They met at the site of a broken down theater, where in the ill dampness of late September he envisioned summer's beauty. He sat alone all afternoon looking to discover angles for a landscape. And then he saw a woman with an umbrella. Her features were lit up by the weak sun and he wanted to draw her.

It was love at first sight, it had to be. The sort of love one feels for a beautiful painting, a painting as bold as Artemisia Gentileschi's Penitent Magdalen, or as mysterious as that sullen grin of Mona Lisa. You do not love the canvas or the oils or the colors or the folds, you love the woman staring out, beckoning with her eyes to be taken yet simultaneously spurning the intruder away.

The autumn had been kind to her, it did her justice. Nature hugged her in its chill, wind rubbed her cheeks endearingly. She wore a beige coat and covered her soft neck with a long scarf, it played with the air about her and cascaded simply but gracefully through the roaring beating of the impending doom of winter. She shivered underneath her layers of clothing, while he thought of nothing else but donning the latter. Her forehead lit up into an innocent pink glow and he could almost feel himself reaching out and touching, feeling the oily surface of his pastels against the grainy paper.

He was sitting in his little stool when he first noticed her, noticed her walk, a walk of uncertainty that came with youth slowly being drowned out by age and experience. Her arms were folded as she slowly strolled through the leafless shrubbery of the park. It was a lonely stroll, one so uncharacteristic of other women he had known. It was so graceful, and simultaneously awkward, so certain and yet so doubtful just the same. Where was that warmth that radiated from other Russian women? Where was that look of innocence and will, of hope?

Or was she perhaps destined to become what Moscow had: That lonely woman in the corner of a seedy bar who wore her finest silks, her warmest furs, her flawless diamonds, cast disapproving glances while mumbling about the days of youth and happiness. So Moscow does, with its Kremlins and Arbats, with its Gorky Parks and Tretyakovsky galleries, with its Red Squares, bursts of crimson, a bleeding canvas. All remnants of a long lost glory that will never reach the peak again; a slowly dying, agonizing cause: it serves no purpose any longer, and frowns at those who yet can find strength to conquer oceans, mountains, and oil fields.

And yet, how bright those diamonds shine, how glorious, how beautiful!

He beckoned her to come, he called out for her. She stopped in her path and looked at him, her dark eyes disguised by a layer of emptiness. She stood still for a moment, as if contemplating whether he was calling out to her. It did not take her long to realize that he was. He sat there with his gray oils and large albums. He wanted to draw her; she shook her head and kept walking.

But he couldn't let her go. He called after her, he screamed that he could paint her, capture her, put life into those lifeless, sparkling eyes. He called long enough; she turned and approached him. She stood erect, leaning her head, twisting the disheveled, frizzy waves of her hair; she looked even more beautiful up close, even more alive.

"How much?" was the first thing she had said to him.

He stared at her uneasily, those pink cheeks, those small, thin, aired out lips. Without even noticing, she bit the lower sinfully, how much? How much was that moment worth to her? To him? Millions, billions.

"Five hundred rubles," he told her.

"Too much," she said and started walking again. He hated it when she walked, for when she walked she was invincible. But he had not yet indulged enough in her essence, or marveled at that brazen nudity that was written in her eyes, he had not yet experienced that burning remnant of passion. He wanted to touch her face, to feel the warmth of her cheek, to enjoy the simple caresses of her lips, even if it was on paper.

"Three hundred!" he called out after her. She stopped and looked at him, and it was as if she were looking at a brick wall. She shook her head.

"Two hundred."

She smiled, a gentle, and at the same time malicious smile, perhaps the only emotion he could register upon that beguiling face. She walked toward him, she stood still for a moment, he studied her smoky outline against the solid background of golden tints and naked maples. They flexed their backs against her frame and rocked peacefully, as if to a lullaby, with the wind. And as the golden leaves flew through the air and knocked on windows, she stood within that mist and reigned as if she were a queen. And then, with two little words, their silent dialogue assimilated like summer.

