Focal Point
M. Howalt
(1 reviews)
Complete as of April 20th 2017. Sean considers himself a pretty normal guy. His biggest problems ... Show More
Comedy, Contemporary Fic., Cross-Genre, LGBT, Literary, Other, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
photography, supernatural, history, art, mental health

Model Behaviour

She looks at him, seductively batting her eyelashes. One hand is resting on her hip, a suggestive swing to it, one leg slightly in front of the other, the heel just raised from the floor. Her eyes are a shade of green that reminds Sean of Matthew, but her hair is almost the same colour as Sean’s own. Her skin is smooth and the light plays softly on her features. The make-up is heavy, but discreet enough to appear natural to most of the thousands of people who will see her like this. Her right hand is held out towards him, long nails supporting the weight of the box in her hand. The box is what really matters.

Sean studies the scene. He snaps a few test shots. ”Great work,” he says, smiling at her above the camera. Her expression doesn't change, but her eyes light up a little warmer. It suits her. ”The pose is fine, but can you perhaps let the detergent rest on your fingertips instead? Like ...” He traverses the distance between them, crossing the odd space in front of the camera where he never stays for long. He takes the product and places it exactly right on her fingers. ”Like this. And … here.” He raises her arm a little so her cleavage will be visible behind the box. A cheap trick for a cheap product.

Behind the camera again, he takes a few more shots. She's like most of the models used for these advertisements. Young, pretty, but not striking in any way. She's a prop. He could have been bending the twigs on a potted plant and not her fingers. She could have been a table that served the purpose of exhibiting the detergent. She sells better than a table or a potted plant. She has a C cup and an attractive smile with straight, white teeth. And she instills the belief into anyone who takes the catalogue out of their mailbox and looks it through that she has used this product, that stains came out of her skirt, and that it caused no damage to the silky skin on her hands.

”That's it. Brilliant.” Sean uncurls himself from the camera. ”Thank you, Ellen.”

While she packs up, he consults the list on the table in the corner of the studio. He has been through a handful of products already today. The first few of them didn't come with a model. Just a stack of plates. On sale. Towels. Extra soft, limited period of time. Soap dispenser and matching toilet brush. Several colours. It is, contrary to what most people may believe, possible to be artistic with a toilet brush. But not for this. They want solid craftmanship, not a creative twist on everyday articles. Accessibility, not art.

Working with models is a little more interesting and challenging. And next up probably will be a challenge. Children's clothes. Raincoats and wellies. Size 6 – 12 years old. Usually the children are fairly professional. They rarely cry or make any trouble. They come with a parent or some other kind of caretaker. But very often the adult has no idea how things work, and sometimes, especially if they are relations and working for the mall or supermarket in question, they have Ideas. ”Don't you think it would be really cute if she sat down with that bucket in her lap and you sort of take the picture from above so she is looking up at the camera?” No. Especially not because the order description clearly states that the important thing is to show the pattern and the length of her trousers.

The ones today, a boy and a girl, he has worked with before. He needs to get a new cup of coffee before they enter. Never trust children to be alone with expensive equipment. Their grown-up companion is good at staying out of his way and he never gets accusing looks from her when he directs the children. But she wouldn't be able to stop them if they decided to take a closer look at his things. The mere thought.

The artificial lights make the studio a little warmer than an average living room at this time of the year, so Sean adds several layers of clothing to his frame before he leaves. An extra shirt, a coat, a scarf, gloves. He retrieves his mobile phone from a pocket, checks it and puts the sound back on. Done for today. No crying kids. Need anything from the shops?

He swings his satchel onto his shoulder, turns off the lights and leaves. It has been raining outside and he can see his own reflection in the wet asphalt. Soothing, post-shower smell, brown leaves and rainbow-like oil in the gutter.

The phone in his pocket vibrates. Lucky u. Its wednesday = crying kids for me. Im home. We could use a bottle of wine. <3 Fish for dinner.

Got it. There are three supermarkets on the way back to the flat. One is cheap, but not well assorted in the wine department. The second one he completely refuses to go to. He deals with it behind the scenes on a regular basis and gets a little fed up. The third option has a nice selection. It's more expensive, but if he's not going to shop for anything else, it's all right.

In the supermarket, he picks out a South American white wine from 2007. Not too dry, not too sweet. According to the label. Admittedly, Matthew is the wine connoisseur. To Sean, wine is just nice. It's great with food, and it comes in lush red, flirtatious pink, and a pale moonlight yellow called white.

