The love heart shaped bruise on my right shoulder panged with guilt and frustration. We had been in one of those arguments over money again. It’s always money isn’t it? The whole world throughout history, at war, over money. Kissing the arses of corporations to get your little bit of gold. It can start wars and end relationships. A piece of paper. The whole world is in crisis. To think how better it would be if such a thing didn’t exist, all the lives we could save without determining how much each life is worth in cash! As if a person’s life can be measured in numbers. All the relationships that could have continued if they weren’t struggling together to hold down a bloody apartment… I always hated this apartment. The teal wallpaper peeling and the stench of cigarette smoke clinging to the air like the damp distinct smell after rain in summer. The bruise was still there. See Torrence and I had very different ways of fighting. He fought with his fists, whereas I fought with my tongue.
I moaned when I discovered his phone cord dangling from the socket, “I told you to turn off the power when you’re not using it! Your phone isn’t connected to the charger, you are just wasting power!”
“Oh would you come off it!” An assertive sense of arrogance chocked the room.
“No. We are already $200 behind on our last power bill. Every time you do that it’s another $100 we don’t have!”
“Okay, whatever.” Abruptly he shifted in the chair, facing away from me.
“Don’t whatever me!”
I was sick of his attitude. Sick of him bitching on about living off of him. As he so foolishly wasted away his own money with careless things like turning off a switch. “Do you think this is funny? Is this some kind of sick joke to you?”
“I would ask you the same thing.”
He suddenly stood up. His hand grasped around my neck, driving me backwards into the wall. My spine colliding with the hard surface and crackling under the force.
“I said, I would ask you the same thing! Because maybe if you quit fooling around with your silly little paintbrushes and actually got a paying job with a steady fucking income, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”
His grip tightened. I felt the oxygen leave my lungs as I sputtered a reply, “My silly little paintbrushes…”
His grip around my throat loosened as he let his hand fall to his side. Breathless. It wasn’t defeat that made him turn his back and return to the grey chair. He was over it. Over me. Over us.
“It’s nice to know what you think of me. What am I to you? Some ditzy artist with a dream she’ll never reach. Some failure who resorts to painting pathetic pieces that will never sell?”
He mumbled, “You have never tried to sell them.”
“That’s because they’re-”
“Not ready. . . I know.” A weak sigh escaped his grizzly throat as I watched him think of what to say next, “I’m just saying you could find a side job. One that paid weekly and you know you’re going to get some form of steady income.”
“I’ve been looking Torrence. You know I have.” The air stilled. Not breaking eye contact as his onyx eyes searched for something in mine that I refused to give.
“That’s your advice to me? To-to look harder? Oh great, thanks for that! You’re a real help you are, aren’t you!” I shouldn’t have retaliated. But he treats me like an imbecile. It’s not that easy to sell art and succeed. The pieces aren’t ready. When they are I’ll sell. I will. They’re just not ready yet.
“At least I have a job that pays well! The only reason you’re not out on the streets is because of me! I put the roof over your head, and the food in your mouth. Without me you’d be nothing!”
He never understood. I didn’t need him, “Thanks. I’d still have my art, my passion!”
“Funny, how would you buy the paint, the brushes, the books and boards? How would you afford your stupid passion? Grow the fuck up. This is the real world-”
“No you listen to me!” He got up again, this time throwing me into the chair and towering above me. His muscular frame silhouetted in-front of the singular dim light. God he was intimidating when he wanted to be.
“You need to grow up. This isn’t Alice in fucking wonder-land. You are not Cinderella, no fairy god mother is going to swoop in and wave a magic wand and all your problems resolved and dreams fulfilled. This is the real world. Where you have to get up like the rest of us, go to work, earn enough money to have a house and essential comforts, and repeat and repeat and repeat! Until you get too old to continue and your body wears out! We don’t all get to follow what we love, we do what we have to do to survive. To not end up like one of those street urchins!”
“That’s not living! I don’t want to just survive. I would rather die than carry out that life. Because it’s not a life. It’s a prison. With every person running the same damned wheel like a hamster on steroids! I don’t want to be somebody’s pet. I don’t fit into some scheme or ‘master plan’. I’m just me! I’m an artist and nothing will stop me from being one. Not even you.”
Without words he walked outside onto the tiny balcony off of our apartment. Drawing out a cigarette from his denim pocket, he lit it with a lighter while drawing the door shut. The glass dividing us. I watched the butt burn bright orange against the dead black sky. The smoke drifted upwards into the night-time nothingness, trailing away like his love for me. Each inhale was longer and with every exhale I felt his anger. If it wasn’t for the glass between us I would push him over the edge, I would stamp his cigarette until it was a pile of ashes on the cold, concrete floor. But he knew me better than I knew myself. He knew I wouldn’t touch him, he knew I didn’t fight like that. His face was concealed by the smoke. Standing side on his broad shoulders rose and fell with every intoxicating breath, all I could hope is one day the bastard gets cancer. Why was he so sexy when he smoked? The way his lips pursed on the cigarette, his eyes rolled back as he let himself slip away with every drag. The way his thick brown hair danced in the wind and his large hands gripped the barrier, veins pulsing with the rush of nicotine. He looked like he was ready to conquer the world, while equally defeated by it. I got out my sketch book and began to draw. Following his long torso to his small feet – in comparison to his size. His grip kept getting tighter on the rim of the railing, as if he was trying to break through it. I shouldn’t be attracted to his force, but I am. I always have been.
