Atyla Tall Ship Life

Hola! Greetings from Bilbao, Spain!

I arrived Tuesday evening after a long day of travel. My first impressions of Spain are very positive! People here are genuinely nice and very helpful to travelers such as myself. I reached the boat and was greeted immediately by a handful of young men smoking on the deck upstairs (a favorite past-time of many Europeans). I set my bags down and got my first quick tour of the ship I will be spending the next month on.

We sleep in stacked bunks with built-in cubbies and share all amenities. Water is rationed, so I have taken two short, tepid, showers (only washing my hair once this week) and have learned very quickly the art of sink bathing.  😉  Our toilets are hand pumped and no paper of any kind can go inside, so they start to stink when the waste bins get too full. Luckily I am not here to impress with my good smells and gorgeous outfits, but rather to do manual labor. I am usually covered in sawdust and black soot by the end of the day, so you can imagine it has been quite an adjustment and my princess-like mentalities have been cut off almost entirely. But there is joy in living more simply and learning how to really appreciate all that we have in the United States. Many people never dream of taking long, hot, luxurious showers and this is helping me to appreciate that fact. But let me tell you, I dream of taking full advantage of that the day I leave the boat in a few weeks!

I am one of two Americans so far, the others being four Spanish men, two French women, one Estonian man, one German man, and one lovely English woman who is our full time cook. They all speak English, as well as their own native tongues and a plethora of other languages, so I am constantly being bathed in a swath of culture and sound unfamiliar to my humble American upbringing. Spaniards speak with such rapidity that I often struggle to stay present when attempting to digest all the information. I find my brain hurts by the end of the day after playing mental chess.

Add to the confusion of communication (and the majority of what we are all accomplishing) which is ship yard work. We are slowly transforming this thirty-year-old ship into a fully operating machine in time for this upcoming sailing season. I have spent my first week doing anything from sanding deck planks, drilling holes, sawing pipes, polishing brass (which I did for five hours one day! lol!), to assisting with kitchen duties, and cleaning. Everyone here works hard with a healthy respect for leisure time. Our meals are long and full of conversation and the smoke breaks (for those who partake) are frequent. My new friend Thomas (the German) told me that I am working “too hard” because I am so tired by the end of the day. To which I responded with laughter and heartily agreed (something anyone who truly knows me can attest to). I guess I need to learn to pace myself (shocker!).

All in all, it has been an amazing week and I am excited to see what the next few weeks hold. I am making friends quickly, working harder than I have in a long while (which brings me much joy), and learning an immense amount about #allthethings   :):):)



The Blizzard (17)


The snow hadn’t stopped for several hours, covering the majority of the city in a complete blanket of luxurious white fleece. Leon had left his car parked somewhere near (insert street) and walked the rest of the way home through the blizzard. Elise had managed to get home earlier in the day and had already built up the fire and put on an old Ella Fitzgerald album. She sat down in the bay window, wrapped herself in a blanket, and sipped a glass of Merlot listening to the crackle of the ancient vinyl. There was always something soothing about that sound, particularly when the snow fell: the silent, overbearing snow.

The back door rustled open and Elise heard the familiar thud of Leon’s boots. She looked over at the clock on the fireplace mantle and saw that it was only five forty. He wasn’t home until at least eleven most nights. She stayed sitting in the window and watched the snow cascade violently against the old glass pane. She didn’t know what kind of mood he’d be in and she did not feel like ruining the peace of the moment she had created, however brief.

It had been like this lately, this impending fluctuation of Leon’s moods. He was tired of working for another chef, another owner, another creative genius, another person calling the shots. It was beginning to take a toll on their marriage. Elise knew that he needed freedom, but she had no clue how to help him achieve it, other than to tell him to quit and try somewhere new, somewhere his voice would be heard. She had even doubted that rationale, wondering if the problem wasn’t the other kitchen staff, but her own husband. But she was a loyalist through and through, and so whenever the fleeting thought came into her head that Leon might be the source of his own unhappiness, she pushed it aside for a more productive thought.

