Through her fingers, as she explained why she chose shit brown and blood red, I saw the strokes and they made no sense to me. I was standing an inch away from her, her syrupy voice lining my ears. I looked at it again and I made out, in no particular order, silently to myself, a disfigured human, an angry cloud, and the insides of a colon.
“I don’t understand it, but I guess that’s me, not the piece.”
A smile blossomed out of her mouth. “I don’t hear that all the time,” she said. “Most people don’t know what to do with something they don’t understand.” I chose honesty over trying to do something about the fiery energy jumping off her and latching onto every square of my flesh.
“Explain it to me again,” I strained out, while looking at the piece again. “Maybe there’s a Jackson Pollack in this and I just don’t see it.”
Her eyes sucked out the white in her face. She blushed and threw her eyes down. “Uh, thank you… that’s a pretty big thing to say.”
I examined her face like a pathologist. The red in her cheeks was still there. An island-shaped mole by her lower lip, sapphire eyes, and a slender neck presented themselves as evidence. She held an intense gaze, eyes that stood still and wholesome like icicles on a glacier. I finished the report with this conclusion: I need to throw my own weight behind my own gaze into hers.
“Is this piece about intimacy?” I said as solemn as solemn could, to the painting. I turned to look at her.
“OK, this is freaky, NO ONE has ever said that or picked up on that!”
Some other attendees threw short, startled looks her way. She resolved the awkwardness by giving them their back and folding her arms, as she stared at her own piece, as if she was as disinterested and faking it as them.
“Sorry about that. Uhm… I just don’t get people who come here and figure things out.”
”I can’t be the only person.”
“You ARE the only person.”
“Don’t be sorry anyway,” I chuckled, “tell me more.”
The car wheels in the distance ran their crevices through the wet streets, like children running fingers in a stream. She, Max Langford, told me about her first and final lover, who held her one night after they had told each other I love you’s. A long embrace turned into the grabbing of her body, then her mouth, then her arms pinned down, then a taking of their love without her yes. We walked, as if in a moving lunch line, towards nowhere.
“At some point… I sat in front of the canvas because it was prettier to look at than every other therapist I had to endure,” Max mused, with bland whites in her eyes.
“That’s just beyond fucked up.”
She kneaded her lips into a thanks, then looked down. She rubbed her arms with her hands, as she looked straight ahead. “Well.”
“I mean, you’re here… you made it through.”
“Yeah,” she said, “and now I pick up guys for coffee after exhibitions.”
I was fooled for a moment by the steel in her voice. Some woman I just met told me about her story of horror. I decided to play along.
“That’s an honorable profession.”
She smiled, as if a sun imploded in her chest. “You’re a funny guy.”
“Thanks. I judge women on their taste in coffee, by the way”
She was declared innocent, as the waiters brought us a third round and she went further into the piece of art that brought about this night. Every minute of explanation made me want to see it again… and her, too. The light against the oak counter, from the Regolit floor lamp, onto a row of pots of tulips, threw a warm glow across Max’s face.
“How do you mean?”
“You haven’t pulled a move or said something suggestive.”
“I like you. Isn’t that enough for now?”
I thought I had seen every type of smile there is, but I now saw a new one.
“Bullshit. Smooth talker!”
That steel again. But, it doesn’t seem so reinforced this time.
“It’s da troof.”
“Oh, truth… nevermind.”
“No, tell me!”
“OK, well, like, not everyone in England speaks prim and proper, so in London –“
“Oh, like Cockney people! I get it!”
Cockney people. She’s adorable. And she’s travelled.
“Sorry, it just didn’t hit me and no one usually makes those kind of jokes around these parts.”
“Around these parts, Humphrey Bogart?”
“Shut up!” and she grabbed my arm, by the elbow. And she stopped to look at my elbow, and my arm. She maintained her grip and drew herself down to my shoulder, resting her head sideways as she looked down.
“I should fear these moments,” she said.
She pivoted on my shoulder and looked up at me. “Do you?”
Our gazes met and stood still. I counted 30 veins in her iris before she turned back to rest her head on my shoulder. She picked herself up to be close to me. The sexual energy was still there, but it was simmering quietly, out of harm’s way, on the back burner.
“I fear these moments, too,” I creaked after I motioned away a tired waiter.
“That there will only be one of them.”
She moved her hand to my thigh, by my knee. She rested it. I moved mine. I put it on top.
“There will be more.”
She kissed my shoulder.