He turned around.
He didn’t like it when I drew him. Sharply he slid the door open with such force the glass shattered. A shard flew and hit my left cheek, tearing a clean line of red as blood spilled out onto his pencil smeared face. He tore the book from my hand and held his lighter to it. I watched the paper curl and smoke, it caught alight the flame growing and consuming each page as I watched my artwork fade away.
“My work! All my work is in there! Stop it now!” He held me back with one arm as he walked outside and threw it over the balcony. I watched helplessly as the burning book slowly faded to an ember on the ground below us. I hung over the balcony, arm extended in some hopeless desire that it would rise back up. Everything I had worked on. Gone. Just gone.
He held my wrists firmly against the balcony as my breath hitched. My stomach knotted. I felt his hot breath against the prickling hairs of my neck, “I’ll buy you another book.”
God he knew how to make me mad.
“It isn’t about the fucking money Torrence! I don’t need another book. Can’t you get that into that thick skull of yours? I don’t want your money. I don’t even want you! Everything I have been cooped up working on for the past eleven months of this relationship was in that book! You burned it. Now it’s just ashes. You know what, so are we. We are over. Fuck you!” I forced myself out of his hold, slamming the broken door behind me.
I watched her petite frame flee from the room into my bedroom. I put out the cigarette. Looked at the pile of ashes as I felt the nicotine fuelling my rage. My thoughts clouded like the smoke in my lungs. I ran into the room to find her curled up on the bed in tears. It sickened me. How could I cause one human being so much pain? She didn’t even know what real pain felt like. She’s hurt me more than just physically. She may carry bruises but I bet her mind is clear of the poison. The poison that slowly kills my mind, day by day, night by night. I don’t even think she has recognised my presence. I had an urge to hug her. But she didn’t deserve that. I grabbed her hair and pulled her up onto her knees to face me on the bed. A pitiful voice of resistance escaped her small mouth. She didn’t look at me. Instead she wiped the tears off her face as I watched a singular drop slip into the cut on her left cheek. I held her chin to make her face me. She looked down. My fingers found themselves tracing the cut caused by the glass. But, caused by me. Beautifully broken. Cliché. But that’s what she was: cliché. That’s what we were. It’s like she had painted up some stereotypical abusive relationship. Why was I the monster? Am I the monster? It’s never the puppet, is it? It’s the creator. And she created us. In her little studio. She spent days while I was working to pay off bills, creating me into a monster. But she’s the monster. I was suddenly overwhelmed with this thought. I pinned her to the bed. Her hands gripped the headboard. Looking at me with eyes burning like the artwork she made. Lust is a bitch. She creeps up on you. Watches you. And in the moment where you think you have won, she takes over.
My eyes groaned as they opened. The sunlight seeping through the blinds. Blinded by love. Oh god, I’m becoming like her. My hand found the box of cigarettes, it was almost routine to wake up now and light a ciggie. The comforting sensation of nicotine started to wake me up and settle in my bones. I studied her. She lay there in my bed. So pale and lifeless looking. The only sign that reassured me she was breathing was the slow, pitiful rise and fall of her chest – I would carve that chest open, light her heart on fire. Maybe then she would know the pain she has caused me. I gingerly pulled the covers off of her, examining her naked body. There were bruises on her thin wrists. She always said I liked to mark my territory. But she is very mistaken. She isn’t mine. Yet she has taken everything that was once mine, like this room. She lay in my bed every night. Selfishly sleeping while I lay awake plotting ways to get rid of her. But every morning she would open her eyes and the piercing ice blue would stab me in the heart, and I would let her stay one more day, one more night, one more week, one more month, one more year even. It has gone on too long. Any spark we had at the beginning faded a long time ago. I was a mere speck in her life where she was all I thought about. I worked all day long at a job I hated with a passion, to keep her going. To keep her painting. Because when she painted she was happy. A smile would gradually etch itself onto her perplexed face when certain colours combined how she pleased, she would jump up ecstatic and wrap her arms around me, the colours of her love enveloping me. It was only a month ago I realised the painting was the problem. Because it wasn’t me who made her feel anything good. It was her art. And when she wasn’t creating she loped around with an air of melancholy. When I asked her about her day she would sigh in a depressive tone, “I painted.” It was last night I realised it was her. She’s the monster. Not me. She rolled over, a sigh escaping as she nestled into the gap between our pillows. Her skin had goose bumps forming exposed to the chill of the air, which was only so cold due to the lack of money to have decent installation. Each bump made me want to warm her. No. Burn her. I silenced my cigarette on her shoulder.
“Aaaaak!” She shot upright, rubbing her right shoulder furiously. Strawberry blonde hair covered her face in a tangled mess. Hastily I got out of bed and into clothes. My bags already packed from last night.
“Where are you going?” She questioned through gritted teeth. I didn’t turn around.
“You’re not coming back are you?” I turned around. Hand fumbling in my jacket pockets to come across my wallet. I emptied out the contents onto her bed. I then kissed the blackening mark on her shoulder without looking her in the eyes once. Turned. And left.
$99.80. I had ninety nine dollars and eighty cents. How was I going to survive with that? He was gone. Gone for good. I didn’t know how I felt. Empty? I had an apartment in my name and $99.80.
I began to collect my artwork from around the house. Time to sell. They are going to have to be ready.
I need the money.