I met Suki in my life-drawing class, back when she’d already quit her job and had all that other shit happen, but still had both boobs. I figured she was working on improving herself — taking some classes, traveling, doing the things she’d always wanted to do when she retired. You really shouldn’t put those things off, that’s what I was always telling her. Because you never know.
I wasn’t an artist myself at the time; I was working. You probably think you need to be pretty or skinny or hot to be a life-drawing model but that’s total bull. All you really need to do is keep still and hold it. Not everyone can do this. When I was first learning to model, someone told me: you don’t go to the art, you let the art come to you. I liked that. And that’s the hardest part: learning to hold yourself as you are, just so. Not that I’ve never had a problem keeping still. I once watched all three Lord of the Rings movies back-to-back with my boyfriend—Neal I think that was, or maybe Mark—and he had to keep getting up to stretch, saying his ass was numb, or his foot had fell asleep, but I was completely fine, no problemo.
Suki wasn’t the best artist in the class, not by a mile. But she’d gotten her best drawings framed real nice and had them hanging in the hallway of her home like some kind of gallery, like some real artist had done them. There’s something about a frame that just makes art look more like art. People see some squiggly lines or blots of color all mounted and framed and they just think, well, that’s the real thing. That’s art. How much does that cost?
I don’t think I’d really noticed Suki, drawing me, until the week she came up after class and went, “Hey, do you want to go for coffee?” I didn’t answer straight away because her smile was almost too wide, like her upper lip might split if it tried to close back over all those white teeth. Then she went. “C’mon, my treat.”
We walked over to the Bean Scene, cold trying to shiver down my collar, and Suki’s face turning the color of skim milk. I ordered a hot chocolate and a health-nut vegan cookie—nothing too expensive. Suki got a muffin and an Americano and then hunched over it like it was a campfire. She’d yanked her wool hat off and static was making her hair waft upwards like smoke, but she didn’t take off her coat. She was always cold, she said, always freezing. She said, “I hate winter.”
So I went, “This isn’t winter. Winter is Northern Alberta.”
Suki said her job was marketing for a bunch of the local wineries and I said, “Wow, you must get lots of free wine!” She laughed a little—she could actually look a bit pretty when she laughed. She said she quit drinking when she got cancer.
I went, “Cancer is a bitch.” I’d seen that on a T-shirt. Suki didn’t laugh this time, she just nodded real slow and went, “Ya, it is. Cancer’s a bitch.”
After that, she shook her head like there was something loose and rattle-y in it and said, “But hey, how about you, Kaylee? What do you do?” She’d say my name like it was two names, Kay-Lee, with an emphasis on both. I kind of liked it. “Tell me about you, Kay-Lee.”
Not much to say, really. My mom still lived in Fort Mac with my brother and I’d come out here because I was fed up with the guys there, plus I was sick of the cold and flies, plus I wanted to make something of myself. I’d dropped out of school after I almost failed grade 11 because what did I need school for when there was plenty of good money to make right away? So I worked in the Mac for three years and got some money saved away and here I was now, wasn’t I, living the dream. And no one was going to make me move back home when I was here, doing just fine, thank you very much. That’s what I told Suki.
I also told her I had a good job working the till at Quality Greens and I was really happy I’d stayed in Kelowna and not gone back when my brother said he could get me work as a cook out at his camp. And that was all mostly true because I was happy, and my brother had said he could get me that job. The only thing was, I didn’t have my job at Quality Greens any more, which is why I needed the life drawing classes. But who knows, maybe I could get it again. Life’s like that. I think the night manager kinda overreacted. I should just ask if they are hiring. Crazier things have happened.
Suki was 36 and she didn’t have any kids and that was a good thing because she and her husband had split last year and he’d moved to Vancouver and now he wanted a divorce so he could marry someone else. I was like, “Whoa! You have cancer and your husband ditched?” And she was like, “I know, right?” Then she went, “No, no, it wasn’t like that. This is something we both wanted. Besides,” she went, “I got the house.” Then she started prying the chocolate chips out of her choco-banana muffin with a long, pink thumbnail.
