“Is, say maybe.”
The morning sun bullied through the window drapes, and the flotsam caught the light and surrounded her. She was topless, and her breasts were smooth. I wanted to touch one, but stayed on the edge of the bed. And all the way on the other side of the room. Is–Isabella–wore the pearl earrings I had given her last year for her thirty-first birthday. They were tiny things, the earrings, but she was skinny and all angles. Her eyebrows arched naturally, her nose was thin. Her lips, in a perpetual serious frown. Even her hairstyle was just a lengthy bob brushed over to one side to match the length of her face.
She finished pulling on her Levis and stood looking at me. “Have you ever seen the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral?”
I shook my head. This was the last time I saw her breasts.
“It’s a good movie,” she said. “It had–oh, what’s his name? That English guy?” She got that look people get–that faraway look–when they try to think of something they can’t quite remember. She was always the most beautiful woman, especially standing in the quiet morning, reaching for her shirt, asking me about some pointless chic movie.
“South Carolina is so far away,” I said.
“They have beaches. And sunsets.”
Columbus is paved over. Even in the sky there is cement. I see green only in the potted, poisonous English Yews where they take out garbage from the restaurant that sits below my apartment. And when the rain comes, the city becomes gray–hard. What little color exists is pulled from the streets. It does not return for days.
My apartment is filled with her artwork. Nighttime cityscapes of people under streetlamps and umbrellas, jazz musicians and autumn trees, cafes and side streets all hang on my walls and lean against the furniture. The paintings present a side of Columbus I do not recognize. There is the grease of White Castle burgers, tattoo parlors, and Saturday night football riots. The homeless stand in front of UDF convenience stores wearing weather-worn and bad smelling drab clothing, panhandling for money. Broken glass lies along the street curbs. Loose newspapers play in the wind. There is talk of tearing down the old pallid stone state penitentiary and replacing the miserable building with a vibrant sports center of some sort. But as it is, the building still stands with black windows like soulless eyes.
Is’ paintings are purely from her imagination. On Sundays, my kitchen becomes her studio. She spreads her paints and colors our across my table, set sup a blank canvas and just creates. At the end of the day, she stores her paints and empty canvases in my closets, and there is always the smell of turpentine and oil. For the use of all this storage space, our sex has become less lovemaking and more about paying storage fees.
“I could come with you,” I said.
Her brother lives in South Carolina. That’s where she was going. That’s where we had gone eight months into our relationship as the official dating couple. She had worn this simple short red dress on the way down. The day’s heat was amazing, creating large, long rivers of heat shimmers on the road, distortions of color in the horizon.
Is had taken her bra off because of the heat and before we left the confines of Ohio’s border, we made a detour through Hocking Hills State Park’s Cedar Falls where we watched a waterfall tumble through huge boulders, split at an outcropping of black hand sandstone, then merge at the bottom of the rock and free fall twelve feet into a cool burnt orange pool. The water is loud there, but soft, and we were alone–very unlike the city–and we were surrounded by green hemlocks. Is went into the water up to her ankles at the shore. Then she waded in to her waist and played in the waterfall. I watched amazed.
Three men clattered across the tops of the boulders, pointed down at her, laughed and grinned, and raced down the rocks to get to us. Is and I ran to our car. They were close behind and followed us several miles out of the area in their pale blue 1970s Ford pick-up.
We didn’t speak much to each other until we had moved into West Virginia.
We didn’t speak much to each other this quiet Monday morning either. She drew the drapes and stopped the sun shining. We watched the coffee brew at the kitchen table and ate hard rolls with salt-less butter. She was leaving to pack. I was leaving to go to work. The night before, I had asked her to marry me. So on her way out, I stood at the top of the stairs and said again, “Is–”
She turned to look at me, her bright pink canvas bag filled with most of her artwork underneath one arm–the bag I had only seen once before when she had brought all of her art into my life.
“Say maybe,” I said.
“Can you make it over to my place next Sunday instead of me coming here?”
“I need help with the couch. And some of the bigger items hauled to the curb.”
I waited through a bland and tasteless week, and Sunday morning arrived with the city bleached by fog. I carried all of her stuff to the street and watched the truck come and take it out of her life. We packed her car with her skirts and jeans, shirts and dresses–the little red dress from Hocking Hills. And we crammed her trunk full with her entire art portfolio.
“You’re leaving in the morning?”
“Stay the night?”
The evening was starless, and somewhere in the middle of the night she whispered, “You don’t love me. It is just an idea.”
In the morning, before she left, she curled her fingers around my fingers. We kissed, and she pulled away. I closed my hands into fists and watched her get into the car. She gave me a rare smile and said, “Maybe. Maybe.” She drove away. I opened my hands to the pearl earrings she left. The sun easily glinted off of them, and I saw iridescent pinks and blues, like long rivers of heat shimmers on the road, distortions of color on the horizon.