By Chef DBootLoot
The American dream. Getting your slice of life, a job, a smoking wife, two beautiful kids and a golden retriever. It’s what we’re all after, isn’t it? Well, I got my fill. It just didn’t taste quite right.
I was entering into my Sophomore year of college at Duke, and loving every minute of it. My Degree was in creative writing. While some kids shuffle around, changing major, looking at paychecks, I had never really pondered the question. From the moment my pen found the loving embrace of college ruled white paper, I was in love. It was a magical thing, really. No longer did any real world ramifications bind me to a set path, or stop my wild imagination. On that paper I was my own God. I was infinitely powerful, creating malevolent and gracious spirits alike, allowing wholesome and unique personality’s my head had created play out each passing moment in a beautiful and sometimes deadly game of metaphorical chess.
This creative passion of mine soon led me to the Arkwood culture competition, a fantastic place where judges of all different categories convened to decide what literary work or painting was the best in the humble state of North Carolina. The halls practically glowed with the lights of a thousand brilliant pieces of work, ranging from small written stories to works of art on canvases who’s different hues seemed to dominate the space around them, drowning everything out but their own personal messages.
It was at one of these painting that I met Cherrel. Yeah, I know. It’s not exactly a traditional name, but who the hell cares. I was walking down the aisle of artworks, my category’s winners not to be announced for another few hours when a whisper darted out at me from between two works, one of a large purple skull in oil paints, and the other monolith against a fading purple sky in acrylic.
“Hey. Hey buddy. Look – just help me out real fast, alright?” asked a distinctly feminine voice.
My head tilted slightly as I began to just make out a slim figure behind the two. It was weird, I admit. So was she.
“There’s a small gray duffle bag with a green star sticker at the front of the room, near the water fountain. Grab it for me will you? I’ll make it worth your while.”
I was a little off put.
“Mind if I ask what’s in the bag, oh phantom of the canvas?” I asked in an overly dramatic tone.
“Oh, fuck off. Paints, okay? I just need to touch something up.”
“Isn’t that against the rules though!?” I exclaimed with plenty of mock surprise. I was met with a long sigh.
Turning on my heel, I began to walk down the aisle thinking nothing of her. Well, not nothing. She was certainly an interesting character. If anything, she reminded me of a girl named Laura in one of my current pet projects. Knowing that I was being a complete idiot, I turned towards the front of the room to look for the bag. I justified my decision by telling myself this is like interacting with Laura, some sort of character development for myself. I wasn’t dumb enough to believe what I was saying though. Me and me have a relationship like that.
Nearing the front of the large white room, stark granite pillars on either side standing like cross parents tutting me, I spotted her bag. Noticing the crowds on either side of the area, I tried to be nonchalant in swooping the strap of the bag over my shoulder and walking back, even mustering some sort of confident strut. Or at least I thought. Later I heard I looked like a constipated flamingo. Oh well.
Upon returning to her, her instructions were just as weird as when they were when she sent me.
“Something told me you’d be back. I need you to slide me the bag, and turn around.”
“Why do I need to turn around?” I asked, exasperated.
“So if the judges ask, you won’t know what I fixed,” she stated matter of factly.
I couldn’t help but chuckle. Crazy is as crazy does.
When I turned around, she was in front of me. No longer hidden by the canvass, I quickly came to the conclusion none of the works of art were the most beautiful thing in the room. She was five foot six, maybe one hundred and fifteen pounds. Her brunette hair fell down to her hips, a small dab of white paint adorned her left cheek. Soft brown eyes the color of chocolate looked back at me, complimented by her lightly tanned skin. Some sort of roguish twinkle hiding behind her eyes gave her the very presence of mischief. I know I remember this moment incredibly well. It’s one of the best I have of her. I would not relinquish it for the world.
Immediately it became clear which painting had been hers. The large stone monolith that had initially appeared barren against the purple sky, lonely and menacing, was not seemingly embraced by glistening white fog tendrils. Not menacing, or dark fog though. As strange as it seemed, in this instance fog seemed a redeemer. Among the desolate and barren land, danced these slender white tendrils standing out like rivers of hope among their grey and black background. Most amazing, it had been done in seconds.
“The fog. You added the fog.” I almost whispered, the past two images leaving me as breathless as if I had just ran an Olympic sprint.
She chuckled. “My, what an astute observation… you helped though,” she said gesturing to the open duffle bag. The convention was a success, one way or the other.
We hit it off immediately. Sure, she was quirky and I was a little up tight (Ok, being honest more than a little), but that’s what made it work. She was a sense of daring, the spice of life. Where I followed the mundane, she forged a new path. Everything was fantastic. We spent some three years after dating, both of us refusing to acknowledge anything real was happening. However, despite our odd need to avoid vocalizing it, I could tell we both felt the same way. She had been loyal and loving for three years, my light in life. I knew that in the eternal words of Beyonce, the time had come to “put a ring on it”.
The wedding ceremony was well…very her. Every rehearsal she wore a white wedding dress, with all the bells and whistles. Constantly our friends would tell her how beautiful it is, relieving the pain my checkbook felt about purchasing it. Of course, on the day of the actual wedding she would show up in a raven black dress, adorned with feathers and the works. It was just so her. The faces our parents made almost were equate to the two grand the dress had cost. Doubly fitting, her vows were centered around “and if you were kidnapped by a pack of raving baboons I’d…” Needless to say, it was the perfect wedding.
