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Contemporary Fiction Romance

                                                                 Monday

I can paint anyone and make them look good.

Except myself.

Why this is the case remains a mystery to me. Right now, for example, I’m studying my jawline on canvas. It looks anatomically correct, but that isn’t my jawline. It doesn’t feel like my jawline. I scrape a bit with a palette knife. I smudge a little with my left forefinger. Better.

But still not right.

I have to walk away from this thing or I’ll go crazy trying to create the real me with oils and acrylics. A thought rattles around in my head. It whispers, and I don’t want to listen. It insists. I push it down, like the bully I am. It’s still talking, telling me why I can’t paint myself.

Maybe a stiff drink will silence her.

It’s a her.

Ronnie.

                                                          **************

I begin to work on another piece: my interpretation of Veronica Swokowski. Ronnie, the love of my life. Ronnie, who left me. Ronnie, who won’t take my calls at 3:00 am. Or any other time, for that matter. She hasn’t blocked my number yet, so there’s still hope, right?

I know better.

The good thing about being an artist is that you see truth where others don’t see it. The face is a prime example. Ronnie’s face told me that we’d never be together again. That’s the face I’m also interpreting, in two dimensions, with all the shades that an infinite melancholy can muster.

The bad thing about being an artist is that we understand infinite melancholy. The purveyors of alcohol and anti-anxiety drugs love us for that.

I stare at a picture I took on my phone. Ronnie, blowing me a kiss. I shrink it down and place it on the right side of her face, just above her right eyebrow. I shift it to the left a little. Better. I stare at another picture I took. Ronnie, in bed, barely awake. Smiling at me through eyes that haven’t yet accepted that a new day has arrived.

The placement of this picture takes me ten minutes. It takes me another five minutes to shrink it down to just the right size. Big enough to work with, but small enough to look like nothing more than a small blob of color if you stand at least ten feet away. Since this is all being done with software, I don’t know if it’s gonna look good when I print it out and frame it and look at it ten or more feet away.

It will, I tell myself. I’m a little too firm in my belief here, and I know that. But it has to work. It simply has to work.

I feel the tingle again. The one that scares the hell out of me. A creeping desolation. A whisper. What if it doesn’t work? I can’t think of that right now. The only art improved by desperation is poetry. Ronnie disagrees. Of course she does.

                                                         **************

                                                               Tuesday

The jawline is better, but now the nose bothers me. It flares, and I swear I didn’t do that on purpose. I can’t flare my nose.

Ronnie used to tell me that she could tell if I were angry just by looking at my nose. I still don’t believe her. She could tell I was angry because I’d yell, and I’d say vile things to her. I’d apologize later, but it never had the effect I wanted it to have.

Chipping away, she called it. The armor of love was being chipped away every time one of us said something hurtful to the other. That’s pretty poetic, but she’s a writer, so it makes sense. Sort of.

I don’t think love supplies you with armor. If anything, it weakens you. You do things you wouldn’t normally do if you weren’t in love. You drink less, go to bed earlier, eat regularly. Sex becomes a thing, not a treat. You lose your edge. All your edges.

The nose will have to wait. The eyes need attention right now; I have them in my mind. A blue that reminds me of a Bruges sky in summer. It’s a color I’ll never forget. It won’t let me. Some colors are that way.

I have a secret technique that I use for eyes and hair: cigarette ash. Adding a small amount to oil-based paint adds a certain patina of age, but it also adds a sort of gritty glide to the brush. It gives thin lines the proper substance. A small thing, perhaps, but it makes a difference.

Ronnie doesn’t smoke, so that was a bone of contention. A damn dinosaur bone of contention. She said it was like kissing an ashtray when she kissed me after I smoked a cigarette. I asked her how many ashtrays she had kissed in her life. Things went downhill from there.

The eyes are good. Very good. Too damn good. I’ll leave them for now. That Bruges blue may be too good to use on the likes of my eyes. To be determined later.

I have a picture of Ronnie with a cigarette in her mouth. She was being a goof, and it was very sexy seeing her being a goof. Ok, I’m using this pic. I’ll shade it with a little red and put it on her lips. Right at the edge of the lips, where the sex appeal is supposed to end but doesn’t.

