Painted Pictures

I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat.  We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age.  In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.  

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Working in the city meant semi starvation rations, living in the city meant free days at the museum of art, tranquil walks even in the coldest winter months.  My worst day was when Pristina died.  She came with me to the city when I moved from my parents home in the suburbs and the community college that taught me nothing.  They tolerated both of us (yes the college as well).

I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat.  We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age.  In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.

After I found myself awake beside the man I didn’t know,  my longing for Pristina grew – she was just across the hall all alone.  I crept out of bed, gathered up my strewn clothing and crept along the hallway to my own studio apartment.  I cried and petted my cat telling her that I would not leave her again.  I fell asleep, the next day I was late for work though refreshed.  I received a promotion, raise as well as a corner office in the basement that year for my diligence.

I didn’t go home for Christmas that year.  In the new year my parents wrote me from Florida encouraging me to visit them in the new retirement community they had found.  I started working a second job in the evening and for two years Pristina and I worked and slept in a studio apartment and the writer across the hall slipped us poetry under our door.

I paid off my last college loan on November 16th and that night I ordered out and shared a rare New York Strip with soft wedged potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and vinegar for myself and Pristina.  Pristina sneezed over the potatoes and licked her lips each time she swallowed a dainty piece of meat.  She taught me the art of savoring a meal.

Pristina and I moved to a one bedroom apartment with wooden floors and an ancient looking bathroom which depressed us both.  The kitchen was dark green with brown linoleum and I told myself we would get used to it because the skyline of Chicago was worth the depressing dark interior.  It wasn’t and one year later we moved into a renovated old brick factory.  The writer who turned poet lived on the bottom floor with his wife and their golden retriever.  The writer turned poet’s wife would tap on my door; she had long dark black hair and her face was smooth but she would smile at me and invite me to their apartment.  “No worries, no worries, I’m not jealous.  Come and eat with us.”  I always refused and Pristina would sit upon an old heat register meowing at the poor dog who lacked exercise.

I left for work one frigid January day and was late coming home because the CTA was running slow and the sidewalks were slippery.  Pristina was alone and in the dark when she died without me.

Her funeral expenses set me back financially, and I had to miss a day of work but I came home with a jasper jar with her ashes in it.  I called my mother to tell her and after explaining that Pristina had not died years ago I hung up and sat in the dark.  I understood the coldness of a smooth jasper jar.

The writer turned poet, turned writer showed up in February with a great framed painting of Pristina for my brick walls.

“You need color up here.  Pristina, her dark fur and golden eyes will make this place feel like home again.”

I said nothing to him while he drilled and worked and swept up the dust of his labors.

“Why don’t you have dinner with us?”

“No thank you.”

He slid the wide door of my apartment shut and tip toed away.  I sat in the dark for another night with my back to the painting.

April in Chicago can be violent.  The wind slammed and bounced against the tall buildings and tumbled down to rattle old brick ones sheltering poets, writers, wives and administrative assistants.  The dog below howled in a low whimper when the lightning was replaced by the thunder.  Pristina lept down from her perch on the wall and walked, her tail perpendicular, to the register and sat to mew in the old register.

There was calmness.

I thought of making love one more time to the poet before I had my picture painted and hung next to Pristina but thought no, I did not want to surrender again to my needy self consumed psyche which was only fodder for the deceitful.  You see, I spent so much time imagining my happy ending I discovered I loved being relieved it never happened.  In fact I realized that there was no such thing as poets, painters or writers only a terror of being alone.

Tell Me

Tell me what life would be like to touch my lips to yours?  What would love be like to touch a tear upon the hollow of your face?  Tell me what joy would be like to press gently the roughness of your chin with my fingertips.  I am shaking with cold and fear.  Tell me.

Tell me what would serenity be like to step into your body’s warmth and have only a moment of space between us.  I’m so cold, so very cold, what would warmth be like to feel the heat you keep close to your skin, neck, hands and the inside of your arms.

