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Imitators

I was admiring the aristocratic Grande Dame portrait on a Tuesday afternoon; a day when the Abruzzo Museum of Art History is hauntingly inactive and I’m free from the perturbed looks I get from the usual late-week crowd. I’m reluctant to admit, but somewhere along my embryonic development my Pavlovian wires got crossed and because of these ritual Tuesdays, I could just exist in my oddity. I would thank myself at the end of the week for getting this out of my system.

I was deep within myself and sure I was alone until you interrupted and said, I like what you’re doing with your face.

My face. A mirrored impression of the Grande Dame. I went ice cold as my brain was dedicated to manipulating my face back to its restful state. I searched for the memory of what that felt like a minute ago. I experienced the shift back to normalcy like a dense cloud allowing the sunbeams of consciousness to seep into my hair shafts and penetrate my skull. The softness returned to the angle of my lips and I was back. It took less than a second, but those moments live in eternity.

I knew exactly what you meant, but showed you I didn’t. You projected back that expression—one so full of contemptuous judgment only earned through a royal lineage. You replaced your effortless forehead with a notched streak—and you let that bottom lip hang. It looked like it weighed at least two pounds. Had my lip, too, been an impressive two pounds? Not as regal as the Grande Dame, I thought. My face shot hot red. A familiar feeling. I diverted eye contact.

No. No, you said. I liked it.

I didn’t realize I was doing that.

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to call you out.

It’s alright. It happens from time to time without my knowledge. It’s a little embarrassing.

I lied, I was very embarrassed. I smiled to show I had recovered, but this too was a lie. I was faltering.

It was an accident, I said. Most times people think I’m making fun of them.

So this is what you do? Will you try with me?

Well—I don’t think so. I don’t know you. And it doesn’t really happen like that.

Okay.

Okay.

You made it awkward by being so normal but really I was the only one who made it awkward. You walked away to admire some other painting. That’s it. I’ll never see you again. No, it’s okay, better this way in fact; he exposed you.

I stared back into the eyes of the portrait. Now this eighteenth century broad knew there was something wrong with me too. I felt her disappointment grow. Such a waste of a woman, she said through pinched lips; her French accent escaping. I focused intensely on the muscles in my face, making sure to keep them at rest, or at least my idea of what I thought that looked like. It felt like a frown. If you looked over at me maybe you’d just think I was studying the fine detail of the painting. Maybe you’d think I was a curator or a professor of Philosophical Theories of Art History at the University, if that class even exists—I don’t know, college was in my past. Maybe you’d think I was just a self-made woman with plenty of dough to spend my days being self indulgent and cultured. Shit. My face.

I went back to resting my muscles. I glanced to see if you had noticed, but what I saw sent a cruel chill up my spine.

You stood near—not really standing—with your body contorted in the most unnaturally beautiful way. I watched. Like a piece of art so striking and far superior to all that surrounds it, it commands your unwavering attention and dilates your pupils.

A strange elation filled me and I restrained a toothy smile. I had no intrinsic nature to reciprocate your posture; it only happens with subtle gestures—the reason it’s so easy for me to not notice. But it made me happy.

I was sure you heard my footsteps come up behind you, but you didn’t turn around. I was aroused by your seriousness and present, unflinching posture. What a game you played.

I began to arch my back as you had, fully conscious of my action. I raised my arms and twirled my fingers together like you. I bent at the knees as profoundly as yours.

My breathing became deep and I realized you must be in shape. I knew at this point you could feel my weighted breath on your neck. I had imagined your hair tingling on end—this vestigial trait left behind for one reason; a message that you wanted me as much as I wanted you.

The slowness of your head revolving to look at my body left my mouth watering. Eye to eye. I never wanted this to end—I tried not to blink.

You smelt amazing, yes, cedar and tobacco. I thought our breast bones could open impossibly to let the other in. Slower now, you transposed a form that reminded me of an ancient God-like sculpture. I imitated.

Your flux quickly developed; it was difficult to predict. Time surely had subsided to exist the more we fell in concord. These portraits and the hands behind them were born into an ineffable patience that hung many years in many different places—waiting for our exhibit. The Grande Dame smiled on us now.

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