She could hear him stomping his boots aggressively against the stoop just outside their back entrance on the third floor. He was not in a good mood, by the sound of it. She thought about sneaking out the front door before he got inside and going for a walk in the peace and quiet of the silent storm outside, but guilt caught hold of her before she could must the energy to do it—and the full glass of wine that she had just finished. She decided to pour herself another glass to fortify her nerves for whatever ever version of Leon would walk through the door any moment. As she walked to the kitchen, he managed to open the door in front of her, blowing the angst of the winter in with him.

Leon was covered in a layer of powder from the top of his wayward hairline down to his semi-frozen socks.

“What happened to your feet?” Elise asked, concerned.

“The snow is already so deep that my boots were useless.” He threw his coat on the ground, stripped his socks, pants, and sweater off and practically galloped into the master bathroom. Elise heard him crashing around in the bathroom, attempting to start the shower so he could warm up. “Come on!” she heard him yell through the closed door and down the hall. She set down her glass and went to inspect. Leon was naked, pacing around their tiny bathroom, looking under the sink, then back to the shower.

“What’s wrong?” she couldn’t help but smile when he was in one of these moods, furious and pouting like a toddler.

“There’s no hot water! The perfect ending to this shit day!” Elise calmly walked over to the shower and turned the water off. She was smirking despite his seemingly angry tirade. He looked so funny: thin, pale, and utterly frustrated. She imagined that their tiny son would look much like Leon did right now, throwing some ridiculous temper tantrum in the bathroom in a distant future.

“Stay here. Put on your robe and I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Elise turned the water on for the tub and began to fill it. She then walked into the kitchen and pulled out Leon’s biggest stock pot—one he used for canning salsa and other such delights. She filled it and put it on the stove, waiting for it to boil. She heard Leon turn the water off in the bathroom and ruffle through some drawers in their bedroom. Once the water reached optimal temperature, Elise put on her oven mitts and carried the giant pot over to the bathroom. She poured the water into the tub and swirled it around with some lavender essential oil. It was now perfect for soaking Leon’s weary bones.

“Think you can avoid splashing all over the place, Mr. Burke?” she smiled. He sheepishly took off his robe and gently climbed into the tub, taking care not to splash. Elise let him settle in and went into the kitchen to retrieve her wine glass. “You want a drink?” she asked, carefully.

“No.” A brisk answer, still. She prayed that this soak would do him some good. She was oddly relaxed, even smitten, by the chaos that was raging outside their walls. Snow storms had always been her favorite. She drank another large gulp of wine and made her way back into the bathroom.

“You want to tell me what’s really going, Lee?” she sat on the side of the tub, rubbing his hair, caressing his curls at the back of his neck.

“I’m over it.” She let that stick in the air for a minute. Leon slipped back and dunked his head under the water, holding his breath for quite some time. Elise watched his body float up and down in the dark room, through the blanket of the water he was submerged in. She had always thought he had a perfect figure: tight muscles, olive skin, just enough hair. Her eyes wandered over him, luxuriating in him. The wine had really gotten to her tonight. He came back up for air, almost startling her out of her trance.

“I’m going to sit and watch the snow.” She stood up to go and Leon reached for her wrist.

“Wait. Don’t go.” He pulled her back down toward the tub. “I’m sorry. I’ve been terrible lately.” He paused and thought for a good thirty seconds before speaking again. Elise stroked his wet chin, looking down at him with affection despite his childishness. “I can’t work for Clarence anymore. That place will be the death of me.”

“Honey, you make more there than the last three places combined. We’ve finally settled in this beautiful place. What’s the problem? Be reasonable.”

