“Ophelia,” oil on canvas, by Friedrich Heyser, n.d.

by Lisa K. Buchanan

The mortician arrived last night, well before the viewing, to paint our little girl pretty. He was not the expected somber-suited officiant, but a bearded hippie with sunglasses and an art background. His former career, a renowned painter of psychedelic album covers, peaked before our girl was born, but he has since created an extensive portrait gallery of women with lush and wavy tresses, clingy drapery over limber angularity, and just enough exposed flesh (well, perhaps more than enough) to titillate. His subjects’ shadowy faces—arsenic-pale, holy and transcendent—approach the next world with beguiling solemnity.

Our girl has chlorinated laps for breakfast, a climbing wall for lunch, and a treadmill for dinner, gripping handlebars her collar bones now resemble. Her legs look storky; her complexion, ghoulish. Meanwhile, her womanly-hipped friends gab over burritos after tacking up posters in dorm rooms.

As a model, she tells us, she has found her niche.

I suppose we ought to take the long view and find some consolation in today’s artiste, because long after the starving and shivering are over, we’ll have our girl’s image framed and hanging in our living room: her bony white shoulders and bony white knees; her skeletal fingers holding a white bouquet; her dark, downward gaze on all who enter; a tribute to the grim, famished figure a painter saw as beauty.

“Career Change” originally appeared in Narrative.

omega man

Writings by Lisa K. Buchanan have appeared in Hippocampus, New Letters, Narrative, The Offing, and River Teeth/Beautiful Things. Awards include the Sweet 2020 Flash Nonfiction Contest (winner), The Bristol Short Story Prize (shortlist), and the Fish Short Memoir Prize (honorary mention). She likes The Charleston, black rice with butternut squash, Downward-Facing Dog, and breaking the Rule of Three. She lives in San Francisco. lisakbuchanan.com