He was truly in love with the literary form, as well as my paintings and so I began fitting words into them, along with some of his lyrics. If you have good eyes, you will notice the words, Hey, hey, Louise the party’s over underneath a dancer. And up in the sky, next to a drawing of a horse it says, Tomorrow morning we’ll both be sober, oh Louise.
The Street Where The Hearts Lie, The Seaview Cafe and The Girl With The Sun In Her Eyes, along with smaller paintings are getting boxed and crated to California for my show next week, three thousand miles away. This is my second show, and if it goes well, I might just stay in California to see if my luck changes–the way people do who believe in luck, and second chances, and saying I love you when it’s not exactly true. If I’m not careful, it may fall out of my mouth when I’m in bed with a man who is off the record, there are no strings, and it’s all one big ridiculous lie. The fact is, sex like that makes me high as a kite and takes me somewhere, a place even better than California.
I got up in the middle of the night and wrote, “Once I had crossed the line where men were no longer the complete answer, there was no turning back. I was on a path with no exits. Saturday nights lost rhythm and blues. Wednesdays when the phone stopped ringing it made no difference–and when the men did call, the blind dates– and said, ‘What do you like to do?’ it didn’t matter if I said, ‘Smoke cigarettes, play croquet and read books.’ The universe was on my back with all of its weight to become someone, and life became make me break me.
“You can become a topless dancer, a hooker, a poet or a movie star, I told myself. Get a PhD in nothing important, and still paint; the possibilities are endless. You can do anything–it’s your life. Or so I thought. You never know when I love you might trickle out, your vocal chords walk on eggs.
And then something happened the way something usually does. I knew it was coming because the dresses rattled on their hangers and whispered, ‘We must be worn,’ the sound of the phone not ringing became very loud, and I began taking the phone to bed with me, holding onto it like a lover. I found my watch in the refrigerator. I was out driving one day and forgot where I was going. I got into the shower with my underwear on. It was May and I shivered.”
I stopped writing there. I looked at the lyrics in the painting and called him the next day, and he said he wanted to see them, and then, as usual, nothing much happened. He got out of my bed a few hours later to go home to his wife and daughter. And I never said anything with love and his name in the same sentence.
Extraordinary was out of the question. I had known he would be surprised, my fitting him into a painting, and I hoped he didn’t confuse it with love. Painting is one thing, sex is another. They feed each other, until it stops working–the way wanting a cigarette while smoking one happens. Opening myself up to sex, while trying to keep my mouth shut and my heart still. The ambiguity has to leak out somewhere. If it doesn’t I could lose my mind. And this explains some beautiful paintings. And at times it accounts for drawing a blank.
I knew that the flight attendant on the plane to California would give me a drink during take off because I’m afraid to fly, and that I would not be able to sleep and would read a book all night. I knew I would be buying postcards from the little man across the street from the bike path in Monterey, and that I would write, “I stayed up on the plane all night, and I can hear the sea otters from the hotel. I’m in a suite with a view and last night I ate all of the chocolate sardines from the little fridge, and I might do a painting in white with red and purple–see you soon.”
I also knew that I would be wearing a black dress with pearls, and a small velvet jacket and the earrings he gave me when I turned thirty and drank a whole bottle of wine and cried all night, listening to Sail Away. I knew that my musician friend from California, the one who looks exactly like my sculpture professor in art school, would give me a guitar lesson on the beach at night and that then we would talk until three about music and art and get stoned on some stuff his brother got in Mexico.
But that’s not exactly how it turned out. It never is. I fell asleep on the flight and I wore white to the opening. It was a success. I was a hit and all my friends were there and I couldn’t be bothered with postcards. We laughed at everything: valet parking, shrimp, and all that Glenlivet, the scent of brandy when it is warm. A man came up to me and said, “Your work is very sensual–the words, ‘Hey Louise, the party’s over’ are great–did you make them up yourself? They, in particular, are driving me mad.”
“No,” I said.” You’ve never heard that song? It’s from The Party’s Over and there are two ‘heys.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” he said. “What about ‘The Street Where The Hearts Lie?'”
“A take off on Bemelmans–get it?” I asked. Then I looked up at him and wondered where he’d been all his life. I shook my head, shrugged and walked away.
“This is marvelous,” another man said, what are you going to do next?”
“I’m working on a series where dinosaurs come back, Elvis too. Space aliens rape little women in Brazil. Whatever is news–I mean the news as reported from a tiny town in Brazil. As told to a source who died the very next day, which is curious. Last month I turned thirty and it’s about time my work got important, wouldn’t you say?”
