Still Life by Lush Jones

“You’ll have to spend at least two hours without any clothing,” said Professor Roberts on Sara’s voicemail, his voice brisk and friendly as if he were inviting her to a real estate seminar. As though spending time naked was so ordinary, it was an afterthought. Sara, on the other hand, had listened to the message seven times, yet so far that was the only sentence that had managed to sink in.

Growing increasingly mortified each time she heard those words, she finally grabbed a pen and a sticky note and wrote down the remaining details: Fill out paperwork in Personnel, followed by the first Life Drawing class at 10:00 in Dutchman’s Hall. Professor Roberts will be the instructor and there will be one ten-minute break. Bring a bathrobe.

Professor Roberts—Sara imagined an older, stooped man wearing a dusty jacket, pockets crammed with charcoal and pencils, sighing as he waved around a cigarette. Maybe professors had changed in the twenty years since she’d enrolled in art school. Or maybe not.

She’d certainly never imagined, when she herself had sat behind an easel and drawn countless undressed strangers, that she’d ever become one. Yet here she was, taking down notes about spending two hours naked in front of a room filled with college kids.

When Sara’s divorce was finalized, she had felt a sense of such profound relief that she’d overlooked a few key details about her finances…such as the disparity between her income and her bills. Money was tighter this year, and Sara was learning how to be creative with each dollar. She told herself this divorce was a good thing, forcing her to look for a better-paying job and stand on her own feet again. Divorcing Haven had been an excellent idea, but being poor was not. Reconciling those two concepts was never going to be easy, no matter how well she timed it.

While she polished her resume and crafted cover letters, her best friend had offered a suggestion. Ivy was a teacher at a local art school and she’d recently heard several colleagues complain about the lack of models for drawing classes.

“It used to be retired people and other students would jump at the chance to make some extra cash, but nobody wants to do it anymore. They’re all afraid it will end up on YouTube, I guess.” Ivy twirled a strand of curly red hair and pointed at Sara. “But I said I might know someone interested in posing for a few classes.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Sara snorted. “I’m thirty-nine years old, and I just legally dissolved my relationship with the last person to see me naked. I’m pretty sure that means I don’t want to stand in front of some kids half my age in my birthday suit. Plus, I’m a mother. Moms don’t pose nude.”

“Oh, please,” Ivy scoffed. “Nobody will ever find out. You could do day classes during the week and then pick up some weekend nights when Haven has the girls. They’re paying a hundred bucks a class.”

Sara had raised an eyebrow. “Right. They used to pay models twenty dollars back when I was in school.”

“I’m telling you, they literally can’t pay anybody to do it. You’d get hired right away!”

“Ivy, the last time a room full of people saw me naked, I was giving birth.”

“Come on,” Ivy urged. “You’re in fantastic shape; you’ve got the body of a thirty-year-old, and who cares anyway? They’re not having sex with you. It’s life drawing. It’s a bunch of people with charcoal, trying to get the shadow right on your elbow.”

Sara had shaken her head, but then the latest credit card statement had come in at the exact same time the mortgage was due. So she’d called Ivy and made the appointment to come in and interview. A friendly woman about ten years older than Sara had met with her, given her a brief once-over and smiled. “You’ll do fine.” She had winked. “It’s easy. Just take off your clothes and don’t move.”

That had sounded pretty easy. But now, listening to that message, Sara wasn’t so sure.

Still, she found herself reporting for duty the next morning after she dropped the girls off at school. She’d felt so weird getting ready. Did it matter what she wore to work when her job was getting naked? As she brushed her hair, she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. She was okay with her body. She was tall and slender with a curvy bottom, but naked and exposed in front of strangers? She wasn’t so sure. She brushed on a coat of mascara, threaded long silver hoops through her ears, and dressed in jeans and a silky white cotton T-shirt.

She kissed the girls goodbye, feeling a little Hester Prynne as she slunk off into the carpool lane, headed for her new life of vice. Too soon, she was standing at the door to the classroom, duffel bag in hand.

A tall man in his mid-forties with short silvery-brown hair arranged a cloth over some boxes in the center of the room. Stools and easels circled the boxes where, Sara realized, she’d be sitting. A thrill of horror shot through her as she looked at the soft linen sheet draping the surface her bare bottom might be sitting on moments from now.

She cleared her throat.

The man looked up. He had dark eyes and slightly flushed skin, and he smiled at her, extending a chambray-clad arm toward her. “Sara?” he surmised.

“Professor Roberts?” She stopped herself from saying, “I presume.”

He smiled again. “John.” He gestured as a couple of students entered the studio, motioning for them to enter. “They call me Professor, but you can call me John.”

Then he glanced up at the clock on the wall and nodded toward Sara’s bag, saying, “You can change in the ladies’ room and bring your bag back here.”

Sara bit her lip. “Sure.” She walked out into the hall and tried to catch her breath. She watched as girls who looked ridiculously young chattered as they headed into the classroom, toting heavy leather portfolios. She cursed herself for feeling ten times more insecure than they could possibly ever be.

She pushed open the door to the bathroom and entered a stall, fumbling with her clothes as if she’d just learned to undress. She shoved the shirt, jeans, panties and bra into the duffel bag and shook out the thick, fluffy robe. Somehow, she’d thought a giant, white robe would make her feel protected against the situation, but as she stepped out of the stall and looked at her reflection in the mirror, she just felt worse. Instead of looking casual, as if she’d just grabbed a simple wrap, she’d made it obvious how much she wanted to conceal.

Well, fuck it, Sara,” she said out loud in the mirror. And then, taking the deepest gulp of air she could find, she grabbed the duffel bag like a life preserver and left the bathroom.

When she entered the studio classroom again, she almost fainted. The class was full, all easels taken.

Professor Roberts was lowering the window blinds. “Nobody can see in,” he assured her with another kind smile, which should have made her feel better but didn’t. She stood frozen until he pointed to a small stack of metal cubes in the corner. “Please feel free to stash your stuff in one of those.”

She did, and then took a hesitant step toward the middle of the room.

She started sweating.

Glancing to her left, she spied a young man with a short blond ponytail, tattooed forearms and silver hoops in his eyebrows. He was laying out stubs of charcoal on his stool and whistling when he looked up and noticed her noticing him. He scanned her briefly, and then he nodded and looked toward the center of the room. “I think he’s ready for you,” Blondie said in a soft voice, pointing with a ringed finger to the center where Professor Roberts waited.

She blushed. This was horrible. She could not possibly do this. She’d have to explain. The humiliation would kill her, but if she could only leave this room right now she’d do anything.

“Sara?” Professor Roberts gestured to the boxes, acting as though nothing was out of the ordinary and his life drawing model was not about to run away or have a heart attack. “If you step over here, I’ll arrange your pose.”

Sara’s legs moved in spite of her brain, and she walked over to the boxes.

“Now, let me take your robe.”


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