My Painting of Me
“I didn’t wrap it well,” she said.
She was right. She hadn’t. The edges were off, the tape sloppy, the paper paper-bag brown. It was three days past Christmas.
I took off the paper, slowly. Underneath was bubble wrap. I didn’t pop any bubbles. I removed the wrap and there was me. She’d painted my face from a book-jacket photo. She hadn’t seen me for fourteen years. We’d slept together once. I met her at a party of a college friend. She was still friends with him. I didn’t see him anymore. She’d tracked me down. We’d written emails back and forth for six months.
It looked like me. She’d done a good job with the lines of my face, my hair. She’d turned the black-and-white photograph to color, good colors, moody colors the way my black-and-white would have been had it been color. She’d made my eyes sad. Deeply sad, not cartoon-sad. I put the bubble wrap around the painting.
We went out for drinks. We caught up on fourteen years. I walked her back to her hotel. I thanked her for the painting, the best gift, I said, the most thoughtful. She wanted to kiss, but I didn’t. I didn’t tell her to look at my buzzed eyes. I walked her back to her hotel.
When I was buzzed I went out. Went out more.
I went to a bar near her hotel.
She was drinking alone. Another she. It looked like vodka tonic. There was a lime wedge. I ran, did push-ups in the park, did pull-ups on the bars across the city set up at scaffolding sites.
She took me home. She lived around the block. Her apartment was small, but still like home, still warm-looking. My place had a bed, a couch, a desk, nothing on the walls.
Before the sun came up I was up. She was asleep. I went to her bathroom. Rubbed toothpaste on my finger, a brand I’d never tried. Dressed.
I took the bubble wrap from my painting of me. I took down one of her paintings and hung myself up.
Outside there was a discarded Christmas tree on the sidewalk. There was still tinsel stuck in its needles. I took a strand and curled it over my top lip. I was still drunk. I had a tinsel moustache, thin, like his in Goya’s, but he was looking up.
Adam Berlin is the author four novels, including Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award) and Both Members of the Club (Texas A&M University Consortium Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize), and the poetry collection The Standing Eight (FLP). He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and co-edits the litmag J Journal: New Writing on Justice. For more, please visit adamberlin.com