- Felt Life
This was the girl. She rode the 6 Train in a yellow coat and white tights. The large brown eyes told an empty story, and the small mouth was like a deflated heart. Paula had an electric feeling when she looked at her and understood how someone might become addicted to this feeling; understood, maybe, the appeal of anonymous sex. She stared at the girl and waited for eye contact, her heart pulsing terrifically, but the girl seemed hypnotized by an invisible point a few feet away.
It didn't bother Paula that this had been done before by other artists: finding subjects on the subway. She wasn't interested in retreading the old cliché, the story as old as art itself, the flower plucked from the mud pool. She was after something else.
Subways were simply the most practical. That was where the people were. She'd ridden seventeen trains in the past week alone, and each time she entered a cluster of passengers at rush hour, she was stung by the gross individuality of their faces. Most faces were assertively shaped, overly explicit, home to their matching characters. She couldn't use them.
This girl was neither pretty nor plain. Her hair was light brown and fine, her eyes set a little too low and far apart. The face of a young animal. Next to her, two girls gossiped in ankle boots and lipstick, their eyes round with mascara. None of these girls looked at Paula. She'd once been accustomed to drawing attention but no longer sought it, no longer wore brash hats and large pendants. The feeling for show had gone out of her. But she'd kept the scarves, a different color each day. Today, a green one draped like a snake from her shoulders.
If she was going to approach this girl, she'd have to do it now. She wasn't going to ride seventeen more trains. In front of all these people, she'd have to wobble up to her, lean down, and introduce herself. It would have to be done in a friendly, gentle way. Like capturing a small bird. My name is Paula Vandermark. I'm an artist. I couldn't help noticing you. It would be any girl's fantasy, she told herself. [End Page 93]
She wanted the glossy girls to go. They'd get out at 14th Street, she predicted. Instead, her own girl abruptly rose. The yellow coat disappeared into the exiting crowd, and with a shot of adrenaline Paula followed it up the subway stairs onto the street. She stopped the girl at the corner of Fourth Avenue, and the words came out in a marvelous stream. Tomorrow, lunch, she heard herself say, holding the girl's shallow gaze. She couldn't be more than nineteen or twenty. The girl smiled cautiously and said she'd think about it. Paula gave her a business card and stepped backward. The girl smiled back, a true smile, and Paula knew she would come.
She walked west on 13th Street, away from the crowds, holding the top of her jacket closed, clasping the thrill inside. It was entering her blood now. It had been a full seven years since her first bacchanalian portrait series and the lucky shot that made her name—the former child star posed topless with a kitchen knife. Unsung Spaces was the sober follow-up. Spartan rooms and corners, carefully executed in light and color, some unnerving detail tucked away. A dime-sized stain on a bed sheet, a broken bottle, a capsized lamp. Swallowed by collectors, ignored by critics. That had been five years ago. Five years of this itch in her spine. Just do more rooms, Nils had told her. There's so much more you can do with the rooms.
She got into bed before dark, the gray light falling in narrow bands on the blanket. The thrill was still in her but quieter now. She let herself rest, curled in the middle of the mattress. This was finally it. This project would do what the first series hadn't approached; it would be a window...