“Reasonable? This isn’t just a career for me, it’s my soul at stake. Cooking for me is like having two lungs to breath with. You can’t ask me to give up on my life, on my heart. Clarence is a huge dick with money as his only bottom line. He doesn’t care about the people he serves, the food I make, or the staff. He’s in this as a businessman, strictly. I’m tired of working for guys who don’t give a shit.” She saw the pain in his eyes, understood that he was tormented every day by this passion for food, this consumption to find heaven in every morsel, every cut of meat, every sauce. She had never been that passionate about anything and she envied him for it.

“Do you already have another place in mind?” She knew him. He’d already have four other people offering him tempting positions as head chef in their “cutting edge” restaurants. That was what happened to people that had gotten as far up the ladder as Leon had in his short life.

“Not yet. But I promise you, I’ll start looking tomorrow, when I’ve given Clarence a peice of my mind.”

“Stop. Why do you always have to have the last word? Just give him your two weeks’ notice and take the high road, Leon. I’m tired of watching you burn bridges with these types of guys. It’s not worth it.”

“Someone has to tell him that he can’t get away with treating people like that!” Leon said, with indignance. Elise looked him square in the face, feeling brave.

“Let the next hot shot do you the favor. Leave it.” She said, with conviction. She was all fired up now, wanting partially to protect Leon from his own stupidity, but also because she knew she had him on the ropes and he might just listen, for once. It got them both charged, this sudden reaction from Elise.

“I like this side of you.” Leon smirked. He splashed a little water toward her, teasing. She flinched and almost dropped her glass. Instead of getting up to go, she gulped the last bit of wine she had left and set the glass on the floor. She slipped off her loafers and climbed into the tub, still in her leggings and cardigan, wrapping her legs around Leon’s and facing him. “Mrs. Burke, I do believe you are still clothed. How preposterous.”

“Maybe I can warm the water up for you, Mr. Burke.” He laughed at that and tried not to slip backwards, the two of them sloshing around. She set her eyes on his and held them there as long as she dared. She ran her finger over his lips, tracing his curves, teasing. “I love your soul, Leon. I want you to do what makes you feel alive. I hate it when you come home late, come home angry, come home empty. When you’re empty, I’m empty.”

“I know. And I’m sorry. I try to leave all that stuff at work, but yeah.”

“It’s okay. Because I love you and I want you to feel safe talking. I swear to you though, if you make me move one more time—” Elise laughed and threw her head back.

“I promise, I swear! You won’t ever have to move again if you don’t want to.”

“Good.” She had a gleam in her eye. “And one more thing.”

“Anything.” Leon tried to keep from laughing, cracking a smile.

“I want to fall asleep next to my husband at least four nights a week. I miss you, Lee. I want you. I need you. I don’t want to keep waking up alone or going to sleep alone.” Leon took a deep breath, knowing that he might have a difficult time delivering this particular request. He couldn’t giver her a verbal response, but he stroked her face and held her penetrating gaze. She had an uncanny way of tapping into the depths of him. He leaned in to kiss her and felt the immensity of her longing. Her passion for him had grown more over time and she was a much more reciprocated lover than she had been at the beginning of their marriage.

“Kiss me again.” She said, unbuttoning her blouse.

“You sure you don’t want to—” She kissed him, shutting him up and stirring up all the angst that he had come home with.

Outside, the storm was raging ever-stronger, stacking flake upon flake on the cold February ground. Many people had been stranded on this particular night throughout the city, as the third largest blizzard on record for Chicago wreaked its havoc from Texas all the way up to Toronto. Inside, Leon and Elise swirled in their own storm of all-consuming passion.











The Cottage on Elisabeth Street (16)


It was the first Christmas she had been without him in seven years.

Elise sat in the car outside her mother’s house, engine idling, thinking about Leon. She could not stop thinking about him since running into him just a few weeks prior. He seemed so healthy, so vibrant—better than she had ever seen him when they were together—and it tore her heart open even more than she thought she could handle. Bertie had offered to let her daughter come and rest, enjoy the holidays with her, and recuperate before returning back to Chicago after the New Year. Elise had initially refused, having not spent Christmas with her mother in nearly a decade, but eventually knew it was best to get her mind off of things.

