Malcolm had been painting when Susan returned to their apartment. As she nuzzled his neck from behind, she gently told him, “I like it.”
“How?” Malcolm responded, and he put down his brush. He stepped back, giving the painting a stare that was every bit as intense as his feelings towards it. “There’s nothing abstract. You might as well be looking at the real thing.”
“And that’s what makes it good,” Susan reminded him. “A lot of artists would envy what you can do with those brushes.”
Susan looked into Malcolm’s eyes and smiled, while Lady Gaga looked at Malcolm’s outfit and grimaced. “Besides,” Susan added, “your fashion sense is more than abstract enough.”
His pants were some unnamable shade of green. His shirt’s color was equally impossible to describe, as every thread of it was smeared in a different mixture of oils and powders. After hours of painting in lieu of showering—days, if Susan was being honest with herself—Malcolm’s hair stuck out in every direction, the dark brown tufts speckled with every tint and hue on his pallet.
Gaga tried to wipe a streak of orange from the side of his face, but it was in vain: the second she’d wiped it off, he scratched his cheek and replaced the orange with red. Susan leaned forward and gave Malcolm a kiss on the right eye—the only place she could kiss him and not get paint on herself. With this same concept in mind, she was careful not to embrace him, for fear of ruining her fall jacket.
A fashion designer engaged to a ragamuffin, Susan thought. The tragedy is palpable.
Malcolm collected up his brushes and headed for the kitchen to wash them off. Susan followed. The kitchen was, in some respects, the same room as the living room. There was no wall between the two, and they were decorated in the same modern way. But the kitchen was down a small flight of stairs, and tucked into its own special corner; it was a layout which Susan had admired when she first saw Malcolm’s apartment.
Though in many ways, Malcolm’s apartment had changed since Susan first saw it. Originally, there had been different artwork in the living room—Malcolm hated having the same paintings up for more than a few weeks. The walls had also been a different color, though which one, Susan couldn’t say; most likely, they had been painted in the same way as Malcolm’s hair. But the most noticeable difference in the apartment wasn’t the decoration. The most noticeable difference was something that Susan had stricken from the place.
And it had been no easy task. There were heaps of it when Susan first arrived: what could only be described as a painter’s clutter. It had almost impressed her. Every surface had things laying on it: damp brushes, crusted over pallets, sketches—Susan had saved the sketches. But most of the artist’s clutter, she had cleaned up.
Gaga continued to glare at Malcolm.
“What should we do for dinner?” Susan asked.
Malcolm dropped his brushes into the sink and turned on the faucet, creating a wash of color as the stream ran through the bristles. Picking up the first brush, he asked, “Weren’t we eating with Janine and Brian tonight?”
Gaga rolled her eyes and stomped off. “Malcolm,” Susan said. “I don’t even want you standing in front of the window dressed like that, much less eating out at a five star restaurant. Besides, they can’t make it. There was a problem with the travel agency.”
“Oh,” he acknowledged, moving to the next brush.
“So,” Susan said. “What should we do instead?”
“There’s some frozen—”
“No,” she interrupted. “Not a chance. If you point to the freezer right now, we’re going to have a very serious talk.”
He retracted his index finger.
“You’re rich,” Susan reminded him, taking off her custom-made fall jacket. She could risk adding a few abstract colors to the shirt underneath, and she did just that as she wrapped her arms around Malcolm, holding him tight. He turned and hugged her back, and she leaned into him even more, pressing him against the sink where the hot water still ran.
“I’m rich,” Malcolm repeated. “And?”
“And you dared to think about making your fiancé suffer through a third consecutive night of frozen dinners. At least meet me halfway and order a pizza.”
From 5:15 until 6:45, Susan and Malcolm loved each other.
As Susan finished off the last slice of pizza—she could hardly get Malcolm to eat any of it—she remembered what she had set down on her way in. She got up from her spot by Malcolm’s side on the couch, and then returned moments later, holding a folder.
Malcolm leafed through it, examining each panel of Chemosynthetic, Issue 12. Susan leaned against him and read along, though more specifically, Susan was reading Malcolm.
Admiration. She noticed admiration in the little physical reactions he had on every page: a heavier exhale after reading the punchline on panel four, a slight twitch of the wrist after seeing the main character ambushed on panel 20, and a stiffer posture after finding out the antagonist’s secret intentions on the final page. Susan saw Malcolm’s admiration for Ruben.
“He knows how to be abstract,” Malcolm said. “And he hasn’t even smoked a fucking joint in over a year. Explain that one to me, babe.”
“He’s good,” Susan said, shutting the folder. “And so are you. You’ve painted dozens of amazing abstract works, and if you want more proof, I have a drawer full of sketches that say you’ve thought of hundreds more. You just have to figure out…”
“How to function like a regular human being when I’m not on drugs?”
Malcolm stood up and walked to his painting.
Susan stood behind him. “It’s a great piece, abstract or not. It’s like looking at a photograph.”
“Then why fucking bother!” Malcolm shouted, and Susan jumped back. He pushed the easel and sent it clattering to the ground, beautiful-hideous painting and all, and he brushed against Susan as he stormed by her, leaving a streak of abstract color against her shoulder.
“Malcolm!” she shot back, and followed him across the living room. He was heading for a doorway that she didn’t like him heading for. “Tell me you won’t—“
He slammed his studio door behind himself, and she felt her first tears as she heard the door lock.
She sat down. Lady Gaga, having been waiting beside the door for an hour already, offered Susan her half-smoked cigarette. The two watched Kurt Cobain as he knelt over Malcolm’s toppled canvas, smearing fistfuls of black paint onto the photo-realistic portrayal of Janine and Brian.
© Ray Underscore Thompson, November 2015