That night we did things that I can’t even think about when in my mothers house, less she sense my shame. As a brief synopsis, if we didn’t make a baby that night it was never going to happen. The proceeding months saw some of her brightest and most joyful paintings as well as a number of my best short stories, and even a full length novel. The love we had seemed an actual fuel, giving us some sort of insane propulsion into greatness, the likes neither of us had seen before. It only got better when the doctor confirmed she was pregnant.
Yeah, yeah, pregnant at twenty one. I know. Anything you might be thinking my parents already told me. Explicitly. Still, as her stomach grew so did our newly wed optimism, both of us hitting our respective peaks in our fields the month before the baby. The sky was the limit and we were scraping through the clouds. Our realization of the American dream was real, and it was spectacular.
I still remember the day the baby was born. We had been in the hospitable the night before. I woke to a latex covered hand shaking my arm, the announcement that our son was being born shooting my out of my slumber faster than a bullet from a gun. The white tiles floor fell away before my pounding footsteps, until my hands found the cool metal handle of her hospital door. I saw the whole thing happen. The miracle of birth. God, Cherrel looked like she might pass out at any moment. Her sweat gripped her like a blanket, her eyes seemingly try to roll back and finally get a good look at the ever so elusive brain she kept in there. That is, until the baby began to squeal. It was a new life breathed into her, and she fought through until the cord was clipped, cradling her new child at the end of it all. His blue eyes looked into her brown. Which looked into my green. No one in my family had blue eyes. We weren’t getting that golden retriever.
It’s ironic you know. How the happiest things always seem to come just before the sad. The way life gives you it’s greatest presents before it makes you endure it’s greatest hardships. A wedding to a child to a divorce. She won full custody, of course. To be fair she didn’t want the divorce, so I suppose getting to keep her bastard baby was a small victory for her.
I watched the color drain from my apartment as her painting left. The once bright yellow of dandelions in a light breeze no longer decorated the small hall to the bedroom. The azure blue waters of some lake that I never bothered to ask about were gone from the bathroom. I guess that’s how I felt about the whole thing though. A whole lot of bright things were gone. Even if it wasn’t all their fault, they were gone and I wouldn’t have them back.
The answering machine began to become a source of amusement to me. At first her messages were angry. Calling me the scum of the earth, and “how could you abandon our child you fucking bastard” or “are you really going to make a baby grow up in a low income household with no father!?”. She stopped sending those when I texted back that it wasn’t our son. The messages got a little stranger after that. She began to talk in fluctuating tones, randomly laughing or screaming. She was beginning to fade back more and more to the creepy girl behind the canvas than my wife. Still though, I listened to all of them, if for nothing else just routine. Until one day they stopped.
I thought nothing of it for a week. I thought maybe she had given up, even found another guy. It was after a month I was worried however. She would’ve called to gloat by then. I decided if for nothing but human decency, I would check in on her.
I stepped out into the soupy summer weather, and listened to the perfect rhythm of my footsteps clanking down the metal stairs of the apartment until they reached the worn down parking garage. Settling into my worn blue Chevy cobalt, I buckled up for the half hour ride down to her place. Not that I’d know if she moved.
When I got there, I knew she was still there immediately. The faded white van she had used to move her things still sat in the barren and unkempt driveway, seemingly desperate to leave. Old works of art littered the porch, a battered “For sale” sign hung on a flower pot. It was heartbreaking in a way.
Stepping onto the cement path inside, I noted it was overgrown with weeds. Not shocking. Upon getting to the porch I noticed the full extent of her sale, not just art. Along side her canvass and sketches were her TV, china, shoes, and baby carriage. Hard times indeed. Not that I gave a fuck. She ought to be able to find somebody to fuck and help her out. Still…I was just checking in.
Not bothering to knock, I pushed on the already cracked open front door. Immediately, the smell of spoiled meat slapped me in the face, the house reeking of it. I froze. Had she died? Was I right to be worried?
I scoffed at the idea, noticing two disgustingly old raw chicken breast in the corner of her living room. At a guess, some drug use was involved. However, the odor still lingered. Seeing the entrance to a hallway on the other side of the room, I began to step over the crusty yellow carpet, sidestepping a beer can or two as I went. This was no place for a child. I was going to make her give him away. That’d show her.
As I neared what looked like the tile floor of a kitchen, the smell intensified. Had she been cooking? What the fuck. As I got closer, I noticed her hand poking out from behind the counter. Passed out behind the other side i’m guessing. As I rounded the corner preparing to kick her awake, I saw just how wrong I was.
A red whole like the zero on my answering machine sat in the middle of her forehead.
I tried not to puke. In that moment I felt the strangest mixture of fear, anger, and regret all at once. Looking at the corpse of her was beyond my emotional measure. I was crumbling. Her once lively brown hair, long and full, was brittle and caked with blood. Her once soft brown eyes sat open and rotting, staring into the infinite oblivion she had chosen. I slammed around on my heel, just wanting to get to my car.
That’s when I saw it though.
On the other side of the hallway. The side I had my back turned walking into the kitchen. There sat a lone canvas, with a note written in sharpy across the wall.
*You did this, Micheal. You will never know the pain I feel. Still…let me try to paint you a picture.”
On the canvas was a sick re-imagining of the painting I had seen when we first met, the grey stone of the monolith replaced by a deep, rust red hue. The skies dripped black, devoid of life. The very earth seemed to be furious and dying. Her palette sat next to it, two paint brushes jabbed in handle first.
Only…easels aren’t that big.
Palettes don’t usually only have red paint.
Palettes don’t usually have tiny arms and legs.
Palettes don’t usually have maggots writhing all over them…
I think I’m starting to get how she felt.