Elise swallowed hard, turned the ignition off, and made her way toward the door. The front porch was completely covered in ivy—ancient, dense ivy that had wrapped itself around the pillars and windows of this 1916 bungalow almost half a century ago and had kept growing ever since. Elise used to hate the ivy, and had asked her mother repeatedly why she insisted on keeping it. Bertie’s response was always whimsical, “I can’t cut something that has lived here for longer than we have. It’s as much a part of the house as the shingles on the rooftop.” To which Elise would sigh and haste the day that she could have her own house without ivy ruining the view. She didn’t mind it so much now. It did have a certain charm about it: a rustic, unkempt look that was so like her mother.

The lattice work on the sides of the porch held dormant clematis, covered in a thin layer of powdery snow. There had been a storm the previous day and the whole town was a blanket of white, perfect for Christmas festivities. Elise set her bag down and reached for the door knocker, but her mother had already opened the door. “Come in!” Bertie shouted triumphantly. Elise knew she was going to have her work cut out for her this trip, but she smiled at the enthusiasm nonetheless. Her mother’s energy was always contagious, sporadic, and well received by most—even her taciturn daughter. There was a genuine honesty about Bertie, even in her worst moments, one always felt as if she were trying, despite herself.

Elise hung her coat on the rack just next to the front door and followed Bertie further into the house. It smelled of a strange mix of incense and some sort of epoxy. Elise knew that Bertie had been right in the middle of a piece when she had pulled up, by the smell of it. Low and behold, inside the guest room, the studio lamps were on and a large piece of mosaic tile sat on the table waiting to be completed. Elise popped her head in and checked out the glass tiles spread across the table. They were arranged in a beautiful lake scene, with deep purple and magenta pieces peppering the water and sky, juxtaposed with burnt orange and emerald green representing sun and field. No matter how many places Elise had traveled, Bertie’s mosaics and stained glass pieces were still her favorite. There was something otherworldly about them. They were unconventional and chaotic, yet mesmerizing; truly art. There were pieces of Bertie’s work all across the Midwest in public schools, art galleries, churches, private homes, and even in an underground transit station in Chicago. She was one of the most gifted stained glass artists of her generation and Elise had always been proud of her for it.

The house had always been a mishmash gallery of sorts for Bertie to display: charcoal nudes from her college days, oils of ancient European landscapes, watercolors that Elise had done at summer camps as a child, and various installments that former lovers had left behind. Each told a story, each had a profound spiritual experience for Bertie, whether anyone else connected with them or not. Elise had never understood it, her mother’s obsession with collecting “people” through art. Bertie always said that each person had certain predilections towards mediums of art, that they saw in art what they saw in themselves. As a youth, Elise thought her mother was crazy, but now in her adult years she was beginning to understand a bit more what exactly that meant, because she knew it about herself.

Elise had been drawn to architecture, its own form of art, from an early age. Some of her favorite memories from youth were traveling with Bertie to whatever commission she was undertaking and absorbing herself in the architecture of the space. Most of Bertie’s pieces were installments in wealthy homes or institutions that were very old for American standards of architecture. She remembered one in particular that had piqued her interest as an elementary aged girl.

It was a gorgeous Tudor-Revival style mansion outside of Detroit with built-in bookshelves as tall as the fifteen foot ceilings and a secret door into the library. Elise had been transfixed. The gentleman that owned it was a retired doctor who had a high regard for stained glass and had commissioned many different artists throughout his tenure in that home to transform the giant picture windows into something from a fairy-tale. He had shown Elise the trap door and explained that he had it made especially for his daughter when she was young so she would have a fantastical view of libraries and reading. “By making this place a secret, I encouraged her to find her own answers, to pursue learning, and to enjoy the process,” he had mused to Elise one afternoon. She thought of him fondly, every so often when she was feeling sentimental. Elise’s own bedroom growing up had alcove bookshelves and a reading nook inside a large window that had been her own fairy-tale adventure place.