In the spring, I got a job helping a lady who sold quilts and baby booties at the farmer’s market, so that was something. Plus the director at the gallery said he thought I was doing great as a regular for the life model class, although it doesn’t pay much. For the drawing class, they like to rotate different people through to give the artists the chance to draw different bodies. But by then I was modeling for a painting class and for that they need to paint the same person each week, standing the exact same way each time. It actually gets easier and easier. After a few weeks, that pose was pretty much my resting position. I’d be in line at Safeway or waiting for the bus and I’d notice I was cupping my right elbow in my left hand, and resting my chin on the knuckles of my right hand my gaze fixed solemnly on the middle distance, as the instructor put it. It was pretty comfy. The amazing thing was all the places people were painting me. One guy had me standing naked in a leafy jungle with big, bright birds and an archway of flowers over my head. Someone else had me standing in a window of an apartment building, high, high up, looking out over New York City with the Statue of Liberty in the background. An older lady in the class was painting me from behind so I was looking out over the ocean at night-time, the big ol’ moon trying to spill all its yellow into the black sea with the stars winking down, like they were in on the joke. Imagine me, Kaylee Stuart, gazing out over the ocean, visiting exotic lands. I’ve never even been to Vancouver.
Suki wasn’t taking the painting class, but I’d still see her when I modeled for beginner drawing and we’d go for coffee. By the time fall rolled around, we’d gotten to know each other pretty well. When I got kicked out of my apartment at the end of September, Suki offered for me to stay with her for a few days until I found a new place. Let me tell you, Suki’s place is amazing. It has four bedrooms, five bathrooms, a pool and a hot tub. Suki and her husband built it when they first moved out from Toronto. It’s right on the water with a view straight down Okanagan Lake, a big dock jutting out from the lower patio like a tongue trying to lap it all up. Suki said she’d never leave that place, not for love or money. She’d die there if she could. They could just roll her down the ramp and off the end of the dock with stones in her pockets like a virgin wolf.
She said all that after I’d talked her into smoking up with me.
“Smoke pot?!” she said. “Marijuana?!” You’d have thought I was suggesting we cut off some body parts and make them into slushies.
I figured, the thing about Suki was, she’d married so damn young. She was pretty much my age when she’d met Douche-Bag Dan, and they’d lived this perfect little life together all those years, but they hadn’t actually lived. I said, “Well, you don’t drink Suki, don’t you want to have a little fun?”
We were lying out on the deck beside the pool before supper watching the bats zigging and zagging after the bugs where the water was stroking the beach. It was almost October but the day had been hot enough that the concrete underneath our towels was giving back the heat it had been hoarding all day. Suki sat up and looked at me. “Did you bring marijuana into my house, Kay-Lee?” She let her bottom jaw hang open. “You’re telling me you’ve brought drugs into my home?”
Watching Suki trying to smoke was funny as hell. Everything she did was like something she’d seen in a movie, screwing her eyes shut when she inhaled and pinching the spliff to her lips. “Hell, Suki,” I said. “You don’t need to hold it like you’re picking a zit!” It kicked in pretty fast for Suki and I had to take it away from her and tell her to go slow. After a few minutes, she sat up, pulling the towel over her shoulders and reached her hand towards me, her fingers curling open and shut. Gimmee, gimmee. I passed her the joint and she took a toke, closing her eyes again, her face going all blissed out and soft. She looked retarded. I said, “Jeez, Suki, do you two need to get a room?
She started giggling and that set me off and soon we were laughing so loud you could probably have heard us all the way down the other end of the lake. Suki had a dog named Butch Cassidy who was so ancient he barely ever moved, but we were hooting so loud, Butch Cassidy dragged his ass out of his nasty basket and waddled out on the deck to check on us.
Suki reached over and pulled Butch Cassidy into her lap, bending her face to kiss him on the wrinkly patch between his ears. She told me she and Dan had got Butch Cassidy after they found out they couldn’t have kids. I could scarcely stand that dog, he just smelled like he was half in the grave. But for Suki, you could tell, he was everything.
“You know what I’m telling myself these days, Kay-Lee?” Suki said. “I’m saying, Suki, you need to seize every opportunity that comes your way. You need to leverage all the chances you get. Because they might never come again.”
“Jesus, Suki. “ I reached over to take the joint from her before it started to smell like dog. “This is just B.C. bud, Suki. Not a night with Ryan Gosling. I have more of this in my bag.”
“Seriously Kay-Lee. I’m not just saying this. I need to start taking action. I need to seize the day. I need to live my life.”
I exhaled. We were veering into cancer-talk, I could tell.
“True,” I said. “Have you ever gone skydiving? Or how about rock-climbing? You have the body.” I rolled on my side to get a better look at her. She was pretty hot for her age. “Maybe you should be a life-drawing model, put your goods on display for others to enjoy.”
Suki snorted and lay back down, Butch Cassidy curling in the scoop beneath her rib cage.
“I was thinking more like going to Bali,” she said. “You know, like in that book. You know the one I mean.”
