No One Likes A Critic by Debb Bouch

“It ain’t right yet. Seems like there’s something missing. I just ain’t worked out what yet. What do you think?”

I shudder.

“It’s gruesome enough. Does it have to be quite so…bloody?”

A smile crawls slowly up his face, never quite reaching his eyes.

“Hadn’t pegged you for squeamish. It’s only nature. You know…red in tooth and claw.”

I look at the scene again, trying for the dispassionate art critic persona. Jorge is well known for his accurate reconstructions of predators and this latest work features a wolf caught in the act of tearing into a hare. Both animals are long dead and yet Jorge has somehow re-created the terror of the smaller beast in its last moments. Talented as he is, his artwork sends a shiver down my spine.

I snap my fingers.

“That’s what’s wrong with it. Of course. I should have seen it straight away.”

“What, what? Tell me, Katie. Don’t hold back on my account.”

Jorge grabs my arm, digging his fingers into the meat of the muscle. His hold is designed to inflict pain and instantly gains my attention. I look down at his hand on my arm and then glare at him. I’ve asked him before to stop hurting me but he can’t seem to help himself. He loosens his fingers slightly but does not let go.

“What is it you’re seeing that’s wrong? I been staring at this scene for weeks and I can’t see why it doesn’t quite work.”

“Did you not see that documentary on wolves at Yellowstone two days ago?” I glance to the corner of his cluttered workroom seeing the small TV set with its wonky aerial perched on top. “Oh wait, I don’t suppose that antique can get the National Geographic channel can it?”

Whatever else happens, I have to stop baiting him. He’s vicious enough already and every comment I make seems to make things worse. That last snarky comment was such a bad idea, for I swear he growls at me. He is becoming more and more like the animals he loves to reconstruct. I definitely need to get out of this relationship and soon.

“Remember his last two girlfriends,” my friend Sally says. “Jude apparently killed herself, and as for Becky, well do you know where she is now? Cos I don’t. She went over to his place one evening and I haven’t seen her since. Even the police haven’t found her.”

The thing is, when Jorge isn’t in one of his creative moods, he’s tender and loving. Everything a girl could want really, and great in bed. Until recently these qualities have outweighed his wilder tendencies. Now I’m not quite so sure.

His fingers tighten on my arm and he pulls me to face him, grabbing the other arm in a similar vice-like hold.

“I’ve told you before. Don’t diss my work and especially don’t diss the way I live. This is me Katie, and I ain’t planning on changing any time soon. If you don’t like it, then get the hell out of my life – while you still can.”

Then he kisses me, roughly, biting at my lips. I’d like to say he disgusts me, but it wouldn’t be true. He’s dangerous and he frightens me sometimes, filling me with terror but never disgust. Honestly, he excites me. Life is never dull with him and I don’t know quite how he’ll react to anything I say or do.

This time, he tugs me to the couch and we both sit. He’s still holding my arms, less tightly now.

“What were you going to tell me about the wolf documentary?” he asks quietly.

“It’s the body language. The wolf’s ears are wrong. You’ve got her with flattened ears. That means she’s depressed. She wouldn’t be depressed if she was about to make a kill would she?”

He leaps to his feet and prowls around the animals.

“You could be right. I’ll have to do some more research. Get out.”

Just like that, Jorge dismisses me, shoving me and my belongings out of the door in his haste to get back to his work.

I nearly don’t go back. But his pleading phone call after two weeks of silence holds such warmth and such promise that like a moth to the flame I am drawn to him, in spite of my good intentions.

“Solved that wolf scene. You were right and it makes all the difference. Come and celebrate with me. I got another commission you could help me with as well.”

He pulls me in through the front door, shoving a glass of champagne into my hand. Such urgency is unlike him and I wonder what I have have done to deserve his pampering. An hour or so passes very pleasantly. Jorge is actually trying to behave like a normal boyfriend rather than a tortured artist. He plies me with more champagne. I am beginning to feel a little dizzy and it’s only when I refuse a refill that the old Jorge rears his ugly head.

“You don’t refuse me, ever. Drink it woman.”

Puzzled at his vehemence I try to refuse again but give in to his insistence in the end. Only when I am completely relaxed and more than a little spaced does he take me into his workroom.

“I thought you’d like to see the finished scene,” he says as he pulls off the dust cover.

Now the wolf looks as if she’s enjoying the pain and suffering of her prey. I can’t help myself, I have to open my big mouth.

“Jorge, did the collector want his guests to be upset by the scene?”

I am safe in assuming it’s a man. It’s always men that collect this sort of artwork, often trying to reconstruct their moment of glory out in the wilds.

His arms go around me from behind, pulling me against him and he growls into my ear.

“Yes. I gave him what he wanted. For this scene anyway. He was very pleased. He’s coming tonight to collect it. I told him it was your insight that made the whole thing work so he wants to meet you.”

Alarm bells go off in my head. I try to avoid meeting any of Jorge’s customers. The one or two I have met are not nice people. I don’t want to meet someone who enjoys killing, even if it is natural and I say so. Jorge brushes my concerns aside.

“Too late,” he says as the door bell rings. “He’s here now. You’d better be nice to him. I depend on getting commissions from people like him.”

The collector is smartly dressed in a Saville Row suit and silk tie having come straight from work. Jorge lends him a coverall and together they manhandle the heavy artwork into the 4×4 parked outside. When they come back inside, Jorge introduces me. The collector takes my hand and bows over it, talking past me at Jorge.

“You are quite right Jorge. She is perfect. When do you envisage getting started on this next work?”

“I thought we could take some preliminary photos tonight for me to work from. Once those are done, it will probably take me about a month to complete the piece. Let’s go into the workroom now.”

Both men stare intently at me. Jorge grabs me, pulling towards the workroom. I struggle ineffectually in his grip, trying to escape.

“You don’t need me along if you’re discussing a new commission, Jorge. It’s been lovely to see you again, but I’ll just go home now OK?”

A wolfish smile curls Jorge’s lips, baring his teeth. “No Katie, you don’t understand. We do need you. In fact you could say you are essential to this commission.”

“Yes,” the collector chimes in. “After all, I have always wanted to own a reconstruction of a woman being torn apart by wolves.”

3 thoughts on “No One Likes A Critic by Debb Bouch

  1. Nest time, put a warning up for people that happen to read this story in their beds with the lights off 😉
    Nicely written story, it held my attention till the end and I wasn’t disappointed 🙂

  2. This was the type of creepy story that came to my mind when I read the requirments. I liked the characters, and they way you ended it. Nice 🙂

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