Novel excerpt from Emotional Hash: Seanna, a brilliant marine biologist, goes mad and gets transferred overseas to finish her doctorate. The demons return, however, and she must struggle to keep her mind and academic life in balance.
This scene is a good example of my writing style (in context)—and shows Seanna's love for painting as a release from her "other" life. Enjoy!
On campus, she rented two identical rooms adjoined by a crude wall hacking job that served as a doorway. A sledgehammer, undoubtedly belonging to a previous tenant labeled by Seanna “Claustrophobic Christian,” had forged a way to crouch between the two rooms. A midget claustrophobic Christian had gouged a date into the threshold (4/8/82) next to an Ichthys, now the sentinel at the base of the doorframe. Seanna imagined a one-eyed fish swimming around and around the Frame, slipping sharp corners. She imagined it guarding a portal into a room set aside for the subconscious studio, where all the Good and the Bad expressions about the real her lie in waiting. Dreams. Sharks and Whales. In Rhythm with the tunes.
The idea proved to catch on, becoming something of a fad in the older campus housing there, and most of the tiny cottage-like dens were converted into double living quarters in this way. Maybe each unit had a one-eyed fish. The rent was remarkably cheap due to the age of the building, but it was still safe. Safer. Safest. Tunable. Tuna-worthy.
In a room, large enough to hole her and her sister if her sister were alive, an electric pan served as a melting pot. The cloth on the floor no longer felt like cotton. It was covered by two-year’s worth of wax mishaps. Of course, Seanna didn’t know that liquid wax seeps through cotton, even Egyptian cotton, almost linen cotton... the floor was ruined, but because nobody knew it, it was still supportive of her work. She lacked support; she lacked reality. Irons and the industrial heatguns and paint-stripper rounded out her arsenal. She was ready to paint.
Let’s see what churlish beams we can glean from these blades...
Encaustics was exactly the medium she needed to warm her ideas on, griddled shapes of mind-gunned-down as form-on-wood. She had tried many times to paint in acrylic and had found the practice ever so final, and too quick! The act always left her wishing for something she couldn’t name, a tentative detail left to dry on the tip of her mind, let alone make an effort to find it. The paints themselves were creamery butter, alive in their haughty tubes, challenging you to scrape or pat or lick their shades of cerulean and phthalo green. The main point, though, was just that, all those grand colors stand to attention at the drying time. Freeze frame, one may as well be a photographer... Blinking, thoughtful head-tilting or pondering detours are not to be paired with acrylic stroking, no - the first murder the last, and she was always left with death on a canvas looking blankly aside, disinterested, without even the curiosity enough to stare back at its creator.
She would never paint in oil either, the vapors were foul climbers, assaulting her senses and actually making her sick. Even if she were anywhere near it, the creep would begin and result in a headache of obsidian shards working their way to the Brain. That little Brain already shrinking. That separation of color when the brushes needed cleaning carved her attention into bits of procrastination to witness. No oil, never again.
She recently had had an affair end due to this sensitivity. He was a restoration artist on the other side of the cove and had exaggerated the misfortune of becoming her ex-lover.
“What do you mean we can’t continue; we’re just getting to know each other!”
He couldn’t understand the possibility of not touching the silk of her bones anymore. Her blonde mane, her tragic eyes, her whispers of contempt...
“It’s not you,” she blinked rapidly so the fumes would get less of a chance to begin their infiltration, “can we talk outside?”
He shook his head several times no, “It’s pouring rain outside, Seanna. Why can’t we talk about this here?”
“I have to go.” She resigned a limp of her left shoulder in an inwardly shy gesture. She hated having to explain herself. Why couldn’t people just accept things the way they were? Why go to such trouble to dissect confusion, the whole point is to avoid confusion. Clarity rules.
“That’s all there is to it. It’s not you or me, it just is.” She figured a little Bhagavad Gita would soothe him, but it did not and he released a frustrated, monosyllabic shout.
“You unsatisfied women... do you understand the pressure that you put on a man? To perform! We’re always guessing... we’re always fucking kowtowing, trying to find a way to reach you!”