Tell me what would contentment be like to gaze into your glorious eyes with all the wonder I hold deep inside of me regarding you.  I sense anger.  Be angry.  Weary is a word that always ends in a question. Tell me what would happiness be like to sleep next to you, just sleep.

What would familiarity be like hearing your voice read to me and what would purity be like with you in total darkness, away from preconceived ideas of what lovers should be?  You see, I believe vision is a gift in not seeing what we really are in the sight of God, Who is Love.  We see attraction; we see youth, middle age, old age, trust goes beyond sight.

But tell me what would surrender  be like to close my eyes and trust that the picture I have of you is actually true

Crow

I’ve never told you, but the common crow is the amulet of writers – not poets.
No, the crow belongs to the writer because the poet was born first and chose the raven.
That is why the poet suffers.
The worst is dryness. The worst is no moisture, the worst is salt in all the wrong places.
Wounds, specifically.
I pray for you continually.
Perched upon my giant, tiny spy machine I watch you and listen when I have the courage.
Fickle thing courage and I’m damned demanding.
Not you dear, me. What good is broken to wounded?
I wade out hip-deep into Superior and the ghosts rise to greet me.
None are polite all are demanding and don’t think I’m not frightened – I am.
Raven black and metallic ice blue the crow, brilliant and never alone. The treetops here
Are their village and they call to me – hope.
Literally.
Thieves they are, as am I stealing a glimpse of you and writing novels while the birds bring me
Tiny, shiny trinkets.
I put them in the offering every Sunday and wonder if it is possible to mix heat and cold without
Destroying one or the other.
So broken but that is always where I start. I don’t think you would believe where it has taken me.
Talking crows, kneeling faith, the study of purity, the dryness of words and a simple light breaking
The grayness of Superior.
I’m so gloriously tired and the crows have left dreams of you upon my pillow.
Ask me my favorite poetry and I’ll tell you.

 
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Lunch in the Basement

Carly is different.  Carly wants.  Carly wants to know where he is, what he’s thinking about, what he’s planning to do.  Who is “he?”  He is the latest poor slob who thinks he can fix Carly. 

I think wanting is a sign of a weak mind.  I think that wanting, desiring, longing for someone is akin to slavery.

Listen, we work in cubicles and it’s a lonely job.  I’ve seen my co-workers plaster one wall with all sorts of memorabilia to help them get through the day.  You know what I mean–the picture of the cute kid stuck in daycare while they are in the cubical. The picture of the loving dogs packed in their kennels while they are in the cubical. The picture of  aging parents, stuck in Florida who are thankful their kids have a job so as to keep funneling money into the “system.”

Now most of us cubical workers just want to get through the day.  Most of us want to do a decent job, answer the phone be the well-oiled and sharp cog in the works.  I know men and women both who take the bus to their downtown jobs, eat a simple lunch and take the bus back to their sanctuary apartments.  They have no presumption; they want to pay their way and that’s it.

Carly is different.  Carly wants.  Carly wants to know where he is, what he’s thinking about, what he’s planning to do.  Who is “he?”  He is the latest poor slob who thinks he can fix Carly.

After sitting next to Carly’s cubical all day and listening to her smartphone softly ding messages, causing her to sigh, squeak, and giggle like a school girl, I imagine myself becoming a liquid human, stealthily creeping over our shared cubical wall.  I see my own eyes in deadly, wide-eyed intent seeking out the unsuspecting Carly.  She sits, back to me, cooing over the words the latest “he,” texted her (he is still unaware she is a maniac ball, and chain) while I, an insane look on my face, my eyes shining red would slide over the cubical wall, a seething sheet of menace.  I would do the deed quietly.   Marge, in the next aisle, may pause over her keyboard and ponder the small squeak of alarm and surprise from Carly’s cubical but would soon be back to work due to the deadly silence.

