Ranuccio... His voice whispers to me from beyond the grave. His dark eyes glisten and watch me from the portraits I crafted out of his figure. I run my finger-tips along the canvasses, feeling the lumps and raised edges where I tried to convey the power and rawness of the sinewy muscles along his arms. My fingers trace up to his neck and my thumb lingers on his throat, gently smoothing the soft, dried paint. I stare into his eyes, so intent, so focused. My gaze falls to his lips where I find myself transfixed for a few moments.

I turn to the portrait of Lena behind me. She, wrapped in clothes and quilts spread delicately across a cot, looked so peaceful in death. Men and women around her lean over for comfort and mourning, misery etched in the wrinkles imbedded around their eyes.

I had not made Ranuccio a portrait after his death. No... He would not have enjoyed being shuffled around like a sack of grain, as if he were nothing more than an object...

But wasn't he?

I turn away from my paintings and leave the room quietly.

...

"Michelangelo?"

I turned to the sound of my name and saw Ranuccio standing at the door, his hand pressing into the doorframe above his head.

I looked him up and down slowly, admiring his masculinity, before realizing what I had done.

"Yes?" I asked.

His eyes smiled before his lips followed suit. He looked down as if embarressed.

"Well... I..." He picked at a fragment of wood sticking out of the frame, avoiding my eyes. "Are you hungry?" He asked at last, looking up at me.

"No." I glanced at the table by my bed where Jerusaleme had placed my bowl of soup and bread. "No, Jerusaleme fed me earlier. Why?"

Ranuccio blushed and grinned, then stopped grinning and turned away. "Oh, I was just curious, is all." He shrugged and left the room.

I stared after him for a moment before walking over to my soup and soaking up the last of the cold bits with my crust of bread. I stared at the grayish slop clinging to the bread, and then I ate it.

...

"Just because he seems to like you, doesn't mean you should-"

"What? Make him love me?"

"No! Well, yes. I mean, if you don't feel that way about him-"

"I'm in love with his money," Lena snarled. "That's what you want to hear, isn't it? It's all money and clothes with me! There's nothing else I care about, except you, right?"

Ranuccio stared at her with narrow eyes, his hands clinched in fists at his sides. I could see him wrestling in his mind with the things he wanted to say and do, but he at last turned his back on her.

"It's not right of you to take advantage of him," he said at last.

Lena sighed. "Jealous bastard," she hissed under her breath before going into the kitchen for something to drink.

Ranuccio stood still as a statue, staring at a painting of musicians I had made, but I could see his eyes were unfocused, seeing things only the mind can put into pictures.

I waited for a few more minutes before coming into the room as if I had heard nothing.

...

At night time turns into a river. It moves steadily, yet never seems to go anywhere.

I lay on my back staring up at the black nothingness above me where the ceiling must be. My mind is full of thoughts yet empty of any real meaning. I think about when I first laid eyes on Ranuccio. Seeing him at the bar, gambling away his money for a chance at winning double. The ashes falling from his cigarette, flickering away into dust in his lap without him noticing. So careless and rash. I smile as I think of his eyes, when they first caught me staring at him.

Twas not fear that rippled behind his smoke-clouded eyes, no. It was shyness. He did not realize who I was, not that I was anyone, but still; He was shy and possibly embarressed to see me watching him.

As I lay in the cool quiet, life begins to stir outside my window as dawn approaches. Smears of dark violet and blue begin to marr the skies in the East.

Men with simple goals can only be pleased by simple things. Such was Ranuccio. Simple with his goal of power and fame. Pleased simply by the weight of gold in one's hand.

How sweet innocence can be.

The morning dew lingers on the grass long after the sun has given birth to a new day. A chill in the air allows the insects to slumber a bit longer, while the birds begin to twitter and flap among the trees and rooftops.

Soon Jerusaleme comes in with my breakfast. I hear him coming and close my eyes, pretending to be asleep until he places my food on the table and leaves the room.

I open my eyes again as I hear a bird scuttling along the window pane. I watch it with my eyes for a moment. It picks at its feathers and scratches its head, content with its utterly pointless life.

Suddenly my body jerks and my lungs spasm, and I am forced to sit up as a fit of coughing over-takes me. The bird flees with a scattering of feathers. Jerusaleme rushes in with a cup of water, worry etched into the deep wrinkles in his forehead.

I drink and he pats my face with a rag.

I sit back on the bed and sigh, while he rushes over to the table and grabs my food. He holds it out to me eagarly, but I wave it away, suddenly too tired to eat.

...

Once I was painting a portrait of Lena, who was dressed in red and white, leaning sensually along the length of a chair.

I slew the canvass with thick ribbons of black and crimson, rubbing and smudging the textures with the side of my thumb. Lena's body began to take shape before my eyes. I glanced over at her, where she lay in perfect stillness, her velvety eyes closed.

I turned my eyes a bit further to where Ranuccio was. He sat in the floor, one leg stretched out before him while the other was tucked up to his chest. His arms hung loosely from his shoulders, draped into his lap. His fingertips played with his crotch through his trousers. A cigarette hung from his lips, white smoke drifting sleepily from the tip.

I stared at his hands, marvelled at his expression. His almost indifference towards his own pleasure. I imagined his rough hands feeling my crotch, and my mouth turned dry.

He felt me watching him and looked up.

I quickly turned away with a flick of my paintbrush.

A few moments later, Ranuccio left the room, and Lena began to snore.

I tried to continue to paint, but she was quite distracting. I went to her and touched her shoulder, and her eyes fluttered open. She smiled, and, throwing her arms around my neck, she pulled me down and kissed me.

...

Women and children, whores and scoundrels: All of these made up the scenes of which I conveyed onto canvass.

A slut of a woman with a child born out of wedlock, and a haggard young man desperate for food, becomes an innocent baby squirming in the arms of its lonely mother, reaching towards a soldier of war.

An elderly woman found lost in the streets, becomes a woman who witnessed Christ's death and entombment.

A fierce and reckless fighter, a man who would do anything for money, becomes the ever-faithful John the Baptist.

With Lena around, inspiration flooded over me, threatening to drown me. As soon as I was satisfied with one painting, I would rearrange the models into a different pose and start a new one.

With Ranuccio around, all I wanted to do was paint him. Though, I was much too shy to do so. Therefore, I paced, distracted, unable to paint properly. My mind's eye fixed on his bare-chested body, nearly naked as John the Baptist.

When the two of them were together, my thoughts evened out so that I could function well-enough to paint, and, essentially, feed myself.

...

I see the shadows cross the wall before I hear the footsteps.

Jerusaleme comes in the room, the whistle hanging from his neck on a leather string. He carrys a bucket and a bar of soap. An old woman comes in behind him with an armful of towels. Yet another person comes in with a lantern, which he places on the table.

The light hurts my eyes, so I roll over on the bed and face the wall.

Jerusaleme coaxes me up with his gentleness and calm manner, and I wordlessly oblige him by removing my shirt.

...