an excerpt from 13 Black Cats Under a Ladder
by P. S. Ehrlich
That night I anticipate what the future might hold.
Contain the urge to hone and strop every chisel in the
toolrack. Even if Judith does decide to model for me,
what are the odds it could pan out as well it did with
Stormin’, or Josephine, or—
Miranda Parales. Who merengue’d her way through
Selfsame Art Supplies one remarkable summer, almost a decade
ago. Still living at home, just graduated from Bonum
High, now attending a Barbizon School—not Rousseau and
Millet’s, but a be-a-model-or-just-look-like-one factory.
Confident that wealth, fame, and sophisticated romance
would all soon be hers. Which might have been more
credible had she not looked like a cartoon gatita,
all frisk and pounce and scamper.
While I trained Miranda on handling merchandise, her
attention never wandered, since it was wholly devoted to the
half-dozen soap operas she videotaped by day, caught up on by
night, and could prattle about by the hour. If I did
manage to get her thinking about art supplies, she would
declaim, “We’re all out of foamboard!! ” or “I
can’t find any more gesso!! ” as though this meant the
family hacienda verged on foreclosure.
When Big Gag stopped by to scope out Miranda from bottom to
top (his idea of supervision), he warned her to “Watch out for
this one—he’ll try to sculpt ya.” That was all
she needed to hear. Ohmygaw! Was it true?
Did I really make statues of people? How soon would I
want her to pose for me? Why hadn’t we got started yet?
Wasn’t I ever going to ask her? (Pout,
As with any gatita, your impulse is to dangle the
yarn just out of tantalized reach. For a week I
temporized, scratching my chin and going, “Hmmm…” while
Miranda steamed and fumed and hissed. What! Did
I find something wrong with her face or her bod, that I didn’t
think them worthy of sculpting? Or was it that
she acted too giddy, too playful, when I knew she
would try her very very very best to do just what I wanted.
(Batting moist brown eyes the color of just-oiled
On Saturday I borrowed a truck from my landlord, drove down
to Selfsame, and told Miranda her hour had come. She
jumped and clapped and grabbed her backpack, not bothering to
time out. No one saw her leave, or scramble into the
pickup, or take off with me. Only when we hit the
Interstate did she think to ask where I was taking her.
“To my studio.”
Cellphones were not yet prevalent, and Miranda didn’t have
one. Her expression turned anxious, then dismayed, then
woeful. By the time I parked (unseen) in the garage,
she seemed petrified—except for her Princess Jasmine T-shirt,
which was all aflutter.
No resistance to my taking her hand. Or tugging her
out of the truck. Or in and up the stairs, Miranda
moving like a sleepwalker and making not a sound. All
alone with me in my home, her whereabouts unknown.
I don’t think I’m more carnivorous than the next man.
But it did have a powerful effect on my imagination.
Put her in an open doorway, standing aghast at what she
sees (the viewer). Or down upon her knees, bending
aghast over some shattered object that had been her heart’s
delight. Or huddling in the shower stall under a stark
cold drizzle, transfixed by the ghastly feeling she’s being
—as we maintain the edge—
—but contain the urge.
My lips an inch from her ear as I said, “Drink?”
“Looks like you could use a drink. Pour you some
She leaped back against the nearest wall, clutching it with
outspread arms and tragic gasp. To this day I don’t
know whether Miranda was genuinely frightened or engaged in
bosom-heaving melodrama: now he’s trying to
drug me so he can take me and have
me! O, how can I avoid such a fate? O, how might
I effect my escape?
“Oh no thanks not really thirsty wow forgot to let my mom
know where I am mind if I use your phone —”
Frantic dialing. “¡Yoly! ¿Dónde
está Mamacita?... AIEEE!! what are you
This last wailed into my face as she caught me quickdrawing
I showed her the sketchpad, on which I had exaggerated her
prettiness till it outshone even Jasmine’s cartoon allure.
Over the phone: “Randa?
“Call you later,” she told Yoly.
Hanging up to fling herself around in glamour-style
stances. Which she couldn’t or wouldn’t hold long
enough for me to do anything with, even when I pushed her into
a chair and told her to just sit still. Fresh pouts and
flounces: why had I practically kidnapped her if I
found her so hopeless, so unbearable? Why wasn’t I
taking pictures of her, like these—
—producing from her backpack assorted Barbizonery.
Most of which had already been thrust under my nose over the
past week. But here was one I hadn’t seen before:
a spectacular rear view of Miranda in mosquito-net
negligee and rubber-band thong, soulfully regarding her
frontal charms in a full-length mirror.
“My sister took that in our bedroom,” said Miranda, pouring
herself some wine. “Nice, hunh? You can’t see
the flash in the mirror or anything.”
This bodacious image I reproduced on a well-oiled butternut
panel: El Espejo de Miranda .
It popped the eyes of everyone who saw it. I
received commissions for a dozen duplicates, making it my most
lucrative piece then and still. The financial side got
very complicated and bilingual, with my dealer Geraldine and
Miranda’s Mamacita haggling over compensation for Yoly as the
source’s photographer; and a bonus for Miranda, who turned it
into a ticket to L.A. Last I heard, she was appearing
in a Spanish-language soap opera on Univision. Good for
So that escapade turned out well for the both of us.
My imagination has run wild on similar occasions, not always
as fortunately. Once even involving a shower stall—
—nevermind. Dream instead of Miranda tonight.
Despite my having gotten jaded on her sweet tetas y
nalgas, by carving them over and over again. Like
gorging nonstop on caramel flan.
(Not a thing you should do just before going to bed…)