Prelude to a Kiss

Unfinished portrait with alterations.

I took an unfinished portrait, blocked in some alternative colors and shapes, turned it sideways and began to play. I added tones, color lines and more shapes. I let the painting journey along a Modernist path: make decisions based on how the basic elements of art interact; don’t worry about subject or narrative.

Same painting rotated counter-clockwise.

Two heads emerged from the mix despite my intentions. They refused to become attractive or desirable, yet lingered close to each other. The head on the right leaned forward with closed eyes and pushed out lips while the left head smiled reluctantly and waited for whatever came next. A half-pulled shade showed up in the dark background (a window looking out on a dark street in a noir movie?). I wondered if the two had decided on a midnight rendezvous…They regretted things the next morning if they did.

The title: “Prelude to a Kiss”. I think of the painting as the worst possible cover for a romance novel.

Prelude to a Kiss, oil/canvas, 16×20″.

Back cover blurb: A matter of Fate drew Heather and Roger together. They resisted the attraction they felt for each other even as their longing grew. They knew that once they pressed their lips together for the first time, there would be no going back!

Mantis, My Love (help me!)

 

 

 

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My love is missing. Or perhaps not.  Or perhaps not in a permanent way.  I see her in the garden walking among the flowering trees, the elephant ears and ferns.  She stops to look at butterflies and listen to the cry of a red shouldered hawk.  A zephyr catches a wisp of her hair, and a delicate tendril dances on the breeze.

But then the sun peeps out from behind a cloud, a ray of light strikes her, and she’s gone.  Another creature stands in her place.  It looks like a woman but has the eyes of a praying mantis.

These unnatural transformations have occurred at irregular intervals since the middle of last week, and I’ve discovered, to my horror, that I harbor an attraction to the creature that is equal to my ardor for my love.  I am forced to recall my spotty record in affairs of love–I’m prone to disaster when choosing mates. One woman, who nearly drove me mad, made impossible, escalating demands, and another cheated on me after we became engaged. Either one would have shortened my life if we had married, but only time gave me enough clarity to be grateful for my narrow escapes.

Mantis stands before me and holds an appendage near its mouth with a claw bent downward.  I feel a perverse urge to move near to kiss it’s chitinous mouth. It has the same shape as my lover’s lips if not their tenderness. Some instinct for survival holds me back.

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My love is a biologist who studies the movement of plant leaves.  But she’s always shown an obsessive interest in insects, and is a fan of the Star Trek series.  What if she combined her side interests and conducted experiments in insecto-human teletransportation?  What if she got caught in a phased loop and crosses between dimensions?  She takes the form of a woman in one and morphs into the hybrid creature in the other…

I flirt with death by decapitation every time the hypnotic reflections in Mantis‘ eyes bid me draw near.  I feel the pull of my attraction to it, resist the effects of its pheromones, and try to stagger away.  Some female insects devour male consorts directly after romantic encounters.

I feel like David Hedison in the final scene of the movie, “The Fly”.  He’s shrunk to the size of a housefly.  He gets caught in a web strung between two plants in a back yard garden and cries, “Help me!  Help me!” as a spider crawls ever nearer.

 

 

A Narrow Slice of Time: Chapter Six

Donald stretched and yawned and slowly opened his eyes. He saw an unfamiliar landscape painting above a chest of drawers that was not his. The sheet that covered him had purple flowers on it. He could smell the scent of lavender coming from a candle on the night stand next to him. The only things that looked familiar were his shirt and pants folded neatly on a chair by his side of the bed. He heard the sound of someone scraping a skillet and smelled coffee brewing. When he felt a bit more alert he sat up and began to put on his clothes. Brooke—he had spent the night with Brooke.

He stumbled off to the bathroom halfway down the hall and splashed his face with water. His reflection in the mirror above the sink looked ridiculous: he badly needed a shave and his hair stuck out at bizarre angles. He took his morning piss, washed his hands and found a clean hand towel, wash rag and bath towel piled in a neat stack on the bathroom counter. A woman’s razor lay nearby, but he doubted that she meant for him to use it. Little bits of black stubble were caught between the twin blades. He wondered if he should make an appearance in the kitchen first or take a shower. The smell of hot food, bacon, eggs and toast, drew him to the kitchen.

Brooke was seated at the table with a coffee mug in hand. She wore a white bathrobe, powder blue men’s pajamas and fuzzy brown slippers. Her unbrushed hair was a bushy tangle. She smiled and gestured for him to sit down across from her. A plate of food with a cover on it waited for him there. She got up and poured him a cup of coffee, sat back down and began to eat her breakfast. Donald tucked in, dipped buttered toast into the yolk of his eggs over easy, and crunched down on a piece of crisp bacon. He usually had no appetite for breakfast, but this tasted good and he was ravenous.

