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June 17, 2024

Body: Image

By Harlan Yarbrough

My friend Tina is an artist -- she draws and paints all sorts of art but seems especially skilled at portraits and lifelike pictures of people. She asked me if I would mind sitting for her, and I of course said I would be happy to do that. I figured she could probably make me look better than I do in reality -- not that I have a negative body image, but at sixty-one I felt pretty sure I didn’t look as alluring as I had at twenty-one. I sat for Tina quite a few times, maybe a dozen or fifteen or more, and she produced some very nice charcoals and a bunch of paintings of my head and face and one of my shoulders or upper torso and my head -- and I think she did make the pictures look better than the real me, although she and her daughter and at least one other trustworthy person disagree with that opinion.

Tina had drawn and painted me for more than a year, when she asked if I would be willing to sit for her to do some nude studies. As I mentioned, I wasn’t entirely happy with the appearance of my by then sixty-two-year-old body, but I figured there was no reason not to let Tina draw or paint whatever she wanted and therefore said, “OK.” She proceeded to make several more charcoals and two quite nice paintings of me sitting quietly, looking reflective I thought, before she moved on to other projects.

Bart knew Tina through music -- she fancies herself a musician, singer, and composer and she does have a nice voice, and he played music for a living and seemed to find Tina attractive. She is very nice and very pretty. Tina liked Bart but I never did figure out whether she felt romantically or otherwise drawn to him. I hope she didn’t, because they didn’t end up together -- fortunately for me, as it turned out. Bart seized every opportunity to chat with Tina, and they got along well, even though she never demonstrated any physical attraction toward him. He did, and does, like her as a friend, although he isn’t crazy about her music, so he enjoyed chatting with her even in the absence of romance or sex and often visited her at the local cooperative artists’ gallery and occasionally at her studio at home.

On one of the visits to Tina’s studio -- she had asked him to come and play some accompanying parts to a couple of songs she had written -- Bart noticed one of Tina’s nude paintings of me and admired it. He apparently asked her -- maybe a quid pro quo for his superb instrumental additions to her recording, but probably just a simple request -- to introduce me to him, and she agreed to do so. To effect that introduction, Tina persuaded me to accompany her to a show by a local covers band with whom Bart played.

Why Bart played -- and still occasionally plays -- with that group, I don’t know; he doesn’t much like the kind of music they do and thinks they are musically lazy, in that they never learn their songs but always read them off sheet music or, more often, big computer monitors in front of their microphones. He likes the band members a great deal as people, though, so I suppose that’s why he plays music with them. That remains a minor mystery to me.

Bart’s violin, which is what he played with the group, sounded lovely but not anything special, I thought -- until, that is, the bandleader called for the group, and Bart, to do a song that wasn’t part of the band’s usual repertory. I’m not a great fan of pop music -- that is to say, of the pop music from my youth to the present day -- which is what the band mainly played. The tune that caught my attention was from the 1930s and, I think, outside the comfort zone of most of the group. Bart, however, played and sang “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” as well as I’ve ever heard it -- and I have heard a lot of singers and bands perform that song. I was impressed.

After the show, I liked that Bart Jefferson seemed nice, friendly, and not at all impressed with himself. In twenty minutes of conversation, he proved remarkably articulate and also unusually thoughtful. Mr. Jefferson was still coiling his microphone cable, when Tina and I left, but we had exchanged email addresses. I confess, I found him quite attractive -- good looking, personable, obviously talented, and about my age -- and hoped he would go to the trouble of sending me a message via the Internet.

He did. My thoughts were not concentrated on finding a partner or lover, so I didn’t think hopefully about hearing from Mr. Jefferson as I drove home or after I arrived. I might have thought a little about him before I retired that night, but only in passing if so. My thoughts hadn’t expanded to include my new acquaintance as I prepared and consumed my usual simple breakfast -- mostly rolled oats -- the next morning, although I thought of him as I washed the dishes and wondered if I would hear from him. I didn’t have to wait long for an answer to that question: when I booted my computer and connected to the Internet, I found a message from him waiting for me.

In that first message, Bart said he felt delighted to meet me, wanted to get to know me better, and would like to share some time with me at my earliest convenience. Bart is funny that way: his writing tends to be remarkably formal, a stark contrast with his in-person manner. That contrast made me wonder about this talented, articulate man who had suddenly appeared in my life. Still wondering, I wrote back and said I would be happy to effect a rendezvous and spend some time getting to know each other.

At that time, I was unaware that Bart was putting a great deal of effort and much of his time and energy into switching from making a living with his music -- as he had done for three decades -- to making a living from writing. Bart had, I later learned, written five novels but had not yet placed any of them with publishers. He wrote short stories and got them published in order to build his credibility as an author, so he could get literary agents to take his novels seriously. As a result, he spent a great deal of time working at his computer.

