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Beneath The Skin(8)

By´╝ÜDaryl Banner

I don’t care. I don’t do my work for them.

“And … what do you call this piece?” asks Linus, his words spilling out from lips I can’t see through the mess of his big orange beard.

“Pussy,” I answer.

Two boys titter in the front near Iris. Someone else giggles, a girl in the fifth row. Some guy in the back says, “Amazing,” but I don’t bother to identify him. I’m just ready for this critique to end so I can take my work back to my desk and get started on the next one.

Linus takes a step forward, doing his usual routine to engage the class in offering their so-called constructive criticism. “Would anyone like to—?”

“It’s very …” interrupts Garnet, whose face is nearly missing behind her curtain of brown, knotted hair, “sexual …?”

“Yes, right,” agrees Linus. “It’s … well, it’s quite an interpretation of the assignment, to say the least.”

“I thought we were supposed to draw a cat,” someone mumbles.

“It is a cat,” Garnet retorts, squinting at my work, leaning so far forward that the desk creaks beneath her weight.

“A cat with big human boobies,” says a bigmouthed guy, fascinated.

“And her legs are parted,” someone else puts in, recoiling.

The comments keep coming like tennis balls, back and forth.

“She looks like the billboard graphic to some cat brothel in … in, like, some parallel world run by cats.”


“Is that nail polish on her claws? I can’t tell.”

“It’s like Playboy Cat.”

“It makes me feel sad, actually,” offers a guy with three nose rings whose voice is as small as a sigh. “Cat can’t pay rent. Resorts to catcalls on the cat corner with the other cat prostitutes.”

A girl with a nasally voice speaks up from the middle of the room. “No, this is something else. Something political. Feminist? Or it’s like, scrolling through hundreds of cat pics on Facebook, and … Or maybe it’s about how everything’s commercial now. Advertising. Billboards.”

“Everything is sex, sex, sex,” someone adds, picking up on her vein in agreement.

“If we could sexualize natural disasters and monetize every tragedy that goes down in the world …”

“We do.”

Linus, through all the commentary, seems to visibly gather patience before addressing them. “What do you think about her technique?” he offers, guiding the critique with shifting eyes. “Is there, perhaps, some way she might have better conveyed her message? Is there anything you see that deters from that message?”

I love how effectively my Pussy caught him off-guard. And while the class continues to pull my work apart, arguing about what I’m trying to say or what my boob-bearing cat means, I find my mind wandering to a picture I remember presenting my sixth grade art class. I wore a bright green dress that day and I smiled proudly when the teacher praised me in front of the room for my watercolor painting of a girl hugging an enormous dog by her side. Even sitting, the big white dog still towered over the girl. It was a beautiful picture, and if the bitches on the bus hadn’t torn it apart, I might’ve framed it when I got home. When my mom asked where my project had gone, I lied and said the teacher loved it so much, she kept it and framed it in the classroom.

Here I am, standing in front of a class and totally not protecting anyone’s feelings anymore.

“My problem is, it’s too fucking obvious.”

Everyone’s heads turn at the criticism, which had come from pink-haired Iris in the front. Her arms are crossed, legs are crossed, and eyes are squinted in mild scrutiny.

“Care to expound?” offers the professor.

She starts expounding before he even finishes the question. “It’s so literal. Cat. Sex. Boobs. Great, thank you, my mind is so stimulated. Where’s the creativity? Where’s the originality? I swear I saw a meme of this very thing in my Twitter feed last night.”

“Let’s be constructive,” Linus coaches her. “How do you feel she might have better conveyed—”

“I’m not going to do the work for her,” blurts Iris, crossing her legs the other way.

I pay her words as much mind as they deserve: none.

Linus itches his beard, studying my work. “Perhaps this picture is … providing us with the problem. And maybe what it lacks is a solution.”

I can’t mask the smirk that comes over my face. “Solution?”

“Your picture …”

“Pussy,” I correct him, because he might as well say the name.