“The Passion Flower series, Mr. Gale,” he said after a long sip of brandy, “you asked what was the inspiration.”
“It was my pathetic attempt at career suicide. I wanted to destroy everything I had built up. I wanted the world to write me off and leave me the fuck alone. But it didn’t work. In the end they just shined me on and gave me a pass, a feeble little old man who lost his marbles. As soon as I painted ‘straight’ again, the series was forgotten and all was forgiven. I am worse than a sell-out, Mr. Gale. The black power kids had no idea. No idea at all.”
I sat down on the edge of the sofa, near him. He touched my arm and looked at me.
“The exhibit was no heroic act, Mr. Gale. But it pleases me that you thought it was.”
“You can call me Bill, you know.”
“Alright, Bill, how could you keep painting flowers when you hated it?”
“Why do you work at your magazine?”
The magazine! I almost laughed out loud. My notepad sat on the other end of the sofa. My pen was who knows where. My mind and soul inhabited places they had never been to. We went to Africa, grottos, and dark alleys. And then he mentions the magazine, the reason for my being there. I didn’t need to grab my cell to know that I was probably late for my next meeting. Normally, I would have scurried to my feet, made apologies, and bolted out of his place like a good soldier, leaving him hanging mid-thought. Instead, I poured myself more whiskey.
“You work there to pay the bills, am I right?” he said.
“Yeah, that’s it,” I smirked.
“My job’s no different from any day job. Artists aren’t supposed to have day jobs, though. Do you like writing?”
“Yeah, writing’s cool. But I’d rather paint.”
“Right, see? You do it to survive. Not because it puts a fire in your belly. That’s what Art, any art, is supposed to do, Gale, put a fire in your belly. A real, consuming flame, like a lighthouse beacon that shines as bright as a star.” He took another sip and started at his glass. “Booze doesn’t give you that type of fire. It smolders but doesn’t flame. Sometimes it can stoke what’s already there, but it’s no substitute. When it becomes a substitute then it’s best not to indulge at all.” He took another sip. “I abandoned Art for a passionless day job painting canvasses. I can think of no greater sin for an artist.”
I put my glass down. I wanted to throw it in the corner and let the pieces join the installation on the floor. But instead it just put it down and left it there.
“But tell me, what about my Passion Flowers series bewitched you so?”
“It made me horny.”
“Yeah, really. It did. I saw every girl I had ever dated or wanted to date in the curves and bulges of those abstracts. And in fact, I wanted to make out in front of one of them.” He chuckled. “Yeah, for real. So the weekend after the field trip, I took my girlfriend at the time back and showed her the painting. Then I said to her, ‘let’s fucking do it!’ She just laughed at me. She wouldn’t even suck face. God, I felt like shit afterwards. That whole week, I imagined us doing it front of that painting, maybe with some music in the background, had me going all week, but then she didn’t get into it at all.”
“At least you tried.”
“Yeah. Ever since I’ve wanted to do a painting of a couple fucking in front of one of your Passion Flower paintings.”
He laughed, a good hardy laugh before the cough overtook him. He took another sip of brandy.
“That’s a wild one, Mr. Gale! Have you ever tried?”
“To make the painting!”
“No, I haven’t.”
“It’s better to try, Mr. Gale, than deny. If you live long enough, denial will eat you alive.”
“Bill, can I ask you, have you ever had a boyfriend? Or, you know, someone you saw regularly?”
“No,” he said, the whisper of a smile in his eyes. “I satisfied my carnal needs through one-nighters, park restrooms, alleys, you know the sort of thing. They call it cottaging in the UK.”
“But a true intimate relationship?” He shook his head. “After I did the sketch of Jacques and his friend, that next night, we were out to sea – you don’t know what dark is until you’ve been out to sea on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Our running lights were the only lights out there, apart from the stars. Anyway, it was one of those nights and I was asleep in my bunk. I heard someone come in and I stirred a bit. I figured it was my roommate, so I tried to go back to sleep. But then I felt someone touch me on the shoulder. I jerked. He covered my mouth and went ‘shhh, c’est moi.’ I recognized his voice, even in a whisper. I turned over to look at him. Those eyes, Gale, starred at me from this close. He talked about the sketch again, told me how much he loved it, and what a great talent I was.” He paused, his mouth open, his eyes very far away. “And then he kissed me. Not the French pecking thing on the sides of the face. He took my face with both hands and full on locked his lips with mine. I didn’t push him away. No, I took his head into my hands and we both sucked each other for a long while.”