Carly is a favorite employee of the boss, you know.  The boss is ten years younger than me and fifteen years younger than Marge.  The boss received her Master’s in organizational skills online.  Yes, you’re right I don’t respect that but she isn’t all bad.  She likes Carly because Carly is a demon on the keyboard and resolves client issues quick as lightning after she breaks up with a boyfriend.  She breaks up a lot.  He doesn’t call, he doesn’t text, he doesn’t show up for lunch or he doesn’t feel like picking daisies with her on a Saturday afternoon when the game’s on.  Whatever.  Her thick, coiling, ever demanding attention seeking personality warrants yet another dump.  She then becomes this skinny, large fanged, red-eyed fiend.  It’s good for business.

I prefer the raving demon to the “in-love,” Carly.  Carly in love is the world in all its political correctness.  Once I day-dreamed that I could grab her smartphone while she “tripping along,” to the “little girls room” to “freshen-up” and tweet on her twitter account her confession of the night before what her present lover’s name was.  I imagined the text going around the world in a few hours and her puzzled face when the sickos on the world wide web whoop it up on her behalf.  I know it’s vindictive, but I didn’t do it, just dreamed it.

“What sort of guy falls that head over heels in love with her in like a week and then dumps her inside a month?”  Marge was staring up at the dingy hung ceiling in the downstairs break room.  We break in the basement because there is a large truck dock on the east side of the building and you have to be ready for terrorist attacks at noon.  We had just finished our lunch.

“He tells her what she wants to hear until football season, then he dumps her–there are lots of guys like that.”  Rich was a young man working his internship out of the way, in the mail room.  He knew a myriad of facts about the world of demanding, emotional and life force sucking young women who worked in cubicles.

“I saw her the other afternoon, when the latest “he,” had dumped her.  She was down the block leaning up against a lamp post.  Slumped up there pulling hard on a cigarette and some old guy walked up to her, looked like he was lost, and she flipped him off,” I said to Marge and Rich.   I was trying to remember what I had for lunch but I still had a fixed picture, in my mind’s eye, of Carly flipping off some lost guy in the big city.

“Maybe he mistook her for a prostitute,” said Rich.

“Maybe, but I thought she looked like she needed a wooden stake driven through her heart.  She looked like the walking dead,” I said.  Marge nodded her agreement.

“Those are zombies, not vampires,” corrected Rich.

“The term, ‘the walking dead,’ has been around long before it became the title of a TV show,” I said

“How long before she gets another one, a boyfriend I mean, not some confused old man,” asked Marge.

“Usually takes about three weeks,” I said

Rich looked from me to Marge.  “What do you think, should I ask her out?”

“You may be the only one in this city who hasn’t asked her out,” said Marge looking mildly curious at the young man.

“Well, you know, nothing serious, she’s at a low spot, maybe if she had dinner with me she might perk up a bit.”

“You’re a sick man, Rich,” I said.  Besides, she won’t let you be a one-night stand.  You two work in the same building.  You’ll both be out panhandling in a month because she’ll follow you around, stalk you, text you; she’ll be that skeleton in the shadows, staring at you when you least expected it.”

“Okay, okay, that’s enough and creepy,” said Rich.  “You two are worse than my mother.”

Marge stood up and grabbed her lunch box.  “Better three mothers in your life than one psychotic ex-lover.  Don’t you watch the movies?”

“No,” said Rich, “I have lunch once a week with you two.

It Wasn’t My Fault

He was an awkwardly beautiful man.   I couldn’t call him shy, there may have been some hesitation in him but not shyness. 

It wasn’t my fault.  I know that it is petty, but it’s true–it wasn’t my fault.

He was an awkwardly splendid man.   I couldn’t call him shy, there may have been hesitation in him but not shyness.  He was tall and broad-shouldered.  He looked very proud of his Harley Davidson motorcycle.  I for one dislike motorcycles and I was not tempted to ask for “a ride.”  However, I admired how he straddled the machine and I had wild ideas regarding him so I did my best to suppress those thoughts from my mind.