Through the living room there was a modest sized kitchen and a breakfast alcove that had served as the place where Elise and Bertie had eaten most of their meals together. It was a sunny kitchen, full of color. Bertie had loved collecting trinkets, and the glass cupboards in the kitchen had been the perfect showcase for her oddities. Salt shakers (without the pepper pair), various vintage cooking utensils, hand carved wooden toys, and all sorts of other neglected things had come to find a place in Bertie’s kitchen. Elise had always thought it quaint.

She had loved the kitchen as a child, always preferring to do her homework in the sun-drenched south-facing windows. Even now, she realized with a pang of regret, it was still her favorite place to be. Leon was always bustling in some kitchen space or another. She had memories of him here, making Elise the best Belgian waffles she had ever tasted, or in his first apartment on Wrightwood when he made her a delicious soufflé. They had shared so much of their marriage in the kitchen, and thinking of it made her profoundly sad. The kitchen had seemed sacred to Leon, a place of quiet worship, and he had instilled that treasure into Elise throughout their precious moments of being together. It had been at least two years since she had felt that sensation, though it all seemed to rush back to her standing in this hundred-year-old house.

Bertie noticed that her daughter was lagging in the kitchen and asked, “You okay, Lise?” That jarred Elise out of her dreamland.

“Yeah. I’m fine. I Just—” She stopped, suddenly remembering who she was talking to, which house she was in.

“Why don’t you put your things away, upstairs?” Bertie said, with a small tone of impatience in her voice. She had never liked it when Elise brooded. Elise turned toward a small hallway with a set of narrow stairs going into the attic space atop the house. The maple floors creaked loudly with every step Elise took forward. She got to the lavender colored door with her name and a few flowers painted across the center and pushed it open, slowly. The smell of old wood, almost musty, with the combination of something floral hit Elise’s senses hard. That smell, her smell, home. This had been her sanctuary, her reprieve, both from the outside world and also from her mother and the constant stream of boyfriends that had made their mark on the house over the years.

Elise put her suitcase in the corner by the closet and lay across her double bed with a mighty sigh. She closed her eyes and flashes of memories flooded across her mind. Scenes of her playing with primitive block sets as a small child, painting under her mother’s instruction, reading in the her bay window that looked out over the back garden to the small studio space her mother had made out of an old shed; countless days watching the snow fall, with a candle and a book the only things for company; lying on her floor listening to music with headphones on throughout junior high and high school while Bertie was downstairs making love to the next soon-to-be stranger; making love to her own husband in this very bed after a long and tiring argument. Elise let a lifetime’s worth of moments bombard her in this tiny attic room, her sanctuary, and soon found herself fast asleep from all the emotion that had been pulsating through her.


Leon woke up in the darkness of his living room. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep, but something had jarred him awake. He looked around confused and wiped his face with a swift stroke. He had seen a face, but whose? Then he remembered where he was, who he was, the face that haunted him, and a quick tear slipped down his cheek. Elise. The face he always saw but could no longer hold, no longer comfort. He desperately missed her, but he had held it together for the last few months just fine—that is—until her saw her again just a few weeks ago. His body ached for her; he could smell her, feel her, see her. He stood up and lit a candle, since his light fixtures still weren’t installed, and made his way toward the kitchen.

Leon opened the fridge and gazed for a long time inside, his mind wandering. He spotted what he came for and grabbed it quickly, forcing himself to wake up. Since he had gone to rehab almost a year before, Leon no longer kept anything remotely alcoholic within reach, though sometimes the urge to get lost in a drink was still overwhelming to him. So, he kept drinks that would give him the sensation, without the punishment. His favorite new alternative was a fermented probiotic drink that gave the zesty kick of a beer without any of the side effects of alcohol. It seemed to do the trick. He knew that he really needed to change his mindset about “fixing” himself and not rely on these types of remedies, but for now, this would do.