“I can make you another egg if you’re still hungry,“ Brooke said after he ate the last bite.

“No thanks. Everything tasted great. I don’t usually eat this much in the morning.”

“Ah…not much of an early riser then?”

“No. I don’t really wake up until I’m halfway to work and I’ve had a second cup of coffee.”

“Well, I better get you another cup, then. It’s 7:30. What time do you have to be in?

“9:00. How about you?”

“The same.”

“Would you like a ride?”

“Hmm. I’m doing a calibration check in Rama Suite today. If there’s nothing but good vibrations I usually can shut things down around 6:00. Is that too late for you?”

“We’re still going over the cupcake mission. We haven’t figured out what went wrong yet, and there’s some pressure from above to deliver a report soon. They’re still spooked about the recent string of failures.”

“Oh. So you don’t know when you’re getting off. We’d better go separately.”

“Too bad.”

“We’ll have to plan things better next time.”

“Next time?”

“How about Saturday? Then we can sleep in and take our time getting up. What do you usually do on Sunday mornings?”

“Recover from a hangover…go over some figures for Monday…watch a news show.”

“Not a church going man, are you?”

“No, I’m not all that religious. Are you?”

“I go ever so often when the mood strikes. I was raised Catholic. Most Sundays I read the paper or putter around in the garden. Sometimes I catch up on my housework if I’ve let things go during the week. I can be a slob sometimes. I get the impression that you’re very tidy and organized, Donald. Am I right?”

“God, no. I spend the whole week trying to be exacting and precise. I don’t give a damn about being neat at home. It’s a common misperception that all historians are tight asses.”

“I stand corrected. You want to shower first? The heater is pretty small and there’s not enough hot water for two long showers.”

“We could save some water…”

“We could, but I’m afraid that we might be late for work. One thing can lead to another.”

“One can only hope. I’d like to see you before next Saturday. Is there any room for me in your schedule?”

“Room for what? More sex? I suspect, sir, that you have begun to see me as nothing more than an object of sexual pleasure.”

“Not really. I barely find you attractive. Last night was a tragic mistake. I think that we should go back to being Platonic friends right after we take a shower together.”

“Sure, sure. That’s what all the boys say when they want to make more mistakes with the ladies…” She leaned over the table and gave him a kiss.

They barely made it to work on time. They held hands at the stop lights as they rode together in Donald’s car. They could not meet for lunch, and agreed that Brooke should catch a bus home after her shift ended. They would spend the weekend together. Brooke did not finish until 6:30 and decided to read her romance novel in Donald’s office while he edited a report. She made them a late supper of Italian sausages served over penne pasta when they got back to her place at 8:00.

When Donald woke up early the next morning he stretched and yawned and slowly opened his eyes. The dresser, the painting and the purple flowered sheets all looked a bit more familiar. Brooke lay beside him and snored quietly, her hair a wild nest of tangles. He kissed her forehead to wake her up, but she barely stirred. He got up and started the coffee. She stumbled in with eyes half closed while he was busy scrambling eggs, and she put two bagels in her toaster oven. She smiled and kissed him and her mouth tasted like stale bologna. He handed her a mug of coffee and said, “Drink this, dragon breath.”

“What’s the matter, Donald? Don’t you love me? Give me another kiss. Please, please, please.” She pushed her lips out in a ridiculous pucker and waited for him to comply.

Donald kissed her again: more stale bologna. Then he kissed her again. The flavor was growing on him.

Halloween 1983

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Exit, moist lips and laced cups, the party undead but dying.
Your feet danced, I sang, but we left in a rush.
Antonio’s neon, steamed breath, and you screamed
At the mask. No danger. The soft touch whispered “yes”.

Loose trash scudded the dumpster, and the stair creaked;
Scraped the frost, the windows fogged.  We stopped, landing.
Second gear, clutch, pushed forward and against.
No one but shadows climbed the hill. Your cheek nestled mine.

Buckles, belt, stockings; bare wood floor; candlelit handfuls of just enough.
And the chianti bottle dripped wax; I haunted as
fingers tipped. A white calf, upended: you drew in, sighed.
Détente:  the shared heat of mammals.

Two ghosts floated, the sheets thrown over
Slick rain streets, dim mirrors.
Triangles grinned as clouds grazed the moon.
The candle fluttered.

 

The Ties That Bind

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Inseparable.  Acrylic on canvas and board.  2018

Some couples stay together out of true love, love that deepens and grows richer with each passing year.  Even if passion fades, the bonds of friendship and shared history strengthen.

Some couples remain conjoined when inertia prevents both from making a break for freedom.  The ennui becomes familiar, and the slow deadening of hope becomes the normal and comfortable state of being.

