The Artist

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“Finally! Did you get lost on your way here? I’ve been waiting for ages!” The man, who in reality had been waiting for about twenty minutes, rolled his eyes as he folded himself into the back seat of her car. 

“I’m so sorry, sir, there was an acci-“

“Whatever, I don’t care about your excuses. More driving and less talking. I’m assuming you know how to read the little map on that phone of yours? Or will I need to give you directions in order to get there before I die of old age?” The man raised his long, spindly fingers in a circular motion, indicating she should get on with it. She saw the gesture in her rearview mirror, and fought not to roll her own eyes, swallowing a heavy sigh. He was one of those people. People who think the whole world not only revolves around them, but also think every person in it owes them something. Kyanne mentally kissed any hope of a decent tip goodbye and said to the man, “I sure do, if you can please buckle your seatbelt, we’ll be on our way.” The man, whose name was Robert according to the information on his ride request, but who looked more like a Dick to her with his pink bald head and beady little eyes, huffed dramatically and threw up his hands in mock surrender.

“Yes, yes of course, not like I have anywhere to be today.” He snatched the seatbelt across his slim frame and slammed the buckle into its slot with far more force than necessary. He looked up at Kyanne in the mirror once more and said, “There, happy? Can we go now?” 

She gritted her teeth, but experience in every form of customer service had taught her just what to say to get under the skin of people like Robert. Kill them with kindness her old boss used to say, and as it turned out, this was definitely the most effective way to combat behavior like Robert’s. She smiled and said simply, “Thank you,” as she proceeded into traffic. The man growled audibly under his breath and mumbled something that Kyanne was sure would not have been flattering had she been able to make it out. She felt a petty delight at his irritation, and made sure to do no more than the speed limit as she drove. She didn’t need the navigational system on the phone to get where they were going, she had been to the courthouse before. More times than she cared to admit, actually. She could have even taken a shortcut which would have shaved a good amount of time off of their trip and saved Kyanne gas as well, but she was just petty enough to be willing to sacrifice the extra quarter gallon or so it took in order to avoid getting Robert to his destination any faster than absolutely necessary. As she drove, she could hear his repeated and pointed groans and heavy sighs, the occasional “Jesus,” or “Oh, come on,” slipping between his thin, pink lips in a disgusted stage whisper which was clearly meant to agitate Kyanne but which actually made her giggle inside. This guy was too easy, right out of the narcissistic, entitled asshole textbook. He would definitely leave her a poor rating and no tip, but that would have been the case even if she had kowtowed to him and groveled the way he was clearly used to. At least this way, Kyanne was getting something out of it and keeping her dignity. Of course, dignity didn’t pay the rent, which was coming up due in a few days and for which Kyanne was several hundred dollars short. 

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She really needed to start painting again. That was the whole reason she had left the call center job she had been in for years. Driving for rideshare companies allowed her to make her own schedule and free up time for when she was feeling inspired, rather than hoping the spark would last until she got off work and that she wouldn’t be too exhausted to bring the inspiration to life. Robert got a call on his cell phone and answered it sharply, “I am on the way! It’s not like they can start without me, I am the prosecutor. I know, people are incompetent what can I say,” he said loudly, clearly indicating that she was part of the incompetent people he was referencing. They weren’t far now. A prosecutor, of course he was. The smell of expensive cologne, crisp lines on his suit collar, the man reeked of money, privilege and entitlement. Kyanne had spent her late teens and early twenties barely getting by. She had gotten into college by the skin of her teeth and had scraped by with average grades for the most part. It was her art that saved her, a scholarship based on talent and promise, and she had graduated with a BA, then promptly realized that after school ends, the appreciation for art and the opportunities for artists to make ends meet doing what they love narrowed vastly. She had taken the call center job to supplement her income and had sold some pieces on her website here and there, but nothing close to enough to call a full time career. 

Kyanne marketed herself under the name Kai. She felt like a gender neutral name gave her at least marginally more access to commissioned opportunities and this had been proven when she had briefly attempted to market her work under her full name. Instead of minimal inquiries, there had been none. After she dropped this douchebag off, she was going to go home and update her social media advertising. She hadn’t done so in weeks and getting the word out there was essential if she was going to have any hope of making this her full time job. She sighed quietly as she pulled up outside the familiar courthouse and Robert got out without a word to her, still yammering on his phone with someone, slamming her car door behind him for effect. She flipped him the bird as he walked away and logged out of her rideshare app. It was time to put some work into her passion. 

Just days later, Kyanne was elated to get an inquiry for a commissioned piece. She had made rent, barely, but she was already behind on her other bills. This would be just what she needed to catch up. The request was for a large canvas painting of the local skyline. Something generic but pleasing to the eye and not too aggressive of a color palette. Something to hang on an office wall, probably. This wasn’t unusual, though Kyanne really wanted to paint something inspired and creative, many of the commissioned works she received requests for were boring and passionless. But it was painting at least, and it would put food on the table and keep her lights on for the month. It might even allow her to have a little cushion for the following month if she was frugal. She had given an estimate for the painting which had been accepted quickly and had wondered if she should have asked for more.The company that was commissioning the work could clearly afford it. But done was done. The agreement was that the company would send a representative to come pick up the painting in one week. More time that Kyanne would really need for such a simple piece, even as massive as it was. She sighed and got to work, feeling depressed but trying to find hope in that she was at least moving toward doing what she loved.

