The midday sun could get terribly hot in mid-July, so fifteen-year-old Charles Marks set out on his bicycle trek at seven in the morning on a Wednesday during the summer holidays. He had the money to buy another ten pounds of powdered sculpting clay from Mrs. Zigelstein. It was the best, and cheaper than hobby shops in the city. Charlie just had to add water bit by bit, while kneading the mixture until it gained the desired texture.
Mrs. Zigelstein’s shop was in an adorable little house set well back from the road, alongside the river in Woodbridge. The town was aptly named, because an old, narrow wooden bridge was the main access to the town from the city, because the small river kept the town isolated, except for the bridge.
Charlie Marks rode across the bridge at about ten-thirty, just as the sun was beginning to get uncomfortably hot. He went straight to Mrs. Zigelstein’s art supplies shop.
“Hello there,” Mrs. Zigelstein said when she saw him. “Charlie Marks, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Mrs. Zigelstein, it’s me.” Charlie said. “How can you remember me?”
“I always remember you handsome fellas,” she said. “I wish you’d call me Ziggy, like everybody else.”
“But it seems so disrespectful,” Charlie said.
“Well, I think it’s disrespectful to not consider me enough of a friend to call me as I ask you to.”
“Well, all right… uh… Ziggy. If you insist,” he said.
“That’s better,” Ziggy said. “Now, my handsome sweetheart, what can I do for you?”
“I want to buy ten pounds of the powdered clay, like you sold me last time.”
“You know, Charlie, if you would sit for me for two hours while I draw you, I could give you the clay for nothing. Well, not really nothing… it would be your modelling fee.”
“Well… I’ll think about it, Mrs… uh, Ziggy,” Charlie said.
“How long do you think I’ll have to wait, Mr. Charlie big shot,” Ziggy said.
“After lunch,” Charlie said. I’ll say yes or no after lunch,” Charlie said.
“Where will you have lunch,” she said. “I could give you a nice lunch here, upstairs.”
“No thanks, really. I brought myself some sandwiches and I like to sit in the cool shade under the bridge and see the river creatures up close,” he said.
“You know, I’ve never been down there. I’ll bet it’s delightful,” Ziggy said.
“I like it,” Charlie said. “I’ll stay there until about four o’clock, when the sun’s not so strong, and I’ll ride back home.”
“You’d really like to spend five hours down there,” Ziggy said, “rather than relax in my studio?”
“You have a studio here?” Charlie said.
“Yes, right upstairs, with terrific light and lots of room,” Ziggy said.
“Do you do sculpture up there?”
“Sculpture, drawing, painting, pottery… I love it all,” she said.
“Cool. I would like to see that, and see how you work,” Charlie said, “but posing… I don’t know… I’d be embarrassed.”
“You wouldn’t have to be nude, Charlie,” Ziggy said. “I’m interested in your face.”
“I promise I’ll think about it down by the river,” he said.
“Okay, I can’t ask for more than that,” she said.
Under the bridge, in the cool shade on the bank of the river, Charles Marks thought about Mrs. Zigelstein’s eagerness. It seemed excessive. She was a nice lady, maybe fifty years old. Her skin was quite smooth, with just cheerful crinkles around her smiley eyes. Her body was a bit too thin, but nicely shaped, and her breasts seemed a bit too large for her slender body. Her legs were long, and looked nice in the white tights she seemed to always wear with a man’s baggy white shirt.
Charlie ate his peanut butter and jam sandwich with a small container of milk. He watched the crawfish in the rocks and darting minnows here and there. Frogs in the calm eddies where the water is still. Birds fluttered under the bridge, sat on beams and tolerated the shaking rumble whenever a car went over it.
Charlie’s reverie was interrupted by Ziggy. She scrambled down the hill and over the rocks to sit near him. She’d brought a sketch pad and pencils with her.
“I’ll draw you right here,” she said, “in your natural habitat, let’s say.”
Charlie couldn’t see a courteous way out of it, so he acquiesced. It didn’t seem proper to say no to an older lady. A very nice older lady.