“I’d say it’s important now,” he said. “Would you like to walk down to the ocean later and talk?”
“Can you play Fly Me To The Moon? On the guitar?”
“Then I can’t. It’s kind of a ritual with me, you know? California wouldn’t be complete without it. If I don’t hear that I’ll never paint again. Music is everything, and I’m really rather pathetic. Never confuse style with personality.”
“Do you believe the bullshit?” my friend Mimi asked me in the Ladies’ room as we brushed our hair and put on lipstick.
“Half the people here crashed,” I said. “Which is fine with me, if they buy something. Have you ever been to an opening where less than half of the people were jerks? The more the merrier. I never want to go home.”
“Then don’t,” she said, and as soon as she said it I realized it was a definite possibility.
“If I don’t sell anything, I’ll be too embarrassed to go home. Am I overpriced?”
Then don’t, I thought as I was cutting a piece of cheese, and listening to the music. It was Astrud Gilberto singing off key in her breathy way, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see and sure enough there was my musician, all dressed up.
“You made it,” I said. “What do you think?”
“It’s great,” he said, and I was right back in art school; his arm reaching out to embrace the paintings and then he asked if I’d be up for the beach later, he’d bring his guitar and all, had some good stuff to smoke and would it be okay if we changed into jeans first? He was drinking red wine and took a cigar out of his pocket. He lit it and the two of us smoked it, listening to the chatter and Astrid, and the sea otters, and great show–she’s so bold, this must be a new influence–.” The influence of never letting I love you slip out, I thought. That little heartbreak.
“I’ll be out of here by midnight,” I told the musician. “I’ll come to your apartment, okay?” I closed my eyes and thought about the ocean and then I mingled with the people, and told more tall tales.
It was almost one a.m. when I tapped on his door. His hair was wet, and he seemed taller than usual, and then I noticed that the ceilings in his apartment were especially low.
“Ready?” he asked picking up the guitar.
“Yes,” I said. “By the way, I keep forgetting your name. What is it?”
“Steve,” he said. We had to walk down a long path to get to the beach; finally the cliff was overhead and we sat down. I was sitting with my legs pulled up to my chest, hugging my knees, and Steve was sitting cross legged, and out came Fly Me To The Moon. The most beautiful version I have ever heard.
“In other words,” I said when it was over–“Play something else–.” He lit a joint, handed it to me and said–“The beach becomes you.” I laughed. I took another hit and laughed some more.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“The postcard I will write tomorrow: ‘The show went very well, and the beach becomes me, and I’m never coming back home.'”
“It’s that simple,” he said. “Isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said, turning over and lying on my stomach and then settling on my back, looking up at the stars. “Just walk away. I have sand in my hair.”
“You’re really brave, you know that?”
“So are you,” I said. “How much money do you have on you right now?”
“And how much to your name?”
“You’re the courageous one,” I said. “I keep bumping into cowards, it’s exhausting. They drag me down, those quitters. Quitters and cowards and married men; I’m beginning to see quitting in my paintings. Trust me. Men who can’t make commitments and half-assed art selling in all those stupid galleries invented by others–it’s been done before– all of it. You know what happens in Massachusetts if you say, ‘I love you?'”
“You get arrested.”
“I forgot how sexy you are,” he said. He was stroking my hair and then he started kissing me. He was staring at me, and I looked away. I love you was popping out of his eyes, and I felt ashamed.
“I forgot you were so nice,” I said. “At least you’re nice to me. I wonder what brought us together? How many years have I been flying out here and we barely know each other?”
“Six,” he said. “You came up to me with a squirt gun and said, ‘Play the one about all the pretty horses, or I’ll shoot.'” “I didn’t.”
“Yes,” he said kissing me, “you did.”
In the morning I packed up the paintings. I bought a couple of postcards and on one I wrote, “You were a hit. Hey, Hey Louise under the dancer sold it, I owe you one.” I picked up the check for nearly ten thousand dollars. I went looking for Steve, but he wasn’t around. So I took the other postcard and wrote, “I love you.” I mailed it from the airport, and then I marched onto the plane, and for some reason, I didn’t need a drink.
With the check in my pocket, and half a kiss left on my face, it seemed perfectly natural to be up in the air–not suspended for five hours, but flying. All you have to do is remember you’re actually in motion–going roughly five hundred miles an hour. That and the fact that the jet stream, nature itself– is helping, which is why it’s six hours going out and only five coming back. If you can keep those things in mind, along with the boldness in don’t go home, flying is appropriate and I love you is like flying. Just take a breath and say it while exhaling. Your paintings will get even better. After all, he already knows it, not to mention at times, in the past, it’s been the absolute truth.