She Wore Red
And nothing else.
Each fingernail, perfectly painted with a series of precise stokes.
A performance artist of some renown, her body the costume, skin pale and naked in the cool air. The performance a melange of dance, contortion, tai chi, pantomime. Nonverbal. The stage an unremarkable basement room in an unremarkable building downtown, the audience a handful of aesthetes who’d paid outrageous sums for admission, and a selection of invited university students who’d paid nothing at all.
She was immersed in a galaxy of lights, but there was no color to them. They were merely refractions of an unremarkable incandescence. The walls of the room were the cobalt blue of a bruise, lending themselves to shadow more than light. Her skin, nearly so white as freshly-milled paper.
And ten perfect fragments of red, contrasting all.
Initially they appeared identical, but that was an illusion. A cursory inspection revealed that each was a lightly different shade: a patch of cardinal for the thumb, a swath of crimson on the index finger, a touch of cerise for the ring.
And so on.
These were not some department store lacquers, or the products of some high-end beautician. Rather, they were cosmetic confections of her own devising, unique blends of pigments and compounds designed to produce a specific hue.
To each she had added one final ingredient: a tincture of blood from each of her former lovers. One per shade.
The painter. The photographer. The architect. The sailor. The mercenary. The dancer. The musician. The archeologist. The butcher. The dramatist. From each she had extracted a small sanguine souvenir of their hearts.
In this, her hands were a palette of loves won and lost, of lust and longing. Each posture, each pose, each segment of dance, each prolonged stillness documented that love’s affect upon the body.
Blood, splashed upon a midnight snowfield.
This was what her performance memorialized, celebrated, and eulogized. Whether each audience member knew the lore or not was irrelevant. They perceived.
If afterwards each felt some small personal fragment of loss, that was to be expected. These were not people who sought complacent art. Still, for some the grief was more unsettling than desired, a faint but persistent echo resounding for weeks afterward. Those with spouses and partners held them closer and kissed them harder during this time. Though they could not articulate it, each worried about the artist; that her losses had been too great, that each had diminished her too much to ever love again.
They need not have worried.
Each of her toenails was a blank canvas, eager for the brush’s first gentle touch.