“The same object doesn’t have fixed colors”
“The laws of beauty do not lay in the laws of nature. You can paint it whatever color you like”
“You don’t care anymore?”
“It’s not that. Sorry, I’m distracted. My friend’s child got mauled by a dog yesterday, a pit bull. The child’s injuries aren’t life-threatening, but there’s scarring. A surgery’s planned. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“The scarring. It’s inside and out”
“No doubt. Anyway, red is the only color I can think of today—red, for hate. I hate dogs”
Sylvia parted from Renee, her older brother, moments later, though he promised he’d be back. He was just taking a break. He often took breaks. He would leave now, satisfied, at least understanding Sylvia’s latest bout of torpor. Semi-predictably, near-routinely, she was erratic in her endeavors: At times, she had bursts of creativity, producing numerous pieces ready for exhibition. Then she’d stop, or rather freeze, with every action, every thought even, subject to equivocal pondering. In her art, she liked the idea of an intuitive process, yielding pieces of imagery tied to random thought that would acquire, or not sometimes, context over time, though not without thorough examination. As Renee sauntered towards the exit of her downtown loft, Sylvia called out, thinking her random thought a gift to him.
“Think I’ll paint a portrait of dogged human power—a woman named Eva—Eva Peron, maybe.”
Renee glanced over his shoulder, returned a wry, appreciative grin. Or was it a controlled smirk, signifying concern for his sister’s whimsy?
“Is that an expression of hate?”
“Hmm…partly. Maybe hate transformed, turned to activism”. Now she gave a sly, ambiguous smile: “Do something productive, right? Turn a negative into a positive?”
Renee turned to leave. Once outside the apartment, he dashed down the stairs of Sylvia’s building, taking mental note of its thinly concealed flaws, its just-this-side-of-disrepair quality. It would still be overpriced, he thought, and Sylvia would barely take notice, consumed as she was by impractical, aesthetic matters. Their father would shake his head if he knew—if he were allowed to visit—for he would do nothing but scrutinize the structural flaws of Sylvia’s building. He wouldn’t indulge anything to do with her artwork, except perhaps to inquire when her next exhibition would be and whether she’d make any money off of it this time. Renee’s sensibilities lay somewhere in between those of his father and sister. As a psychologist, he had situated himself in the middle, at a murky halfway point amidst the material world and the realm of art. It was difficult locating himself. He was ever around, ever available, but ever quick to get away and find space. In this way, he was like Sylvia, and their mother, as he came to think of her. She had died in her early thirties, when Renee and Sylvia were preteens. She’d had cancer, was a dogged provocateur of rigid people and their rigid establishments. Like Eva Peron.
Their mother loved their father, but didn’t like him, it seemed—didn’t like her strange choice of a stolid, unapologetic industrialist, a rich man who acted as if ruining the lives of people would make them love him, or at least follow him. Need equals love. The choice had made their mother sick, Renee thought: first mentally, then fatally. Mental illness. It starts in the body. That’s what his education and training had taught him. It returns, he believed, mourning. Repressed desire. Social ills. As Renee left his sister’s neighborhood, shedding its grey and urban, working-class residue, thoughts turned to the revolution he had not joined, only observed from a distance. He drove back to his leafy suburban home in his sturdy, cost-efficient Prius and thought of modest compromises, modest living. He’d make subtle adjustments, taking in his sister’s influence, his mother’s muted memory, but eschewing the radical departures both women had made. A free clinic? Sorry Wilhelm Reich, or even Sigmund Freud. Not working in one of those. A sliding scale? A county services contract with a lesser hourly fee. Yeah, okay. Next, he thought of a woman he’d been dating recently, kept offering him a pill or a gummy bear. MDMA. CBD. Had therapeutic value, she insisted. Surely, he agreed, being a professional. The former was aphrodisiac, she added flirtatiously. He conjured Reich’s orgone boxes, the “orgasmatron” from that Woody Allen film, with Diane Keaton smoking a cigarette after a thirty second immersion. Things weren’t like how they were envisioned a century or fifty years ago. Today, it’s about pharmaceuticals, not magic enclosures, mock sci-fi contraptions.
The substances were meant to mellow them out. Well, they mellowed him out, not that he needed any more of that. He got more of that, too much of that. His date? The flirtation escalated, got aggressive. Rough nails felt like claws. There were teeth in her kisses. He pulled back, glanced at a necklace that was meant to entice but looked instead like a dog collar. “Sorry”, he said, not feeling it thereafter. He was supposed to see her again tonight, was thinking of texting her, begging off with some excuse. His sister’s ill, needs him. It wouldn’t sound convincing. The date would question his backsliding, suggest that he chill out, loosen up his body armor, relax. Relax. He couldn’t, at least not like that. Too dangerous, to let go like that. Too much at stake. Others can chill out, choose what colors to paint objects while he just continued with everything the way it was, with no variations, no new information or changes in the way things are. “It’s her phobia,” he’d say, regarding Sylvia. “She can’t help the panic attacks. She can’t stop the meltdowns when she sees a dog nearby. It’s her neighbor apparently, and they’re not even supposed to have them in her building. A pill wouldn’t help. I’ve gotta go to her, don’t know long it will take. See, I’m the only one who understands because I’m the same way, only calmer. It’s about dogs. We both hate dogs.”