He went back to his living room and sat on the couch. He pulled out his phone and looked through the contacts. There she was, still as his only emergency contact: “Green Eyes” with a picture of her standing in front of his parents house at “Villa Ekklesia” four years ago on their anniversary. How could he have been so careless? How could he have let her go? He had been a selfish coward and now he was paying dearly for it. God, he missed her. He toyed around with calling her. What time was it? Nine thirty. That was probably too late for a phone call. He didn’t know where she was, who she was with. It was Christmas Eve and she was probably out with people. Or worse, alone with no one. The thought of that sent Leon into more sadness, knowing that he was to blame for her loneliness, or so he thought. He dialed her number.


The phone buzzed in her coat pocket, waking Elise up from her deep sleep. Her eyes burned a little from the tears that had lodged themselves in her eyes before she fell asleep, so she couldn’t quite read the name on the phone. She answered sleepily, “Hello?” Leon waited, breathing as quietly as he could, waited for her to say something else. “Hello? Who is this?”

“Merry Christmas.” Was all he could bring himself to say, his emotions surging inside him like a volcano about to erupt.

“Leon?” Elise took the phone from her ear and looked at the screen. It was him. “What time is it?” She said, confused.

“It’s late, I shouldn’t have—”

“No. Please. It’s okay.” She interrupted him. Leon’s heart leapt inside him causing him to almost stutter. Elise sat up and looked at the clock on the wall. Ten thirty. It was late. Yet, somehow, she was glad. Her hands were shaking a little and she was having a difficult time not breathing too shallowly. “You alright?” She asked, genuinely.

Leon waited before he responded, rubbing his forehead with his left hand, not sure of what to say. “I’m alright. I just, I called, I–” He couldn’t go on. He stood up and began to pace. “It’s Christmas, you know?”

“Yeah,” She said wearily, “I know.”

“It’s Christmas and I really miss my wife. God. Elise, I miss you. There. I said it.” He sighed and waited for her to hang up, expected it. But she didn’t. She was on the other end trying not to let him hear her sob. She held her hand over her mouth, the tears flowing uncontrollably.  She shuddered, trying to breathe. “Baby?” He asked, gently. She nodded, then realized he couldn’t see her. “I’m sorry. This was all wrong. I shouldn’t have called you.” Leon paced back and forth, almost knocking the candle off the table in his vigor.

“No.” She finally managed to get out. “I’m glad you did.” She let out a long, whimpered sigh, trying to take a single breath, trying to live through this conversation. “I’m really glad.” She wiped her face with anything she could get ahold of, the tears staining. Leon sat back down, knowing that everything would be alright, for now.

“How’s Bertie?” Leon asked, trying to keep things casual, off topic.

“How she always is.” Elise said, somewhat sarcastically, but with an edge of truth.

“I hope you are with her, I mean, I hope you’re with someone. Shit. I’m messing this all up.”

“Leon, it’s okay. You don’t have to try so hard. I’m still me.”

“Maybe that’s the problem.” He said, with regret. “We’re both still us. I wanted so badly for it to be different.”

“I know you did.” Elise said, gravely. “But here we are. Us.”

“Us.” Leon sighed into the phone. “But not us. Not together.” Elise waited for him to go on, waited for the lecture, for the argument to start. She flinched, waiting for whatever hurtful words would come out of his mouth next. After all, they had gotten good at fighting, before she had left. She heard a whimper on the other end of the line that made her heart fall. And then a sniffle, covered by a gruff inhalation. Leon was trying to cover his tears.

“I’m sorry. I am so sorry, Elise.” He let the words out, between deep, sorrowful breaths. She began to cry anew at the sound of his voice in distress. Would it never cease, this pain? They both stayed on the line, crying with each other, trying to reconcile the vast ocean of loneliness that was between them, but struggling with every breath.

