Sum of the Parts by Ali-Abbas Ali


The plush carpet gave under Cyn’s foot. For a moment she teetered. Between the swathes of canvas and ornate frames there was no space to catch her balance against the wall. A hand caught her elbow, a solid bulwark as she was about to topple. Her “thank you” came out as a dry throated whisper.

Cyn kicked off her heels as a blush rose up her neck. This interview was a once in a lifetime opportunity, her dignity could take a little bruising. She rubbed her elbow when the helping hand released, the grip had been strong and strangely hot.

Ernesto Corazon stepped out from behind her and leaned into the painting she had so nearly put a palm to. He stood indecently close to the canvas.

“I loved them all,” he said as if continuing a foregoing thought although they had not yet been introduced. “I still love them. Fiercely, but in my own fashion.” His breath bloomed against the varnish over the picture of a woman seated on a low couch, her bare feet in the foreground crossed at the ankles. “With this one, beauty is in the arch of her foot.” He moved so quickly to the next painting that Cyn was left blinking at his afterimage. “Here it is the slight outward curve of her belly, and this one the hollows of her clavicles.”

His hands swept over the third canvas. A lady reclined in a forest glade, in a modest summer dress. Corazon’s fingertips almost, almost touched the ridges on the brushstrokes, as if there was an additional tactile dimension to the picture that only he could feel. With one step backwards he threw his arms to encompass the painting. “All of this is just framing. The trees, the grass, her whole body. It serves only as a place for me to show the one vital, precious part.”

Cyn coded his words in shorthand without looking away from the painting. She was struck by the acceptance and tragedy in the subject’s expression, the slight downward cast of her eyes, the joyless bend of her lips.

The artist spun on his heel, gesturing around the myriad paintings in the broad circular gallery. “None of them are professional models, I prize my privacy just so that I may find these gems among the pebbles of the public. All of them have something special, something that defines and differentiates them. Something unique into which I have poured my passion.”

Ernesto Corazon was a recluse. All his muses were tight-lipped about the man and his artistic process. Cyn had grabbed the opportunity to interview him, expecting someone shy and contained, not this florid bundle of crackling energy. She couldn’t imagine a crowd he could hide in and yet he was never seen in public.

Corazon’s arms flowed up smoothly in exasperation. “The paintings are mostly trash, only that one part in each: hands, lips, hair, I have done well.” With that, he dismissed the millions of dollars of artwork in this specially curated exhibition.

Cyn’s gaze turned back to the woman in the glade. Was it sorrow in her features or pity?  She padded around the gallery, trying to identify the special element in the ornately framed pictures placed a few inches apart. Every woman had the same expression. It was as if Ernesto Corazon could only paint a face one way, or else was blind to the crushing pathos each of his models exhibited, his hands rendering what his eyes saw without understanding.

“They’re all still single.” Her comment was intended to prise an insight from the artist. Ernesto Corazon ignored her, muttering to himself in front of another picture.

The circular room brought her back to the woman in the glade. Beneath the sad line of her lips, the tilt of her proud chin posed a question. In its shadow, those perfect clavicles. How long did she sit motionless in the glade? How long did Corazon stare at her, to learn the shades of her skin and its interplay with the light? Not at her delicate features or soft curves, but just at her clavicles alone.

Cyn searched the model’s eyes. Did she know, before he raised a brush, that Corazon’s passion was reserved for one small part of her anatomy? Her irises were chasms, pits of true black that absorbed everything. The model knew, Cyn was certain, if not before she was contracted to sit for him, then as Corazon painted her. To him all the marginal asymmetry and fractional imperfections that raised his subject from attractive to a woman of extraordinary beauty were worthless before a few square inches of shadow between her bones.

That sadness. Realization washed through Cyn, rooting her bare feet to the carpet. The model knew, and no lover could ever instill enough intensity into her whole being to match what Corazon had ploughed into a part.

Cyn fumbled with her notebook and pen, she sensed Corazon’s hand behind her, almost, almost touching the fine wool of her jacket. Warmth penetrated through her blouse.

“And you, Cynara Dowson. You I saw on a beach. I would paint you on those sands, a horizon stretching endless and forgotten off the canvas, and all my attention, all my genius focused on the small of your back. The complex geometry of concave and convex calls me. The dips and inversions are desperate for the immortality only I can offer.” His breath was close, tickling her ear. His hand, scalding without touching, branding her as his. Not her. Just the small of her back.

“No one else can understand the perfection of your vertebrae, that first sweep of Giotto’s circle from your coccyx to your ribs. I have spent my art and life in search of the goddess you alone can complete. I will worship that precious flesh as intently as the arch of a foot or the shadow of a clavicle.”

A bead of sweat trickled down her spine. His heat suffused her, blood pumping in a vain effort to disperse it through the tingling tips of her toes, through the prickling of her scalp. Truth won through her body’s reaction, through its betrayal, and clamped her in place. It was not sorrow in the models’ eyes, there were no wells of pity in the irises. They were vacuums, absences in which she saw her own imminent captivity reflected. The fall of her notebook and pen was a distant inconsequence.

“You weren’t chosen for this interview because you wanted it. I wanted you.”

His hand was still there, cauterizing the memories of other loves. Kisses and fingertips in the moonlight faded into the grey of the insipid. Lovers evaporated as if she had never been touched. This man loved the small of her back. He would make it immortal. It. Her.

Feet set, she twisted her neck to search out the one space left on the wall. Her space, where she would be bound in this new-found sorority. Her shoes lay on their sides by the door, it was only a matter of a few steps, she should leave. If she stayed she too would join a sisterhood of silence. But she knew, in that anchoring moment, the damage was already done. No other love would satisfy her again.


Ali Abbas is the author of “Like Clockwork” a steampunk mystery published by Transmundane Press. His shorter fiction has been published by Mad Scientist Journal, Transmundane Press, Death’s Head Press and Darkhouse Books, and has featured on Every Day Fiction, Scarlet Leaf Review and Crimson Streets. Ali maintains a blog at and a full list of published works and free-to-read stories can be found on his author page

Published 6/16/23


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