ABRAHAM MYERS - PAINTING CHLOE
Abraham Myers is 42 years old and has a passion for helping others, and a love for all things literary. Focusing on stories about everyday people living everyday lives, he hopes to shine a spotlight on those that are often overlooked. His work has recently been published in the June 2017 edition of Adelaide Literary Magazine, and will be published in the November 2017 edition of Down in the Dirt Magazine. He resides in Michigan with his wife and two beautiful autistic children.
I stare at the white canvas and wonder at its simplicity, its perfection. One small stroke and the beauty is ruined. I am in my studio, and it is morning. I am nervous about meeting Chloe this afternoon, nervous about what to say, what to do. Looking at the white canvas, I imagine Chloe's face, her body...I think I am in love with her.
I walk down Main Street, past the bars in hibernation. It is hot, and the summer sun is bright on the sidewalk, but I enjoy the heat. Michigan winters are hell—an icy hell. Everyone here worships the burning. Memphis Smoke is on my left, and I walk through the double glass doors, the cool air hitting my face.
The first thing I notice is that Chloe is not there, and I realize I'm a little nervous that she won't show. An attractive waitress with hair the color of charcoal and the body of an early Rubens seats me in a booth in front of a large window. Flashing dark eyes at me, she asks what I'll have. I order a mudslide. When she is gone, I lean back in the booth and look at my watch—it’s past noon. Where is she?
The place is empty, except for three women in a booth across from me. I feel like they're staring at me, and I want to look at them, observe what they're doing, but I'm afraid they'll notice. People hate to be stared at. Instead, I watch the bartender. He isn't doing much—my mudslide his only excitement.
"This seat taken?"
I know the voice—it’s Chloe.
"I thought at first you weren't going to show," I say.
"Yes you are, and I'm starving." I look around the room for the waitress.
"I almost didn't come."
"Why not?" I ask.
She looks down at her napkined silverware. "I don't know. This is crazy."
"We're having lunch. He wouldn't get pissed about that."
"He'd be suspicious."
"He isn't jealous of me."
She smiles. "But are your intentions honorable?"
I smile back. "Of course. But after what we did the other night, I don't think it's a big deal."
"That was different. He was there."
"I know, but I don't think he sees me the same as other guys. We're like brothers, no, closer than brothers."
"I still think he'd be suspicious."
"Well, I don't know why. We're not doing anything."
The waitress comes to the table, and Chloe has a pasta plate with blackened chicken and I a barbecued pork sandwich, no pickle. I hate when they put pickles on the bread—the juice permeates the bun.
I've never told Chloe the truth about David. I think she deserves to know, but I feel guilty saying anything. I don't want to start any trouble. It puts me in an awkward position, and I almost feel like I'm lying for him. I hate cheating, but he would be mad at me if I told her.
"So why did you kiss me last night?" she asks.
"I wanted to."
"You wanted to?"
I am looking at the bartender again, but when I hear the tone of her voice, I look at her.
"I like you," I say.
"You know that's not good."
"I know, but I can't help it."
"What happened the other night was supposed to be for fun," she says. "Feelings weren't supposed to be involved."
"I know, but feelings were involved before that."
Her face is serious. "Really?"
I nod. I look back at the bar, back at the lazy bartender. I am embarrassed about kissing her. I wanted to do it, but now I think maybe I should have left it alone. Sometimes it's better that way. I think of that white canvas again.
"Why didn't you ever say anything before?" she asks.
"What was I going to say: 'Hey Chloe, I think you're cute, and I want to date you.'"
"No, but you could've...well...I don't know."
"You're probably right. It would have sounded funny."
"It would have sounded ridiculous."
"It was his idea about the other night you know," I say. "He was the one that came up with it."
She smiles. "And you agreed."
"Well, I'm not crazy. I wasn't going to turn down a dream come true."
"I think you're exaggerating."
She gets serious again, and her eyes are full of light—the afternoon sunshine from the window.
"So, do you like me?" I ask.