Color, shrink, place. The mosaic is coming along nicely. It’ll be a hoot to gaze at when it’s finished.

Maybe. I always think this when I have more than two drinks in me, which is often. Ronnie drinks like a fish.

Wait! I have a picture of her fishing! It goes in!

Ronnie says that we have to move on. I know what that means. She met someone else. Probably a guy, though she isn’t averse to spending some quality bedtime with a woman. A bisexual dynamo, I would call her. She would wrinkle her nose when I said that. I could never tell if it bothered her or pleased her.

You wanna know what I think? I think that bisexuals have twice the chance for a bad relationship. I guess my pessimism is showing, but I consider it realistic thinking.

It’s a little past 3:00 am. I stop for the day. The night. Whatever. I need a half dozen drinks and a cigarette or two. I also need Ronnie but I push that thought down and stomp on it. I know I don’t deserve her, but she doesn't deserve me either.

That’s what I tell myself.

                                                         **************

                                                             Wednesday

I used to dream about her often. Now, it’s about once a month. This time, I didn’t dream about kissing her or holding her or feeling her whisper in my ear. This time I barely saw her, but she was speaking to me, an impish, knowing smile on her face.

She called my work something odd: love songs for deaf people. I laugh and tell her that anyone can buy my work, deaf or not. She tells me that isn’t what she means. I ask her what it means. She tells me to figure it out.

She haunts me, even in my dreams.

Now I’m stealing lyrics from a Dutch rock band. I’d like to think I’m better than that.

Ok. Hot tea, cigarette. More hot tea, another cigarette. Time to work.

I look at my self portrait and grimace a little. The jawline still bothers me. The blue in the eyes give me an angelic aspect. I don’t mind that, but it isn’t me. I remain undecided about the eyes, and the nose definitely flares.

I sigh, have another cigarette, and abandon the portrait for now. I can work on Ronnie. At least that’s going well.

The hundreds of pictures that I need for my interpretation of Ronnie will all have to be resized and trimmed, many of them recolored, and put in the right place. In the end, it will be Ronnie, in profile. She’s at her best in profile.

                                                        ______________

She came into my life like a fragrance.

I have a picture of her favorite perfume. Kilian Paris Love, Don’t be Shy. Weird name. But I took a picture of it because I wanted to buy her a bottle for Christmas. $275. I bought her a fancy fifty-five dollar pen instead. She doesn’t use it much.

Another chink in the armor of love. Another brick in the wall. Another line stolen from a rock band.

I go back to my self-portrait and I see what’s wrong with the nose. It’s the texture. I used a palette knife to give it body, but it’s all wrong. I scrape off the paint and reapply it after thinning it out. I use a sable brush because I’m old fashioned, and because it allows for a silky smooth application. Now, for a little burnt umber. A little cigarette-ash eggshell white there…and there.

Better. Definitely better. No flare. That’s my nose. The one that used to inhale all the magic that Ronnie so effortlessly provided.

                                                          ______________

I came into her life like a rampaging Visigoth.

It was at a bar. Her current boyfriend had grabbed her by the arm and was yanking her around. I walked up to him and punched him in the face.

I’m not a physically violent person, but you just can’t use your physical strength on a woman. Yell at her, sure. Call her a bitch and whore, yes. She can fight back with words. Even when you play dirty in a relationship, you have to be fair about it.

She came home with me that night.

We were both pretty drunk, but she stayed with me from then on. Even our massive hangovers the next day couldn’t dissuade us from a year of semi-domestic bliss.

I find another picture to use in the mosaic. Ronnie in one of my painting shirts, drinking coffee and flipping me off. See what I mean? Domestic bliss.

                                                         ______________

No scars.

Ronnie had no scars, nothing to mar – or enhance – her skin. Odd, that. But I like to think that I left her with some psychological scars. I mean, if you can’t leave an ex-lover with a few wounds, what’s the point?