“Trying to find a way to reach our zippers, you mean. Yes, I understand, and I have to go now. I mean right now, really. As in: now.”
She pointed to the ground with both hands for wide-eyed confirmation, and then she calmly got up from the bed where they’d spent some fine time together, now a memory wafting in the air to mix with putrid oil stink. She put on layer after layer of clothing until she was sure that the weather would agree to roll over her instead of into the crack in her frame. She was broken but she had mien.
He was, being the Dear John of the two, just watching her dress in shock and even a mild horror held his expression. He did not change his attitude of angrily placed arms resting on that beautifully belted waist, which, incidentally, acted as the pedestal for a bronze torso of basalt and lace. This was her last image of him. Oh, she most regrettably turned away and sneezed outside after closing the sliding glass door for what would be the last time, thankfully never to make the mistake of engaging with another oil painter as long as she lived. Well, the process of elimination was satisfying enough for her to continue her way home in good spirits.
Soaked to the skin as the color clicked shut, Seanna felt that relief of weightlessness of being a single woman. There were no thoughts of others to invade her private head and the heart remained remarkably silent. Hours would pass before she had a memory surge, and then that weight and noise of partnership would appear, uninvited and hungry for resurrection. To the paints, to the surrogate... to the world where she was understood.
Her great escape offered her, after several large jars of good wine, to set forth the last stroke of a piece that had taken her close to a year to complete. The difficulty was because the wheat was incredibly difficult to define in wax, and she kept getting the color on both sides of wrong, having to darken or lighten it all the time. Bees wax is expensive and she would have to stall the painting until her monthly check from her trust fund came through. She was an art junkie in an art shop doorway, going out to get her stuff before going to the grocery store. The smell of that wax was integral to her survival.
Too bad the subject of the painting didn’t survive. Seanna hung it after it had set well enough and she was surprised to see how determined the look on the face of the strangler was. He barely held the ribbon with those two fingers and his target stared up at it adoringly, as if begging for the red velvet to wrap around her neck. She didn’t have to make the victim so falsely virginal, but that’s what found its way onto the scene, and she’s going to die anyway, so what the fuck.
And his suit was way too dark, but it suited the deed. Seanna freaked herself out by going over the imaginary act yet she continued to stare at the work. (Like a hangnail you pick for a while just before taking the clippers to it and the flick of that skin always held just a smidgen of pall-like remedy to your pain.) She dreamed on in imagining that the hovering crows would soon feed upon her gutted and torn corpse left amongst the mallows under the midday August sun. She could smell the hot urine and his sweat. Seanna decided then on the next painting. The girl, false virgin no more, would return as a whisper in his silent moments, weaving a lover’s call on a wild loom that crashed and split its tender wood just so he might listen to her haunt. She knows he’ll miss her, yet he was always stranded, so her absence will simply blend into all the other beautiful things he’d thrown away. Heinous. How the hell was she going to manage that.
The phone hammered her in the back and she realized that she had been daydreaming for some time because it was already sunset and it was cooling off quickly. It was Gordon.
“Hey, I need you.”
“That’s the way you start a conversation with someone on the phone? I could have been anybody picking up the receiver.”
“Well, either way it’s an interesting conversation in the making, wouldn’t you agree?” he chuckled knowing he was right, then waited in silence for her to reply.
“You sound confident, what would you have said if it had been the paper boy that answered?” she was a bit miffed, really.
“I don’t think it would be me searching for something to say if it had of been the paper boy answering,” he laughed but relented because he knew she did not like to be teased for too long, “but listen, I do need to see you... this evening, if you are free to make that happen. I would be most appreciative.”
She relaxed with a sigh and smiled at his cordiality, he did know how to treat a woman with all that intellectual charm of his. Professors know how to profess after all, the title is not a coincidence.
“OK,” she half whispered in a sultry tone, just to get him in the mood.
She liked to wear the mask of coquette de la salope; it made her feel powerful and friendlier. She knew he was famished for her. With that, she didn’t even say good-bye.
The phone hailed again and she turned the other way, leaving it ring, going off to have a shower after cleaning up the studio. There was always something extra clean about the place, having finished a painting that had taken so long to discover.