"Yes, of course I do. I wouldn't have agreed to do that the other night if I didn't."
"But do you really like me?"
"Enough to leave him, no."
"I wouldn't have you do that."
"I love him too much to let you leave him. It would devastate him."
"I know. You patched us up just a month ago. If you liked me so much, why did you do that?"
For the last few weeks, I had been asking myself the same question. I want to tell her that I shouldn't have, but I don't. Instead, I just say: "I don't know. He was crying. I had to."
The waitress brings my mudslide and a diet coke for Chloe. I look at her, at the way the sun shimmers off her dark hair, bringing out the sparkles on her milky skin. She always seems to sparkle like this. I asked her about it once, and she told me it was a kind of makeup she wore, but I think it is something else—I think she is different and special.
"I wanted to kiss you that night too," I say.
"The night you two were fighting, and you were crying, and you put your head on my shoulder. Your lips were right there, and I just wanted to kiss you."
"I would have freaked."
"I know, that's why I didn't do it."
"But it would just have been unexpected. The kiss last night--I liked that."
I touch her hand, enfold my fingers over hers. "Maybe we can do more than that sometime."
"Why not, we already have."
"But that's like cheating."
I consider, then nod. "Yeah, I guess it is."
"Not that I wouldn't want to."
It is almost as if she's begging me to stop and begging me to go on at the same time. I have the feeling she wants this as much as I do. I take a drink of my mudslide--feel the cool, milky texture hit my stomach, the vodka and Kahlua dull my mind—and I just stare at her. There is something about her, something about the way she smiles and holds her mouth that makes me want to love her.
"So, have you painted anything recently?" she asks.
She's changing the subject, and I wonder if I've embarrassed her. I decide to go with it—I don't want to push.
"A few landscapes," I say. "But I want to do a portrait. I want to do a portrait of you."
I can't believe I just said that. Oh well, too late now.
"Yes, a nude portrait," I say. "With blue lighting."
She's looking away now. Oh man, did I screw this up? I've been thinking about painting her for months. I can see it in my mind: her body posed beneath the blue light, her skin exposed, mouth open slightly. I will curve one leg back and let her put all her weight on her right hand in front of her, fingers splayed. It will be provocative, but the blue will make it tranquil.
"You think David would go for that?" she asks.
I take another drink of the mudslide and think about it. "Sure, I don't see why not."
"But he's never painted me in the nude."
"He does mostly landscapes and still life. He loves nature. If you were a tree, he'd paint you."
She laughs. "See, he never talks to me about that kind of thing. Never about his work."
"He's a private person."
"But he tells you."
"That's different--we work together, share a studio. Like Gauguin and Van Gogh."
"Which one are you?"
"Which one are you, Van Gogh or Gauguin?"
"Van Gogh. But I'm not an impressionist. Gauguin was too angry."
"So, does this mean you're going to cut your ear off for me?"
"Let's not get carried away. I like my ears. Where did that story come from anyway? I've read about Van Gogh cutting off his ear, but never about it being for a woman."
"I always heard it was for a woman."
I shrug. "If anything is going to make a man cut his ear off, it's a woman."
Our food arrives, and we eat and talk more about art. The barbecue sauce on the sandwich is spicy, and it burns my nose every time I lift it to my mouth. The conversation doesn't turn to David anymore, or to what happened three nights ago. It feels like it never happened—like a fantasy. When he first mentioned the idea, I thought he was joking. But then he picked up the phone and called Chloe and before I knew it there we were. It wasn't really a strange experience. I thought I would feel funny having sex in front of another man, but it was natural: like it had never been any other way. Afterward, we all lay in bed together and laughed and talked.
"I want to see you tonight," I say, as I give the waitress the money for the bill. She offers to bring back change, but I tell her it's all set.
I nod. "David's got a meeting with Kate. She says she's going to be able to sell some of his work."
"He didn't say anything to me about it," she says.
"Probably didn't think about it.”
I want to tell her that David is actually sleeping with Kate, but I can't. He would hate me for it.
