One Tiny, Tiny, Tiny Move – Brendan Gillen
September 6, 2021
Claire turns up the dial on Arthur Russell, who she listens to when she’s depressed, or at least trying to convince herself she’s not a painter.
“You ever feel like your skin doesn’t work?” she says. She looks straight ahead, hands at ten and two as we wait for the light to change.
“You mean like a panic attack?” I say.
She shakes her head. “More like when you go to buy milk and the kid at the checkout looks right through you like you’re already dead.”
“C’mon, we’re not that old.”
“We’re twenty-six. If I was my mom I’d have a nine-year-old.”
I want to tell her to listen to herself. I want to make a joke about Taco Bell. I want to pretend like she doesn’t need help.
The light turns and the car behind us honks. Claire looks in the rearview, deliberately waits for the car to honk again, longer and louder this time. Then she eases on the gas.
She’ll tell you her paintings are bleedings. She puts a bedsheet over the canvas so the watercolors soak through like wounds through a bandage. In this way, the paintings barely exist. When we split, she gave me the used linens because I hate going to Target. I sleep in explosions of color and never remember my dreams.
We were together until she decided to unbreak herself. That’s what she told me, but I know it’s because her canvases are getting bigger. Now she calls me when she needs someone to absorb the confusion. I guess it’s working because I’m beginning to forget her body. It’s been six weeks.
It starts to drizzle and she puts the wipers on the laziest setting. “Teach me how to be unserious,” she says.
“Class is in session,” I say.
“I always wondered how this would feel,” she says. “Going to Walgreens, buying the test.” She flips her blinker and a woman in a raised pickup waves her on. She turns into the lot, finds the farthest spot from the entrance.
“How does it feel?” I say. It’s the dumbest question, because I can tell you exactly how it feels: like digesting glass and worrying about which parts of yourself will become someone else’s problem.
“Inevitable,” she says and puts the car in park.
I unclip my seatbelt as we get to the part where Arthur Russell sings through an effect that makes him sound like he’s in Witness Protection.
“You’ve done enough,” she says. I can’t tell if this is good or bad.
I watch her get out just as the horns swell like a beacon, her favorite part, but all I hear is a voice in my head telling me to get behind the wheel and haul ass until nobody knows my name. Instead I kill the music and lower the seat until I’m looking up at the cloth roof that sags like a stomach.
Claire’s latest painting is a cottony spill of reds and greens that looks like the back of an eyelid. I told her so when she showed it to me. She acted like she always does when she finishes something new: like she owed the canvas a sincere apology. We were both exhausted. I’d spent the whole night on the phone convincing her that her heart wouldn’t explode. I said the painting was beautiful, the best she’d ever done. “Then why does it hurt so much?” she said. She took the canvas off the stand and slashed it with a knife.
I raise the seat just in time to see Claire walking out of the pharmacy. The one time I told her I loved her she told me I should get my head checked. I swore to myself I’d tell her again whether it’s one line or two.
She approaches the car and I wait until the very last second, right as she reaches for the door. I hit the locks and she pounds on the window, gives me the finger. I turn the music up loud and laugh while there’s still time.