Jorge was a contortionist. He could step through himself with the best of them. What he wanted, however, was love, that perfect tension between two people that elevated neither, subjugated neither, and bound them together into a knot that might never be undone.
Sierra was an artist. Her use of color and texture in the oils was unsurpassed among her local peers. What she wanted, was equality, that perfect balance between herself and the other that brought out more than individual brushstrokes.
They met at the annual Celebration of Cultures that takes place downtown on New Year’s Day. This year was clear, but cold, the kind of day that transforms breath into a mist for a second or two.
Sierra saw Jorge first, twisted into a pretzel perfectly supported by his flapjack hands above a street blocked for the celebration and lined with vendors. She frowned at how inhuman he appeared, a Dali or Picasso. Having just dumped Todd and his emotional abuses, she was in no mood for inhuman. Still, this guy was hard for the artist in her to ignore, those sharp angles and impossible bends. Light shifted through his holes in tangled hues. She saw his sadness too, brightness rendered gray through overwork, unrequited want. That, she could paint, wanted to paint. She blew into her hands, and started toward him. It’s a new year, she told herself.
Jorge saw Sierra and thought nothing much. Another dishwater blonde who hides her curves under a sports jersey too long for her frame. The tail of it flopped beneath her coat as she walked. Still, he admired the businesslike expression, the determined set of jaw, as she maneuvered through the Brownian audience. His profession took him to many towns, but provided little opportunity to put down roots. He was tired of awkward one-night stands. Here was someone who stood alone in a crowd. She would be different. “It’s a new year,” he mumbled as he stepped with his left hand. And stumbled. His nose struck first, his lips and cheek and head. The pain splash faded quickly.
“Oh!” Sierra ran the final steps and helped him untangle. He rubbed his nose. She touched the scrape along his jawline.
“I’m fine,” Jorge said. “I fall all the time.” He worked his shoulder joint into place. “This is not my first rodeo, you know.”
“You ride in rodeos?” Sierra tried to picture him straddling a horse. It made her smile.
“It’s an expression,” Jorge said. How many blondes does it take to screw in a light bulb?
“Can I buy you coffee?” Sierra said. There was a shop just down the street. Some of her work was there.
Jorge stood to his full height, which was both more than people expected and less than he deserved. “Sure,” he said. “The first rule of performing: Never turn down free coffee.”
Sierra started toward the shop. She was nervous. What would a contortionist make of realism? Could he see himself in her paintings? Why did it matter?
Jorge fell in beside her. This woman was taller than him, a little broader of shoulder. Normally, he would find that imposing, but he felt at ease in her shadow.
A sign in the coffee shop door read: Closed.
“Drat,” Sierra said. “I was lusting for a hot cup between my hands.”
“It is cold,” Jorge said. The air smelled of snow about to fall. He indicated the row of vendor carts in the street. “Maybe we can get something hot from them.”
“Sure,” Sierra said, “but I had another reason for bringing you here. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I do like twists,” Jorge said.
Sierra peered inside. “Over there. On the far wall, that painting in the center. It’s mine.”
“You bought it?” Jorge said. For me? That seemed a little stalky.
“Painted it,” Sierra said.
Jorge looked closer. The lighting was too dim to make out detail, but it seemed a competent landscape.
“Nice,” he said.
“Thanks.” Sierra sighed. “I guess I felt like you showed me your work, I wanted you to see mine.”
Jorge grinned. “I fell on my face.”
Sierra tried the doorknob. Nothing.
“My body is my canvas,” Jorge said. “Not every position works out. I’ve got bruises on my bruises.” Would you like to see them?
“I understand,” Sierra said. She jiggled the door. “I wanted to ask if you’d pose for me.”
“In contortion?” Jorge said. Warning bells went off. He didn’t even allow photos, not wishing to be exploited as a freak.
“If you don’t mind,” Sierra said. “I want to explore the way you break up light.”
“I’ll do it,” Jorge said. It’s a new year. He felt protected in her presence, not from violence or heartbreak, but something deeper.
“I have a business card somewhere,” Sierra said. She pawed at her pockets and came up empty. Embarrassment threaded through her. “Do you have a pen, something to write on?”
“Better,” Jorge said. And though a flush was rising through him, he forced his arm to reach and bend around her waist. He pushed onto his toes, and kissed her on the lips.
Sierra’s shock shattered in an instant. She kissed him back, pressed her tongue forward, tentative at first, then with a passion she had not felt in ages.
They eased apart. Jorge glanced nervously everywhere but her eyes. “I’m not usually so impulsive.”
Sierra laughed. “And I’m not compulsive.” She twined her fingers into his. “It’s kind of ludicrous to admit this, but I never want to let you go.”
Jorge relaxed. For an instant he feared he might melt into the sidewalk, but he didn’t. Instead, he walked hand-in-hand with Sierra to the nearest vendor cart, and ordered two Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate.
“On the house,” the vendor said. “Happy New Year.”
Stephen V. Ramey‘s work has appeared in a variety of places. He also edits the Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink, and trapeze, a twitter zine. He lives in New Castle, PA USA, where he regularly visits the odd ducks that live along the river. His collection of very short fiction, Glass Animals, is available from Pure Slush Books via Lulu.com and Amazon.