"Where do you want to go tonight?" she asks.
"The studio. I want to paint you."
"That's crazy. He'll see the painting."
"So, it's innocent. It's only a painting. He's an artist, he'll understand."
She looks apprehensive.
"Don't think about it, just do it," I say.
Her look doesn't change.
"How about this? How about you come over, and we'll talk about it more? If you don't want to do the painting, you don't have to."
"And that's it, just talking."
"That's it. Of course, I wouldn't mind another kiss."
"See, you're starting already."
I laugh. "No, seriously, we'll just talk."
She leans back in the booth, and I can tell she's thinking it over.
"Okay, I'll go. But are you sure he's got that meeting?"
"I'm positive. He'll be busy all night. And he's got to get up early in the morning anyway."
"Okay, what time?"
"Eight o'clock good?"
She nods. I kiss her lightly on the lips, and she leaves the bar.
Main Street is empty, and the sun blinds me. It's been a while since I've been down here and I notice that they've put a used bookstore in where Mackey's bar used to be. I go in and look at a few books to kill time.
I find an old hardcover copy of The Great Gatsby, and I thumb through it. I can't get Chloe off my mind, can't get her image out of my head. She looked so good sitting across from me; just her and I--that had never happened before. Not that I would have had a problem if David had been there, but it was just different without him—more intimate. I think she felt it too. It probably scared her. I know it scared me: a beautiful, tingling feeling. But I have to remember what I'm doing, have to keep control of the situation. David is my friend—my best friend and a fellow artist. I love him, and I don't want to hurt or betray him. But I'm not betraying him because I know how he feels. I know he doesn't mind sharing her with me. We are locked somehow mentally, and I don't think he sees us as separate people. I know he would understand. But I don't want to share her with him. I scan the pages of the book, and I wonder if it's wrong to feel that way. It probably is, but it's the way I feel. She's my Daisy Buchanan.
I buy Gatsby--I already own two copies, but this one has the old-style dust jacket, and I can't resist. I leave the bookstore. Halfway home it starts to rain.
I enter my studio at 7:45 p.m. The smell of turpentine and linseed oil suffocate me, and I open a window. It is still raining out. I take the white canvas off the easel and replace it with my latest landscape. I sit on my painting stool and wait for her.
The landscape is good. I like the composition—the way the tree in the right foreground spreads its limbs across the green field beyond. There's a house in the left corner, and it is far off in the distance and blurred and barely visible. At first, I wasn't sure, but now I realize it's Chloe. She's the house, and she seems like a dream—blurry and beautiful. David is the tree. But who am I?
The doorbell rings, and I answer it. Chloe stands in the rain with an umbrella.
"Hello," she says.
She's wearing a plain white dress that makes her look like a ray of sunshine, or possibly a beam of moonlight. She comes into the studio and looks at my landscape.
"I like it," she says, after a few minutes.
I nod. "It's okay."
"You think everything you do is just okay."
"No, I don't. I hate some of it."
"So, have you decided about the painting?" I ask.
"And I'm going to do it."
I smile at her. "Good."
I lead her to a rug I've arranged on the floor for her to pose on. I walk past the lamp with the freshly purchased blue bulb and select my brushes and paints.
"Do you want me to strip now?"
"Yes," I say, looking at my paints, trying to decide on a color scheme. I can see her out of the corner of my eye, and I try not to let it distract me—but I want to watch her undress. I worry that it might make her self-conscious, so I focus on the task at hand.
"How do you want me to lay?"
"I'll position you in a second. Hold on, let me turn on the lamp."
I turn around and click the black button on the cord of the lamp. She's standing on the rug in her bra and panties, the blue light illuminating her skin, and I decide she's more like a moonbeam than sunshine. I smile.
"Don't laugh," she says smiling. "Don't you laugh, or I'll put those back on."
"I'm not laughing," I say, trying not to smile. "Are you cold?"
"No," she says. "How do you want me to lay?"
"Take those off first; then I'll position you."