That’s why the dark conclusion to this small story isn’t my fault.  Yes, I looked at him.  Yes, I stopped to look at him.  No, I didn’t tell him to go away and yes, he knew how to shake hands with a woman in a way that was open and honest.  Did he work at being open and honest?  Well with me, I hope he had to work at it.  I hope he wanted to take my hand, pull me forward and wrap those big, fine, strong arms around me and kiss me until my knees went weak.  In my opinion, he was open and honest by natural disposition yet shy around me.

It still wasn’t my fault.  I did not play coy, I looked him in the eye and did my best to just keep walking whenever he happened past me.

I think men demand too much, I understand their need, and I understand the chase but enough is enough.  A pity I didn’t walk away.

Heaven above help me, those narrow hips, those soft denim shirts and in the summer those tight t-shirts.  Now, the tight t-shirts were a turnoff after the initial view.  Total vanity.  Total.  When I saw the tight t-shirt, I could turn off the heart palpitations, and he didn’t get it.  He could sense it too–and I could sense his confusion.  The “what,” expression on a man is similar to a salient mark on a treasure map.

“Turn right at Mount Everest, you can’t miss it.”  That’s the “what,” expression on a man.  What?  Don’t you like it?  Do you know how I’ve worked for these arms, this chest, and hey I’m not a young man?  On and on the “what,” expressions go.

So you can see, it wasn’t my fault.  I wasn’t out to distract him.  I wasn’t out to gain his attention.  I found him attractive, sure but I didn’t flash my eyes at him and beg him to chase me down.  I’m just not that kind of… person.

Do you know a spider won’t eat its prey unless said prey is alive?

That’s how spider webs work you know.  Invisibility and then trapped.  Spider webs work because so much of life doesn’t believe in death; especially their own.

He was strong, he still twitches now and then but it won’t be long until I must ignore another one and build yet another web.

That Something

He started to breathe normally, hanging on to the light post, his nose red and his hair sort of flying about his head in a weird halo. 

It was his birthday.  Of all days, right?  When I see people out and about now after I met him, I want to tell them don’t be so happy, don’t have so much fun on your birthday.

Minutes before his birthday is when I met him.  He seemed sad, and his body jerked about in an unhinged manner; his walk seemed in control as he hitched along and into the coffee shop.

Though I’m alone in this world I’m careful.  I’m not one of those nut jobs who despair and do crazy things to herself.  My little job and a little apartment in a dingy part of Indianapolis keep me busy and for the most part content. Indianapolis better than Chicago where I grew up.  Though I live in a dingy, cheap, part of Indy, the city is a bright place where people live, rather than parade around.

The birthday man, he staggered into the little coffee shop I was working at and he said he spilled bourbon on his trousers.  He used the word trousers, and I tried not to laugh.  His eyes were big and blue and his fading red hair looked blond.  I was certain that all the bourbon he had that night had gone into him and not on his “trousers.”

It was 30 minutes until closing and I glanced over at Joe.  Correct, at the coffee shop, my boss’ name is Joe.  His actual name is Herbert Lloyd, but he likes Joe.  Joe shrugged at me and that was my signal to turn the “open,” sign off and pour this guy a deep, dark, cup of black coffee.  Joe swept the floor and clattered the dishes in the steel sink in the back.

“Listen,” I said to the guy who used the word trousers for the word pants, “listen, you are drunk and this is downtown Indianapolis.  You will get put away for public intoxication if you go out there again.”

“I realize that,” his voice sounded sort of choppy.  He was broad-shouldered, and he spread his arms across the black round table, lowering his chin almost to the table top.  “I came in here because I was afraid of just that.  I’m not from around here and I’ve heard of American jails.”

“Finish your coffee,” I said.

