By Damyanti Biswas
From a distance, she took him for a boy. But on looking closer, Laura knew him for a boy-sized man, one of those people nature chooses to sport with.
She felt a gush of rage. She wanted to gather him up in her soft arms and tell him he looked good in his charcoal blue librarian’s uniform, his pale moustache, his curly head of hair, the way he smiled at the girl in front of her in the queue. When the girl walked off, Laura stepped up to the counter, and gave the boy-man her best smile.
Jasper, his nametag said. No surname, just Jasper, looking lonely.
“I have a few problems I’d like your help with.” Laura leaned over the counter, hoping to give Jasper a good view of her cleavage.
He smiled, his gaze not sliding down from her face, and said, “Sure, how may I help you?”
He pronounced the word ‘help’ separately from the other words, with a pause before and after. So he had chastised her, asked her to take her boobs off the table and focus on the work at hand. She showed him the book she had reserved, the receipt, bearing her name, and the title, ‘Georges Seurat, 1859-1891: The Master of Pointillism.’
He looked at his computer and nodded, “Just give me a minute.”
Jasper rose, his eyes still on his screen. He didn’t ask her if she was an art student, or smile.
“No wait, Jasper,” she said, her voice low and hoarse, as if about to confess a secret, “I have another problem.”
“Sure, tell me.” Jasper sat down again, his head still bent towards the screen.
In the distance, Laura heard cars screech to a halt, sirens. A door opened and shut somewhere behind the counter.
“You see,” Laura rustled the pictures in her book, Degas’ ballerinas, all twisted and bump-curvy, “There’s a tear in this, I want to make sure it’s repaired.”
“Sure, I’ll see to it.”
“There won’t be any charges?”
“Did you cause the tear?” Jasper looked at her for the first time, his gaze like that of a pigeon, curious, side-eyed.
“No, of course not. I noticed it, and didn’t want to drop it back with the tear.”
On the torn page, a bare breast looked up at them, like a peach pudding, its nipple red like a maraschino cherry.
“I’ll get your book now.” Jasper swallowed and turned away.
Laura stood there, under the air-conditioning, surrounded by rustles of newspaper, the hushed laughter of children, the whistling of a call tune instantly smothered. She pictured herself a wife at home in a blue apron, baking. But instead of Rashid who warmed her bed these days, she saw Jasper enter the kitchen, the poor little boy-man.
A shrivelling happened to all the men who slept with her. She sucked them up, heart, innards and all, and spat them out. They diminished as her painting grew, their life-blood colored her canvases. A witch, that’s what she was, but she wouldn’t take this one. She marched off, leaving the torn book at the counter, the balled-up receipt of her reserved book in her hand.
As she walked out to the entrance, she heard a stage whisper behind her. “Laura,” the boy-man called back to her, like a hoarse talking bird, “Laura, come back.”
She didn’t stop. She would paint Jasper this morning, and using all of an artist’s witchery, she would give his handsome face a befitting body.
Damyanti Biswas’s short fiction has been commended at the Bath Flash Fiction award. She’s published at Bluestem magazine, Griffith Review Australia, Lunch Ticket magazine, and other journals and anthologies in the USA, Malaysia and Singapore. Her debut novel in progress is longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, 2015.