot as he speaks to me of touching and being touched. And, in this moment, I still don’t know if he means literally or figuratively. My idea of Andre suggests that it’s figurative, but my feminine instinct says otherwise.
His hands cascade down my shoulders, cinching my arms with repetitive groping. I look around his studio, feeling like a young girl being inappropriately touched by a cult leader. His hand-sculptures hang decapitated from their wrists like omens of base humanity which dangle from ceiling beams. Andre loves hands. He has likely constructed thousands of hand sculptures. Some of them he keeps in glass boxes like pieces of jewelry in a case at Tiffany’s Macabre. Some float in the air, lingering like impotent stuntmen from wires in a Broadway play with faulty mechanics. In this moment it’s as if Andre’s hands were channeling all the hands in the studio. Hands everywhere, running down my back, fingers rooting through the fabric of my sweater as if they were searching for skin.
“I don’t know why I come here,” I admit, finally answering his question.
“How long does it take you to get here? It’s a long way, right?”
“Well,” I continue as he pushes my head forward, rubbing my bare neck, “It takes over an hour on the train, and then it’s about a ten minute walk.”
“You seem unhappy every time I see you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Often you tell me about William, and how you don’t know if you should be with him.”
“I like talking to you. And, I like being in your studio and around your work.”
“I think you’re looking for something when you come here.”
“Maybe I am.” I turn my head for a second as Andre’s hands grip my shoulders. I can’t read his blue placid eyes. Although, I feel his own sadness which seems to fill the room like bones in a tomb. I’ve been coming here for two years, ever since he wanted to hire me as a nude model. We became good friends right away. As a result the idea of modeling for him dissipated, yet I kept visiting him. Andre never once showed any signs of obvious attraction. He never hit on me or tried to kiss me. Many times we sat in prolonged silence, watching the light quality change from it’s clear, crystal-lake omnipresence into its twilight schizophrenia, settling restless among the framed masterpieces and installations. He often asked me questions about my situation. I mostly talked to him about his work. I see Andre as a holy man of visual art. He works and creates. This is seemingly all he does. If someone had told me that Andre never ate, and in fact didn’t need food to survive, I would have believed it.
The moment he took his shoes off in a gesture of casualness I felt like an altar boy watching a priest disrobe. It was as if Gandhi put on combat boots. It was a perversion. I sit in shock, between his legs as he squeezes the sides of my lower back, starring blankly at his feet. They’re horrendous. Andre looks like a more handsome version of Pablo Picasso, but his feet look as if they belong to a character in one of Picasso’s warbled asymmetric figure paintings. Hammer toes. Peeling skin. Pallid and gray. Disjointed.
My eyes search the studio, reminding my pupils and irises of all the gorgeous, mournful wisdom in Andre’s work. The paintings and the sculptures and the hands, diaphanous yet hearty just like Andre’s hands, all of them coming to life through him against my body. Then I look back at his feet, sticking out around my knees while I sit stiff with my own feet firm on the floor.
“I have to go now,” I tell him, standing with an abrupt and incendiary jolt. I walk quickly toward the door, attempting to stuff my arms into my jacket as he follows. I struggle with the sleeves near the entrance, facing Andre’s authentic medical school grade skeleton, which always hangs lifeless and absurd and menacing near the door on its stand. Andre’s skeleton is the first noticeable object upon entering his studio. He told me he acquired it while studying biology in grad school, before he realized that he would rather sculpt and paint.
“Allison, we did nothing…there was nothing wrong here. I just wanted to be close to you.” I still have no idea what the hell he is talking about.
“I know,” I say, watching the last slice of his face disappear, as I shut the door behind me. The warehouses shiver in their cold bricks as I try to push Andre’s feet from my mind. I never speak to him again.
AIMEE DELONG is a writer of fiction, living in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in such places as 3AM Magazine, Brown Bunny Magazine, and Everyday Genius. More can be found at www.aimeedelong.com.