Joe rolled his eyes at me when I stepped behind the counter and washed the dishes.  “What are you going to do with the guy?  You gonna take him home?  He’ll puke all over the bus, you know he will.  The guy smells like a Kentucky brewery.”

“Do you think he’s from Kentucky?  He sounds funny.”

“You’re hopeless.  He’s not from the US, okay.”

That fascinated me more.  An actual foreigner.  I finished cleaning the kitchen, and I swept the floor again because Joe doesn’t always do a good job.  Joe and I placed the chairs on the tables all around the man who smelled like bourbon.  I thought when I was getting my purse from under the counter that the man in trousers looked as if he was in jail; all the chair legs serving as bars.

“Come on.  I’ll get you to where you need to be.”

“My hotel is somewhere around here, I’m sure.  I’m feeling better. “He stood and his reddish, thin, eyebrows wrinkled into a worried look.

We walked toward the center of town and he faltered just beyond a well-lit parking lot, coughed and then heaved coffee and bourbon all over a good portion of Indianapolis.  He hung on to a lamp post and it seemed he tried to stretch his neck out to avoid splattering his suit.  I didn’t blame him.  That suit looked expensive.

After launching out what bothered him he breathed in a steady manner but still clung to the light post, his nose red and his hair sort of flying about his head in a weird halo.

“What time is it?

“12:30 AM,”

“Today is my birthday.”

“Happy Birthday.”

“I’m 60 today.”

I didn’t know what to say.  He seemed way too old to be vomiting bourbon and coffee in a foreign city but I didn’t want to seem rude.

“I wanted to come to an out of the way city, buy a prostitute, have incredible sex and get drunk.”

“Well, you seem to have done well.”

“No, I’ve only got sick drunk.”

“I’m not a prostitute.”

He looked at me with steady bright blue eyes.  “I am aware of that.  I would not take you for a prostitute.”  I felt better about him.  He took a deep breath “I guess I’m not one either.” He frowned, leaned over, gripping the street light pole and puked again.

“Listen, it’s late but people are still around.  This is Indianapolis and they will call the police.”

“People in Indianapolis don’t like drunks?”

“No.”

“Good.” He pushed himself off the lamp post and staggered backward.  I grabbed his arm and kept him steady.

“Is that your hotel?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“It’s the best one down here.”

“Oh, I see. That obvious am I?”

I wasn’t sure what obvious meant, but I pulled him forward and we walked into the side of the hotel where I knew someone would help us.

“There you are, you bastard.”

She was beautiful.  She wore black and high heels and her hair was long and shiny.  “And with a prostitute too.  You pathetic bastard.”

Hotel management gathered around us and asked the lady with the same choppy voice as the man who said “trousers,” to be quiet.

“Ha, I’ll be quiet.  After I take him for all he’s worth.”

“You can’t Mabel (Mable? I’m still shocked at such a name) you signed a prenuptial.”  He laughed into Mabel’s face.  She turned a little green.

“You pig, you smell awful.”

I backed away, but he grabbed my arm.  “Call this young girl a cab, she saved me from jail tonight.”

A small crowd of onlookers pooled in the far corner of the marble lobby gazing at us.

I looked at Mabel, frightened, I wanted no one to think I was a prostitute.

“This young lady works at the coffee shop down the road and she saved me from the prying eyes of Indianapolis,” said the birthday man in a loud strident voice.

I felt my heart drop, no one would believe I wasn’t a prostitute now. “Please fetch her a cab.”

I pulled my arm free from his grasp and he staggered and fell.  I reached out for him as did the night porter.  In helping him up, he looked at me, his eyes bleary and bloodshot.  “I’m so sorry, please forgive me, Mabel, but it’s my birthday, and I wanted, I wanted something.  I don’t know.”

