Paint

I was taking an evening art class at the Parson’s school. Icon Painting with a celebrated artist who had travelled to the school from Russia. I was staying late because it was a quiet place where I could work and think. Alone in the thick-walled classrooms with the echoes of footsteps. Overworked secretaries clocking off for the night. The bang of a locker closing, papers stuffed inside. The click of heels on the hardened linoleum floors. The window ledges deep enough to hold my books and clutter. Painting alone at a high workbench. An amateurish hand, mimicking the masters. “I’m just an Art Historian,” I had told the teacher, “I write about about things that others do.” I was working with my back to the door. The lower half of the room built with glazed bricks, brown like the crackling on a roast ham. The upper half and ceiling whitewashed plaster. Hard from years of fierce heating and the city air blowing in from the lead-cased windows. One of the professors poked a wise head through the door, saying, “you should turn the key in the door if you’re working here alone,” before disappearing into the maze of corridors. Another female student walked through the large room, looking for a quiet place to sew. Wordlessly she sat opposite me at the wide workbench. We said nothing but I felt less lonely. I moved the egg-paint around on the board. A crude daube of colour, failing to mimic the angel’s wing. The face just an oval. I was like a child playing with something sticky.

Later that night I went to Yasmin’s. I hadn’t seen her for a few days and we missed one another. As an only child I tend to adopt sisters. Building my own family like the cast of a commedia. We sat together in the window seat drinking wine. She braided my hair. I could feel her long nails clicking across my scalp. She told me about her father, a Brazilian millionaire, who appeared every few months with gifts, and then disappeared as suddenly as he had come. “I adored my father,” she said, “he was like an exotic prince, telling tales of London and of Tokyo. Bringing me sweets with foreign glyphs, names like music. Dresses of Chinese silk. Perfumes from Paris.” There was a deep sadness as she told. Tales of loss and longing. Days in the sun playing without care, and waking one morning to find him gone. “He will return,” he mother said, “he always does, you know he adores us.”

“There were other women of course,” she said sloshing more wine into our glasses, and lying back on the pillows thinking of her mother, a beautiful woman of ambiguous European heritage.

Yasmin rambled about her father, her voice like honey:

“He loved us 

I knew he loved us 

My mother was so beautiful 

I remember her standing on the roof terrace, her hair hanging loose down her back, long and wavy, before she had put it up for the day, the sun rising, the green forest below 

a maid laid out the breakfast on a white slatted table 

glass jugs of juice 

squeezed minutes ago from fruit 

she never divorced him 

my father 

and she didn’t need his money 

the villa belonged to her family 

and she had bank accounts full of jewels in Rio 

and a grandmama in France who was a billionaire’s daughter 

she never asked him for anything 

only love 

which he gave when he had time 

I remember I used to hear them making love on the warm nights 

I’m sure I could hear her crying as well

knowing she was just another one of his women 

a huge diamond on her finger 

and a plain gold band

cut from those Aztec hills 

you are my saint 

he used to say to her

my salvation 

I remember her wearing blue and holding my sister 

the infant 

too young to really see what was going on 

I was a sullen child 

watching these scenes with suspicious eyes”

Yasmin and I curled up and slept in the window seat. Our eyes heavy with wine, and both longing for love and attachment.

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7 thoughts on “Paint

  1. You are a gifted writer, and I love the painting too … but especially the writing, and the words spoken by Yasmin near the end of this … full of emotion and so well-expressed. Thank you … =)

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