He was ashamed of it. Five years ago he had sold his last painting. Or, rather, Sammi, had sold it sight unseen on a flight from LA to Anchorage. His wife Sammi had come back from that trip with a check for three thousand dollars….”
by laine perry
“I know you are but what am I?” said Jorg, a rascal, and a bear of a man. Harry laughed at his old friend who was sticking his tongue into the wind. He looked like a trained ape driving a toy car. Jorg was wearing his favorite sunglasses, a pair of copper aviators from 1978. Christ, hadn’t they bought those during the Point Reyes trip? What had happened to Cecile? Jorg hadn’t mentioned her in the letters he had sent over the years. Sammi and Cecile had been there in the beginning and in the middle. Harry felt bad that the girls, their old ladies, would not be with them in the end. When he tried to picture the end of his life, Harry still imagined himself and his friend with their women. It was the way he measured his future successes. Harry had known plenty of guys who had left wives behind. Those friends of his were not easy to be around; holding fast to the skirt of something new, and afraid of death as they had never meant to be. Harry was not like that.
Harry felt good. He was relaxed. This was the right thing to do. The sun was the fucking salve his soul needed. He could do with a tan. He slipped off his shoes and threw his socks out the window. God, he felt better than he had in a decade. Was it this simple? He could have it all back. For only $238 he had bought it back. And now, striding before them, oblivious of them, was a gorgeous black woman and a harlequin monster, a Great Dane on a long silver leash. No, Harry laughed aloud, he did not see things like this in Iowa. His best friend whinnied in a bad approximation of an interested stallion. The ineffectiveness was charming. Harry closed his eyes and let the sun coat him. Winter in Iowa was a bitch. The morning he had heard about the offer of a show, Harry had slipped on the ice. His bandaged wrist had a fracture with multiple fissures. He was old, and his bones would split when the temperature hit the negatives. It was not a lot to look forward to. Why shouldn’t he make his return to California a permanent move? He could probably get a two bedroom in San Pedro for a song. Or, maybe Jorg would just put him up long enough to decide what to do. Or, maybe he would meet someone here. It would depend on the show. It had been a long damned time, and he knew that it had the potential to go badly. Harry did not know these people at this new gallery. He did not know the galleries in LA at all. The players had changed. A friend of his daughter’s, a kid from Iowa, had interned at a gallery in Santa Monica and, probably trying to wedge his foot in a slamming door, claimed to have discovered an entirely hot painter from the Midwest. Enter Harry.
This show was a fluke. But Harry was going for it. He had not painted more than thirty canvases in the last five years. He was ashamed of it. Five years ago he had sold his last painting. Or, rather, Sammi, had sold it sight unseen on a flight from LA to Anchorage. His wife Sammi had come back from that trip with a check for three thousand dollars. She was amazing, the way she could pull a rabbit out of a hat when things seemed impenetrable. Harry had been so grateful to her, and to the patron, whoever he might be. He had known enough then to be grateful to God even. He wrapped the painting in an old Mexican blanket that had lain at the foot of their bed for the past eleven years, and sent the painting on its way. They would buy new blankets, Harry decided. Three months later, Sammi followed the painting.
“You are missing it buddy! Where are you? You can’t tell me you see this in Iowa.” Jorg was kissing the wind, or the girls on the boulevard, but certainly not Harry’s ass. “How do you do it man? Iowa? Iowa, for Christ’s sake.” Harry smiled because the truth was, he had no real understanding of how he did it. He was not committed to anything in Iowa. He was not committed at all. He was not painting much. His daughter was grown, and had little interest in her father. They saw each other in the grocery store, when schedules collided. They were cordial, but it was not the way it had been when she had been a kid. They had been close. They had been best friends. Emory was fastidious, where Harry was forgetful; cleaning his brushes, and screwing the caps on the turpentine. Harry knew it would never be that way again, had known this when his daughter had a child of her own, and realized that parenting could be done differently, even correctly.
Jorg and his insatiable appetite turned west heading down Sunset. Harry thought aloud that at the moment, right here and now, in the company of his oldest friend and comrade, he was right to have come back. “So where is Cecile?” Harry smiled at his old buddy, a caricature of the writers he had admired years before. Jorg twisted his grip on the miniature steering wheel. “Dead.” “What? What the fuck, Jorg? Don’t kid around like that.” Jorg stretched his spine, puffing out his chest like a rooster about to crow. “I don’t know, Oregon, I think.” “Fuck you Jorg. What the hell is the matter with you? Don’t you know how good we had it? Don’t you remember how easy they made it for us? Christ Jorg, the truth is buddy, we lost.” “Relax, Harry. We were young gods then. How could we have known?”