"Position me first."
"You don't trust me, do you?"
"Yes, but I'm embarrassed. Just position me, then I'll strip and get back in the same position."
"Okay," I say, thinking that she is adorable.
I put her in position and back up to look at the pose. She seems in the process of coming toward me. It's seductive. The blue diffuses the eroticism. I nod.
"Okay," she says, standing up. "Now you turn around and do what you were doing before, and I'll take these off."
I laugh softly and go back to choosing my paints. I'll go with a seven color palette—Alizarin Crimson, Pthalo Blue, Flake White, Yellow Ochre, Cad Yellow, Van Dyke Brown, Midnight Black. Two flat hog's hair brushes and two sable rounds to start. I pick up my palette and turn to face Chloe.
She's in the pose again on the rug, and this time she's nude. Her white skin reflects the blue, and she shines--her black eyes and hair are shimmering, just like they were at the bar today.
"Don't move," I say, and take the landscape canvas off my easel. I put the blank canvas I was staring at this morning in its place, pour the turpentine and linseed into their cups, and get ready to paint.
I start by studying the contour of her body. I want to block in the mass of the composition and slowly build from there, layering colors one over another until she comes alive on the canvas.
"Have you ever painted anyone like this?" she asks.
"Only in a drawing class I took last year. But I didn't like the model."
"What did she look like?"
"Dull, boring. No life."
I dip the brush into the cup of turpentine and smear the Van Dyke Brown onto the palette. When it reaches a liquid consistency, I block in the shape of her body on the canvas. It always amazes me--looking at that first stroke--that a painting begins in a mess and ends up balanced and beautiful. But again, I wonder if the white of the canvas isn't the greatest achievement of any artist. Like the experiment in the garden, the idea is always better than the creation.
"What are you going to do with this?" she asks.
"Same as with the rest of them. Hang it in the house or the studio—or burn it."
"You burn them?"
"I have. But not often."
"Why don't you paint over them if you don't like them."
I shake my head. "I don't like that. The painting underneath seems like it's always there, destroying whatever you put on top."
I finish blocking in the body and start to push the paint around, finding the light with a little pressure. I look back at her on the rug, and I suddenly don't want to paint her. I want to touch her.
"Are you comfortable?" I ask.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Is the pose right?"
I think about the question. Is she inviting me to touch her, or to change the pose? Does she want me to touch her? Will she be angry if I do? Will David be angry?
I set the brush down on the palette, walk past the lamp, and kneel down next to her. She looks at me, and her dark eyes are full of the blue light. I touch her chin and run a finger down her cheek. She doesn't say anything. I kiss her, and her lips are soft and wet. Her breath is in my nose--a unique smell that can only be described as her smell. I touch her leg and run my hand up the back of her body, feeling the smoothness of flesh and realizing the wonder of it, the intense joy of touch--so much better than oil and pigment on canvas. I clutch the back of her head and kiss her harder. She puts her arms around me, and I lay down next to her.
"What are we doing?" she asks, as I pull her on top of me.
"I don't know."
I kiss her again and move my lips down to her neck. My hands explore her body.
"You promised," she says.
"I can't help it."
I continue to kiss her neck, her ears, her lips. She pulls away and stands up.
"I can't. Not without him."
I lie on the floor and look up at her—watch the blue light travel across her body as she gets dressed.
"I love you," I say.
She nods and starts to cry.
"I'm sorry," I say.
She nods again and walks to the door. I hear it open, close. She forgot her umbrella, I think to myself, seeing it lying against the wall. I want to chase after her, to tell her how I feel, but I know it will only make it worse. I walk to the bay window and watch her get in her car and drive away.
I want to go out and walk around in the rain, let it clean away the pain, but I don't; instead, I lay there on the floor and think about art. The ceramic tile is cold beneath me. She is gone, and there is nothing I can do about it. I look up at the canvas, at the blocked in figure of Van Dyke Brown, and I close my eyes and remember the morning and try to hold on to the white.