Wednesday, June 15, 2005

ROCK ME SLOWLY, BUT WATCH YOUR HANDS

I had been futilely attempting to twist off the top of the jar for the better part of an hour by the time he came back into the kitchen, the lightweight, dusty pink curtains fluttering a little when the door slammed behind him. He saw me struggling and then turned his attention to the clock on the wall next to the fridge. It was a large, plain-faced clock that somebody had stolen at one time from a school. Somehow it had eventually ended up in our kitchen. The second hand was red and relentless.

“How long has it taken this time?” He asked, regarding the jar. My palm was red and swollen and had the little dents from the jar’s lid imprinted around it like a brand from a satanic cult.

“No comment.” I replied and slammed the jar onto the counter just a trifle harder than I’d intended to. “Now, I probably loosened it up quite a bit, so if it’s easy for you, that’s why. I was just on the cusp.” I said this while he was going around the jar with the back of a spoon and tapping at the lid.

“The cusp, huh?” He didn’t even look up.

I was pretty much on the cusp of everything. Career, true love, being the second best oil painter in my class at the community college, and a star tri-athlete. Sure, I had a little bit of work to do in all those areas, but damn, was I close. The safety seal on the jar popped and he set it down triumphantly, then went over to the sink and washed his hands.

“You got that thing pretty sweaty. But I think you did probably loosen it up quite a bit.”

While we were having a party some weeks ago, somebody started a big jigsaw puzzle on our dining room table. It was of a bridge and a ridiculous looking boat, a barge, maybe, on the Rhine. Or the Rhone. The box had been sealed shut with scotch tape and when whomever began the puzzle had opened it, they ripped the vowel off with the tape. The puzzle was only about a quarter of the way done, but it was a thousand piecer, so I really didn’t have the heart to just put it back in the box. To be honest, I think my mother had bought it at a garage sale when my brother Ted was laid up with a broken leg, and so we didn’t even know if all the pieces were there. My estimation was that it was about a nine hundred eighty-seven piecer.

Because the dining room table was mostly covered by the puzzle, we took our dinner on aluminum trays on stands in front of the television, like trashy suburbanites in the 1960s. Probably not too far from the truth. He sat with the clicker balanced on one knee and a huge plastic tumbler of bottled lemonade on the other, and I sat with the aforementioned notorious jar squeezed between my knees spearing out pre-cut pickle slabs. I was arranging them around the edge of my plate like flower petals.

“Is that your new painting?” He asked, gesturing to a canvas propped up against the wall with a three-speed fan blowing directly onto it. The fan was turned to the second highest speed. A nice, moderate setting. The canvas depicted one fourth of a bridge spanning a river and part of the reflection of a boat, maybe a barge. The river, as I’d labeled with a sign near the bridge, was either the Rhine or the Rhone.

“Yeah. It’s due tomorrow.” I explained. I sat the jar down, scooted my aluminum tray away from me, and walked over to the fan, which I clicked up to the third and fastest speed. “It’s got to be dry by tomorrow, I mean. Because it’s due tomorrow night.”

“Oil paintings take a long time to dry.” He pointed out. Like he needed to.

“Yeah, but it’s worth it. They’re much thicker than watercolors. You can enjoy them with your hands when you go blind late in life.”

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