“I wonder what it would be like if you had to bear it?” “Bear what?” Jorg asked frowning. “What are you talking about buddy?” “WOMEN,” Harry said slowly, enunciating for emphasis. “I am talking about women, Jorg.” “Yeah, what about ‘em?” Jorg asked, flipping on the radio. “Well?” Harry went on, “What if you had to stick it out with one? A good one, not just any one of ‘em, but maybe one that hadn’t worked out the way you thought it should have.” “ What?” Jorg asked, inattentively now because of the vista ahead of them. “Listen, buddy,” Jorg said in hopes of throwing this conversation off track, “you need to take a pull of that good scotch. Open the glove box.” “No, no, Jorg, you aren’t listening, man. Just give it a thought with me. Let’s say you had to take Celia…could not throw her out in the rain in her underwear…” “Oh shit Harry, it wasn’t like that. I loved Celia, we just, we…” “Shut up Jorg, and listen. Listen to this idea a minute, Christ you’re only driving anyway.” “Yeah Harry, and we are fucking late to your own show. Come to think of it we are no where near Santa Monica.” “Late? We’ve got two hours. We are so god damned early the wine is still in the box.” “Just go with this for a minute all right? So a woman like Celia—” Jorg interrupts, “Not Celia man, I am sick of Celia.” “Fine Jorg, not Celia, take a woman like Molly,” Jorg looks lost. “Molly who? Who the hell is Molly?” “Your fucking third wife Jorg, christ man, you are an ass Jorg.” “No. No, Listen, hey, I just … I didn’t know you meant that Molly.” Harry looks skeptically at his best friend. “Okay, Jorg, take Molly, say you had to be in a room with her, in a relationship with her and you couldn’t get out for a month.” “Couldn’t leave the room?” Jorg asks. “Couldn’t leave the room.” “What about a piss?” “Door open, those types of rules. Food delivered, necessities delivered. Say you had to stick it out for a month: 30 days Jorg.” “A noose. A goddamned noose Harry.” “Why? Why is it a noose buddy?” “Women, you know how they get. Needy . They get needy even though you are right there in front of them.” “All right Harry, and then what?” “Take a pull Jorg.” “Yeah, all right Harry.” “Hey, all right, so say Molly gets needy. Needs you to touch her, listen to her, tell her things you might not mean at the moment. And say, with the knowledge of the deal you agree to do it, to give her what she needs, or thinks she needs, or tells you she has to have.” “Doubtful,” says Jorg. “Yeah but go with it buddy.” “So I tell her whatever she needs me to say?” “Yeah, and for that she owes you the same.” “The same?” “Well, not the same as in she says a bunch of flattering things to you.” “No?” “No. The same as in she has to give you what you want or believe you want.” “Like what Harry? A sideways fuck?” “No. No, say it is something else at that moment.” “Head in the car?” No. Not head, something different.” “Yeah, all right what is it Harry?” “Say it is truth about something.” “Like what?” “Like the bartender at the Black Horse.” “Oh fuck Harry.” “Go with it. Say you just want a straight answer about it.” “I know all I need to know.” “All right Jorg. But say you don’t know all really. Let’s say you have some deep unanswered question gnawing at you.” “All right Harry, but that was a long damned time ago.” “Right, Yes, It was a long time ago Jorg. Humor me.” “Yeah, all right buddy. Yeah, so listen. What the hell would happen if the rules dictated that she had to be honest about it?” “I don’t know what you mean buddy. She already told me the story about that guy.” “Yeah, well let’s say it was a lie, Jorg.” “Listen Harry, who the hell cares? That was ten years ago. That slut can do what she likes. She’s no friend of mine. Then or now.” “Don’t get upset. This is just screwing around. I don’t have any information about this. I don’t know if Molly loved that guy. I am just … listen Jorg, if you want to switch to some other woman, we’ll do that. Let’s take a woman like Asmond.” “Asmond?” “Yeah, Asmond, god she was a little beauty, come to think of it Jorg, how did you manage that? Those long, dark legs man…” “What? What the fuck? You dirty bastard Harry, she was 16.” “Yeah, all except her mouth, Jorg. Her mouth was in no way under thirty-two.” “Fuck, you’re a pervert Harry.” “You had her Jorg, I just dreamed.” “Yeah well, I’m not comfortable using Asmond. She was an innocent.” “Not using the present tense buddy? Fine Jorg, the point is, what if a man were to take a woman as she is? For one fucking month. No where to run. Could you imagine that? And what if you dove into that like a sea of plenty, of good and plenty, because it was guaranteed that that was what it was. What if that pussy was a flower and a soft blanket, and a question, and a solid game?” “I don’t know man. What is this? Are you worried about my love life man?” No buddy, I am asking you to consider a thing differently.” “Yeah?” “Yeah.” “Why, Harry?” “Because your face tells your whole fucking story Jorg.”
Jorg looks in his rearview mirror. “It’s a son of a bitch Harry.” “Yes, you are Jorg. Yes you are.” They laugh, comfortable with one another now, and in the past, and looking forward. “I know what you are telling me Harry.” “Good Jorg.” “Hey listen, if Asmond shows at the opening tonight, don’t say a damned thing, all right Harry? Please, not a word, buddy.” “All right.” “And Harry?” “Yeah?” “Try to get laid tonight. You’re fucking hard to take these days.”
Harry thought about the advice. Maybe he should lay himself open to the world again. After all, he was the artist. This show, even as a relative unknown, even at his age, ought to offer up a couple of fans. There was always something deeply spiritual about the opening night. It was like dying and being born a stronger man. He was not Jorg, though. His friend was a true rascal. He would probably not lay some innocent. He had nothing to offer really. Years ago, the girls used to ask him why he painted. He would always tell them the truth. He had no fucking idea. It was just in him; a known thing. Back in Spirit Lake, Iowa; a gift of trees iced, and fine, each branch a glass filament glowing against a rose and tangerine sky. Once, on his way to visit his daughter, he had caught an extraordinary creature studying him. The white barn owl was seated on an old wooden fence post. Harry thought he might have inhaled too many paint fumes. The creature had been three and a half feet tall. He eyed Harry as if measuring himself against this man. Harry had liked the feel of that. After the show, and regardless of whether his paintings sold, Harry knew he would get on the plane. Winter waited for him, along with his daughter, and grandson. Harry wasn’t nervous about his future. He was curious to know what form it would take.
(illustrations: troy dockins)
Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. Many more of these stories from Laine can be found in the Vault of Smoke.