Art is Objective
by Mike Welch
If you are reading this, it means you’ve agreed to let me capture you, and that you’re naked as you hold this piece-of-paper in your white hand, and that I’m in the room with you, mixing color. Thank you. You’re very trusting; there always seems a scam aspect to asking a girl to model for you, no matter what. And women are often right to distrust. I’m definitely setting the cause back…
But in all the time we’ve worked together, we’ve liked each other so blaringly that nothing in my body assumes that it will offend you when I admit that I’ve had fantasies about you. If you have had them about me, then look up from this letter now, and meet my eyes.
(She looks up at me. But wouldn’t she anyway, the way she’d swing her leg if I karate-chopped her knee.
“Keep reading,” I tell her, pointing to my letter in her hands.)</i>
I want to tell you my favorite fantasy of you. But though I know we like each other, I don’t want to assume you’ll just act it out at my beck-and-call; we’ve never even kissed, or even mentioned kissing. So, I’m prepared for No. I am not afraid. I assume that if you don’t want to act out my fantasy with me, you’ll still be impressed with my openness (it says good things about my opinion of you that I’d attempt something so perilous as this) and even if you don’t want to cross this line with me, I know we’ll continue to get on, probably even more famously than before.
But if you don’t want to cross it, fold this letter up now, and hand it back to me, smiling. Please, smiling.
(Unless she’s seriously slow, she has to be to this part in the letter by now. And she hasn’t handed it back! Though maybe she is slow. Always assume the worst… The paint’s drying on my brushes. They’ll be ruined. But I fear that the sound of sloshing them in the water would discourage her. At the dry ends of the brushes, my hands are shaking.)
But if you do want to do this with me, look up again from your reading. Look at me.
(She looked up, smiling! Also laughing. But it’s a complimentary laugh. So I laugh with her, one hand over my eyes like a trained orangutan on TV, the other hand pointing again to the letter in her hands.)
If you’re still reading: trust me, this will be fun, you know it will; I’ve (we’ve?) thought about this quite a bit. But because you and I are approaching it in this unnatural (though exciting?) fashion (right?), as opposed to reading each other’s minds months ago when the fantasies began, I’ll set our scene, unnaturally:
You are on a blue, hardwood floor, exactly like the one you’re sitting on in reality, in my crappy one-room efficiency, which I apologize for. I only pay $300-a-month though. Anyway, I’m Indian-style on the couch, painting you, expertly capturing everything, managing — without seeming in the least heavy-handed — to depict the loudness of your breasts, so big and beautiful that you once confessed to me in the dish pit at work, “They make me ashamed sometimes, uncomfortable.” But you’re smart enough to realize that they need to be captured (painted, I mean), so you’re here, with a busboy from your restaurant job, a guy who went to art school but now only paints, as he told you earlier in the week, “when really inspired.” And as we drink wine (I didn’t envision us so far along in the bottle but…) and I am capturing — absolutely, yet subtly — all of your fruit-and-vegetable curves, you break our silence. “It’s not fair that you’re seeing me like this. What do I get out of it?”
I stop painting to remind you, “$10-an-hour.” Then I thank you, once again, for your special economy price.
“But then tomorrow it’s back to the dining room,” you say. “And though I’ll make more than $10-an-hour there, I’ll still have to face you after you’ve seen me naked, and I’ll have nothing of my own to hold over you.”
I resume painting.
“So, give me something to hold over you,” you quietly demand. “Show me something.”
“I have a girlfriend,” I remind you.
“We’re not going to touch,” you promise. “It’ll be objective. Just like art is objective.”
I’m staring at you, not your eyes, I’m following your lines and thinking about your Christmas party dress, the first time our co-workers and I really saw your embarrassingly beautiful breasts, and the way the food runners in their Sunday clothes followed you around the buffet table making me feel embarrassed on behalf of the male species, embarrassed enough that I made a point to ignore you and your breasts the entire party, thinking you’d appreciate my lack of attention.
“What do you want me to do?” I ask, stalling. My breathing goes faster, the way anyone’s would. But I wish I could slow mine down and stop this. My poor girlfriend.
“Well what else is there to see on a guy?” you respond. And this is where we’ll join the story, begin the acting. If you want to begin…please…just…at least laugh or something for Christ’s sake.
