Picture a Bridge
by Lisa Pais
My apartment is nothing special. There is no view of the Eiffel tower, nor is it a Soho loft. Not that it matters. I’ve been told I have talent. I’ve been called an artist though I never considered myself one. Not really.
The table is littered with crap. Boxes of Chinese takeout, bottles of Jack, the Captain and a few of his “Buds” are pushed aside to clear a space for my supplies. Little amber containers hit the faded linoleum. Candy of the Gods meant to perk me up, calm me down, increase my focus, make me happy, make me sleepy. Make me numb. But I don’t need any of that now.
Painting has always nourished my soul the way rain feeds a flower. Today is no different. Ripping open the package of new brushes fills me with the same sense of anticipation I felt as a young boy when opening a fresh box of crayons. I skim a brush across my face, my eyelids, the delicate bristles are like a lover’s kiss and I relish the sensation.
I take my time and choose my palette with care: indigo, violet, and green. Dipping my brush into the tin I savor the moment. Virgin canvas, so ready to receive, that first stroke sends a shiver of joy, of release, up my spine and I shudder with pleasure. It doesn’t take long.
Within minutes I have become lost in the swirls and brush strokes and I am transported, momentarily forgetting my surroundings. All my doubts, my fears, my insecurities, are washed away as easily as the paint is rinsed from my brush under the tap.
My cell buzzes intrusively and I regard it angrily, shutting it off without bothering to check the text.
Immersed in my work —Is it work? My art? I paint without thought, delving to new depths of creation without knowing where such inspiration will take me. So I let the muse lead and willingly I follow, painting by instinct rather than sight.
An enchanting pastoral mid-summer scene unfolds. There is a bridge over a shimmering pond and I long to escape the burdens of my world if only for a little while. But not without her. Not ever. She is never truly gone from my thoughts and I keep her in my heart as I paint because I do this for her.
* * *
The painting on the wall, a polite country-scape is almost derivative. Having endured countless visits to a variety of doctors’ offices over the last few months, I have become familiar with the milieu. Drab leather chairs, easier to wipe away the germs, office staff behind glass windows. Germs again or is there some other unseen threat?
And of course the artwork which is on par with elevator music. So vanilla in fact that I am almost offended by its blatant insistence that it is both inspirational and unobtrusive. Get a grip, Maggie. Your anger is misdirected.
I am buttoning up my blouse when the nurse comes back into the room.
“Here,” she says and hands me a cup. “Drink up, it will help.”
The juice is sweet and cool and tastes like pineapple. Add rum and you might have something.
The nurse takes a final set of vital signs. “You’re cleared to go.” She helps me off the examining table. “See you next week.” She gives me a vanilla smile. I do the same.
Although tired and needing rest, I don’t go home. Instead I hail a cab and head downtown wanting, needing, to see for myself. This will be the last attempt to find him I think, determined not to go back on my word.
I fumble with the keys and nearly drop them, as much a product of exhaustion as nerves. Pushing the door open, I step inside the studio apartment which smells stale, rank and empty. What am I hoping to find? Answers?
But what could ever explain or more importantly excuse his absence? Lucien had disappeared from my life nearly one month ago without so much as a text goodbye. One week after I had shared the results of the biopsy.
His apartment is small, but there are plenty of windows to let in the natural light making this a perfect space for a young, up and coming artist. I told him this the day he signed the lease. A lovely view of the park across the street, an acceptable trade off in lieu of an elevator. “You can cancel your gym membership,” I had teased.
Table full of garbage, an indication that he had been in a manic phase, painting, creating, expressing. Out of habit, I begin to clear the empty take out boxes when the crunch of plastic underfoot stops me. The little brown bottle lays crushed and empty.
“Make me happy, make me sleepy. Make me numb,” he once told me.
“Make me selfish?” I said to the empty room then closed my eyes and rubbed.
I head to the metal lockers where he keeps his clothes. One of his better flea market finds I think, remembering that Saturday last spring when we went combing antique stores, fleas, and even the odd yard sale dotting the coast on our weekend getaway to Maine. Had it really been that long ago?
My heart thuds along with the dull metal click of the latch as the locker door swings open. The aromas of patchouli and leather hit me. I run my hand along the clothes neatly dangling on flocked hangers. Then I bury my face into one of his shirts and breathe in, relishing the scent. His scent. Somehow it bridges the distance, making me feel a little closer to him. What started out as a journey to find closure has opened more doors, created more questions beginning with: Shouldn’t the lockers be empty?
The rumpled bed looks more like a lost bid for freedom rather than a sanctuary for restoration and repose. Still, I sit on the edge and focus on trying to catch my breath. Tears threaten, blurring my vision and I wipe them away. I will not cry.
The blinking red light of his answering machine, a relic of which he cannot seem to let go, catches my attention and I press the play button. After the first seven voicemails I lose count. Most are from bill collectors, the power company and at least two from the landlord with the second understandably irate. I had left about a dozen messages myself, though many were just hang-ups. The last message came from a gallery upstate with an offer to show his work. His first big break.
I search for a pen intending to jot down the address. That’s when I notice the keys hanging by the door. My stomach flip-flops.
Over by the window, a finished canvas sits on the easel, a lone brush precariously rests on the ledge, bristles hardened into a sharp point from dried paint. With more than fifty shades of Monet, the inviting woodland scene is not Lucien’s usual style. Still, it is absolutely enchanting. A bridge over a shimmering pond beckons and I am transported.
Transported. That was a word Lucien used a lot, especially when talking about his work. Was it work, his painting?
He always spoke of the transcendent nature of art and hoped his pictures would carry his audience to new places. I study the painting, wanting to escape my reality if only for a little while with its white coats, tests, and “poor prognosis.”
I hold the brush poised as if I might paint and then let it drop to the floor. I stumble to his bed. Spent, I let the tears come until I have no more to give. Twilight acquiesces to night, and the velvety darkness drapes itself over me like a blanket. I miss Lucien. If ever I needed him, it is now.
“I can’t do this on my own,” I whisper into the moonlit room.
The flutter of a gentle breeze, like the caress of a lover startles me awake and I open my eyes at first wide and then squinting in disbelief. I am standing in a clearing at the edge of a forest. The meadow, a green canvas stippled with wildflowers stretches across the horizon. All around me birdsong, blue sky, and the smell of pine on a summer afternoon. Charming. Immense. Impossible.
A figure stands on the bridge. He waves.
Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Pais