Some cling to each other in a symbiosis based on mutual contempt.  The hatred shared becomes the tie that binds.  Anger drives their anti-relationship forward, and resentment transforms itself into a negative romantic fervor.  If faced with the possibility of starting a new life based on affection and attraction, they wouldn’t know what to do.

Some relationships cycle through phases of love, inertia, and contempt, and still manage to go on.  They are like trees that weather storm after storm while others around them fall.  Perhaps endurance is a matter of blind willfulness and occasionally grace.

 

The Instructor

Once upon a time there was a drawing student named Henry.  He worked at Disney and believed in Jesus.  He drew Bibles, crosses and mouse ears when given the chance, and he hated the instructor.  He knew, just knew that the man had no faith in Christ or Walt Disney.  And the instructor frowned every time Henry brought out his pictures of his lovely wife and two darling children.  Didn’t he like children?  Or didn’t he believe that Henry was their father?  Why couldn’t he be the father?  He had the right equipment and knew how to use it.  The instructor didn’t care that Henry did his absolute best, had put his past permanently behind him.  Jesus saved him, and then he found Lisa, and now he was happy.  Really, really happy…What did the instructor know about anything but drawing bottles and boxes?  He could talk all day about perspective, but did he have any?  Did he understand true suffering, the suffering of Jesus for mankind, the suffering of mankind trying to be like Jesus no matter how much it hurt?  That smug bastard was the king of his classroom, but not King of the Universe.  Henry wanted to be there when God gave the instructor his Final Grade.

Helen sat next to Henry.  She hated the instructor too, but wasn’t sure why until Henry told her that the instructor was arrogant.  Helen hated arrogant men, and this teacher (He wasn’t a real professor, was he?) was dirty minded too.  The instructor had asked her if Robert bothered her and didn’t believe it when she told him that she liked Robert.  Robert was funny.  The instructor said, “I saw you bend over to pick up your back pack off the floor, and Robert bent over your back, hugged you from behind, and whispered in your ear, ‘See you next Tuesday.’  You’re okay with that?”  Helen was fine with that.  Robert just kidded around, and she hadn’t felt anything sexual.  The hug had been funny and nice, and she didn’t care whether Robert had pressed up against her butt and his hands accidentally grazed her…The instructor was the real pervert imagining filth when grown people were just having a bit of fun, horsing around.  She wasn’t a weak woman like her mother who let men do what they wanted and pretended to like it.  Helen could take care of herself better than some fake professor who saw harassment in one harmless little hug.  Arrogant bastard.

Robert sat two easels away from Helen, but he’d already decided that she wasn’t the one for him.  Too old and lean.  Stringy blond hair.  There were several girls in the class, younger, juicier, who deserved his attention.    But one stood out:  Charlotte.  She was a tough chick who wore work boots, skinny jeans, tank tops, and pink lipstick.  She smoked cigarettes with him during break.  She liked his jokes, dirty girl, and paid close attention when he got close to her and touched her shoulder and told her about his mother, the artist.  Most girls thought that he was weird when he went on and on about Mom, but Charlotte listened…Mom knew that he was a special and had lots and lots of talent.  Robert didn’t care that the instructor gave him Cs.  He knew that it didn’t matter if he drew abstract textures while everyone else drew still lives.  Real artists didn’t bother with anything but abstraction and the human form.  He loved the human form.  And it didn’t matter that Charlotte asked him to stop touching her arm, her shoulder, to stop bumping his hip against hers (“Oops again, hah-hah!”) when he passed by her easel.  She pretended to be pure but acted like she had plenty of experience.  He could tell.  Girls liked to put up some resistance at first, but gave in eventually.  Most did.

Joseph knew that the instructor didn’t respect him.  The instructor was annoyingly tall and walked around like the giant god of the world.  But Joseph had talent, more talent than the instructor, and he would show the man how good he was once the instructor brought in models.  Joseph had signed up to draw nudes, but that man made him draw bottles and boxes, toys, a doll and a beach ball.  Junk didn’t inspire him, and an artist needs inspiration to do his best work.  At midterm that prick had given him a D and told him to do some homework in the second half.  He might get a B if he applied himself.  Joseph did not do B work, but he did choose what kind of work he did. And he didn’t do homework.   Homework was boring.  Homework was useless practice when he, Joseph, already knew how to draw his hand, a still life, the interior of a room.  Couldn’t the man see that?   Maybe he was too tall to look down and see Joseph.

