Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife
It’s early which makes the fact that she’s pulled over onto the side of the road and crying lack the romanticism it should and instead it feels too sober, too strained. Tom Petty is playing on the radio, well, she doesn’t actually know if he is because the radio is on mute but she just knows that if she was to turn up the volume it would be him singing Free Fallin’, she just knows this to be theoretically true, because that would be just so perfect, just so right, just enough to push this moment over the edge of the sincere and into the realm of the absurd. The velocity of the passing cars shakes her own decrepit vehicle and it’s like being rocked in a cradle, she thinks, and the neon glare of the liquor store next to her could be her childhood night light because if she squints her eyes slightly (easily enough as they are already swollen and wet) those fluorescent lights refine into something less jaundiced but incandescent and subdued. Only seventeen minutes earlier he had been inside her and he had mistaken the colour of her eyes and, afterward, when he asked what was wrong, “you like watching me lose my mind,” she had said decisively. He thought it was a joke and, laughing, they both got dressed, she, vacantly turning to face the imitation Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife that hung limply but with overt poignancy on his bedroom wall. Coldly, knowingly that couple had gazed at her every night, their harmonious and delicate intimacy leaving her convinced that the creeping sense of inadequacy that had been growing within was not only affirmed but had been fixed by her lover himself, or even (she had a propensity toward extremes, of calling upon the language of the religious when it suited her) destined. All good things must come to an end, she had always told Ann and, in solemn response, she had always nodded in silence. But when, in paranoid defeat, she had finally admitted aloud that these neoclassical scepters had been haunting her for weeks, Ann had broken her automaton-like trance and coldly warned her not to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And so this time she stared back, refusing to allow their virtuosity to intimidate and bruise her own attempt at love. Leaving his labyrinthine apartment complex, the elevator led her to the basement parking lot and it was all too clearly an expulsion, and so she saturated her vision with images of exile in a feeble attempt to convince herself of its reality. Driving home she was drained and vague, the car seemingly moved of it’s own accord and, once again evoking the jargon of the divine, she imagined something external and premeditated had pulled her towards the side of Wilshire Boulevard. There she sat debating going inside and getting a flask of whiskey even though she hadn’t drunk whiskey in months, since before the accident even, it just felt like the right thing to get, to seep this moment in the poetry of the desperate and insane. Ann calls her and she’s sobbing too and tells her to come over. But they have the same name, she remembers, the same first two names, and the thought of the two of them with the same two names crying in the same room together in the dark is just too much, she knows. “It’s about time we spent one night together with no drinking involved,” Ann says, and smiling in agreement she barely hesitates as she mutters into the phone, “Just not tonight, Ann. Not tonight”. She hangs up and with ten dollars in her hand she enters the expectant liquor store but as she asks for the second cheapest bottle, the man behind the counter starts talking about the last time he was in vegas and she knows by doing so he is securing her status as a companion alcoholic, a fellow good-time-girl and he doesn’t know she needs the whiskey to stop her mind from it’s incessant animation, to pause the endless narration and be languid for just a minute, even a few seconds maybe. This is not sexy behaviour, she wants to scream. This is medicinal, this is like getting a massage, this is not an invitation to tell me about how drunk you were in Vegas last year. Convinced of his intent and determined to deflect it, she leaves a dollar on the counter and grabs a snickers, running back to the safety of her cradlecar. Cursing mother Eve and the apples and snakes that destroyed the possibility of oblivion, she holds the bare candy a moment too long so that it melts ever so slightly in her hand. Licking the chocolate off the fingers she still hasn’t washed since giving him her signature half-hearted hand job, she is all too aware of the performative quality with which she must entrench everything. She sits with her bare thighs on the tan leather interior, contemplating the calorific content of the recently devoured confectionary, and again the portrait of Lavoisier and his wife eclipses her attention, and it’s mostly his gaze, she realizes, that she wants, that lingering burn of some other, of the cobalt stare with its hint of submission. And now understanding this she knows that she has no desire herself, except the desire to be desired. In his gesture there is powerlessness and it is this that she identifies with, as her own man has been camping inside her head since the moment they met. But maybe it is better this way, her whiskey-less mind thinks. To have him stationed there, diverting the continual banter within. Better than the alternative, she thinks. Better than a mind unmanned. And so I will allow this specter, she thinks, for at least it means I am not in there alone.
Hannah Denyer is a writer and photographer from Los Angeles, based in London.
Female Form, Acrylic and Ink on Canvas
my wifey > your wifey
What do you think about when you think about me
She had already killed four spiders the summer she met Marcus. Her phone was set on east coast time and she slept excessively, thighs sticky underneath the covers, hiding from ninety degree heat with goose-down and television, almost thinking her own life could become a crime series drama if only she started hanging out with the right people.
There was a drought that summer and somewhere her twin brother was turning nineteen. Quiet in her contempt she spent most of August working in a cafe coloured green, with a recent paint job that left a lingering scent of acrylate and epoxy inconsistent with the room’s promise of extravagance and veganism. In daily protest she ate tacos al pastor in the alley as the daunting murals of Guadalupe wept over her begrudgingly. On days when the gods of raw juice and gentrification decided to punish her carnivorous transgressions and intervene, this ritual of devouring cheap meat would be interrupted by out of towners. Talking at her about national parks and the smog and about how they had met their fiancé at a nonprofit the summer before and how he was a scientist, an astrophysicist, who taught math to kids on the weekends. Her response to this incessant goodness was unwarranted bouts of brutality. A fiancé is a fine thing, she would say, but having your gluten-free coworker spit on your face while inside you wasn’t too bad either.
She first saw Marcus at a costume party off Sunset and she was stoned and sitting on the hood of her car when he asked her for a sip of her budlightlime. She was dressed in pink and wearing bunny ears and he wore boxing shoes and a turtleneck but she took note that this was no costume for special occasions. She asked him about his shoes but the answer was too long so she went back into the garage of the house filled with succulents and smoke.
Following her he spoke about his performance art and British heritage and how both had affected his speech and demeanor. Walking away again for the third or fourth time he finally grabbed her arm and whispered, “suck my dick rabbit.” And maybe this is what she had been waiting for all along, an honest declaration of intention, ironic considering his theatrical nature.
She gave him her number and later that week they met for steak at Hal’s and afterward he followed her home. A decent obituary is the only good thing all this can lead to, he said and this made sense to her and so she let him finger her on the bare mattress. She still felt hollow but she let him sleep on the yellow couch anyway while she took the bedding to the laundromat on Alvarado.
When she came back he was sitting with deliberate idleness on the same yellow sofa and her apartment smelt sour. But she knew this would have happened regardless of whether he had slept over or not. He left without saying a word but an hour later she found the piece of paper he had left behind with the number 11 and an address in Venice written in pencil underneath. She didn’t go but at four in the morning he was at her doorstep wearing leather and suede in an act of arrogant provocation against the Los Angeles elements. The meager and reluctant concentration he elicited as he approached her body acted as a reminder of the unbearable sense of insignificance she had felt following her since the day they had met.
What do you think about when you think about me, she asked. And he said nothing. And he looked at her as if she were a painting, a byzantine painting, of pastel and gold, promising faith but demanding fear, and that’s how he always looked at her that summer she killed four spiders.