It turns out that he has hit that exact moment when everybody else decided to go shopping and ends up behind a middle aged man with a shopping cart on the verge of collapse under the weight of his purchases. A vegetable mountain grows on top of it, then packs of minced meat and tinned tomatoes. It's a warped version of the food pyramid. Through the bars of the wheeled food prison, a fruit juice is visible. There's a photo of a banana squeezed into position between an apple and an orange on it. Potent juice. The imagery is grotesquely blatant. Probably most people won't notice.

Sean stares at the man's neck, trying to will him to turn. And he does, 45 degrees on his own axis, looking straight up into Sean's face, his eyes passing over the single bottle of wine in Sean's hand on the way. He smiles, then turns back around.

There's always the possibility of tapping his shoulder. ”Hi, I'm having this one bottle of wine, and you are able to feed half of the third world for a month with that truckload of groceries.” It would be a great line. Perhaps the bloke would get the idea then and let Sean get in front of him. He shifts from one foot to the other. The man begins to take the items from his cart and put them onto the conveyor belt at the cash register. Slowly. The shop assistant greets him and registers the items one after another. Beep. Beep. Beep. A pause. He needs to punch in the numbers of the barcode of one of the products. Then beep again.

The man with a thousand mouths to feed is still stuffing his purchases into plastic bags when Sean escapes the supermarket. It is getting dark outside. He crosses the street and walks for ten more minutes, zigzagging from one street to another on the route that he has decided is the quickest. He doesn't actually know, but he has been meaning to time it for a while.

The light is on in the kitchen of their flat when he glances up at the windows. He pulls out his keys and lets himself into the building, up the flights of stairs and into the flat.

”Just in time to set the table!” calls Matthew.

Sean slips off his shoes and his coat and walks into the kitchen with his shoulder bag in one hand and the bottle of wine in the other. ”Hi,” he says and brushes a kiss against Matthew's cheek.

”Hi,” returns Matthew, stirring the food at the stove. ”What did you get?”

Sean ceremoniously holds up the bottle for inspection.

Matthew nods in approval. ”Not bad. Open it right away, will you? No, wait. Toss it in the freezer for five minutes.”

Sean caresses his back on his way to the freezer. ”How was your day? Apart from the crying children?” He retrieves plates, cutlery and glasses and manages to balance everything in a perfect equilibrium.

”It was fine. The children weren't that bad either. Just with twenty primary school classes in the museum, what can you expect, right? A little girl got lost, though.”

”Though?” Sean echoes on his way to the dining table.

”I found her,” Matthew explains. Although his back is turned, Sean can hear him smile. And he can see the scene. A darkish exhibition room, a small girl hunched behind a display cabinet. Her face streaked with tears. Her arms are wrapped around her knees. Then a beam of light emerges at the door. The silhouette of a slender figure in a casual shirt and jeans turns up in the doorway. It searches the room with a torch. The small girl draws her knees closer to her chin. She holds her breath. The shape in the doorway steps closer, runs the light beam across the room again and finds her. Deer caught in the headlights of a car. But it's not a car come to run her over. Matthew steps across the floor and kneels in front of her. ”It's okay, sweetie. You're safe now. I'm here to take you back to your group.” She reaches up and puts her arms around his neck, and he lifts her up.



Matthew is looking at him. There's a saucepan in his hand. ”Will you put this on the table too, please?”

Sean nods and takes the hot pan from him. They retrieve the wine and Sean pours them a glass each. The fish is perfect, the vegetables spicy enough not to be bland, but don’t take away the focus from the fish.

”And your day?” asks Matthew.

Sean chews a mouthful, swallows, then sips his water. ”It was all right,” he says. ”I spent the day shooting harmless products.”

”You brute.”

”I know, I'm horrible.”

Matthew grins, then carefully carves a piece of the salmon. He puts it in his mouth, chews, evaluates.

”It's good. You are amazing in a kitchen.”

The almost shy smile is replaced by a stern glance. ”You're only saying that to get out of cooking.”

”No, honestly. You are.”

”Well, thanks. But that doesn't mean you're getting out of cooking for Linda and Peter on Friday.” Matthew picks up his wine glass to fend off any protests that Sean might have. He raises it and nods in the general direction of Sean. ”Cheers, love.”

Sean puts down his knife and his fork and lifts his glass too. ”Cheers. To your unrivalled cooking skills.”

”I talked to my uncle today,” Matthew continues. “He asked how you were.”

Sean snorts. “And you had to disappoint him and tell him that I'm doing fine? How did he take it?”


”But it's true.” Sean shrugs. ”Your uncle hates me.”