Had I know all that, I might not have been surprised -- as I in fact was -- to receive a reply from Mr. Jefferson in less than ten minutes. In his reply he wrote that although he was very busy his busy-ness was not attached to any hard schedule, so he could meet me wherever and whenever I felt so inclined except that he had gigs that demanded his time Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings -- and, of course, Thursdays, which was the regular gig at which I had met him. “At any other time,” he wrote, “I will be happy to meet you wherever suits you best.” As I said, his correspondence tends toward the formal.

Although I had no such intention, we exchanged seven or eight email messages in each direction that evening. In those messages, we discussed effecting a rendezvous, but we also shared thoughts, observations, and opinions on more than a dozen other topics, from local, national, and international politics, to music, from recent scientific discoveries -- I learned later about his academic background in the sciences -- to literature. I felt both amazed and impressed by the breadth of Bart’s interests and knowledge. Not surprisingly, I therefore felt eager to get to know him better and to spend more time with him.

We arranged to spend two hours in the latter part of the following Wednesday’s afternoon sharing a walk along the stream that runs through the town where we lived -- I lived in town; Bart lived, and lives, well out of town on a beautiful rural property. We talked, again about an astonishing array of topics, through the duration of our walk, which stretched to three delightful hours. By the time we returned to where Bart had parked his Japanese compact, I felt -- and evidently he did, too -- that we had become friends. Already impressed by Bart’s musical abilities and skills, I found myself equally impressed by his intellectual prowess -- and, yes, I admit, I had already begun to consider what other forms of prowess he might demonstrate.

Because we both, as it seemed, enjoyed our walk and talk, we arranged a repeat engagement the following Monday, but I told Bart I planned to attend and enjoy his musical performances on the intervening days -- except Friday, when I had promised to spend the evening with a couple of girlfriends. I therefore attended, and mostly enjoyed, the show with the local covers band the next evening. The Saturday brought a surprise, because Bart played an entirely different kind of music -- not a style I had ever followed, traditional Irish music, but one that I immediately learned to enjoy. Bart’s Sunday show with two other men introduced me to another style I have never before heard: an American style -- not folk or traditional, Bart told me, but invented by a particular individual -- called bluegrass. Although a week earlier I might have said the Sunday night show was too hillbilly, I found myself enthralled by Bart’s -- and his colleagues -- playing and singing.

In less than a month, I had found myself introduced to two new musical styles -- traditional Irish music and bluegrass -- and totally enthralled by both plus Bart’s renditions of Swing, with which style I was already familiar. I also felt in thrall to Bart’s brilliant conversation and genial company. Utterly smitten with my new friend, I never stopped to think that his initial motivation for meeting me was essentially physical, a response to a picture. I racked my brain for a strategy to snare Bart physically, sexually, without recognizing that he already wanted that kind of relationship but was too much of a gentleman to say so.

Perhaps it’s somehow related to the formality in his written communication -- I don’t know -- but Bart seems ... not exactly formal but sort of old-fashioned in dealing with intimate relationships, at least in some respects. We had been walking and talking together -- and, at my instigation, holding hands -- for five weeks before -- to my great (emotional) delight and (physical) frustration -- he hugged me at the end of one of our evenings together. He hugged me again the next evening after one of the local band’s Thursday shows and asked if I would like to visit him at home. Bart didn’t have any gigs that weekend, as it turned out, and my Friday afternoon visit lasted through the next Tuesday morning, to our mutual pleasure. That Tuesday, we got out of bed only because we both felt obligated to attend a meeting of an environmental organization -- to which we had made previous individual commitments -- before shopping to replenish Bart’s larder and then hurrying back to his abode and bedroom that afternoon.

A description of the time we shared in the intervening three-and-a-half days and nights might seem either superfluous or prurient or both. I will therefore record here only necessary facts. Bart is not my age: he is fifteen years my senior. He is both the biggest and best lover I have ever known. I feel both thrilled and delighted we have managed to form a long-term intimate relationship which has now persisted for seven years and shows no indication of subsiding and seems to please my beloved Bart as much as it does me. We never tire of each other, and we grow closer every day -- and every night.

Article © Harlan Yarbrough. All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-08-15
Image(s) are public domain.
3 Reader Comments
Aaron Higgins
10:03:23 AM
Superb story -- well done! It's so good to see someone writing (and a percipient editor curating -- take a bow!) something other than the same old crap.
10:50:59 AM
Agree with Mr. Higgins: excellent story. I would like to see more from Mr. Yarbrough and have found a few (also extremely good) with searches on Duck Duck Go.
Sarah Latimer
10:51:56 AM
Excellent! Stories do not have to be all gloom and doom and angst. So nice to see a story with joy and love and pleasure instead.
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