Cole is painting again. A beautiful day and the curtains are drawn tight against the sun. He has a gooseneck lamp clipped to the side of his easel and he keeps moving it around, trying to find a play on the weird shadows it casts across his canvas.
I am curled on the couch, eating popcorn. Watching him watch me as he tries to work, knowing he's bullshitting, an easy grin proving his good mood. He isn't taking anything seriously tonight in his too-long chestnut hair and his baggy paint-streaked 501s. He didn't put on a shirt this morning, we rolled out of bed stark naked and ate cereal in the kitchen without clothes and then he pulled on the jeans thinking he would get dressed at last but I stole his t-shirt and put it on for warmth. Until we opened the curtains the sun would not warm the room. We didn't touch them.
He walks over to me, yanking up the t-shirt. I grip the bowl of popcorn tightly so it doesn't fly everywhere. Take that off and I'll paint you.
No way. Not naked. I don't want everyone to see it.
You have nothing to be ashamed of.
It's not shame. You don't keep your paintings.
Why do you care if someone wants to buy a portrait of a nude girl?
Because it's me.
They won't know it's you.
I'll know it's me.
You don't see yourself the way I see you. He smiles again. He's very gentle with my conscious self. He's eager to rebuild my self-esteem. Starting from scratch, we've got a long way to go. Perhaps I'll just fake it instead. I stretch out and set the bowl on the floor in an effort to prove I'm not self-conscious at all and he joins me on the couch, pulling up my shirt as I pull his jeans down. Soon I am the canvas, covered with paint, awash in a light of potential.
I don't know why I remembered that morning as I lay in bed this morning, staring into the mirrored closet doors. White sheets, white everything. Nothing to distract from the outstanding, breathtaking view through the windows of the water, sunshine sparkling on the waves.
There is popcorn all over the floor. I throw the sheet away from my skin and stretch lightly. I wonder if I look the same or if I look like I feel, paint now faded, muted pastel, potential wasted or spent or wherever it eventually goes, youth abandoned on squares of a calendar crossed off one at a time, hours in between. I close my eyes and leave the sheets off, willing myself to fall back to sleep and instead his voice breaks through my peaceful memories, as they have snuck up on me so quietly today. Good memories of Cole are like shooting stars, sometimes I get them all at once, sometimes weeks or even months pass without a smile aimed toward his image.
That analogous voice speaks again, startling me back into the white room. My eyes fly open and I see him in the mirror. He's in his 501s and nothing but, to read the papers in on the balcony. Not quite the same voice but as close as I will ever get again.
So glad to see you feel comfortable.
I reach down and yank the sheet up, fantasy now obscured. It's not as if he hasn't seen everything, I just prefer not to be so exposed anymore. I am forever raw and uncovered as it is, my heart flayed open for all to see what's left of it and what's left in it, so a little modesty is so little to ask for. A little dignity, but I would not be permitted that. I threw it off the balcony last night, followed by my consciousness, and what's left is a vague headache and a fuzzy memory of nothing more than the black velvet ribbons he keeps in the drawer and the lousy excuses he forwards to the house, tucked in neatly besides.
At my request all eyes are blind, all words left unspoken and history gets temporarily suspended so that I can have a moment in my life that contains things I regret walking away from, in spite of the need to do so. I show up, take a drink from his hand and shortly thereafter I forget my own name. Who wouldn't do that for a few hours with a ghost? Who wouldn't take the chances given to turn back the clock even if it meant destroying the present and preventing the future?
Clearly you don't know me at all. That's okay. Today I don't know me either. I forgot sometime around eleven o'clock last night and each time reality takes a little longer to come back. I find a piece of popcorn just above my pillow and I eat it for breakfast, a little bird with a treasure, a tiny gift of kindness in a loud and scary world. Maybe I'll come back for more treats. Maybe I'll be scared away for good.
It all depends.