Her hand reached up to stroke the dog, who had started to snore. The heat was gone from the cement beneath us and I was getting hungry, but I still didn’t want to go inside. The sky, the hills, the lake—they were a dozen shadowy shades of blue all blurring into one. I should be the one painting, I thought. I had the eye.
“Dan and I never travelled much,” Suki said. Her voice was smoky. “Dan hated flying. We mostly took ski vacations, or we’d drive to Palm Springs.”
I was thinking of the painting of me in the jungle. Bali sounded jungle-y.
“You should go,” I said. “I can look after your place. And Butch Cassidy.” My nose went wrinkly without me even meaning to do that, although Suki couldn’t see. But she sat up again when I said that, sending Butch Cassidy tumbling and grumbling back into her lap.
She looked over at me. “You would do that?”
“Sure,” I said, and I stubbed out the roach on the pool deck.
I met Joe a few days later when I was taking Suki’s recyclables to the bottle depot for cash. It’s actually not as bad as you’d think, Suki not being a drinker, because she only drinks mineral water and organic juice, plus she only buys milk out of glass bottles and those are worth $1.50 a pop. Joe was a chef who’d just quit his job at Original Joes, which cracked me up so hard when he first told me. After that, Joe could always make me laugh just by saying, “Whaaaaat?!?” Then he’d start rolling up his sleeves, clenching his hands into fists, and beating his chest, and say, “Hell no, I’m the original Joe!”
Joe lived in a real nice carriage house downtown with two other roommates and they were looking for someone else to split the rent, so I moved in when I’d only known him a week. Suki said it was the same thing with her and Dan. When you know you just know, she said. I introduced Suki to Joe when we went back to collect some of my things at Suki’s. One of Joe’s ideas was to hold cooking classes in people’s homes and Suki told him she had just done a cooking class exactly like that, only it was at a winery on the West side. She thought it was a pretty great idea.
“You’re really lucky,” she told me at drawing class a few days later. “He seems like a good guy.”
The way I saw it, Joe and I both had brains that did their thinking the same way. I’d had boyfriends before who got jealous and didn’t like my line of work, taking off my clothes in front of a bunch of artist-wannabes. But Joe got the gist of it right away, even getting me to put his name down if they ever needed a male model, which I told him I’d done even though I didn’t. I knew Joe better than that. He couldn’t sit still for 30 seconds without getting twitchy. He’d never make it in the art world.
Joe’s big dream was to do pop-up restaurants. He’d read about these in Vancouver and Calgary and said he was going to bring them to Kelowna. “We’ll be the first,” he’d say, hunched over the coffee table in his boxers, jotting down ideas for menus and making lists of things he’d need.
I had to get him to walk me through it. “What do you mean by pop-up?” I asked. “How can a restaurant just pop up? How do you get tables and chairs? Where do you actually cook? How do people know where to go?”
Joe explained how you build up a network of people using social media and then just give them the date of the next dinner, but don’t tell them where until the very last minute. He’d start small, he said; maybe try a few at our place or maybe at City Park while the weather held. I couldn’t tell anyone, Joe said, because in order for pop-up restaurants to work they had to be secret until the very last minute. That was part of their mystique.
Joe also knew everything there was to know about computers and the internet. When his roommates, Jake and Feather, bought an old Volkswagen van and went camping for all of August, he showed them how to put their bedroom on Airbnb.com, then they split the money they made 50-50 because Joe had managed the bookings. Then in September, when they got back, they put the camper van on Airbnb for $40 a night, just parked in the lane behind the house.
Suki by then had gotten real serious about Bali, and Joe was all for helping her book a good place through Airbnb. “These are real people’s homes,” he told her, “All over the world. You’d get the real experience.”
Suki wasn’t so sure. “Thanks Joe,” she said, “but I think I’d rather be in a hotel so I can meet some other people.”
Before booking her ticket, she went to the doctor for a whole bunch more tests then spent the next week worrying she’d be getting bad news. Eventually, the doctor said everything looked fine and she was good to go. No more excuses.
Joe and I drove her to the airport the day after Remembrance Day. The temperature had dropped below freezing so the road was slick out by Suki’s. Frost had given some spiky hair-dos to the scruffy grass along the highway. Suki was chewing her lip so hard I thought she might eat it by accident. She sat in the back seat with her luggage because Joe’s chef stuff took up the whole trunk. She kept playing with the zipper on her big suitcase, open and shut, open and shut, mumbling things to herself and then saying, “Oh, Suki!”