Mary was tired, really tired of being told what to do.  She worked as an airline stewardess and took the class for fun, as an escape.  She spent the week slaving for people who acted as if she were a servant, and now she wanted things to follow her terms.  She’d paid good money for this class, and technically, though he’d never admit it, the instructor was her employee.  And he was so rude to her, never saying anything nice about her work when it was obvious that she was the best drawer in the class.  Oh, he gave her As on nearly every assignment, but he always slipped in some nitpicking criticism about any little mistake he could find.  He must spend hours finding a line that wobbled a sixteenth of an inch, a tone that smudged slightly.  Why couldn’t he tell her just once how good she was, and then shut up and go away?

The instructor could tell that half the class hated him.  Henry was meticulously polite but sneered at him when he thought that the instructor wasn’t looking.  He whispered like a conspirator with Helen during breaks.  Helen glared at him as if his very existence offended her.  Joseph stared stone faced whenever the instructor looked at his drawings.  Nothing he said made an impression on Joseph.  Mary thought that she was running the show.  She lectured him on his duties as an instructor.  She told him one day, “First you have to greet me, say ‘Good morning, Mary.’  Then you have to praise me.  Then you can tell me all the things you think I’ve done wrong!” Robert oddly enough, thought they were buddies.  But Robert was a loon and a lecher who had taken the class to harass women.  And Robert’s sketchbook had odd little poems about suicide, about using a piece of glass to slash his wrists.  The instructor had reported him to the dean’s office, but they were worried about legalities and seemed to think that the instructor showed a negative bias toward Robert.  Thank God there were a few students who took him seriously, who worked hard and tried to improve.

The instructor’s wife pretended to listen when he complained about the class.  He joked, but wasn’t really joking, when he said, “My quest to be loved by everyone at all times has failed once again!”  She sighed and said what she always said at times like these: “There’s always another class.  There’s always another semester.” Continue reading

Women Jumping Out of Cars

Last week I waited to make a left turn into my neighborhood and saw a woman jump out of the shot gun seat of a car idling at a red light.  She looked as if someone had goosed her.  The driver made no effort to call her back though she stood on a nearby curb and stared intently at him.  She bounced on her toes as if waiting for him to make a move.  She began to walk away after a minute passed, and then he finally turned the car in her direction.  Negotiations had begun.

I saw a more vivid version of this story a few years earlier.  I heard yelling inside a car beside me on Semoran Boulevard.  We were stopped at a red light.  The front passenger door flew open.  A twenty year old woman slammed it shut and stomped away.  She veered behind the car, stepped onto the median and quickly put distance between her and the car’s driver.  He leaned out the window and called, “Hey, baby!  Come back!”  She ignored him and kept going.  Then he began to cuss her out in Spanish, shook his fist at her, and hit the horn once.  She kept going.  When the light turned green he made a u-turn and slowly headed in her direction.  He looked grim as if he expected no success in retrieving her.

Twenty years ago I heard yelling up the street from my house.  It was 1 a.m., so I peeked out my front door and saw a woman staggering across a lawn at the neighbor’s across the street.  Two or three men were inside a car idling at the curb, and one ordered the woman to get back in the car.  She screamed at him.  Her speech slurred, but I believe she told him to go to hell.  She knocked on my neighbor’s door–no one answered.  The man in the car yelled again, this time with greater violence.  I stepped outside and headed toward the woman.  When the men saw me they realized that a witness had arrived, and they sped away.

The woman spotted me and staggered to where I stood at the bottom of my driveway.  She asked if she could use my phone.  I let her inside and pointed to our land line.  I asked her if she wanted some coffee to help her sober up.  She glared and said, “I’m not drunk!  My boyfriend hit me!”

I retreated to the kitchen to get her some ice, and while I was gone my wife woke up.  Judy came out to the living room half awake.  She found a strange woman with crazy hair talking on our phone.  The lady’s outfit, cut offs and a sweaty tube top, gave her a street look.  I took Judy aside before she could make unfortunate assumptions and explained the situation.  The woman put a hand over the mouth piece and asked, “Where am I?”  I told her, and then she gave instructions to the person on the line:  “Pick me up at the 7/11 at Forsyth and Aloma.”

She hung up, and I offered her a ride to the convenience store.  She refused and headed out the door.  I followed after her and watched her walk up Bougainvillea Dr.  I worried that her tormentors might return.  A police car turned the corner and stopped next to her.  She waved her arms, shook her head and refused to get in the cruiser.  They let her go shortly after, and she strode away with firm, determined steps.  She turned the corner and disappeared, and the cops drove on.

Fifty years ago my mother stepped out of a car after an argument with my father.  We were stopped at a light about three miles from home.  We three kids huddled together in the back seat and wished that the nightmare would end soon.  My father drove off, and Mom’s figure grew smaller and smaller in the rear window.  I felt an odd sensation that I was the one left behind.  Two hours later Mom opened the front door to our house, came inside, and hung up her coat in the hall closet.  We all pretended that nothing had happened.