Matthew draws in a deep breath, then exhales slowly, patiently. ”Sean.”

He shouldn't have said it. But it's too late now to turn back. If he laughs and says he didn't mean it, Matthew will still want to talk about it. They are close, Matthew and his uncle, for some odd reason. Sean's partner is the most angelic being in the world. Someday Sean is going to capture his halo or his wings on camera. Like some people claim to catch UFOs or ghosts on film. No one doesn't like Matthew. It is amazing how he can be related to his uncle.

”Ali doesn't hate you.”

”I know. Not hate. He only dislikes me strongly.”

”It's just the way he is.”

”It's okay. Really. I don't mind. I don't particularly care for him, either.”

A shadow crosses Matthew's face, one of those dark moods that rarely last for long. He is a summer sky, clouds only cross him, they never really linger. Yes, Matthew brings out the cliches in Sean. ”I know,” he says.

”Look, it's just ...”

”I know,” Matthew says again. He smiles and shakes his head. ”I really wish you would get along. Just try. Maybe you could see each other alone one day. Have a friendly cup of coffee or something.”

”If you can talk your uncle into it, I'm game,” Sean replies. When hell freezes over, that's when. Ali likes to be the busiest man on the planet. He will easily get out of a potential appointment. Matthew will ask him and he will grudgingly agree, because it's Matthew and he can't say no to Matthew. Then something will come up. Something important, work-related, a life saving effort. There is no risk for Sean to agree to see Ali on his own. It will simply never happen.

”Great,” Matthew says. His eyes lock on Sean's. He expects Sean to hold up his end of the deal.

