She'd been doing blind contour drawings, first with her left hand, then with her right. The one was nearly as clumsy as the other, but Hagu found it freeing to work blind: not looking at the page, not worrying about the lines she drew or the lines she might've drawn if things were different. Keeping her attention steady on her subject. Who was sprawled on the sofa in mid-nap, his laptop halfway open on the floor.
His nights were late, lately. He was writing on deadline--a book review for a journal, a paper for a conference in June. It might not have occurred to her to draw him if he'd been awake, but asleep he was too accessible a target, all slack limbs and softened face and shirt with the top button undone. There were rumples. Lots of rumples. The rumples were her favorite part. She transcribed them, one by one, never lifting her pen, never looking at the page. She looked instead at the rucks in the white fabric, the slant of his collar, the sudden curve down to his throat. The rise up to his chin. The little indentation between chin and lower lip.
Just as she was drawing it, his mouth moved in his sleep, as if he'd felt her pen outlining the shape of him. Hagu stopped, feeling scurrilous for the first time since she'd started. She hadn't asked permission--not that he'd say no if she did--but his eyes didn't open, and he didn't move again.
She tried to pick up where she'd left off. Throat, jaw, mouth, cheek--she got as far as his eyebrow, to the edge of the first swatch of hair at his temple, and then her pen stopped again.
For a long moment it didn't budge, as if the point of it were stuck, like a record needle on a skipping LP. She found herself staring, revisiting the contour over and over, not on the page but on him.
It wasn't a new line. It was a line she knew, or should've known, or thought she knew--hadn't she seen it nearly every day of her adult life? Wasn't it always the same? But no, that wasn't right. It would be different every time, if only a little, by some degree of variation in his pose or her perspective. Some small degree. Or not so small.
Oh, she thought.
Maybe the rumples weren't her favorite part.
Quietly, dumbfounded, she put the pen down. She stared at Shuuji for a long, long time, then got up from the floor without a sound, clutching the sketchbook, trying not to stagger as she retreated to her room.
At first her new awareness seemed enormous, ungainly, dangerous enough to knock everything askew--their daily routine, their ease with one another, the orbits of the planets, continental drift--but then it turned out he was still himself, and she was still herself, and their ease with one another was big enough to contain even this new thing. To absorb and include it. Like when you added a dab of red paint to blue, she thought. After blending it you still had blue on the palette, only a different hue.
So that was how it was. Probably for him, too. At the breakfast table she swung her legs under her chair with the sheer fervid energy of wanting to tell him, to blurt out Shuu-chan, I get it now, I get it, as if desire were a lesson she'd finally mastered, ages behind the rest of the class. She had a chance now to give him something, something she knew he wanted (which made her feel like Santa Claus, though it was only May), and the relief that she could give it properly was huge. But then he was so harried and sleepless with his writing, and it seemed like telling him in the midst of that would be as bad as confessing to a college student the night before final projects were due.
I think we should wait, he'd said, the time she'd tried to bring it up before. Before she'd understood. He'd been right, it had been right to wait, so she thought it might be right to wait a little longer. Another day or two.
His deadlines passed. The following afternoon she came inside from spraying fixative in the yard and found him limp on the sofa, laptop nowhere in sight. She put the fixative away, then sank to a crouch, elbows on her knees, and watched him for a while, just watching, swimming in the tenderness that always welled when she watched him sleep, before she went to fetch her sketchbook.
By the time he woke up she'd finished one drawing and was halfway through a second. He yawned and shifted, about to roll onto his side.
"Don't move!" she said cheerfully. "No moving."
He blinked at her, bleary-eyed, then seemed to take in the sketchbook in her lap, the pen in her hand. His mouth twisted, almost too lax for wryness. He let out a soft huff through his nose.
"Taking advantage of me in my sleep again." He'd seen the contour drawing from last time, had laughed and grimaced over his starring role in it, saying she deserved a better subject. A more professional model, at any rate.
She had disagreed with that. "Uh-huh."
He started to lift an arm--to rub his eyes, maybe, or rake a hand through his hair, or cover the dull flush on his face--before he remembered her directive and stifled the movement.
"Did you finish?" she asked him. "The book review."
"The editor mailed me back, I have to cut two hundred words or so. Won't take long."
"Yay is right," he sighed. He was waking up in earnest now, focusing on her hand, on the pen she'd taped to it to hold it in place. "You remember what Dr. Satsuki said about overdoing it."
"It's okay," she said, though the truth was her arm was starting to complain. "I'm stopping after this."
"If you don't, there'll be no one to make dinner." He stared at the ceiling as if it were plastered with a grocery list. "What are we out of. Mirin, we're out of mirin. And beer. I'll have to run to the store. What do you want to eat?"
"You pick," she said.
His head and shoulders slumped back into the cushions. He shifted a leg as if to bend it at the knee. "My pick. All right."
"Aaaaah, you moved! No moving."
With a wincing grin he revised his position. "You know, there's no reason you couldn't sit in on the life drawing sessions at Hamabi, if you wanted. They're probably still doing evening ones, outside of class."
