[Originally published November 28, 2012.]
I, Leonardo da Vinci, on my deathest of death beds, leave behind my most final request to you, my best guy friend Giuseppe. Over the years, we have kept each other’s secrets well. I have never told anyone of your indiscretion with that water jar maiden, and you kept extra mum about the fact that my schematics for the helicopter were actually meant to be read upside down as a spinning knife boat. While we have kept these details hushed in our day to day, I fear that my reputation is now at stake. Indeed, my very legacy is at risk; my name is on a boot, and that boot is hovering above some mud and the mud is this revelation if it ever gets out!
Within my workshop, underneath the spare cot mattress in the back where you spent many a drunken night, are hundreds of anatomically correct sketches of a hyper-muscular woman doing jumping jacks. Not women, mind you. Just one woman, again and again. If anyone were to discover this beautiful, pencil-etched pornography, I could be billed as a pervert or fiend, rather than the innovator I was. And, for that matter, they’re not even pornography. There’s no sex, no eroticism, just beautiful, perfect jumping jacks. I would have disposed of them myself, but every time I went to throw them out, I just ended up sketching more. Or I’d spend hours darkening the already well-defined curves of her shallow, muscular bosom. Either way, my wastebaskets remained empty while my heart kept growing more full.
It all started when I was working out my Vitruvian man. I had reached the point of seeming completion, and yet… it looked unfinished. As I sat staring, pondering, wondering what it was missing, my pencil slipped and left the slightest hint of hair across my subject’s forehead. Emboldened, I kept squiggling until I realized what I had created: bangs. Then came the pretty red lipstick, the sultry eyelashes and, in some of my darkest moments, bright puffy nipples. In one hand she held a flower, in the other a pair of escalated heel shoes, as if she had taken them off in a moment of whimsy to do her jumping jacks. I named her Vertrude, and I became enchanted.
Oh, the stories I created for my beloved Vertrude! Sometimes I’d give her more defined abs, like she loved doing crunches, and sometimes I’d give her stronger arms, the kind you would use to give the strongest hugs to, say, an inventor boyfriend who you loved very much. I never drew her doing these actions, mind you, partly because I got really good at drawing jumping jacks and partly because I found a certain arousal in the mystery of backstory. Why was this beautiful, ripped woman taking time out of her day to strip bare and jump around so? The male body, while an impressive display of geometry, was a solvable equation. This was a conundrum to which the only solution was to keep drawing more.
It pains me to see the world fawning over the early draft of the man that was discovered, before I could find the strong sinewy woman hidden underneath. And yet despite all of her inspiration, I have not been able to find my own strength, to step forward and correct these misguided followers. I let them think I was some sort of genius for this portrait of a man. Who cares about man? Man is nothing but a woman not yet fully drawn. This does not make me a pervert, you understand. I’m just a man who appreciates well built structures.
Giuseppe, do what I could not do and burn these sketches. Burn them to ash and use the ash to plant a turnip garden. Feed the turnips to the community, so that they will have consumed my shame and might feel it themselves if ever this comes to light. I will instead keep these images forever emblazoned upon my brain, mine and only mine to take to the grave: the image of her side pony that she sometimes wore to keep her hair out of her eyes while jumping; the image of the toenails, painted all different colors that I affectionately termed her “piggy rainbow”; and the image of her rocky thighs… splayed just all asunder. These will be the pictures that fade to nothingness behind my eyelids as I gasp my final breath. These will be… my eternity.