The administrative assistant for the company emailed Kyanne a week later, asking her if the painting was ready. It had been for three days. She received a response thanking her for her time and letting her know their representative would be by that evening. She had the canvas wrapped and ready to go when there was a knock at her door. She opened the door with her best customer service smile plastered on and froze as she laid eyes on the man at her door. Middle aged, bald, so white that he was pink, tall and skinny with beady little eyes that gawked at her. Robert. Fucking Robert.

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“Where is Kai, the artist? I want to make sure his work is up to par before I pay for it. This is highly unprofessional.” 

Kyanne fought to keep her tone pleasant as she answered, “I am Kai, the artist. The canvas is wrapped and ready to go but I can certainly open it for you to take a look at as well, though I did send photos of the completed work to the office which were approved.” 

“Of course I want to see it, do I look stupid to you?”

Kyanne did not answer, just gestured for him to follow her. She unwrapped the painting for him and he mumbled under his breath, then looked at her.

“Look, lady, if I had been the one to see the pictures you sent, I would have absolutely declined. But,” he held up his hand as she took a breath in to speak, “ fortunately for you I wasn’t. I will not, however, be able to justify paying you the original agreed upon amount for this quality of work. It’s worth half that, and I am being generous”

Kyanne’s blood boiled. She had used that much in supplies alone to get the painting done. “No, Robert, that is not how contracts work. You should know that, as an attorney, right? Or do they not teach that part in prosecutor school?” She scorned

“They teach that and much more, young lady,” he said snobbishly, then looked around her apartment. “I can see that you are desperate so I will give you a choice. I will write you a check for half the amount we originally discussed and take the painting today, or I will refuse the painting and go back tomorrow to let them know we will be disputing your quality of work as not having met the terms of the agreement and you can have nothing. You could try to sue, I guess. But that would require being able to afford legal counsel. So, what do you say?”

Kyanne said nothing, only stared at him in disbelief. All at once, the weight of the world came crashing down on her shoulders. He was staring down his nose at her, smiling slightly, a self satisfied expression on his face. She was tired. So tired of being treated like scum of the earth, getting scraps from the table and being told to be grateful. For years, people like Robert had spoken down to her, mistreated her, underpaid her, overworked her and generally abused her in any and every way they could get away with. He nodded and said, “That’s what I thought. Relax, honey. It’s just art.” He reached into his inner jacket pocket and pulled out a checkbook. Kyanne saw him open it and brush off her counter as if it were dirty before he set it down and began filling it out. It was that moment, the moment his pen touched the paper, that Kyanne was absolutely rocked by inspiration so intense and clear that she struggled to breathe for a moment.

“You know, Robert. I really should thank you,” Kyanne said as he scrawled the pitiful numbers one the check he was writing. He grunted, not even looking up at her. She continued, “I haven’t felt this inspired for a new idea in a long, long time.” She drew out the phrase sexily, purring out the words. Her whole body was vibrating with need, and yes, there was something sexy about it, though the need was not sexual. She needed to paint, her fingertips thrummed with it. And she was going to try a new medium for this one. Smiling, Kyanne picked up her paintbrush, twirled it expertly in her fingers and laughed. The laugh was dark and throaty, and at the sound of it, Robert paused mid signature. He looked up at Kyanne, a wolfish grin beginning to spread on his face. She saw lust ignite in his small, ugly eyes as he looked her up and down. She smiled wider, an inviting smile, and Robert moved closer to her. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. Kyanne looked up at him and thought, kill him with kindness. She pounded the handle of her paintbrush squarely into his left eye, feeling it give with a luscious popping sensation. Robert screamed, a high keening noise that made Kyanne laugh again, this time with something near elation. He fell to his knees, jerking away from her and his spidery hands fluttered about his face and newly mangled eye as he wailed wordlessly. Kyanne knew that this much noise wouldn’t escape notice for long, even in this neighborhood, and she had to be allowed to paint. She couldn’t afford to be interrupted. Still smiling, she kicked Robert in his narrow chest and he went over backward, knocking the air out of him and silencing him for a moment. Kyanne grabbed the large butcher knife from the block on her counter, her muse not just singing now, but screaming at her to paint, paint, paint! Robert took in a breath to scream, but as Kyanne dragged the blade across his throat, all he managed was a strangling gurgle. His one remaining eye was wide with agony and what looked like disbelief. He was untouchable, this wasn’t supposed to happen to people like him, people who run the world. 

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Kyanne’s smile grew impossibly wider as she looked down at him, ignoring the light going out in his eyes as she watched the red flow from him. “Relax, honey. It’s just art,” she said, and jerked her paintbrush from his eye. She had painting to do, and a whole new medium to try. 

Three months later, Kyanne lounged languidly in the sun, sipping an ice cold margarita on the rocks. She marveled at how her life had changed. Robert would have been turning over in his grave, if he had one, she thought, smiling. The series of pieces she painted following his death were all a rusty monochromatic theme, but the passion in them was something that thundered in the hearts of the art community and ultimately made her an overnight sensation, not to mention heartily wealthy. She had spent a solid two weeks painting with what remained of Robert, refrigerating the liquid to keep it from coagulating, then sealing the fragile medium under a durable lacquer to keep its integrity, and hide the tinny smell. His husk had been drained as dry as she could get it before she dumped him, tossing him off a bridge and into the river, knowing he’d be carried out to sea. So far, he had not been found and no one had come knocking on her door to ask about him either. Kyanne had time to paint, and inspiration still flowing freely, though she thought she would stick to acrylic and oil paints as mediums for her future work. At least for now, 

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