If some say that we are created from dead stars, or that God cobbled us together from dust and ribs, I was made, and unmade, by the brush of paint. It is difficult now to remember who I was before I became a collection of sketches and watercolours. Before I became a life model, before I had the gaze of the artists deliciously pouring through my prickled, naked skin- I was nothing at all.
I loved to dance for them, my slow dance of poses and smiles, and loved to see myself replicated on all their papers and canvasses afterwards. “A little to the left,” the teacher would say, and with the gentlest of movements, their stares would intensify all over again, a new spotlight cast upon me. It was only when I saw myself decorating a hundred sketchbooks, all of them populated with my breasts, my hair, my fingertips and pubis, that I realised who I was. An object in my mind as well as theirs, I could finally see it: a Melanie who had long dark hair that twisted down her back like roots stretching in the soil, and eyes that could ensnare any man. Unafraid, glaring Melanie.
This picture, like all the rest of them, was a fiction. But I did not know that yet.
I had been a life model for about two years when I received the first picture. One morning, during breakfast, I heard something punching into the letterbox. It was a sheet of paper, rolled up many times, and uncurling it, I beheld an immaculate drawing of me sleeping, perfect in every detail. There was no message, or signature of any kind. How could any of the students know my address? I frowned, and threw the picture into the bin, hesitating for a moment when I saw just how pretty I looked in it.
It was not the only portrait I was to receive that week.
The following day, when I set off for work, I noticed that a man who was selling paintings on my road had a sketch that was just as detailed as the one that had been put into my letterbox. Only this time, I- and it was unmistakably me- looked like I was touching myself; I was licking my lips, orgasm-stricken, lost in fantasies. Horror shook me, and suddenly I did not feel like fearless Melanie. I did not even summon the courage to ask the seller where he had got the picture from- I just ran.
From that day on, I racked my brain to think who could possibly be the artist. I knew some of the students at the academy, but conversation was always a little difficult; they tended not to be able to look at me in the eye. I was, however, familiar with their work. I sometimes went to the school after hours with Mark, a teacher there who showed me the progress that his classes were making. I delighted in seeing the myriad versions of me, and so had to pretend to be interested in art, and Mark, a gangly man whose work was evidently his entire life, never seemed to notice my indifference as he explained all the different techniques and processes.
But these new portraits following me were so intricate, so precise, like documents of moments of come. They were unlike anything I had seen among the students.
A few days went by. One day, on a busy London bus, I had to squeeze through a mass of bodies to find a seat. A few minutes passed before I realised there was a new portrait sitting in my handbag, a paper once again rolled up. This one was different. In this picture, as intricate as the others, huge, bloody bruises were streaked across my face, and my eyes brimmed with tears of shock, looking out of the picture with absolute terror. My insides turned to ice, and I spun around, trying in vain to see who had placed it into my bag.
It could have been anyone. People gazed at their phones and Ipads with the practised indifference of the commuter, leaving me to crumple up the paper and surge back out of the bus in a panic.
I rushed to the academy, late though it was, and stormed through the dark classrooms. Seeing images of me strewn everywhere among the pencils and chairs, the whole enterprise suddenly struck me as grotesque, as if I had been violated with every picture. Swallowing hard, I began to inspect every student’s piece, seeing which one matched the style of my stalker. Frantically, I rummaged through the whole class’s compositions, and yet the more I looked, the more desperate I became. No one had the same style as the picture I had in my handbag, no one had the same attention to detail or delicate touch. I wailed and threw the portraits across the room, casting a carpet of papers on the floor, and finally sank down among all the pictures of me, sobbing.
After a while, my breaths slowed, and my mind quietened, hushed by the silence around me. Forcing myself to get up, I looked around the room to see if there was anything I had overlooked, and realised that there was a sketchbook I had missed on the main desk.
I opened it, and the breath was immediately taken from my lungs. On the first page was a drawing of me rummaging through the paintings, exactly like I had just done a few moments ago. Trembling, I turned over the leaf, and on the next page I was backing away from something, terrified, mouthing a scream. On the last, I was on the floor, a knife protruding out of my chest, blood inching out of me onto the floor in dazzling red.
I dropped the sketchbook, and then turned around violently at a sound behind me.
He was there, brandishing a knife, eying me intently like he had eyed me a thousand times before. Not a student, of course, but Mark the teacher, who had access to all my details. His gangly form was poised with concentration, his teeth clenched so hard it looked as if his neck had been sewn together from veins.
I stumbled back to the other side of the room, a shriek wrangling itself out of my tear-clogged throat, knowing I was replicating his drawing without having the capability to do otherwise. I was no longer any Melanie’s but his- I could see that in his terrible, unwavering gaze.
He frowned for a moment, picking up his sketchbook and darting his eyes from me to his artwork, as if unsettled that the Melanies were not matching. He closed one eye, and held up his blade, as if aligning his perspective, drawing lines in his mind. After a pause, he said simply:
“A little to the left.”