(She laughs! But then looks up at me, giggling, retracting, “I don’t know if I meant to laugh!” She brushes her short, black hair back from her jaw line to cool her red face. She breathes then concedes, “Yes, I did, yes I did,” smiling, placing her palm on her white diaphragm like a religious mannerism as she chants to herself, “I did mean to do it, I did, I did, I did mean to do it, I did.” She reads on.)
I’ve pulled my shorts below my hips for you. Naked is the way I usually am in this apartment. Because I have to be — sorry, by the way, that this room is so fucking hot; it’s cheap to live in New Orleans, but don’t go chasing waterfalls or landlords when the air-conditioner breaks.
Anyway, you’re staring at my hips, laughing in a good way. You lean forward and walk, hands and knees slapping the blue hardwood. I’m scared. I do love my girlfriend. I do. So at your third quadrupedal step, I say, “Don’t.”
Your head stops a foot from my hips.
“I just want to look.” You stare. You sigh a laugh. “It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you.” We both sigh laughter.
“I just want to squeeze it so hard,” you say.
“No!” This agitates me into panic. “Don’t, seriously, I have a girlfriend. Remember, objectivity.”
I’m terrified when your bare shoulders lurch forward again and I can’t see your face, just your black hair. I try to scoot back, push myself further into the couch’s cushions. I can feel your breath on the head. You pucker and blow cold air wind from inches away, then laugh. I might come…
But then you sit back, sit all the way up, giving yourself room to laugh more.
“We should cut it out,” I say. But before I can zip up I’m threatened by your fast movement back to me, back down to where you were, with your breath.
“I’m not done looking,” you say, sounding believable. More silent staring. I close my eyes, honestly trying not to think about it. I do love my girlfriend. Half of these paintbrushes belong to her. They’re very expensive.
Then I feel something wet. My eyes open before I know they do.
“Oh my god, gross, I’m sorry,” you say, backing off, sitting up, touching your lips. “I drooled. How classy is that?”
You lean forward, reaching to where you spit landed.
“No! Don’t!” I shout in earnest, though my hands don’t jump out to stop you.
“I’m just going to wipe it off.”
“I have a girlfriend.”
You hold up your number one finger. “One finger is not going to hurt anything,” you say, and without my permission, you reach out and wipe the tip.
“Don’t,” I beg as you wipe in little circles, one finger only, little circles up over the lip, then around the hole.
I can’t watch. My head is back, talking to the ceiling, “You have to stop.”
“Stop me,” you challenge. “I’m going to use two fingers unless you stop me.”
“Don’t,” I groan.
You pinch the head like it’s a boiled crawfish, slippery between your number-one finger on top, and your thumb, sliding wet little circles on the underside of the head. I hate myself. She’s the only girlfriend I’ve ever had who hasn’t fought with me, who’s not dramatic, who hasn’t judged me, who’s been more supportive than even my mother ever was. If I’m letting this relationship be ruined then what do I really want out of this life…
“I’m going to squeeze,” you threaten, laughing. “I have to. You should let me. C’mon, just let me.” Then you go ahead and do it, without my permission. Whoever taught you that you can squeeze until the tight tendons in your neck start to make your face look un-feminine and it will still feel good for the man, taught you correctly.
“Tighter even,” I whisper, then, “No.”
You laugh. Tighter. Then slowly, you roll the skin down — Oh, and thanks for not making a big deal about my not being circumcised.
“No, no…” I protest.
But still tight, maybe tighter even, you roll up, slowly.
I sing under my breath, “No, no, no, no-no-no-no-no…”
You roll it down, slower even, down, slow.
Then suddenly you go loose and fast.
For ten seconds at the most.
Now look up at me.
(She looks up. We smile. “Read the last bit,” I pant.)
Now let’s continue the business of painting. Thank you for participating, thank you for trusting me. I figured you’d enjoy this. I don’t know what I’ll tell my girlfriend though, and I’ll have to tell her something, because that’s the kind of person I am, forward. I hope you appreciate what it took for me to be this forward.
And though I realize this was a self-serving fantasy, keep in mind that I’m the one of us who worked up the courage to approach our tension directly, so shouldn’t that be rewarded? Isn’t that rare? I think so. In fact, if I were you I’d hold onto this letter, because maybe nothing like this will ever happen to you again.
Maybe I’m the only one who’s like this.