We walked along the brownstones and tree-lined streets of Allentown, the street noise still sounding like the concert. Then, we left Allentown and walked out onto Main Street and suddenly I was thinking again, wondering what I could say to her. I’m sure I said something, but mostly I remember listening to Matisse.
She’d grown up in Brooklyn, in her grandparents’ house until they moved to the Island when she was eight. Her grandfather was a sign painter, among other things, and she loved to hang out in his shop in the basement. He’d work on signs and she would paint using his sign paints and brushes.
He showed her the basics and then paid for lessons at the Art League. She loved to paint. Drawing was OK, but watching lines form on the page thrilled her. She loved colors, too. During the open house, at the end of the class, they hung everyone’s work on the walls. Her grandparents came with her mother and father.
“My mother was proud, of course, but she would have been proud no matter what. My father said he liked them. But my grandfather stood in front of them a long time. ‘You’re good, Stephanie. You really are. Better than…’ He swung his arm around the room and shrugged. My mother shot him a look. ‘What? It’s true.’ He knew, he really knew. Not just because I was his granddaughter.”
When he died and her grandmother sold the house, she kept his brushes. She took them with her to the Island when they moved to the large house, and then to the smaller one after the divorce. She had them in her dorm room, she said.
We walked up to the old campus, then took the shuttle to the New Campus. The shuttles stopped running late at night, but we caught the 5 AM shuttle minutes before it pulled out.
We ended up in her dorm room. Most of the dorms still had restrictions about men and women in each other’s dorm rooms. My dorm was the only boys dorm with 24-hour intervisitation and hers was the only girls dorm. Her roommate was sleeping at her boyfriend’s so we sat on her bed and talked. The walls were covered with her paintings. She really was good. Her pictures had depth and personality. I couldn’t draw for shit and aside from ceramics, I wasn’t much of an artist. But she was good.
The room was getting lighter and things still had an electric glow. We sat on her bed not talking, watching her paintings. One of her paintings was a table and chairs. They were moving the way Van Gogh’s bedroom moved and then the colors reminded me of Henri Matisse’s sitting rooms. I asked her why they called her Matisse.
She laughed. “The only class I liked in school was art. One time, in eighth grade, I was working on a still life when the bell rang. I was almost there, you know, and I wanted to finish it. My teacher kept telling me to finish and clean up. People were leaving and she finally said, ‘Wrap it up, Matisse. Art is forever but class is tomorrow.’ So everyone called me Matisse after that—‘Wrap it up Matisse, time to go.’ It’s OK, he was a good artist. Good colors.”
After a while, the room was fully light and the pictures weren’t moving quite so much. She asked, “Can you sleep?” “I don’t know. You want me to go?” “Let’s try.” We got undressed and got into her bed, strangely shy. I lay on my side and cradled her head. I stroked her belly and then we were kissing. Kind of. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw sprays of cartoon pictures and words. I’d try to read them and forget I was kissing. “Sorry. Distracted.” The same thing kept happening to her, though I imagined for her it was Chagall’s flying cows, Picasso’s luxuriating women, an entirely higher class of hallucination.
Then, after she fumbled with her diaphragm, I was inside her, still cradling her head and looking at her face. I thought I never saw anyone as beautiful and when she smiled at me, I felt the warmth go down my body, through my dick and into her. Our skin was touching and I felt her right down to the flesh and the stuff underneath it and then down to the molecules that held us together, wondering where I stopped and she began because down there on the subatomic level, where are the edges exactly?
After a while I came and maybe she did, too. I asked but she said it didn’t matter, she was fine. We must have slept because I remember waking up. She said she wanted to paint, and she’d see me at the pot shop later on and I left.
When I got back to my dorm, I threw the I Ching. Yi, Providing Nourishment. Thunder under the Mountain. Pay heed to the providing of nourishment and to what a man seeks to fill his mouth with. Perseverance brings good fortune.
The second line was a changing line–Turning to the summit for nourishment, deviating from the path to seek nourishment from the hill. Continuing to do this brings misfortune.
Maybe she’s the summit and it’s me who will turn away? Maybe she’s the hill. Maybe I’m the hill. I know I’m not the summit. I slapped the book shut. I didn’t care. I was going to see her again. Perseverance furthers, right? I took a shower and got dressed and got my notebook. I was just waiting until tonight when I could see her again.