It’s a struggle to get the curve of the back just right. In Faye’s first few sketches, their spines either look snapped or rubbery. And their necks? Forget it.
Haunting the breakroom microwave, watching her mug drift in circles, she considers different angles and positions, stamping hooves and heaving chests and human mouths lapping at cocks as thick as their arms. She doesn’t know what to assume about a guy who wants a tattoo of three centaurs blowing each other. Not that she’s judging.
As a kid, Faye kept a whole stack of sketchbooks in her bottom drawer full of mythical screwing. She’d gotten surprisingly impressive finger-mileage out of a colored-pencil genie begging a satyr to suck him off. Wish for me to come! read his speech bubble. Please baby, wish for me to come!
Genies are easy. No legs to worry about, just a whirl of smoke, and always with that shifty, indeterminate edge to them. Quick smears of charcoal for the eyes, the nose, the mouth. You never see a genie’s true face; they break these faces apart and sew the pieces deep within their horrible wonders. That’s how they’re free to create things that feel so real. Things that fulfill wishes.
Faye thumbs around on her cellphone while her tea steeps, scrolling through Tumblr, DeviantArt, and IG looking for centaur beej example images. All the client sent for reference were pics of different centaurs taking it from behind; a few horse-m/m couples, one with a deer-woman, and one with a zebra-m/f couple, the zebra-man peeling off several of his lady’s black stripes to bind up her hands and forelegs. Lost between so many possible scenarios, Faye had emailed the guy back twice to confirm that he wanted his centaurs blowing each other instead of simply fucking. Did he want them trailing down his arm in a row, or some kind of Escher-inspired circle? An ouroboros-esque suck-and-suck? And what about proportions?—are the centaurs supposed to have extra-large mouths? Distending jaws like snakes?
Just not that pastel shit from Fantasia, he’d replied. That, and: You sure you can do this?
“Oh yeah, Faye can cover that up,” she hears Stew say at the parlor’s front desk, talking to some walk-in. “She’ll make your new sea turtle look wet as shit.”
Stew is Ghost Tulip’s nineteen-year-old schedule wizard, taking calls and juggling appointments. He’s nice enough, but all Faye ever sees when she looks at him is his acre of neck-beard and the chartreuse plug in his left ear. Now there’s something big enough for a centaur to fit his dick in.
“She’s a master at the cover-up,” Stew assures the walk-in. “You’ll never even know it was there.”
Sometimes, just as suddenly as this, the beeping of a microwave, Faye feels so empty she can hear the wind whistling through herself. No blood, no bones, no soul, no anything, and maybe it’s better that way. You’ll never even know it was there. She reminds herself to breathe. The linoleum’s a sheet of ice splintering beneath her Chucks. Her elbows ache as if vised, her knees, her wrists. She keeps her jaw clenched against the tide. She can’t afford to take another Dark Day. She’s the newest addition to Ghost Tulip’s stable, still proving herself. Her first steady job as an artist. Since grad school, she’s cobbled together a few gallery showings around Baltimore, DC, and Philadelphia, made some meaningful contacts, built up a website, and taken her therapist’s advice to get rid of unnecessary stressors by deleting most of her online profiles—Facebook and Twitter, a blog she hadn’t attended to in months. Well, don’t worry, her mother had told her, sounding dubious. When you’re successful you can just create new ones.
Faye can’t lift her mug. It’s too heavy. The centaurs are losing patience. She’ll be paying off student loans for the rest of her life and can’t even draw a dick in a mouth.
Watching her tea darken, Faye imagines herself exactly as her artist bio pic claims she looks—the “carelessly” tousled hair, the Red Riding Hood lipstick, the clear morning light, the faded band t-shirt with its useless breast pocket—and knows that’ll never fly. You can still tell who the artist really is underneath. Try squinting. See? The outline of the original is still there.
So she scraps the brown curls for orange ribbons of anime-style hair. She brings down the line of the artist’s jean-clad ass and legs until the stool they’re perched on has been consumed by a dreamy funnel of purple smoke, as if their torso had sprouted from the top of a tornado. The t-shirt is tricky to rework, but drawing big-boobed women has always been a secret pleasure, and the droopy breast pocket will make a decent enough MOM heart tattoo. The mouth is last. Stretching larger and larger until it’s gigantic, cavernous, the Rio Fucking Grande. If it deigned to, this mouth could deep-throat the world and swallow every drop. This mouth is grinning. This mouth is a velvet hall, a fanged gateway, a crystal cave. This mouth is wet as fucking shit.
The tea’s gone cold. The genie’s smoke is full of O-faced centaurs that look exactly and nothing at all like her, the slender Disneyish ones really giving it to the harder-edged motherfuckers. The breakroom’s a riot of hooves and groans and wishes, lightning and ink and limbs. But Faye doesn’t so much as blush when Stew wanders in for coffee. She doesn’t need to. No one can see her through the curling smoke anymore, and even if you do, you’ll never realize it’s her.