Still Life

“Are we going to sit here and watch all day, or are you going to talk to her?” the photographer asked while clicking away shot after shot. “We’ve been sitting here nearly two hours.”

Jimmy Stone writes feel good stories for the Daily Register about peculiar people and the lives they lead. The quirky, the little knowns, and the obscure citizens of the off-beaten path are his forte. Jimmy lifted the small binoculars to his face and watched the Navajo artist work. “In a little bit,” he replied. “She’s amazing to watch. Have you noticed that she talks to herself while she paints?”

“Oh, she does that all the time,” the server said as she started filling his coffee cup for the umpteenth time.

“What do you know about her?” Jimmy took a moment to read her name off the plastic tag pinned to her uniform, “Rachel.”

“Not much,” the waitress replied. “She sets up in that same spot almost every day and paints.”

“Have you ever talked to her?”

“I’ve tried,” Rachel said and leaned over the table. “I think she’s kinda crazy.”

“Why do you say that?”

“She thinks she is painting her friend.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“She thinks her friend is sitting there modeling.”

“Is that who she’s talking to?”

“You got it,” Rachel said. “I took her a bottle of water one day and she kept offering it to someone named Maxine who was supposedly sitting on that bench, but there was nobody there."

Jimmy lifted the field glasses again and studied the artist. He looked over at the photographer and said, “Well, come on, Stan. This story isn’t going to write itself. Let’s get over there and have a chat with this painter.” He tossed a ten dollar bill on the table and said, “Thanks for the information, Rachel. Look for this story in the Register next week. I might even mention you.”

Rachel picked up her money and said, “You leave me out of this, okay!” She turned and quickly headed into the kitchen.

“Wow,” Stan exclaimed. “That seemed kind of rude.”

“Yeah, and after I tipped her way too much,” Jimmy replied.

They left the diner, strolled across the street and stood behind the artist watching her work. Jimmy admired how quickly she brushed acrylics across the canvas, paying strict attention to the subject’s eyes, blue as the Hope Diamond and just as cold.

“She’s beautiful,” Jimmy said.

“Yes, she is,” the artist replied, not missing a brush stroke and without looking back to see who stood at the other end of the short conversation.

“What’s her name?”

The artist lowered her brush and looked back at the reporter. “Why do you want to know?”

“Sorry,” he said. “I am a reporter for the Daily Register and I’d like to do a story on you and your model.”

The artist’s almond colored skin set a sharp contrast to her glacier white smile. She turned back to the bench and said, “Did you hear that, Maxine? This guy wants to put us in the newspaper.”

Jimmy and Stan exchanged curious glances, betraying their shared disbelief. The reporter slid a chair beside the artist. He pulled a small recorder from his shirt pocket and placed it on the table beside them. “Do you mind if I record this? It’s easier than taking notes.”

“No, not at all.”

“So… Tell me your name,” he began.

“Doba,” she replied. “Doba Littleberry. I’m Navajo from Indian Wells, Arizona.”

“And, uh… your friend—what’s her name?”

“Maxine Davis.” Doba replied, before turning her head back towards the empty bench and saying, “It’s okay, Maxine. I trust him.” Doba turn back to Jimmy and asked, “What else did you want to know?”

Jimmy spent the next thirty minutes listening to Doba talk about her history, her art, and her friend Maxine. Occasionally she would turn back to an empty bench and smile like a lovesick school-girl. He learned that Maxine and Doba had been lovers and moved here two years ago from Winslow, Arizona.

“You must know that we don’t see your friend, Maxine,” Jimmy risked a shutdown from his interviewee.

“Yes,” she offered without delay. “Nobody can. That doesn’t mean she isn’t there.”

Jimmy reached over to turn off the recorder and said, “I think I have enough for the story."

Doba smiled and asked, “You’ll let me know when it runs, right?”

“Of course.”

Jimmy smiled and watched Doba go back to work. She was a skilled artist and oblivious to onlookers as she brought the brilliance of love to canvas.

That evening, Jimmy sat reading his research. He was deep in the creative process, formulating how best to spin the story, when the phone rang. It was Stan.

“Jimmy,” the anxious voice on the other end started. “You need to pick up your email.”

The reporter clicked on the email from his co-worker and studied the attached photo. A gray translucent mist formed a barely visible outline of a woman sitting on the bench across from Doba Littleberry. “What the hell?” Jimmy exclaimed.

“That’s what I saw when I downloaded the picture.”

“Check this out.” Jimmy started reading from his research. “Maxine Davis, a young student from Winslow, Arizona, was killed by a stray bullet in front of Danny’s Diner, another innocent victim of local gang wars. That was a little over a year ago. She was sitting in that same bench.”

“Wow.” Stan muttered. “How are you going to do write this story?”

After a short pause Jimmy replied, “I’m going to write it with the headline: Artist Paints Undying Love—Literally.

Ω

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