chose a better last name. I thought about asking if I could replace Brownwith his name but never had the nerve, though he continued to assureme that I had the most domestic face. Of course, when the exhibitionapproached, he picked Sophie’s work instead. How well she would looknext to the paintings, so sharp and severe.
Before the opening, I broke into his studio. I found a can of red acrylicand a can of black. I spilled them over the delicate contours of his oils—his contorted nudes and detailed disembodiments. Hands, feet, torsos,streaked in red and black. Standing in front of an abstracted grid of eyes,nose, and lips—which of these features lifted from my face?—I felt furydrip, then gush out of me. Rivers of paint, the fumes heady and pure.Never had I felt so powerful. A few years ago, when I saw his name onthe shortlist for a prestigious award, those same trickles of rage returnedto me, but I could make no use of them. There was nothing for me todestroy.
He knew at once that I was the culprit. I didn’t deny it. I suggestednew titles for the exhibit, something like “Retribution in Red.” He wasunamused. Belonging to the traditional school, he did not believe in thevalue of spontaneous creation. Later he did give my name to agents andcurators, but only to warn them that I was unstable and volatile, a danger to fine art.
I moved back to Madison and got a teaching certificate. Pete wasgone by then, and I didn’t look for him. My mother thought I’d left NewYork because I’d grown sick of big city expenses, because I was learningto be pragmatic. She thought Pete had once been a necessary friend withwhom I shared my grief, but ultimately, someone I learned to move onfrom.
She did not know that he had once, in a drunken rage, thrown a vaseat me and then, after watching it shatter by my feet, got down on hisknees over the limp daffodils and broken glass. She did not know that Ihad once sat with my back against a door, feeling the vibration his fistsmade along the wood, until he, too, gave up, and we sat with the doorbetween us until the night turned to dawn and he left to board the planethat would take him out of my life. She did not know that I had willedthis to happen, imagining it essential for my life to unfold in an acceptable way.
And in the end, what did these things matter? Mine is an old andtedious tale, yet I still want to make it known.