She Lit Cigarettes Instead of Talking
She was weary of continuing to write short fictions, knowing family members, friends, exes and in-laws read them as entryways into her thoughts, her plans for the future. She felt protective of her thoughts. She lit cigarettes instead of talking. She drank in place of writing. She kept her plans to herself, to one other (nameless) person, also.
She will say only that she has been changed. She cannot say by whom or by what event or in what manner this change will ultimately manifest itself.
She will stand silent, a smirk reminiscent of Gia Carangi’s on her face. Take from this (my mentioning of Gia) the image of her standing behind a chain link fence, her breasts naked and visible to the camera, for what you will. Her sleepy-eyed smirk visible, also, hinting at nefarious plans for the immediate future (read: later that night).
Vogue magazine, 1979. (My eyes are so sleepy!)
Of course we know she dies of AIDS seven years later. We imagine the scabs on her forearms where she shoved in the needles. We envision the Cosmo cover, her arms purposefully hidden behind her back. We remember Angelina Jolie carving a knife into a countertop, spelling out her name: G-I-A.
I am not saying my plan is to become a heroin addict like Gia.
I am not saying anything.
I remember listening to a podcast in which a comedian talked about going to a park and asking strangers where he could procure heroin. It was his first time. No one had to lure him, either.
The comedian died, also.
A fiction is not a suicide note. Nor is it a call to action. Nor is it a cry for help.
This is all that I want you to remember. She was weary of continuing to write short fictions. She lit cigarettes instead of talking. She drank, and sometimes, she still could not help writing.
I Was Punishing Myself
At a botanical garden in Sarasota she walked the gardens, accosted from time to time by large blue signs bearing quotes from a famous male artist. She barely knew anything about art. Once, long ago, she had helped a roommate study for an exam by holding up flashcards of famous paintings. That was the extent of her knowledge of art history, whatever she had gleaned that night. Not much.
She knew the names of artists who had killed themselves or died of AIDS or whose biographies were interesting in some way separate from their art.
The artist whose words were on display she associated with the islands where he painted, the women who lived on the islands: their long, flowing hair and large, naked breasts. She knew the man had contracted a venereal disease. She thought most of his quotes were too general to be considered interesting, the sort of banal pontifications an adolescent makes about the world around him. She rolled her eyes whenever she saw another blue sign, prepared herself to be underwhelmed.
Mostly, she poured water from a bottle into the leaves for the lizards. She stood on a dock and listened with envy to men on a houseboat calling to one another: Time to start drinking! She followed signs leading her to a mansion. Inside, a female volunteer made her place her water bottle on a shelf. This was the first insult. Second, she was urged to read a biography of the famous male artist on a wall in the next room. Among other sentences she read this one: He left his wife and five children to become an artist full time. And then another: He established himself as the head of a small artists’ colony. She didn’t care anymore about the man’s paintings. Maybe she never had. She grabbed her water bottle off the shelf and walked back out into the heat.
Some part of her longed to join the men on the houseboat. Time to start drinking! She was punishing herself for wanting to leave to become an artist full time. She imagined her biography on a wall. She worried she would contract a venereal disease. More than that, she worried she wouldn’t.
She found a bathroom, rolled her eyes at her reflection in the mirror. Time to start drinking! She planned out, now, the nights she would drink and the nights she wouldn’t – like a true alcoholic.
Recent reading: “The Zoo Story” by Edward Albee, “Sweet Bird of Youth” by Tennessee Williams, “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage, “Indianapolis (Highway 74)” by Sam Shepard, “Exit, Carefully” by Elizabeth Ellen.