She looked peaceful lying on the wooden table, her pin straight black hair pooling around her oval face. Kimitake’s hand hovered over her body, the heat she radiated warming his cold flesh. He wanted to touch her, to feel his bare skin against hers, but feared that contact would somehow spoil his work. Instead, Kimitake put on a pair of plastic gloves before delicately turning her arm over and running his finger along her veins. The sight of those ghastly blue streaks filled with her blood gave him pause and he wondered if he was a monster. Desire, however, blinded his reason, and he convinced himself that she’d want this too.
For a moment he considered taking a photo of her, the last picture of his career. He decided against it, wanting this final piece of work to be a standalone exhibition. Going back to his old medium almost felt like cheating.
Kimitake sauntered over to his desk and picked up a glass vial. He held it up to the light and examined its content: a clear liquid that looked innocuous enough. Once injected into the body it would kill, though perfectly preserving the corpse in the process. Coming up with this substance had taken years of Kimitake’s life, but the labor was worth it. This elixir was infinitely better than any photograph, which was merely a copy of life at a certain moment. It could effectively stop the vicious onslaught of time by warding off decay.
At first he considered using the mixture on himself, providing a sort of immortality. Then he realized that maintaining his body in its current state would be a tragedy, for Kimitake thought men began to rot at the age of forty, all their traces of youth and beauty consumed by wrinkles and gray hairs. To inject himself now, on his 45th birthday, would only show nothing but his physical ruin.
That’s why he had taken the young woman, barely 20-years-old and at the height of her good looks. Kimitake felt doubt at this endeavor, wondering if he even had the right to snatch away a young life in its prime. Whatever regrets he had, however, were always followed by reassurances that he was helping her. After all, without him she would go on to live a perfectly ordinary existence, quickly forgotten and buried by time. By being his muse she would never be lost to history, instead forever conserved as a work of art, as a masterpiece.
Kimitake filled a syringe and made his way back to the young woman before taking a leap back in surprise. She was looking straight at him, though she saw nothing. Her eyes had rolled into the back of her head after he drugged her, but they were readjusted now, perhaps trying to wake her up. Kimitake quickly shut her eyelids with his trembling fingers, frightened by the woman before him. He didn’t make the connection initially, the small, delicate lips, straight nose and pale skin seemed independent of each other. But once he saw those soft, blank eyes it tied them all together: she looked just like his mother.
She had left when he was young, on the cusp of his manhood. Kimitake knew every detail of her face intimately, as he had found her so beautiful that he wanted to burn her looks into his mind. When she abandoned him he didn’t blame her, at least not consciously. His father had been a controlling man, paranoid of losing his unnaturally lovely wife and willing to go to violent extremes to keep her.
Right before she escaped, Kimitake vividly remembered walking with her in the garden. It was their safe haven, the only place where his father’s eyes didn’t drill into their backs. He often pretended they were married, priding himself on having such a ravishing lover. Kimitake reached out and intertwined her fingers with his, letting the warmth of her hand overtake him. He lifted it to his mouth and pressed his lips against her flesh, only to have her recoil as though she had touched a flame.
Kimitake had unknowingly kissed a bruise, the calling card of his father, on his mother’s wrist. Her reaction filled him with a guilt so heavy that he feared it would drag him into the ground. He often dreamt of challenging his father, vanquishing him from the home so he could become the man of the house. Each time, though, he stayed silent, letting his father’s rage empty itself out on his mother.
Sensing her son’s anxiety, she reached her hand back out. Kimitake did nothing. The two didn’t speak for the rest of the day following that incident, letting the tense atmosphere of their home smother them. His mother was gone by morning. She had left a note to Kimitake begging for his forgiveness and assuring her love for him. His father found this and ripped it into shreds while seething at the mouth, perhaps seeing his son as competition.
Kimitake sought comfort in his mother’s garden, living proof of her presence. He replayed his rejection of his mother’s hand over and over again in his mind. Unlike everything else, time had somehow failed to consume the memory, which was a source of constant regret. He thought that if he’d held her hand again she would feel less betrayed. Instead he had let her go and refused to be her anchor, letting her float up and disappear into the ether. He often dreamt of alternate realities where she was not his mother, where he was brave enough to rescue her and replace his father.
Before going to university, Kimitake made a book of pressed flowers from his mother’s garden. Forget-me-nots, his mother’s favorite, filled most of the pages, their fragile petals sealed under the tight plastic. Though his collection comforted him at first, the flowers began to wither as time passed. With each day they shriveled more and more, wizening like his skin. Kimitake considered returning to his home to collect photos of her, but couldn’t convince himself to go; it was nothing more than a reminder of his lost love.
He had nothing left of his mother, save for his memories which he could feel growing dimmer. Kimitake spent his adult life taking photos, constantly afraid of losing moments to the ravages of time, just as his mother had slipped through his fingers. Still, he felt as if they weren’t enough, only mere copies of what he knew he’d never have.
Kimitake took the young woman’s hand within his and raised it to this mouth, letting her dainty fingers linger on his lips. He pressed the needle into the young woman’s flesh. She would be caught in her prime, never able to leave her youth or Kimitake.