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The Art of Perfection

by Jasmine Gage

          The crowd was filled with chatter and oozed with excitement just beyond the red curtain. I peeked between the tiny gap in the curtain to see how many people were actually in attendance. Each chair in the room was filled with someone, whether I knew them or not. Some sections were filled with my friends from college, while others were filled with family members who flew in just to see me. Tiny beads of sweat formed on my head as I scanned each person’s face.

          “You ready for this?” a voice called out behind me.

          I straightened out my white blazer with my hands.

          “Ready as I’ll ever be,” I sighed. I took a deep breath and released whatever fear I had deep in the pit of my stomach. Today was the day I finally had a chance to show off my creation, my painting. It's something I’d been working on for months, no, years to create. And I’d done it. I’d finally done it. I turned around and saw my assistant, Joyce, standing beside the podium draped with a white sheet.

          “Do you think I should look at it again?” I questioned. My fingers fidgeted, seeming to be stuck together as if they were welded. I walked towards the podium and reached out for the sheet. Joyce grabbed my hand and stopped me from pulling it off.

          “Kamilah,” Joyce reassured. “We talked about this. The painting is fine, we made sure of it last night.”

          “It can’t just be fine, Joyce.” I assured her. “It has to be the best. Flawless.” I started to pace to the curtain and back to the white sheet. “I have too much riding on this. Too much time was put into this. It needs to be–”

          “Perfect!” a voice exclaimed from a distance. The smell of lavender filled my nose as I glanced over to see a woman and man strut in my direction. As they got closer, I saw my mother’s smile grow larger and her arms spread wider. I returned the embrace and hugged her.

         “Oh, darling! How I am so proud of you…” my mother said as her words trailed off. She held my face using her index finger and thumb as she twisted my head around.

         “What is that? Have you looked in the mirror? Jesus, how much do you pay these people?” She complained as she held me with her fingers. I moved her hands and slowly touched my face. I could’ve sworn I fixed my hair and makeup. I had the team touch everything up for me. Is it that bad? Did I forget something?

          “Everything is okay, Mrs. Harrison,” Joyce said to my mother as she walked over with a compact mirror. “Nothing is wrong with your daughter’s face.”

          I snatched the mirror from Joyce’s hands and looked into it. My makeup wasn’t smudged nor ran down my face. Lips were full of red lipstick and mascara was still in full effect. I turned to the side to examine what my mother could’ve seen. I didn’t see what she saw.

          Was it something only mothers could see?

          “What is it? What is it? I don’t see it.” My chest started to tighten up as if someone had a grip on me. My eyes searched for the issue that could be on my face until a hand touched my shoulder.

          “That’s enough. Nothing is wrong, Kamilah,” Joyce assured me and gently took the mirror out of my hands. I balled up my fists, jabbing my nails into the palms of my hands. My eyes shut tightly as I pushed the negative thoughts out of my brain. It’s okay. Everything will be okay.

          Mother scoffed and her nose turned upwards as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I just wanted to make sure she at least looked presentable. This is a big moment for you, Kamilah, and I expect nothing less—”

          “I’m sure she understands what is at stake, dear,” Father reminded my mother, cutting her off from her words. “Let’s not make it any more difficult than it already is for her.”

          I shook my head and released the pressure from my hands. “It’s fine, I’ll work on it,” I blurted out and watched as their eyes narrowed.

          “You better,” They both said in unison. Their gaze weighed heavily upon me, slicing through me and whatever positive thoughts I had left. The sensation of heat pressed up against my skin as I glanced back and forth between them. They stood there like statues, still, firm, and fixed on me. The body language appeared intimidating and flawless. With nothing more to say, I dropped my gaze and listened to the clicks of their shoes growing faint in seconds.

          It was just me left on the stage. Me and the white sheet covering my work. I stared at it and hoped to see at least a peek of what was underneath. I knew what was underneath, it was my work, my creation. Something done by me and me alone. I shook my head and started to pace again.

         Should I check it?

         Should I look?

         What if they hate it?

          Is it my best?

          Silence filled the room.

          “I think you should check it, Kamilah,” a voice called out behind me. The sound of heels clicked against the wooden floor. It grew closer as I kept my eyes on the white sheet.


          “Check it, Kamilah,” the voice whispered to me. “Snatch off the sheet and look.” Their voice slipped its way through my ears, slithering around as if it were their domain. The floor trembled underneath my feet. Legs shook, arms shivered. The sheet draped over the art covered what I couldn’t see and didn’t want to see.

          “Just take a look.” The heels clicked closer; a shadow appeared. Long red nails touched my shoulder. “Just a peek.

My hand shook uncontrollably as I snatched away the sheet. My eyes made contact with a pair of brown eyes. My own eyes. My hair, my features, my self-portrait. It capitalized on my beauty and essence from my chocolate skin to the definition of my cheekbones. The whiteness of my pearly teeth, the bridge of my nose, everything within me. “It’s perfect...” I said softly.

          “Is it?” The figure next to me questioned.

          I fanned them away, “Of course, it is!” I yelled, “It’s my self-portrait, it’s me!”

          “But is it perfect? What’s that spot on your face, Kamilah? Hmm?” The figure taunted. It walked towards the painting and used its long nail to point out a scar. A flaw. A disappointment. “Is this your art of perfection?”

          “It is… isn’t it?” I felt tears in my eyes. I stared at myself and scanned my face. I saw it. The flaw. It was my eyes. They were dark, gloomy, and empty. The honey gold brown tint had seeped from its pupils. The more I stared into those eyes, the more I began to notice the saggy dark bags underneath my eyes. It appeared as a purplish-blue color, bruising my face, my painting. I placed my hand on my chest.

          “What is that? What’s happening to my portrait?”

          “Your flaws. What you try to hide. It’s spilling out.”

          The nails dragged themselves down and ripped my work as it traced down. A black liquid oozed from the cracks, seeping its way into the form of my face.

          “It will continue to grow. Expand.”

          A mirror appeared in front of me and I grabbed it. My face was changing. My eyes became dull and filled with saggy ripples of skin. My hair thinned out with streaks of grey. The color of my skin drained itself of its melanin and only seemed to leave an ashy tint.

          I screamed, “WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME??!!”

          “You are losing yourself. You’ve lost your perfection.”

          “No… no.” My voice trembled. “Help me! Help me, please!”

          “I could help you, but you must do something in return.” the figure sauntered closer.

          “Anything! I’ll do anything!” I cried out.

          “You must let me in.”

          Its pale hand extended. A mask with my features on it laid ever so perfectly on its hand.

          “Take the mask, embrace the perfection, and leave behind this mess.”

          I hesitated. Leave behind who I am? Could I do it? I looked back towards the painting and watched as half of my features returned to my portrait.

          “But that’s my identity, it's a piece of me,” I sobbed.

          “Your identity conflicts with perfection. You must leave it.”

          I wiped away my tears and placed the mask on my face. The figure’s pale hands touched my face, holding me within its grasp.

          “Now, isn't that better?” It asked.

          Tears streamed down my face as a smile forced its way across my lips.

          “It's perfect.”

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