She left me with plenty, bless her. I treat them with alcohol and a stout denial of my faults in the relationship. It seems to work. The problem is being sober and at loose ends. That’s when the tsunami of guilt comes rolling along. Hey, how ya’ doin’? Gonna destroy your soul, buddy.

Yeah, it’s like that.

                                                        **************

                                                           Thursday

A self portrait is an act of narcissism and, at the same time, an act of self-flagellation. You have to love yourself and loathe yourself in equal measures to do it right.

I’m not doing it right. The ratio of how much I love myself to how much I despise myself is wrong. I just don’t know which way.

Also, I’m still bothered by the “love songs for deaf people” comment that Ronnie said to me. Sure, it was a dream, but it has to mean something, right?

I don’t like how I look, which is odd. I’m an artist, and I should like the uniqueness of my face.

I don’t.

Ronnie would never sit for a portrait, but I painted her anyway. From memory. It made her angry, and then she stayed irritated until I painted over it. More domestic bliss.

It took me a few weeks to figure it out, but I did. She didn’t want anyone to interpret her other than herself. The inner soul, she claimed, was sacrosanct, and no one had the right to interpret her without her permission. I disagreed with her. Another conversation that ended with slamming doors.

So why am I interpreting her now? Because I can. Because she is lost to me, no matter what I tell myself after a few drinks. I wasn’t able to hold on to her, but I can damn sure hang her on a hook.

It’s a puzzle, you see. Forming all the pieces of pictures to fit the profile I see. Each piece just so, the sum of the parts greater than the whole.

I said that right. You figure it out.

Like I have to figure out the love songs for deaf people. It eludes me, like the perfect color for my eyes. Bruges blue is fine, but it isn’t me. Not quite. Do I really care?

That voice whispers to me again. And, like before, I have to pummel it into submission. I don’t like to pummel.

It’s 3:33 am and I call Ronnie. No answer.

Thankfully.

                                                       **************

                                                            Friday

I pause my work on the self-portrait, and on the interpretation of Ronnie. I still don’t understand either person well enough to finish.

I need to travel, find that perfect blue for my eyes. Maybe a Montana sky will work. Maybe a Pacific lagoon. Hell, I might find the perfect color in an outlet store that sells cheap fabric. That sounds about right.

Ronnie and I will have to wait. The muses are playing hard to get. The muses, in fact, are staying away from me as if I have some disease.

My mood is a color. Bruges blue.

Just needs a little cigarette ash.

November 23, 2023 11:54

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23 comments

Michelle Oliver
10:21 Dec 02, 2023

I mean, if you can’t leave an ex-lover with a few wounds, what’s the point? I think this line sums up the relationship, or rather what he thinks of relationships. The domestic bliss repetition highlights his own perception that a relationship is about the disharmony between two people. It’s no wonder his relationship with Ronnie failed. An interesting character who really doesn’t know himself or his partner, even though he studies people for a living.

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Delbert Griffith
11:05 Dec 02, 2023

All true, Michelle, and the whole point of the tale. He "paints" love songs, making everyone he paints look good - except himself. He's deaf to who and what he really is. I'm pleased that you picked up on this central theme, my friend. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Cheers!

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Ken Cartisano
05:39 Dec 01, 2023

Nice. (Excellent.) The cigarette ash, the eggshell white, sabal brushes, all brought the story and characters to life. Not bad, for a story that was over before it began.

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Delbert Griffith
10:02 Dec 01, 2023

Thanks so much, Ken. I appreciate the kind words, and I appreciate you reading my little tale of lost love. Cheers!

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19:58 Nov 27, 2023

Yes- indeed you can paint anyone and make them look good. I liked your use of different days of the week... brings a little order to the mystery of disguises.

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Delbert Griffith
21:06 Nov 27, 2023

Thanks so much, Clara. Yes, a firm timeline adds to the tale, IMO. Cheers!

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Kailani B.
19:21 Nov 27, 2023

"The only art improved by desperation is poetry." Wow. I don't write poetry, but that line speaks to me.

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Delbert Griffith
21:06 Nov 27, 2023

Thanks, Kailani. I appreciate that you liked that line so much. Cheers!

