Tuesday, March 26, 2013

SPE: You Give Love A Bad Name

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, The Fiction Vixen gave me this prompt: "And with that, she shot him." I gave kgwaite this prompt: " 'We gain no wisdom by imposing our way on others' -James Lee Burke "]

{I don't know why I insist on doing this, but caveat emptor: the following contains adults doing adult things with other adults. And furthermore, as always, let me remind you that the opinions expressed herein are those of fictional characters, not of the artist himself.}

"Come right in!," a voice called out from somewhere in the enormous, high ceilinged space.

"I'll be right there!," it said again. She stepped out of the rickety looking old fashioned elevator, but it stayed where it was, as if inviting her to change her mind. Her low heeled boots made a gentle rapping sound on the hardwood floor. The space yawned in front of her, exposed pipes and huge windows with tarps and paint and canvases spread everywhere. The room smelled of chemicals and paint and onion soup. She set her bag down, her practiced eye already measuring angle and light and shadow in the huge loft.

She heard a toilet flush, and the sound of water running, and then he came around the corner, drying his hands on a wad of paper towels.

"You must be the young lady from...," he said, his voice trailing off. He reminded her of Johnny Depp's father from that pirate movie, his hair uncombed , his face a wrinkled mess of tanned leather, his clothes sloppy and disorganized, an untucked dress shirt that used to be white over black jeans with a hole in one knee and no shoes. He walked like an old man, each step uncertain.

"Art Week, yes," she said quickly. "I'm...,"

"Never mind, sweetie. I'll never remember it anyway. I'm only doing this because Claire told me it would help the show. But I can't imagine how. Those rich fuckers will either buy it or they won't. I'm sure a spread in Art Week won't matter worth a damn." He coughed twice. "But that's not your fault, doll. Do you have a place in mind? By the window, perhaps?"

"Yes," she said uncertainly. Clearly he wasn't entirely out of it- the window was the perfect place, with the filtered light and the shadows. His instincts were sharp. "Let's start there."

He walked over to the window, the sunlight still streaming in, fighting its way into the room through decades of grime. She assembled her gear and followed him, marvelling at the way he looked, already beginning to think about arrangements.

"Do you need me to pose?," he said.

"Not really," she said. "I'll let you know. Just act naturally."

"As Carl Perkins used to say," he said, smiling to himself. "Do you mind if I smoke?"

"It's your home," she said.

"Thank you," he said. "So many people are so uptight these days. Do you smoke, honey?"

"No," she said.

"Why not? Aren't you afraid your boyfriend is going to stop fucking you if you lose your adorable little waist?"

She looked at him, shocked, as he moved canvases aside so she could get a good angle against the window. She thought about the locked door, and her cell phone, miles away in her bag all the way on the other side of the room. She felt a prickle of fear, sweat suddenly forming at her temple. He didn't look that strong, but she suddenly felt very alone with him. He saw the expression on her face and stopped.

"Oh, relax. Does Anna still give out assignments at that rag of yours?"

She pictured her photo editor, Anna Thomas, her short boy's haircut, unsatisfied frown and untucked men's t shirt. "You could stage the resurrection for her," a coworker said once, "and she would complain that there were too many cherubim."

"Yes, she's still there."

"She didn't tell you about me? I propositioned one of her people back in the 90s. She called me up right afterwards and told me if I ever did it again, she'd cut my dick off. And besides, I'm too old for any of that. I don't think it works anymore."

She stared at him for a moment. Neither of them knew quite how to proceed.

"So what do you do? Work out? Starve yourself? Probably some of both. Am I right?"

"Yeah," she said uncertainly. "All my friends do."

He shook his head slowly. "Of course they do. Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."

She wasn't sure what he meant by that. She could still feel her heart pounding.

"Do you know what's wrong with your generation? Of course you don't. No generation does. Mine certainly didn't. You people never have any fun. That's your problem. Do you have any idea what thanatos is? Of course you don't. Nobody gets properly educated anymore. Thanatos is the death force. The personification of death. The death drive. It's the other half of eros. It's the only thing that gives anything meaning. You beautiful young people, with your nonfat lattes and your spin classes and your yoga, you think you're never going to die."

She stared at him. She wanted to be far away from him at this moment, distant from this strange man and his stupid art, sitting with Andrew, listening to him complain about his boss over a plate of takeout Thai food. She didn't want to think about dying.

"You don't," he continued. "Everyone thinks my work represents something, takes a stand for something, is anti war or anti poverty or pro gay rights or some such crap. You know what it is? You know what every single thing I've ever done is all about, you with your pretty little boots and your trim hips and your tiny little breasts that you wish were a little bit bigger? Every single thing I have ever done, every painting, every sculpture, every painting, every sketch, is a scream into the void, a way of saying that I'm here, that I existed, that I mattered, that I made the world different. That's all my work represents. It's just a way of saying that I count, that even when I'm dead and gone, when my bones are ground to dust, when I'm as dead as Caesar or Napoleon or Van Gogh, that dammit, I was here. And I did something."

He put out a cigarette, then quickly lit up another and took a drag before he continued.

"You don't understand. You think I'm talking a bunch of crap. What could this pathetic old man possibly know about anything? You just want all this to be over, so you can go back to your apartment and bang your boyfriend. Bang him silly, and bang him until you forget about the fact that I was young once, and I used to be beautiful. They used to line up, the art students who wanted a shot with me. We'd drink wine, and we'd talk about love and sex and art and death and we'd fuck as the sun came up. We didn't think about death then, either. It's not like I blame you. You're young. How could you possibly know? I didn't."

"It's all about death, honey. All of it. And all the drinking and smoking and carousing and writing and painting and humping in the world doesn't change the fact that it's coming for all of us, sooner or later. No matter how many crunches you do, no matter how soon your boyfriend proposes to you and moves you out to Mount Kisco and knocks you up, he's going to keep working 80 hours a week, and eventually he's going to find a 20 year old with stars in her eyes and you're going to be staring into the eyes of Thanatos, divorced with two kids and nothing to depend on but some pictures you took of an old painter when you were young and perfect. Then you'll see what I meant. Nothing is real, honey. It's all about the end. We're all bags of meat, moist robots who have delusions of grandeur."

"You don't know anything about me," she said defensively.

"I don't?"


"You're probably right. You shouldn't listen to foolish old men. Well," he said, clearing his throat. "We might as well start."

And with that, she shot him. She shot him standing, sitting at his drafting table with blank paper in front of him, smoking moodily, staring at a silent television. She shot him staring at a silver piece of pipe, as if it was about to explain God to him. She shot him lying on his couch, his hands folded over his chest as if he were in his coffin. She shot him reading the new Tom Wolfe novel, and she shot him drawing her portrait, a quick pencil sketch on a piece of shirt cardboard.

She shot him until her camera signalled that it was full, and then she took the elevator downstairs. She took the train back uptown, then sat in a Starbucks near her apartment and transmitted the photos to Anna, then took the rest of her tea upstairs with her. She shut her door, ignoring the mute stare of her roommate Maggie, and stared at the surface of the tea until her eyes started to blur.

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