For the last 20 years or so the artist Adam Simon and I have been having a wide-ranging conversation that has occasionally taken the form of collaborative art-and-writing projects. This is one of three stories I wrote last year in response to some of Adam’s recent paintings. This painting, Grey Babies, first appeared along with the story in BOMB magazine, summer 2009. —M.S.
They had kissed. Who does that anymore, at breakfast? He’d been seated at the table when she walked toward him from the counter with a coffee cup in each hand, about to ask him a question, or rather, her walking toward him with the sunlight behind her, elbows at her sides, coffee cups out toward him in almost a please-sir-may-I-have-some-more posture was the question, but Please, sir, may I have some more? was not the question, the question was “Don’t worry, mine’s decaf,” and someone who didn’t know them might have thought she was angry.
She sat, the sun in the window at her back, her hand inches from his on the table, sunlight in among the small hairs on her wrist. He, and not, as you would expect, she, seemed to be experiencing morning-time physiological anomalies, an outer-body experience, as someone had called it last night on TV, else how explain his ability to see each spec of dust in motion in the slanted column of light above the pile of her dark hair, each loose strand of hair, each freckle in the left eye, each deviation of the eyeliner from its nearly perfect path?
“Hello?” she said, to indicate he hadn’t heard a word she’d said, and then they were kissing.
Time passed between them, and whoever had made the numbers on the digital clock in their kitchen the same color as the blood in their arteries must have been striving for a correspondence that would make life seem more like a painting than it was. They rushed out the door. On the sidewalk he said, abruptly, “What will you do today?”
“Exchange the rubies in your mother’s safety deposit box for cocaine and spend the morning getting high in the park. You gonna be like this for the next seven and a half months?”
She kissed him, they parted, and late that night, he sat in the waiting area of the emergency room. That there was even an old and dog-eared golf magazine to flip through in a place like this was a modest consolation against the loud TV, tuned to one of those talk shows on which people yell at one another in thrilled indignation, a portal from the world of the sick to the world of the damned. Didn’t anyone with proper authority see that only golf tournaments should be broadcast here? He had no feel for golf itself but found the soft speech of the men and the color of the fairways and putting greens slowed his heart and narcotized his mind, which must have needed it, since he wasn’t ordinarily the type to want to strangle the yellers on TV, and not to strangle but to make feel ashamed the whining toddler to his left, whom he envied on behalf of someone he had never met and now would never meet.
Matthew Sharpe is the author of the novels Jamestown, The Sleeping Father, and Nothing Is Terrible. He has taught writing and literature at Wesleyan and Columbia Universities and in the MFA program at Bard College. His novel You Were Wrong was published last fall by Bloomsbury.