The Model

By William Wetherall

"They're just affectations," she says, disrobing
but for her gloves and a silk sash around her waist.

Began 1992, last revised 2013-12-04 (1,460 words)

The Model

By William Wetherall

A high school girl who wants some spending money spots an ad by an artist who is looking for a model. She calls the number and a man answers. He asks how old she is. She tells him she's eighteen. He gives her an address and tells her to bring a seal to sign a release form.

The address turns out to be an apartment with one room and a kitchnette. The room contains a single futon, a television, a low table with some zabuton, and an electric heater and a fan. There are several cameras, some floodlights, tripods, and equipment cases, and two plastic boxes full of lingerie, swimsuits, and colored sheets. On the kitchen counter is an electric hot water pot, a confectionary box and napkins, and a tray with makings for tea and coffee, and some cups and saucers.

He looks her over as if buying maguro at a fish market and declares she will be perfect. They sip coffee and nibble on chocolates while he shows her an album of glossies of nude and semi-nude studies he has done in various media from charcoal to oil. All the works bear his signature. "Always in the lower left corner," he says. Beside each print is a price. "None have gone for less than 300,000 yen," he says with a smile. Many of the stickers, including one for 1,200,000 yen, are overmarked sold.

"You'll get 10 percent of all sales," he says. He pulls a folder out of a bag, gives her a business card, and pushes some forms toward her. "As you can see, I don't paint here. My atelier is at the address on the business card. Today we're just going to fill out some forms, talk, and take a few pictures."

He pushes a couple of forms toward her and explains what they mean. She fills them out and they affix their seals. In doing so, she delcares she is 18 and agrees to be a subject of his portraits, and he promises to obtain her permssion in writing before exhibiting or selling any studies of her.

"I'll give you your copy of the contract when you come for your first sitting next week," he tells her. "The business manager also has to sign it," he explains, pointing to the space for a third signature. "My wife," he smiles. "She takes care of all my affairs."

"Today we'll snap a few test shots to help me decide how best to pose you," he said, while returning the completed forms to the folder and writing her name on the tab. "Have you ever posed before?" he said, looking her in the eyes. "No," she said, meeting his eyes. "Not even for your boy friend?" he said, unsmiling. "Never!" she said, averting her eyes. "He never asked, or he asked but you said no?" "He wanted to, I agreed, then I changed my mind," she said, still avoiding his eyes. "Do you think you might change your mind with me?" "I'm okay with this," she said, again meeting his eyes. "Good.Then let's get started."

He asks her to undress and takes numerous shots of her in various poses. She hesitates a few times, and sometimes blushes, but complies with every request. She's thinking of the 30,000 yen he'll be paying her in cash as soon as they finish the test shoot. And she'll get the same amount for each half-day easel sitting.

Dressed again and on her way home, she dreams of what she'll be able to buy with the royalties the contract promises her for every copy of the famous painter's work. "You could turn out to be my best model," he had told her. "Some of the girls in the album are now fashion models, and a couple have become actresses. You'll got all the makings of an idol. Another Miyazawa Rie."

Days pass, then weeks, but the artist doesn't call. She tries to get him on his cell but the number is no longer in use. She goes to the apartment but someone else is living there. The address of the atelier doesn't exist.

A couple of months later a friend she saw some pictures of her on the Internet and there were rumors that similar pictures had appeared in a men's magazine. She can't believe her ears but then sees for herself that her worst nightmares had come true. That night, after her parents confronted her, she cuts her wrists in the bath. Her mother finds her in time and calls an ambulance. She recovers from her wounds but refuses to go to school or go out, or even eat. Her condition deteriorates and her father makes arrangments for her to be put in a mental hospital.

She is in her early twenties by the time she fully recovers. By then she has decided that she wants to be a fashion model. While in the hospital she had polished her English and learned some French, Italian, and even Chinese. She goes abroad and makes a name for herself in New York, London, Paris, Rome, and Beijing. Ten years later she returns triumphant to Japan.

She has turned down all requests to disrobe for photographers and painters, no matter how famous. Back in Tokyo, though, she happens across an ad that reminds her of the one she replied to that summer during her first year in high school. The voice of the man who answers the phone is the same. She assures him she is eighteen and goes to the designated address at the appointed time.

The man is startled when he opens the door. The woman, about thirty, is wearing sun glasses and white gloves. He is cautious at first but is soon at the mercy of her beauty and voice. He invites her to sit and sets a cup of coffee and a wedge of cheezecake before her. She thumbs through the album, which includes a print of one of her photos. She leaves the coffee and cake untouched. "I have to watch my heart and figure," she tells him.

He opens a folder and removes a blank release form. She waves it away. "Do I look like I'm under age?" she says, and before he can open his mouth she begins to remove her clothes. He watches her take everything off except her gloves and a silk sash around her waist. "They're just affectations," she says, if he didn't mind. He didn't. He couldn't. He had already grabbed his favorite camera.

During one of the poses she invites him closer for a better shot. By now he has stopped smiling and his eyes are too large to blink. When he kneels with the camera below her tummmy, she whips the sash off her waist and tightens it around his neck before he can bring his arms up. She had caught him right after he had exhaled. Within a minute he had stopped struggling. A few moments later he has no pulse.

She dresses, pops the memory card out of the camera, checks to make sure no one is outside, turns out the lights, and locks the door as she goes out.

Three weeks later she catches a report of his murder on television. The landlord had found the body when a neighbor complained of a smell. The body was badly composed but investigators estimated the man had been dead as long as one month. He has been idenfified as a free-lance photographer who has made his living over the past twenty years selling certain magazines and now some Internet sites erotic and pornographic pictures.

The man's residence was full of documents, negatives, and prints, and digital image files related to females ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-two. Some of the materials go back over twenty years.

Police are looking for anyone who recently witnessed someone around the apartment. Undisclosed crime scene evidence suggests the perpetrator was a young woman. The police are not ruling out a disgruntled model, or maybe a parent or boy friend.

The woman appears on a television show with other models who discuss the case from the viewpoint of the hazzards of trusting photographers. Two of the models admitted they had had problems with agencies or studios who had taken liberties with photographs that were never intended for publication and were supposed to have been destroyed.

"I've been lucky myself," the woman said. "But many years ago, I knew someone who killed herself because some guy had sold some pix he'd talked her into letting him take." A couple of other models shed tears of sympathy with hers. "Maybe her ghost murdered the man," the emcee said, and moved on to the next topic.