"Sit down," he said and she did.

Pressing down gently, he sketched the outline of her face, the high cheekbones, the squared, almost manly jaw, the poignant brow. He worked with a simple technique; he played it safe. He did not press down too early; he laid the shadows upon the lights, though God knew if there were any shadows. The waves of hair, scattered in piles over her thin shoulders, that light and auburn, flowing hair, the sly smile, that gentle curve of her lip, that slight hint of concave. With every stroke it was as if he had been touching her face, stroking the weaves of her hair, moving down the temptuous inclination of her neck. But her face still remained motionless, it was as if she did not feel his claws against her, how could she be so lifeless and yet so alive?

He tried to keep up a casual conversation.

"I noticed by your accent," he began, "that you are foreign."

"I am," she said.

"Where are you from?" he guessed, "Israel? Greece?"

She smiled, an appreciative smile, perhaps the only thing about her face that resembled humanity.

"America," she declared, "I grew up there."

He nodded, "You speak the Russian language very well."

"I said I'm from America, I didn't say I am American."

"My mistake."

She stared at him, an electrifying experience. Her eyes did not leave his face and yet it seemed as if she was not looking at but rather through him. That emptiness portrayed it, that horrific emptiness that lay in her gaze. Of course it was magnetic, of course it was enigmatic: what else are you to expect from the dark lakes of a beautiful woman's orbs? And yet, they were emotionless, sealed off from anyone's comprehension or appreciation. She was lost in her own world, and even though she posed willingly for the portrait, it was as if she covered her face with her palms. He tried in vain to capture her, but he could not. On that humble, grainy paper of his sketchbook he only saw the face; he didn't see the woman.

He drew her eyes with care but dissatisfaction. They did not, in his opinion, contain what he wanted them to contain. He looked at the drawing and then at the woman, and to anyone else the resemblance would be easily distinguishable. And yet he, himself, did not recognize his model in that portrait that he was so promising about. The artist drew what everyone else saw, and yet he could not execute his own vision. Perhaps it was the curse of creativity: those that can perceive cannot execute, and those that can execute cannot perceive. He damned innovation, he damned his own skills as an artist, he even damned her for being so many things and not being them at the same time.

The portrait was finished but he was afraid to show her. He was afraid to disappoint her, for he did, indeed, promise to put life into those eyes. Where had he gone wrong? He was almost certain he could understand the structure of her essence: was it really that sinful to assume? He wiped his forehead anxiously as she looked over the sheet that he had placed such a high stake on. He was expecting her to ridicule him, but expectations seldom come true.

"You made me too pretty," was all she said as she reached into her wallet.

He looked up at her alarmed, did she not know how his heart throbbed with disappointment that he had not made her pretty enough?

"That's ridiculous," he told her, "you're beautiful."

She stared for a moment at the informality of his expression, but did not give it a second's thought.

"It looks great," she said and handed him the money.

"Please, it's free of charge."

Without hesitation she returned her assets to the safekeeping of the beige coat's pocket, "All right then, goodbye."

She did not thank him. A part of him was relieved.

And then she walked away. He did not call out after her, he wanted to but he did not. He was too afraid of her, too afraid of a power that he could neither conquer nor understand. Did this experience happen? Did he really feel the way he'd never felt on a seemingly indistinguishable afternoon at the site of a broken down theater? Except for this moment, it would never matter again. She had faded out of sight, swallowed by the impending fog of a distant shower.

But she did not disappear. She strolled out of the park, the rolled up portrait in hand, and walked the streets of Moscow to the nearest Metro station. She boarded on the Mendeleevskaya and exited the train on Otradnoe, where she held a small flat some three building yards away. She had forgotten the portrait on the seat of the subway. She did not remember about it until that evening, when she shared a bottle of wine with her lover, a woman five years her senior, who, like the artist, loved her for that empty gaze and humane smile.