Thursday, July 1, 2010

#8: art is a funny thing.

She's into art, she said, so when you were driving home one afternoon and you saw a sign for a free gallery opening, you grabbed a broken pencil from your console's cupholder and scrawled the address down on the ATM receipt that showed your $29.42 balance. Not enough to take her out to a dinner you'd actually be okay with taking her to, but hey, free gallery.

"I'm always looking for an excuse to wear that black dress," she says, applying a few lines of mascara in the rearview mirror to dark eyelashes already thick enough to lash a raft with.

"I'm always looking for an excuse for you to wear that black dress, too." She laughs and her mascara wand slips down the side of her eye and leaves a black streak down the side of her face like a strip of interstate.

"Look what you made me do!" she says. She points a finger to the mark and smiles. "Look where your flattery got me! A literal black mark." Her chuckles ring through the car as she wipes her face clean. "This better be some damn good art."

"Probably not as good as the art you just made on your face." She smiles and tosses a playful punch at your shoulder.

You arrive and open her door for her. You dressed to match, too, you sly bastard: light gray suit, black shirt with enough starch to be considered a potato, no tie. Just badass enough to get away with it, but not enough to look like you tried too hard. But you did. Try too hard, that is. Enough chest hair is peeking out your shirt like a Bond villain's fingers on a building's ledge in the third act, and your sunglasses are just crooked and smudged enough to make you look like you're doing a David Caruso impression. Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaah indeed.

The two of you stroll between dark halls and adorned walls, examining pictures you don't really understand and sculptures whose aesthetic completely bewilders you, like you're reading the Upanishads in Sanskrit (or a T.S. Eliot poem in English). These images and shapes mystify you like black magic and you're terrified that you'll be exposed as a fraud. Your philistine nature and inability to comprehend what everyone else around you, these people wearing tan linen suits and black turtlenecks and who have beards that are more landscaped than they are trimmed and who are using terms like "impasto" and "spectrum," they'll all point and laugh.

And she'll leave with that guy that looks like a hobo, you know, the guy with the mangy "ironic" (you put it in quotes because it's not irony, it's insincerity) mustache and the skinny jeans and the stupid boat shoes and fedora that make him look like an anachronistic 1940s newsboy and they'll have beautiful, artistic children with full hairlines and bright smiles that they won't utilize because brooding is like totally super cool.

But she locks her fingers between yours like a subway line and your worried mind is eased.

Until you see That Painting.

It's not that you're familiar with the artist (you aren't) or that you've seen the painting before (you haven't) or that you know a damn thing about composition (you don't), but it's because that girl in the painting? The model? The tall, thin girl with the Empire-State-Building-high cheekbones and the chin-length blonde hair?

You used to date her, didn't you.

You did, you son of a bitch. You son of a bitch, that's your ex-girlfriend, thrown upon canvas in acrylic paint, a monochrome representation of where you spent your mornings and nights not 365 days ago. And here you are, parading hand-in-hand with this gorgeous shoulder-length brunette in the black flats and the black dress and with the black eyelashes, having exorcised the idea that you were ever with anyone else, and there's a modernist representation of your previous paramour.

She sees that you hesitate in front of the painting, by the way. You can't help it, and she's spent enough time with you to know that something's up.

"What about that painting makes you hesitate?"

You pause. What the hell are you supposed to say?

"I dated her," you say, pointing to the piece.

"You dated a painting?"

"The model."

"Really?" She sounds skeptical.

"Yeah." You take a deep breath to both underline your sincerity as well as give you a second to allow the intensity of your feeling to shine through. "This is weird, huh."

"Doesn't have to be," she says, brushing hair behind earlobes. "We both have our own histories, you know? We've both been places."

"That's true."

She pauses, still holding your hand but dropping your digits' connection to waist-level. "Did you love her?"

"I don't know. Maybe." You take a sip from your museum-provided complimentary cranberry lemonade. "How do you quantify that?"

"Did you want to be with her all the time?"

"Yeah, but I want to be with my old dog all the time. Not really the same thing."

You wonder what kind of dog the two of you would get. Your brain decides upon a chocolate lab: just energetic enough to be good for walking, but quiet enough to sleep in your bed. Because you assume that the two of you (three of you?) will have a bed. Because you're an optimist.

"I don't know," she says, "but that's interesting." She removes a roll of Wild Cherry Life Savers from her dress's pocket and tosses one into an open mouth. She points a finger at the painting before you. "Did she look just like that?"

"Kinda," you say. "Her hair was a tiny bit longer, though."

"Was she pretty? she asks.

What are you supposed to say to that?

"I'd be lying if I said no," you say, praying that the whole honesty-is-the-best-policy thing holds true. "But there's a reason we didn't work out."

"What was that?"

Your disclosure was a mistake. You should've held that particular balance between honesty and withholding.

"We just weren't a good fit." Your ability to distill a nearly-one-year-long relationship into five words and a contraction alleviates your conscience.

"Do you think we're a good fit?" she asks, her hand, still in yours, flinching as she pretends to examine a nearby sculpture of a man in a boat. "What if your next girlfriend in a few years or whatever sees a picture of me at a gallery opening?"

"Then she'd surely be incredibly jealous of that hair of yours," you say, a fingertip drifting toward the dark brown locks dripping from her scalp like a merlot faucet. "Because she's got nothing on it. As the painting clearly indicates."

"Y0u flatterer." She kisses your cheek and reminds you that kindness is no fable. "How many people have you been with?"

"What do you mean, 'been with?'"

"You know what I mean." She pauses just long enough for you to not be able to get away with pretending otherwise.


"Me too, actually."

"That's a fine coincidence."

"The world's full of them," she says, throwing a pirouette into her step. "It's up to us to recognize them."

"That's pretty optimistic of you."

"I'm a positive kinda woman." She lays a hand on the back of your neck and brushes it like a watercolor. "Do you think we're gonna be good?"

"What do you mean, 'good?'"

"Just in a general sense."

You toss a piece of catered brownie into your mouth. You chew and swallow and immediately regret the time wasted doing so. "Yeah, I think so. We could be, anyway."

"Yeah," she says, her fingers scratching behind her ear, "I think so, too." She caches a piece of Polar Ice gum between protruded lips. "Can we just go back to your house now?"

You two nearly sprint to your car, and two hours later, you fall asleep, feeling, for the first time, that someone wants nothing more than to whisper secrets in your ear.

And that's enough for right now. That other shit? You'll build up to it.

Right now, all you really want are secrets.


Anonymous said...

This might be one of my favorites.

Julie said...

I like the brownie. Why is she wearing flats.

Claire Valene Bagley said...

This needs to be a novel.

This is the type of book I want to read. Something with enough beautiful details to bite onto, things that make the characters people and not paperdolls. But then you withhold enough that I want to make up all the pictures in my mind.