I got out to say goodbye to her outside the departures door. “Everything’s gonna to be fine,” I said. Suki bit her lower lip and made her eyes bug out and popped her eyebrows up so that her forehead looked like Butch Cassidy’s. Then she nodded and said the same thing she’d been saying for weeks now. “Suki is seizing the day.” Then she marched into the airport yanking her big bag behind her.
The first thing we did was clear everything out of our room in the carriage house and move into Suki’s so we could put our room downtown on Airbnb. Then we realized we could probably get much more if we rented out the whole carriage house, so Feather and Jake moved out to Suki’s place too. They were stoked. Feather loves animals, so she could look after Butch Cassidy and scoop up his gross yellow shit, which I was happy about. Then someone, Joe probably, pointed out that we might as well rent out the two other rooms in Suki’s place, because they were just sitting empty. They even had their own bathrooms.
I emailed Suki and told her I was thinking of having Lonnie, one of the other life-drawing models over for dinner. Would Suki be okay with that? Her email came back in the middle of the night, which just goes to show you that the world really is round after all. Of course, Suki wrote back. Mi casa es tu casa. Joe said that means: my home is your home. That was good enough for us.
Joe made up a fancy page on the Internet, then posted the dates for the pop-up dinner on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But first he unfriended Suki, not because he didn’t consider Suki to still be his friend, just that he didn’t want her to feel she was missing out on anything at her place while she was away experiencing a completely different culture.
We also invited the older man and the couple who were renting the extra rooms at Suki’s. They all said yes. We already knew: they were having a wonderful stay. They had already said so in the review we’d asked them to write for Airbnb.
The older man had brought his husky-mutt cross to stay at Suki’s, because Joe had said on the website that our property was pet-friendly. That dog was pretty hyper and had done some humdinger shits on the beach. “We should keep the dogs shut away downstairs during the dinner,” Jake suggested. Fine by me. I’d have been happy keeping them down there all the time.
Joe whistled when he saw me in the silky dress I borrowed from Suki’s closet. It probably was long and loose on her but on me it was pretty tight and sexy, especially after eating half of the mini-cheese toasts Joe made up for appies. I found Suki’s jewelry box beneath some scarves and belts in the bottom drawer of a second dresser at the back of her closet, so I accessorized with a necklace and some earrings that I bet Suki bought to go with that dress. I felt like a movie star. She has a huge shoe collection too, but try as I might, I couldn’t find any heels that I could cram my feet into.
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything so yummy as Joe cooked that night. He was super stressed, I could tell, and sometimes got a bit chippy with me when I was chatting too much and not carrying things out to the table lickety-split. But after dessert was done and me, Jake and Feather had cleared things back to the kitchen, Joe came out and sat with everyone. Then we all moved on to the living room, turned up the music, cranked up the fireplace and opened more wine, this stuff on the house. I figured, Suki wasn’t drinking any more. With her job, she probably got all that wine for free anyhow. It got hot in that living room with that big fire roaring. I was the first one to jump in the pool, but pretty soon everyone else had peeled off their clothes and was floating around in the dark, all of those stars twinkling down on us like they were glad to see people happy for a change.
By the end of the night, after the other guests had left, everyone staying at Suki’s was pretty high or pretty hammered, especially the older guy on his own. I found him leaning against a wall in the corridor, his stubby finger hovering over the pictures, tracing the curves of the bodies Suki had done in life-drawing class. I stood and watched him for a bit, cupping my right elbow in my left hand, my chin on my knuckles, until he stepped in front of the sketch of me, his finger stroking the air above my boobs.
I couldn’t keep quiet.
“Those are mine,” I said, giggling.
His finger paused and he turned to look at me.
“All yours?” he went, glancing down the hallway. I knew what he meant, but it just struck me as hilarious because I am actually quite well endowed.
“All mine,” I went. “Every last one of them.” I did a little twirl in the hallway, my socks sliding like skates on the wide-plank floors. My wide-plank floors. “All mine.”
Feather didn’t think to check on the dogs until morning. By then the big dog had done two of his huge turds on the carpet and there was a big wet patch by the door. Worse, he and Butch Cassidy had had some kind of scrap. Butch Cassidy had blood matted in the fur below his throat and barely moved when Feather went to pick him up.
“Fuck,” I said to Joe when I got home from the vet’s. “Fuck-fuck-fuck. What am I going to tell Suki?”
Joe was pretty hung over and just put a pillow over his head. “It’s the middle of the night in India,” he said. “Email her after you’ve had some sleep.”