My cock heard what he didn’t say. They made love, tender, passion-filled love. I could feel it as if he were kissing me or I were Jacques kissing him, or I was in their room looking on from under the sheets of my own bunk. Two guys kissing or making out never repulsed me, but I can’t say it ever turned me on. Until that moment.
“That was the real thing, Gale. That night went beyond the carnal.”
“Yes. But that was the only time in my life when that happened. I guess I never looked after that.”
“Bill! You have to paint Jacques! You can’t paint flowers anymore.”
He looked at the painting on his canvass, yellow mums in a vase. I thought for a moment another outburst would fling the canvass off the easel to join the installation on the floor. But his arm rested, his mind still far away.
“I can’t. I tried about half a year ago. I just can’t do it.”
I knew why. Jacques wasn’t here to see it. I didn’t press.
“What about the boys around the pool?”
“I can’t. I want to see them, but I can’t! It’s as if they’ve been erased from my memory. I see shadows around that pool, but not human beings. No flesh and blood and skin tight with youth and hope and dreams and desires. I see none of that, not even in my dreams. They used to haunt my dreams, Gale, until I burned those books up. Now they just don’t exist anymore.”
He looked up at me and I felt naked. The pool’s chlorine tickled my nose as its waters pearled on my skin. I felt others near me, splashing in the water with horseplay, but my image eclipsed them. I alone commanded his attention. As the horseplay continued behind me, I walked towards him. His gaze was my siren and I yenned to fill the void that space and time had placed between us.
“Do you have any more canvasses?” I asked, hurriedly.
“In the bedroom, in the closet next to the bed. Why? Do you need one?”
I stood up and walked into his bedroom, desperate to get him a fresh canvass. If one hadn’t been there, I would have gone out and bought one. I opened the small closet and found one.
Then I took off my coat and my shirt. I slipped off my shoes and undid my belt. I unbuttoned my pants and took off my t-shirt and boxers. Then I bent over and took off my socks. In an instant I was au naturel. I saw myself in a mirror in his bedroom.
“You have another interview to do and a meeting back at the office this afternoon. They’ll fire your ass, you dumb fuck,” my reflection snarked back to me.
I nodded my head.
“You know what your editor said,” my reflection continue, “‘don’t spend to much time with Horton. Just get his reaction to the award, that should be enough.’ She didn’t want you to waste your time with him.”
Yeah, I know.
I reached to the floor for my crumped pants and took out my cell from the back pocket. The message light flashed bright green. I turned the damn thing off.
I took the canvass and returned to the living room. I leaned it against the wall so that I could swing the sofa around to face Mr. Horton. Then I removed the unfinished yellow mums and set the fresh canvas on his easel. That’s when he saw me. His eyes grew wide.
“How do you want me to sit, Bill?”
He gave me a long piercing look and spared himself not one inch of my naked body. Everything, from my toes to my calves, to my thighs, to my balls and crotch hair and dick, to my bellybutton, to my chest and nipples, to my Adam’s apple, to my lips and nose and ears and eyes, all the way up to my unkempt hair underwent a scanning that no airport machine could hope to duplicate. Then his whole body changed. He didn’t look old or frail at all, maybe 50ish at best.
“Help me turn the easel around, will you?”
We grabbed it from either side and turned it around so that he could see the sofa to one side of it.
“Alright. You have a sketchbook with you?”
“Take it out.”
I bent over and fished it out of my shoulder bag. He walked to a bookcase next to the late display table. His shoes casually crunched over the remains of his awards. He came back with a large picture book. The cover read Passion Flowers, 1985-87.
My eyes grew wide.
“I’ll give it to you to keep under one condition,” he said. “I want you to turn to the picture that got you all hot and bothered, and I want you to start drawing the painting you wanted to do of you and your girlfriend screwing in front of it. Sketch that while I paint you.”
I smiled with all teeth showing.
“Lie down and assume any position that’s comfortable for you, Gale,” he said.
I found the painting quickly – Night Passion – and sat it on the floor, then I got on the couch, my head rested in my hand and my elbow dug into the seat of the sofa. My right leg was extended fully and my left leg was bent at a 45-degree angle. I had my sketchbook close to my face and my free hand got busy.
“Do you have to be anywhere today, Mr. Gale?”
“No, sir,” I said.
He took his time, scanning and dissecting me, while I went mad with my pencil. He smoked a few with the window wide open. The cold air breathed life into the room. Then his left hand worked the canvas at a furious pace with his pencil. At one point he stopped drawing and stared at his work for a long while without touching it. His eyes fell on me in glances. I remained calm, possessed by the moment, still working on my own drawing.
Suddenly, he took a long drag on his cigarette. A horrible hack followed. And then he took his oils and a brush and finally began to paint.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.