Pulling myself away I left him to the porter and hotel management and Mabel.  He’d never find it, that “something,” I was certain of that.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash</p>

 

Dead

Intuition.  Bohemians, outsiders, cherish intuition.  That insight, that awareness, that…knowing.  I knew when I saw him.  I knew I loved him.  He wasn’t shy of the other women in the gallery and he wasn’t disdainful.  He was watching people look at art which was so evocative.  He saw me and I forced myself not to turn away.  I wanted him to know that I was staring.  Staring right at him.

Intuition.  Bohemians, outsiders, cherish intuition.  That insight, that awareness, that… knowing.  I realized when I looked at him that loved him.  His mannerisms did not indicate shyness regarding the other women in the gallery nor did his features let slip any thoughts of disdain.  The man watched people look at art, his obvious curiosity regarding other people’s reactions filled me with a longing hard to suppress, even harder to hide. Noticing my stare or rather acknowledging my star by turning toward me, for I felt certain he knew I had been staring for some time, he smiled slightly.   I willed myself not to turn away from his gaze. I felt a desire to challenge him in some manner yet I wanted to run.

“So how often does he brush his teeth in a day do you suppose?”

My mother’s voice.  My dead mother’s voice.  She died seven years ago, but she has never left me.  I loved my mother and I love my mother but her interference at the moment I was staring at the man who intrigued me flustered me to near tears.  My shoulders tensed, waiting for my mother’s voice to sound in my ears again.  I wanted, needed, the deep background music of love to sweep over me as I looked at this tall, slender man, dressed in a somber dark suit.  I needed a moment without questions.  I wanted to plead with my mother.

“I suppose he reads in the bathroom.  He looks the intellectual type…”

“Mother,” I hissed and stepped away from no one.  A few people looked my way.  Did he notice me talking to myself?  I took a deep breath willing my shoulders down and imagining my face serene and unhampered by anything but the art surrounding me.  I wandered in an aimless relaxed manner, at least I hoped I was wandering in an aimless relaxed manner.  I was urging the tall slender man to approach me.  I wanted to him to compel him to approach me.

“Well, he is a tall drink of water, isn’t he?  Your father was so short, God bless him.  He would provide the tall gene our family so needs.  Your kids would come up to his navel.  Wouldn’t matter if you had girls.”

I whirled around infuriated with my mother.  She was dead.  Dead.  She needed to get out of my head.  I stomped back to my chair the man of my dreams forgotten and grabbed my hand knitted alpaca wrap.  Swinging it around my head and letting it float gently down upon my shoulders, closing my eyes and breathing deeply as the light but ever warming shawl gently floated down upon my shoulders I willed some calmness into my body; leaving was my best option.

“You haven’t even looked at the exhibit.”

I didn’t turn around, anger and frustration bristled out in rudeness.  “I know,” I said, defeated and humiliated.  “A friend of mine is the artist.”  I suddenly had no strength to explain.  My voice tightened in a sobbing disappointment.  I had so looked forward to the evening.  Great, I was going to cry over my dead mother’s assessment of an attractive man; she always brought men down to mud level.

“I suppose your mother is a little jealous of anyone who connects mentally with you.”

“She’s not a bad person,” I said quickly and in defense of my mother.  “She worries about me.” I felt a sudden chill.  Turning I was face to face with a light blue silk shirt neatly sheathed by a dark suit.  He stood before me, his expression kind but his features set and his skin an icy hue.

“Hmm.  Yes.  Most mothers worry and not without reason.  Your mother worries you will do something rash.”

“She’s been dead seven years,” I said gazing up at him, his bright blue eyes clear and without judgment.

“Your wrap is beautiful.  Did you make it yourself?”

I nodded

“Did your mother teach you to knit?”

“Yes,” I said quietly.

“Have a glass of wine with me and let’s walk the gallery. Your friend will want to know why you don’t walk the gallery. We can’t explain your dead mother.”

“How do you know about my mother?”

“Intuition,” he smiled down at me, handed me a glass of red wine, his hand was blue-ice cold yet lovely.  “Intuition is ingrained in bohemians and outsiders, we cherish the ability.”