And wouldn’t you believe it? Suki got a blood clot in her lungs in Bali. We got a call from the hospital in Denpasar that evening, after we’d finally gotten out of bed and were starting some of the clean up. When they finally let Suki out of the hospital, she emailed me and told me to get Joe to set me up on Skype, so we could talk properly, face-to-face. By the time we got it working, it was almost dinnertime for me and mid-morning for Suki.
“I’m okay now,” she said, “but I was having all this trouble breathing for days. I thought it was anxiety. They found the clot just in time. I probably got it because of my cancer drugs, or maybe because of the long flight. But I’m so lucky. That could have been it for me. Curtains. Kaput.”
She did that pop-out thing with her eyes. It was funny being able to see Suki, looking all skinny and pale, millions of miles away. I just nodded and looked as serious as I could.
“Who knows when they’ll let me fly home,” she said. “I just can’t believe it.”
Then she said: “How’s Butch Cassidy? I thought he’d want to see me. Can you get him? Let’s see what he does when he hears my voice.”
Joe and I moved to Fort Mac to find work that winter, but I headed back to Kelowna after we broke up and I had some money of my own. Last I heard, Joe was actually doing pretty good with his pop-ups in The Mac, which just goes to show, you should always go after what you want. Back in Kelowna, I got a job working again at the art gallery of all places. The director, Jason, remembered me from my modeling days—I always knew he had a thing for me. I don’t do any modeling any more; he got me a job working at the ticket desk. It didn’t pay so great, but one of the perks was that you could take any of the classes for free. I took painting, of course. I’ve always liked colored art the best. And Jason says I’ve got real talent, my abstract work especially. He’s sent photos of my stuff to some of his art buddies and a couple of them actually bought some paintings. Jason is pushing me to get together enough stuff for an exhibit, the kind with prices listed underneath each piece. Wouldn’t that be something.
And here’s the crazy thing. Suki is now a life-drawing model at the gallery. I saw her name on the list of special subjects. Last week she must have posed for the advanced charcoal class because some of their best sketches are tacked up on the walls in the classroom. I’m absolutely positive the drawings are of Suki, still scrawny as all get-out, stark naked and just the one boob.
It’s been months since I’ve seen her for real. I’ve wanted to talk to her ever since that situation last December when she finally got back from Bali and she made a big scene on the steps of our carriage house downtown, yelling Kay-Lee, Kay-Lee and banging on the door. Jake finally let her in, just to shut her up, and he got her to calm down. He said I wasn’t home, but really I was hiding in Feather’s closet.
“Did. They. Think. I wouldn’t. Find out?” She was heaving out the words, like she’d just surfaced from a deep dive. I could imagine her chest puffing in and out like an Olympic swimmer. “Joe invited the winemaker, from House of Rose, to his fucking dinner, for Christ sake. Did they think I wouldn’t find out about people, strangers, in my house? Joe is a scumbag, a scumbag. And Kay-Lee…” Her words trailed away.
She was sobbing, I realized. For a moment I considered going out and confronting her. I even went so far as to turn the knob and push open the closet door, just a crack. Then I thought, she was calming down, wasn’t she? She’d stopped all that shouting. Me walking into that living room wasn’t going to make anything better and would probably make it worse.
What I’ll probably say to Suki now that some time has gone by, and if I ever bump into her at the gallery, even if I’ve been trying not to, is that I’m sorry about her dog. I didn’t mean for him to die. But I’d also remind her: she was the one who kept saying, seize every opportunity, chances come along for a reason and they may not come again. All those things are true.
Maybe I’ll duck into the back of the class while she’s modeling some time and see what happens. I’m sort of curious about what the scars look like where her other boob used to be, and also whether she’s any good at modeling. Would she twitch if she saw me? I wonder. You really can’t move even a quarter-inch when you’re a life-drawing model, not if you’re good at it. Like I’ve always said, keeping still takes real talent, real skill. That’s the work of it—being you. Being the shape that you are, then holding it, just so. Letting the art come to you.
Chosen by: Melissa Wade, Editor-in-Chief
I become obsessed with stories that come with a soup of quirks, and this one has a motley medley of just such: life-drawing models + pop-up restaurants + AirBNB betrayals + disgusting descriptions of dog shit. But what really endeared this story to me was the voice, which is one of those voices you can distinctly hear in your head, one that makes the character everything that it is, one that allows the narrator her meandering journey to get to the payoff ending. And not to forget, I discovered this piece at our midnight hour, with selection deadlines looming. I tossed it in the ring at the last minute and it impressed.
Art: Dmitry Borshch, “Hand Studies 1” Phoebe Issue 49.1