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Helen A Smith
13:32 Nov 27, 2023

It’s interesting that we cannot necessarily see ourselves as we really are - as others see us. Ronnie feels as though the MC’s desire to do her portrait is a kind of invasion into her soul which is private. Not an ideal match here, but the pain of the heart when a relationship is over is well depicted. For this artist, his love has “chipped away” leaving him raw and exposed. But then it didn’t seem to bode well when she described his work as “ love songs for death people.” That was bound to hurt! Feels like his soul is exposed here. Some...

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Delbert Griffith
16:48 Nov 27, 2023

Thanks so much, Helen. I appreciate the kind words and the sharp insights. Yes, two creatives usually make for a volatile mix. Cheers!

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Helen A Smith
17:17 Nov 27, 2023

They certainly do. If you have time, can you have a look at my latest? I’d like to see what you think of it 😊

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Delbert Griffith
17:21 Nov 27, 2023

I can look at it later today or tomorrow, Helen, if that's ok.

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Helen A Smith
17:21 Nov 27, 2023

That would be great. Thank you.

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Noa Garcia
02:39 Nov 26, 2023

I really really enjoyed this piece. Every time the character mentioned Ronnie I loved the way you went about writing it and you could tell the importance she held to your protagonist. The final lines, as well, were wonderful. Very well done!

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Delbert Griffith
10:09 Nov 26, 2023

Thanks you very much, Noa, for the kind words and the observations you make. I appreciate that you took the time to read my little tale and leave a comment. Cheers!

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Marty B
02:12 Nov 26, 2023

The collage of pictures to make up a portrait is such an accurate metaphor for how details, so important to the artist, or the subject can be lost on the viewer. The moments in time that make up a relationship can be lost too, lost to the harsh words, anger, or worst of all indifference. I can picture this masterpiece in my mind, along with the MC both were drawn clearly, picture by picture, detail by detail. thanks!

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Delbert Griffith
10:08 Nov 26, 2023

Thanks so much, Marty, for the kind words and the sharp insights. Yes, details matter to the artist. They make the difference between something that's just ok and something worthwhile. Just like writing, yes? Again, thank you, my friend. Your comments always say something relevant. Cheers!

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02:06 Nov 26, 2023

You are a true artist. You made a masterpiece and took us all on a joyous ride in the process, with lots of laughs. What wasn't funny, was so profound we felt your pain. A visual feast. A broken heart makes the best love songs and as you have proven to us, the best pictures.

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Delbert Griffith
10:06 Nov 26, 2023

Thank you, Kaitlynn, for the kind words and the observations. Yes, as you say, a broken heart makes the best love songs. Truth! Making a portrait out of the many pictures the artist has seemed like a good idea. It will a woman's profile to everyone else, but to him, it will be their story. Again, thank you, my friend. I appreciate your comments a lot! Cheers!

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Michał Przywara
21:37 Nov 24, 2023

Great voice on the narrator here, really gets across the train wreck that the aftermath of the relationship is. “The good thing about being an artist is that you see truth where others don’t see it.” This is curious, because the narrator seems to both understand the truth - it's over - and yet he flirts with there still being a chance. Maybe seeing the truth isn't enough sometimes. I wonder if that ties into the title? He paints a love that viewers refuse to hear? Even when he's the listener himself. The truth is often - characteristically ...

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Delbert Griffith
12:24 Nov 25, 2023

Dude! You hit all the major points, my friend, starting with the title. Ronnie indeed saw his work as love songs for the deaf, but that mystified him. What he didn't see was Ronnie's sharp criticism of his character. The man was a genius when it came to painting, but he heard nothing. The artist was involved with his art and not in becoming a better person. The sum of the parts greater than the whole. Spot on observation there. He'll know the individual pics that went in to each part of the whole, and only he will know when the pics were ta...

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Mary Bendickson
00:32 Nov 24, 2023

A picture into the soul. Excellent painting. Unique idea to make a mosaic of pictures to make the profile.

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Delbert Griffith
02:22 Nov 24, 2023

Thanks, Mary! You're a jewel! Cheers!

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