The Illustrator Dies First

Story no. 14.


Eight AM.

Niyati pulls the covers down from her face and inspects her fingernails. She looks at her phone. Her forebrain reads that it is time to wake up. Her reptile brain replies that it is still tired. Niyati pulls the covers back over her face.

Nine AM.

Niyati does not wake up.

Ten AM.

Niyati realized she had overslept at nine thirty-seven and rolled out of bed cursing. Her phone alarm is a barking dog and it, like the train whistle, like the piano playing, like the horn honking, does not rise above the aural texture of her dreams. By ten she has poured a cup of coffee and is staring at her pad of watercolor paper.

Eleven AM.

The watercolor she started last night will not do for this commission. What had she been thinking? It is dull. There is no life in it. She pulls down a canvas from the top shelf, a really big one, and primes the top half in purple paint. Working quickly, she blocks in a golden dragon curled into a tight zig-zag, white light glinting off its scales.

Twelve PM.

Niyati remembers why she started the commission in watercolor. The client had requested an image for his book cover by today at noon. While yesterday’s noodles are heating up in the microwave, she eats a popsicle from the back of the freezer and draws thumbnails on the back of a receipt. Maybe her refrigerator is too empty to put off shopping for groceries any longer. The thumbnail on the right looks the best: it has the compression of the golden dragon in the oil painting she had just started (was that canvas ruined now?), the waiting tension, but longer, thinner, proportions.

She starts sketching on her pad of watercolor paper again.

One PM.

Books and clothes cover the studio floor. She needs to wash her dishes immediately. A stack of bowls in the sink leans precariously over the plate she ate pancakes off of two days ago.

Niyati needs a shower. She throws her brushes and pens onto her bed and strips her clothes off into a pile under her desk, then goes to stand under the hot water for thirty minutes.

Two PM.

When she has plucked her eyebrows and shaved her legs and squeezed four blackheads out of her chin, she sits down to her desk wrapped in her towel and finds she can’t stand to draw this same stupid dragon one more time. What is this fellow’s book about, anyway? Politics? He hardly needs a dragon for that. A tasteful typography-based cover would be far more suitable.

A few more splashes of quinacridone gold finish the dragon snaking through last night’s painting.

Three PM.

Niyati takes a photo of the dragon oil painting and uploads it on her professional Facebook page. The refresh button doesn’t seem to be working. No one is liking the picture. No comments. It’s been nearly fifteen minutes. Most of her friends are in time zones two or three hours ahead of her. There’s no reason for this.

The watercolor could become something. There’s no reason to throw it away just because it isn’t coming along perfectly. Niyati takes out a pair of scissors and cuts the dragon free of the paper. After more thought, she snips it into five pieces and punches them together with brass tacks. She takes a couple experimental photos on her phone, then pulls down her proper DSLR camera from its shelf above her bed. The dragon puppet poses on a towel, on her bed, in front of the oil painting, in the porcelain sink in the bathroom.

It’s been forty minutes and there are only six likes on the oil painting photo on Facebook.

Four PM.

Two other dragons have joined the golden dragon puppet, one blue and one red. They snake through one another over sheets of paper, cloth, and metal. Niyati sticks paperclips and small stones under them to get the right angles and shadows. Her camera clicks out a continuous vomit of jpeg files. A lone pepper sits on the top shelf of the fridge. Niyati cuts out the stem and starts eating it piece by piece as she color-corrects and heightens the contrast of her photos of the dragons in Photoshop.

Five PM.

She wishes she could gold-leaf the dragon.

Six PM.

She hasn’t had pizza in nearly a month.

Seven PM.

Seven hours is not so late, she reasons, as she attaches the alternate book covers to the email to her client.

Eight PM.

The dragons have further adventures, hiding in her art supply basket, pushing silverware onto the floor, opening her wardrobe and chewing on her dresses. Niyati photographs them assiduously, then starts to assemble an animated catalog of their adventures. Her nieces will love this.

Nine PM.

Her computer crashes three minutes after she clicks “save as” on the dragon animation. Niyati yells at it, then notices the oil painting propped up behind her desk. The oils she squeezed out on a plastic plate have not yet dried, and she starts to work on the curves of her dragon again.

Ten PM.

Kyle gets off his rotation and calls her. Niyati does not wake up from where she is lying, face-down on the edge of her bed, every lamp in her apartment illuminated, entirely dressed except for her shoes, a pen clutched in her right hand slowly depositing a larger and larger circle of black ink onto her white sheets.

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