Anne attempted to read the obituary without sobbing. "Neal Stephens, who died suddenly at 38," it read. Died suddenly is what they write when someone kills themselves, she thought. "He was a graphic designer and worked on many successful campaigns for Widen and Kennedy and had a successful art studio where he worked and taught other upcoming painters and graphic designers." Then the article listed the place where the memorial would be held. There was a request that those attending donate to the art college.
The whole thing disgusted her. She had spoke to Neal the day before it happened. She knew he struggled. Everyone knew he struggled. But that was Neal. That's the way he was.
She thought about the last phone call. He mentioned some disappointment about a gallery showing which fell through at the last minute. But that had happened before, and he usually found another gallery shortly afterwards. His work had been in demand for some time.
He mentioned breaking up with Kelly, but the two of them had been on and off for the last five years.
She didn't want to think about it, but she knew it was possible that he was on heroin again. Oh Neal, she thought, you fought it for so long. She wondered if it was a suicide or an overdose.
Anne set the obituary down on the table. It was too dry. It didn't say what kind of person Neal was. It said nothing of his sense of humor. She remembered how he teased her for being middle class and how she abandoned the ideals from college to settle down and have health insurance. "I'm not you," she told him. "I'm only a muse. You're the artist. All I can do is lie around naked and be inspiring."
And she had. She had posed for him many times. Anne remembered her nipples hardening in his freezing studio while he told her to stay still and drank cocktails from plastic cups. But that had stopped long before she moved in with Ben.
Neal scared her. She knew of his troubles with the needle. She was aware of the women who climbed in through the window of his loft at night brandishing knives and telling of their eternal love for him. He brought that side out in women.
She was aware of the two years he did in jail for selling cocaine to undercover cops. All of this was left out of the obituary as well.
The thing she would miss the most is how alive he made her feel. When she posed nude for him or when they snorted coke together off of stained glass, she felt free and beautiful and reckless. No other man ever made her feel that way.
She remembered posing for him one day and he got that look in his eye that told her he was no longer interested in her as an object to study. He set down his brush and walked straight toward her without saying a word. "Are we taking a break?" she said.
He stood in front of her and unbuckled his belt and opened his pants. She took his member into her mouth as he grabbed the back of her head. He said nothing. There was no need. She had craved him all day. He was forceful and passionate. Neal removed himself from her mouth and laid her down in the floor of the studio. By the end, her body was covered in spots of paint: greens and blues and reds all over her legs and breasts and back. She became a canvas for him to work on.
Now he was gone and she had no idea what she was going to do with her life. She never regretted and would never regret going off with Ben. She loved him. He was the single best thing that ever happened to her. But he could never give her what Neal gave her. It wouldn't enter his mind.
I miss being a muse, she thought. I miss being the kind of woman who inspired men and drove them to make great things. I don't think I inspire anything in Ben but jealousy.
She put the obituary away and sobbed. She cried more at the funeral. Months later she was still crying.