She’d been taking Valium, pretty much every night.
“I skipped a day,” she said.
“With the drinking?”
“A little wine,” she said.
Maybe that was it, the thing that hollowed her out, made her a black hole. She quit her job, but wouldn’t talk about it. I wondered what she did during the day.
She said something about ashes on the living room floor.
I remembered the moment we met. I was listening to Jackson C. Frank, and she walked in and said “Jackson C. Frank.” Just like that, as if it was totally normal, someone sitting there, listening to Jackson C. Frank.
That would never change. And now all this.
Becky found herself transfixed, standing lifeless in front of the painting. It was as if she were trapped inside of it, engulfed by the landscape. It had a resonance, and it whispered to her. Becky couldn’t remember if she’d seen this painting before, but it had a place in her subconscious. Somewhere back in her own mind-library, the image made itself known to her. Maybe in a book, or this very room, something from her past. The gray, high-pitched rooms. The echoed steps of strangers and the storied narratives of portraits, landscapes, abstractions.
There was impending violence in the painting’s action, or non-action, because everyone and everything was frozen. There were physical actions taking place within the logic of the landscape, manifestations of movement, but the figures were disconnected from space and time; their own body space, their own time-continuum.
Was Becky the woman standing, stretching her arms above her head, pressing her breasts forward towards the kneeling man–her husband, father, lover? Did she drop her cane in an expression of excitement, or anger?
A woman passed in front of Becky without noticing the painting.
Or was Becky the body of another woman, skirt slightly hiked, lying motionless on the ground, asleep, dreaming, dying? A dead silence surrounded her, but was this in the painting, or was this in the gallery? She noticed there was no one else in the room. A ghostly cane, suspended in mountainous air. And then Becky was the figure in the distance, unreachable, unknowable. The farthest personification of humanity, lost and isolated to its own isle. She was trying to contact the others, maybe by voice, or physical movement, but her arms were immovable stones, set in cliffs a thousand years old.
An empty, still room.
Becky was all of these people, and the rolling hills, the jutting rock formations and the blue-tipped mountains. Beyond the gallery, pieces of conversations echoed, beginnings and endings overlapping to form invisible language structures. A woman approached.
This is my time, she said.
You’re standing in my spot.
Becky wasn’t sure if she heard the voice clearly. Her tones were slight, hushed, dark with soot.
I come here everyday at this time, this spot.
Oh, I’m sorry, said Becky.
It’s OK, I understand.
Becky paused, turned slightly to see the presence beside her–a woman, hunched, wearing sunglasses, holding a cane.
You’ll come back, many times, much like myself. You see the woman lying on the ground, the one sleeping? That’s me, I’m dreaming. I know everything there is to know about this painting. I’ve studied it’s history, it’s cracks and pigments, the reflections of light and the nuances of the brush strokes. What the surface looks like at exactly this moment of the day, every day. What came before this moment, what comes after, what is just out of frame. The woman waved her hand across the canvass in a manner like the shadow movement of slow motion cinema.
The innocence, the women went on, but also something more, something unknown. The uncertain future, the dreams. I’ve come to think of it as my own. A vision of my life. In fact, I know too much.
Becky was silent, unsure.
The woman turned to speak to Becky. The woman dreaming, she said, it’s you.
Balthus. The Mountain. 1936-37
This woman’s got a screaming kid, strapped in a stroller, rolling through the Francis Bacon exhibit at MoMA. They’re getting a lot of fuck you and your rotten kid looks. She’s taking her time with the paintings though, which is admirable, considering the crying, and the insane amount of people at the show. Mom doesn’t seem like your typical art tourist — selfies in front of The Starry Night, gunning for the gift shop and poster — but you think her pace would speed up a bit. Gauging by the freak out level, you think she’d hightail it over to the Water Lilies. Maybe she’s a Bacon fan, though she looks more like a Jeff Koons person to me. Fucking balloon dogs. Either way, she’s giving Bacon’s work the time it deserves, even if the kid is a rage of bloody murder. Makes you wonder what kind of mom brings a kid to a deal like this.
But I think she knows exactly what she’s doing. Get that kid in front of a Francis Bacon painting as soon as possible, make him realize life’s just one big scary shit show.
The earlier the better.
She said she had a Bowie story.
It was ’76. Her friends were going to the show at the War Memorial, did she wanna go? Of course she wanted to go, Bowie was everything. Mom wasn’t cool with it, thought she’d be kidnapped or drugged, or both. So she runs away, just for the night.
Show’s great, best ever she says. Bowie’s a white-light blur and he’s beautiful. After the show, she tries getting backstage, but it’s no go. Out in the parking lot some guy comes up, says he’s part of Bowie’s road crew, maybe she wants to party with the band back at the hotel?
They drive to the Americana, a place she knows cause her dad used to live there. She’d visit, they’d go swimming, eat chips, drink Coke. Sometimes they’d just sit there in the room together.
So the lobby’s filled with cops, everybody’s yelling. Crew guy tells her she’s gotta split, there’s no party, not tonight. She tries telling him she’s got no car, but he’s already gone.
It’s 3 in the morning, everybody’s gone, she’s alone in the parking lot. Then there’s Bowie, standing right there, right next to the vending machine, eating a bag of chips.
True fucking story.
We’re buying beer. I want the Rainier sixer cause it’s cheap, she says don’t worry, she’s been copying twenties at work. So I buy the twelver.
I’m supposed to show up at midnight, says she can run off a few then. Why twenties? The old ones, they’re the easiest, she says. I get there at midnight, says she can’t do it, come back later.
I’m over at Dots. Bartender looks rough, says he didn’t see the inside of his bed sheets last night.
Back at the copy place, says she’s running the thing we talked about, tells me to go back to Dots.
Bartender looks worse than before. I ask about his bed. I say something like Wouldn’t it be I haven’t seen the inside of my bed, or something like that?
He doesn’t look too sure.
Sometimes he’d drive the hearse around town, even when it was empty, just go for a drive. Onetime, somebody left a hat on the passenger side, so he figured he’d ride the hearse over, return the hat and that’d be it. But something happened on the drive; at red lights people would look over, give him a nod – “It’s ok, I understand you’re haulin’ round a dead body, that’s pretty fucked up, so go ahead friend, this one’s on me.” He felt he was given license to move, move around freely.
So he drove that hearse all over town, any chance he got.