She let go and allowed the shower water to treat her to a fantasy of being the board that hung in the other room. It graced a wall in her mind with murderous intent and mallow flowers. The phone rang a third time and she grinned the grin of a woman in love, but it was not her smiling, it was the one kneeling in the painting waiting for a pure strangulation.
Seanna enjoyed being undressed by Gordon. He was erotically quick about it and very precise, just like his mind she supposed, easily focused on tenure and the accolades that would secure it. Thinking was never his problem and, as he orderly removed her panties and laid them on the rest of her clothes piled neatly on the kitchen chair, she chilled a bit and wrapped her hair up slowly sending him into an immediate frenzy. She knew she’d have to keep kissing and licking him for a little while until his hunger would be greater than his wish to give her pleasure. Then she could just lie back and let her eyes begin to whistle, calling forth her higher imagination to conjure the appropriate entertainment.
There comes an acquiescent moment to the man-beast when fighting is no longer possible. Sometimes we let him in too soon, and the rush is deadly uncomfortable and guilt ridden; or conversely, the timing is perfect and the transition is quite smooth and even surprisingly amusing. He and his ego in crime take over in their narcissistic magnificence and cater to themselves down to the smallest minutiae, leaving you free to go into a charming reverie instead of the stale reality of would-be romance. The beast will do whatever you like but only on its terms. Timing for the invitation is crucial and not for inexperienced hearts or emotional virgins.
While Gordon went through his predictable motions, Seanna began her impostor pleasure in her mind. Double vision rays of light came through the ocean’s surface with her there beneath the glow, waiting for something to come and save her. How long she had been waiting she didn’t know, but she was not lonely with the environment embracing her every move, the comforting cloak of perfectly tempered water, pulsing... or was she the perfection? Perhaps cold blood filled her fibrillate skin, and, as she looked down to touch her strange and idle form, she lost focus directly and noticed a shiny object dazzling on the coral reef not far below.
A copper butter dish, half the size of a regular one, shone with strong patina where the plate met the bell lid. Nestled in a bed of rich blue coral it tilted at a sad angle, looking upwards. Perhaps it was waiting as she had been, perhaps they were waiting for each other, but it made no move toward her and she stilled, mesmerized by its magnificence. The top of the expertly fashioned dome had a delicately carved, scorpion-shaped knot, the tail of which was so bright it could have been a beacon for the krill of the world to swim closer and join it in its love. That light was even visible from the sky, and the nighthawks would whisper enviously of deep-sea covens and magical plankton that, if eaten, would assure them a catch on each dive.
But Seanna couldn’t move. She just lay there, pumped staccato under Gordon and the blanket of the sea, staring at her treasure she knew she would never quite reach. It started taunting her with its luminescent indifference, now obviously shining so brightly for another. So she began to make the only move she would allow herself, and with each tear that floated straight out of her eyes, drop by drop toward the dish, the scorpion lid shone brighter still, and it was then that she knew its intent. It was not a treasure that lured her loving attention but a curse of some long-ago, abused king now taking pleasure in her pain. With this shock of myth and understanding, she rose violently to break the surface of her beastly enclosure just as a giant hawk screamed, grasping her immediately in his talons, fetters locking around her entire body, and carrying her off to his deadly nest not far along the scree.
Gordon went to shower and Seanna started downstairs to make some coffee. She felt complacent and finished with, so ready for a new task. With each wide teak stair, somehow she could see events happening in her mind before they occurred in real-time, it was an authentic action laced with premonition and synesthesia.
The creak of the refrigerator door and the chipped glass drawer holding at least seven types of cheese from around the world; these were Seanna’s extra-curricular subjects. She smiled stiffly. That may have been one of Gordon’s most remarkable neuroses; he was literally addicted to grilled cheese sandwiches, never running out of the necessary ingredients. What she envisioned, to his further pleasure, was making an omelet and hash-browns with sausage for breakfast, and the coffee would be so real it would easily champion the orange juice and conversation. Accordingly, that is exactly how the morning passed between them without a hitch. Real-time was boring but on occasion quite tasty...