Daydreams swell behind a crumbling dam as I sink into the couch in my shoebox apartment, in the middle of a quiet street, under a sky smothered by dark clouds. It can’t be helped with surroundings like this. So when I place onto my tongue a forkful of pillow-y ricotta that I paid far too much for at that artisanal cheese shop on 9th Street, I’m back – leaning on my elbows across the long table that we sat smack in the middle of, facing one another, taking tiny bites from a cheese plate to try and make it last a little longer. The buffalo ricotta was a piece of paradise, a make-you-close-to-orgasm kind of good. I said after one bite, “oh God, I want to do this meal over again when it’s done,” and all he said was, “mmm.”
The ricotta melts on my tongue. I take a drink of red wine, poured from a box perched on my faux-granite countertop. It does what it is supposed to do, though it’s too sweet. Cheap-tasting, like the wine they gave us at dinner each night that summer. That wine was probably poured from a box, too, into sparkling glass carafes, so that at least everyone could wonder aloud whether it came fresh from the vineyard down the road. It didn’t matter, so long as the three of us, him and her and I, could keep sipping long after everyone else had gone down to the bar or to bed. Sitting on the little wall around the terrace, looking out onto patchwork farms and burnt red tile roofs, we rambled about painting and seeing and all the self-proclaimed artists who just didn’t get it like we did. We were subversive leaders of a guerilla army, fighting the noble fight of not selling out. Of painting with our souls. They talked so much. I didn’t. I was happy to just sip my wine, letting their words, his words, wash over me like rolling waves on a dry sea sponge.
I slice through a pepper-crusted salami from the same ritzy cheese shop. I wonder for a moment if the maker knows the power his dried pork holds, or if the shop preys on people like me, looking for an escape by way of taste buds. But the cynic is shushed as soon as the pepper-laden casing touches my lips. Saliva rushes to meet the salt and garlic and spices, like it did when I tasted his skin that night. When I asked if I could see his portrait, in the main building where his bedroom was, he knew. Because once we ran out of colors to analyze, forms to deconstruct, lines to follow, he hooked a finger through one belt-loop and closed the space between us. Then he took my hand and led me down endless steps until – silence.
More wine, more wine. But as I rise to pour another glass the shoebox spins around me, and now I’m in the other apartment, the one I shared with her that summer. Around the square table, he and she and I passed a bottle. We talked about artists, the ones we deemed phonies and those we declared prophets, and then the regular people we liked or didn’t like, passing down our judgments like members of a high court. Another bottle uncorked. I stood up and professed, “I must pee!” and climbed up and up twisting staircases to the top, found a door, and began the dance of lowering myself down onto a toilet that kept jumping from side to side, playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can. When finally I finished, I raced back down the snaking staircase, stumbling, tripping, falling, crashing to the bottom where I was met by – silence. No space existed between them. They filled in the cracks of one another like watercolors bleeding into the fibers of virgin paper. He saw me standing there – scarecrow. Slowly he cleaved himself from her like a skin cell. “I should go.” And he did.
My cup is dry. My plate, empty. Here, in the cushions of my couch, alone under a pewter sky, with bile rising up from my stomach and onto my tongue. I push myself up and cross the tiny living room. Hold my glass beneath the spigot and pour another drink from a cardboard box. One more to forget.