Hagu lifted her pen from the page. "You don't want me to draw you?" she asked. Intently.
"It's not that, but--"
"Then I'd rather draw you." She raised her chin. After a pause she added, "You're better looking."
He coughed a laugh, dismissive, and averted his eyes. "What are you talking about."
That was the problem: when she told him she wanted him, not anyone else, he didn't believe her. She'd have to keep at it until he did. She beamed. "My David."
His laughter sputtered. He looked as if he wanted to squirm and was refraining out of hapless obedience. After a last consideration of the page, Hagu set her sketchbook down. She pulled at the tape on her right hand, beginning to unwind it, and went to the sofa. There was room for her hip next to his on the middle cushion, but only just. As she sat she flexed her hand, stretching her wrist and fingers in exercises that were long since automatic. She looked down and sidelong at him with her new perspective, with eyes that saw. A little red mixed in with the blue.
She needed to let him know, one way or another: it's okay. It's okay now. It's not just you.
He was looking back at her, a little wide-eyed. When he spoke he sounded faintly uncertain, and faintly out of breath.
"Can I...ah, am I allowed to move?"
"Hagu-chan, these look so good!" Ayu turned the page to another sketch as Hagu rummaged for teacups in the kitchen cupboard. The drawings at the front of the book hurt a bit to look at--you could see the struggle in them--but the recent ones were much freer. The contour drawings, especially. "It is getting easier, right?"
"Yeah. Still hard. But easier."
"You can really tell from these. The pencil ones of the kitties are great." As if on cue Edvard, the white tom, padded into the kitchen and made a beeline for Ayu's shins. Ayu rubbed his belly with her bare foot and turned the page again, expecting another cat.
It wasn't a cat.
She stared at the drawing for half a second, thinking what is this what am I even--
Hagu jumped at the sound. Edvard fled across the room. "Ayu?! What's wrong?"
Gibbering, Ayu pointed at the sketchbook she'd flung across the table.
Hagu blinked at her, blinked at the sketchbook, then recoiled. Her face turned incandescent red as if in sudden recollection.
"Was it, um. Sh--Sh--"
Shuu-chan, she was trying to say.
Ayu covered her face with her hands. "Can't...unsee..."
"AAAAAH SORRY! Ayu! I'm sorry! I f-forgot that was in there, the rest are in a different--"
"The rest?" gurgled Ayu. "There's more?"
Hagu clapped a hand over her own mouth and looked in danger of self-combustion. The kettle on the stove began to wail, and then to shriek. With a panicked flail Hagu lurched to take the kettle off and pour the tea.
At length she brought the teacups to the table, taking shuffling footsteps, wilting as she set the cups gingerly down. "Um," she said. "Ayu--"
"It's not...that it was bad," said Ayu feebly. She was beginning to be ashamed of her reaction. Granted, teachers were teachers, even former ones, and you tended not to picture teachers naked (unless you were into that, or were cohabiting with one and using him as a convenient model, or both), but hurling Hagu's sketchbook across the table like it was some kind of filthy pornography--wasn't that a little much? Weren't they all grownups here? "I mean, the drawing. Was well done. I just wasn't expecting the, um. The--"
"Oh, hello, Yamada-san," said a voice from the hall. The source of the voice appeared in the kitchen doorway, fully clothed in his usual mode, cigarette in the crook of his lips. "I didn't know you were--"
The buzz of talk throughout the gallery receded as its co-owners stepped up to the mic.
"Is this thing on? Can everyone hear me?" Luigi paused for agreement from the crowd. "Fabulous. So, my brother and I would like to say a few words about this new installation. I think many of us here tonight know Hanamoto Hagumi not only for her painting, but for her courage. We know the level of adversity she's faced over the past year. For her to be able to come through that, to come back from it and create something like this, something so different from anything she's done before--it's just, I just, I don't have the words." Luigi dabbed at his eyes with an Yves Saint Laurent mini-scarf. "She's a treasure. We're so lucky to have her." He batted at his brother. "Here, you talk, I'm ruining my mascara."
Mario adjusted the mic. "Okay, full disclosure. When I first saw the initial work in this series, I thought, we have to have this. No question. No ifs, ands, or...ahem...buts. Because this is art. Wait, wait--stop laughing, you naughty people, let me--allow me to explain. Both of us, Luigi and I, we both know the gentleman who posed for this series, and he's an incredibly sweet man but--okay, this isn't a very nice thing to say, but I don't think either of us had ever looked twice at him before--"
"But oh my goodness," Luigi fanned himself, "are we looking twice now."
"Sensei, sweetie, are you blushing?" called Mario toward the back of the room. "He's blushing. No no, don't look at him, he's trying to fly under the radar."
"And anyway, as my brother said to me, that is what art does. It makes you see something, maybe something you thought you were completely familiar with, and not just see it but feel it, understand it, in a totally new way. Which is exactly what's happening here. So." Luigi raised his mini-scarf with a flourish, as if to lead off a race. "A round of applause, please, ladies and gentlemen, for an unsinkable artist and her revelatory work."