”Great,” repeats Sean.
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 1/28/2016 12:22:53 PM
  • Yashita Ghazi commented on :
    5/31/2017 3:37:50 PM
    i am miss yashita ghazi i have a proposal for you via at (
  • Becky M commented on :
    8/13/2016 5:22:01 AM
    You have such wonderful descriptions. It fils well through the mind of a photographer. I like the way you described the 3 wines. I got a little lost at the scene break, ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Thanks a lot for checking out Focal Point and for the feedback! Excited to have you on board. :)
      8/17/2016 8:32:05 AM
  • Stevie Phillips commented on :
    8/12/2016 1:10:57 AM
    I like how it flows and the great formating that makes it ease for the reader to follow!
    • M. Howalt Thanks very much! I hope you'll continue to enjoy it. :)
      8/17/2016 8:30:56 AM
  • ela leo commented on :
    6/3/2016 1:57:43 PM
    I like the smallest details. Looking forward to more!
  • ANN brown commented on :
    5/5/2016 11:37:55 PM
    Hello good day, i will like to meet you in person, am miss Anna, am from France and am leaving in London, please contact me on my email id at (, ... Show More
  • Evan Marcroft commented on :
    4/16/2016 5:56:35 PM
    I'm enjoying the marked shift in tone and style from the last few things of yours I read. You said it was literary and it definitely was.
    • M. Howalt Ooh! Excited to see you here and back on JP! Thanks a bunch for reading. :) I added your new serial to my shelf, btw, but I'm currently challenged when it comes to spending time at the computer (aftermath of a concussion), so I'm very behind on serial reading.
      4/20/2016 7:27:45 PM
    • Evan Marcroft Oh dang, I'm sorry to hear that. Are you alright, besides the concussion?
      4/20/2016 9:21:43 PM
    • M. Howalt Thanks! Yeah, I'm good. It wasn't very dramatic. :) Just taking a while to get back to normal, unfortunately.
      4/22/2016 2:48:13 PM
  • anna brown commented on :
    3/31/2016 12:52:30 AM
    Hello good day, i will like to meet you in person, am miss Anna, am from France and am leaving in London, please contact me on my email id at (, ... Show More
  • Kast L. Hicali commented on :
    2/8/2016 3:45:51 AM
    Sean's honest inner attitude towards the photo shoot and his job is quite refreshing and an interesting view of it all.
    • M. Howalt Thanks very much! I'm glad it comes across as refreshing. :) I hope you'll like how things pan out.
      2/8/2016 3:31:14 PM
  • Jennifer Flath commented on :
    2/7/2016 7:13:34 AM
    I'm seeing that Sean is conditioned to notice...I don't know how to describe it...aesthetic details, how things appear and what effect that has. The model, the juice, ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Yay, I'm happy to see you here, Jennifer! Thanks for checking it out and commenting. :D And it is super cool to hear you say that about his way of thinking. Claiming that a character has a certain profession is one thing, but making it feel true and not over the top is always the challenge.
      2/7/2016 1:00:40 PM
  • Dean Moses commented on :
    2/3/2016 7:19:17 PM
    I really like this serial’s style. The intro sets up Sean as a character very well: his thought process, how he sees the models, his environment, his personality. The ... Show More
    • M. Howalt I'm so excited to see you here, Dean! Thanks for checking out this one as well. :) I'm happy to hear that Sean and Matthew feel real to you. As for realism ... Well, my main thing is trying to capture emotional/human realism as well as I can, regardless of setting. Focal Point is going to be different from Aconitum and Conviction in a lot of aspects, but there'll be some ... weirdness along the road. :)
      2/6/2016 6:28:39 PM
    • Dean Moses You certainly do that. From reading Aconitum and Conviction, that's what I love the most. Everyone in your stories feel like individuals, their personalities shine through and carve themselves, making it easy to love, like, or hate each one.
      2/6/2016 7:03:58 PM
    • M. Howalt Oh, thank you so much! That is what I am hoping to accomplish, so it really means a lot to hear! :)
      2/6/2016 7:33:32 PM
  • A S commented on :
    1/28/2016 9:25:44 PM
    Egads, your writing as always is so clever and beautiful. I love your turns of phrase- the way you describe a shopping cart as a food prison! The characterization is just ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Oh wow, thank you so much, Allison! I'm floored by comments like this. It really means a lot. :D The food prison was just too good to pass up and suited Sean's narration and personality so well, so I'm glad you liked it.
      1/29/2016 1:49:36 PM
  • Aden Ng commented on :
    1/26/2016 3:31:00 PM
    I love these slice of life chapters. When they are done well, they are simply amazing. And you did it well. Looking forward to this.
    • M. Howalt Oh, thank you so much, Aden! This one will have a lot of those, kind of, so I hope they won't let you down. :)
      1/27/2016 7:37:45 AM
  • Ryan Watt commented on :
    1/26/2016 5:40:16 AM
    Having a protagonist who is a photographer will certainly allow you to give some interesting points of view. I like the entire section about how the children models are ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Yay, thank you for reading, Ryan! Nice catch on comparing models to Matthew. Sean really is into Matthew, and I love writing those parts when it really shows. :)
      1/27/2016 7:35:46 AM
  • k l commented on :
    1/26/2016 2:35:00 AM
    Intrigued by this. The writing is very vivid and I get a good sense of the characters. I'm looking forward to seeing what the trouble with this mysterious Uncle Ali is. I ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Thank you very much for checking out Focal Point! I'm really happy to hear that the characters and the details are working for you. Chapter two will be up tomorrow (Thursday), so you won't have to wait long. :)
      1/27/2016 7:32:19 AM
  • K. R. Kampion commented on :
    1/26/2016 2:33:16 AM
    I love how soft and normal everything is compared to your other works. This feels like it could be just about anyone's life, but I definitely feel like everything is ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Heh, I think you hit the nail on the head there, bro. I am definitely going for the feeling of normalcy with this chapter. Thanks a bunch! :D
      1/26/2016 5:02:32 PM
  • Laura Morrison commented on :
    1/25/2016 11:48:51 PM
    A lovely first chapter :D I don't know if it's just because I see the 'paranormal' and 'fantasy' tags, but I'm feeling like there are some dark undercurrents beneath the ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Yay, I'm so glad to have you on board. :) Thanks very much. The main category is literary, but ... you never know what'll happen. :3 You know how I cross-genre like crazy.
      1/26/2016 4:47:52 PM
  • J.A. Waters commented on :
    1/25/2016 8:13:20 PM
    Hmmm. You always excel in the thoughts and ideas of your characters. This seems like a lovely trip into someone else's life. They're making their way through one moment ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Oh, I'm so happy to hear that you enjoyed the first chapter. This is very much going to be a trip into Sean's life, and I can promise a bunch of pet peeves coming up. ;) Whether that was just a character highlight, I'm not at liberty to say. But hopefully (?) it's not going to be a normal story. ;)
      1/26/2016 4:45:33 PM
  • Andre Clemons commented on :
    1/25/2016 7:41:28 PM
    Ah, yes, from the creator of Aconitum & Conviction comes another great story. Sean & Michael's relationship is so beautiful to see, the type of relationship you don't see ... Show More
    • M. Howalt Aw, thanks so much, Andre! I hope Focal Point will live up to your expectations. :) The relationship in this one is really great to write, so I'm happy to hear that it works for you. :) I was hoping that some of Sean's experiences would be relatable (but I didn't know it was going to be that literal). :)
      1/26/2016 8:55:44 AM