“Leon,” She whispered, “I miss you. I feel like a piece of my soul is missing without you.” She heard him sharply inhale as she confessed the words that he had been longing for so long to hear. “But I can’t be with you right now. I just can’t. Please. Give me time. Give me more time.” He knew that she was right. They were both too broken to make it work now. He had known for a long time, deep down, that he had been undeserving of her and had hurt her too much. But still, he had hoped. She needed more time, more space. Something inside of her was still hesitant, still wanting, and he could never give that to her, no matter how much he loved her.

“I love you” was all he could muster himself to say, at this point. “I love you, Elise Burke.” Hearing her full name said by him, so similar to the day he had said it to her for the first time, brought a surge of emotion to her, a flood of memories. She looked down at the screen, at his face on the contact card, and kissed it while tears continued to flow onto her lap.

“Wait for me.” She said and quickly hung up. Leon sat in the dim light of his living room, his ears ringing with those last words. His chest was warm and damp and he realized as he looked down that he had soaked his shirt through with tears, the first he had been able to cry in months. His mouth tasted salty and a bit like tin foil; he had bitten his lip in his fervor. He licked his fingers and singed the candle on the table, staring out into the darkness. It began to snow outside; large white flakes cascaded into the lamplight and onto the street below. Another white Christmas. Leon heard her voice inside his head again. Wait for me. He wiped his face with both hands and got up to get ready for bed, ready for a deep sleep, ready for a new day.

Three hundred miles away, Elise was also in the dark, ready for something different, feeling like there was hope on the horizon. Wait for me. Wait.










Cutting In (15)


The record player skipped and crackled and repeated, “there’s a…there’s a…”

“What is it, Ella? There’s a WHAT?” Leon chuckled to himself as he jumped over the couch and shuffled down the hall to the turntable. He gingerly lifted the needle and placed it just forward of the spot that “Ella” had been having a difficult time with. “Oh. A lull. There’s a lull in your life. Yeah, I feel you sister.”

“Are you talking to the record player again?” Elise said as she sidled up beside Leon with a smirk on her face.

“It’s a rough life for Ella. Always stuck in the same old groove.” Leon couldn’t help from cracking himself up.

“Alright, Mr. Humor. We have to finish the wall if we’re going to get anything done in that living room.” She held a paintbrush up to him and turned back toward the living room. Ella continued crooning into the hollows of their new apartment, soaking the ancient hardwood floors and plaster walls with her luxurious, milky, timeless tunes of broken hearts and empty dreams. Leon seemed to require quite a lot of melancholy to inspire him; jazz just scratched the surface of his lust for the dramatic.

Elise was holding a wide mouth mason jar full of a deep, smoky, satin purple paint. It hadn’t been Leon’s first choice, but the man at the hardware store seemed to have single-handedly convinced Elise of the grave importance of painting one’s first home with “flare” and “gravity” and she had completely bought into it. Leon didn’t particularly care about the living room anyway. His baby was the kitchen and she let him have complete autonomy over that sphere, so he was happy.

They had been married almost a year; a good, perfect, marvelous year. They had gotten to travel, make copious amounts of love, and had even recently found a beautiful place to live that they both agreed on. This particular apartment was classic Chicago. The top floor of a neighborhood walk-up, it was long and cavernous; a bay window faced street side, complete with a living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms. It was ample for their meager lifestyle. A perfect starting place for a young couple.

“Can you pass me that rag?” Elise gestured to the floor near Leon’s foot. He tossed it toward her, attempting to be gentle but missing and hitting her shoulder. “Nice shot.” She said sarcastically.

“Speaking of…” Leon nodded toward the wall where Elise had been cutting in around the window.


“Are you done with that section?” Elise looked back toward the window. Little divots and smudge marks in succession up the entirety of the window were beginning to dry.

“It’s fine.”

“I don’t think cutting in is your strength, E.”

“Oh come on! I’ve always cut in. My Mom is a professional artist for God’s sake.”

“She’s a stained glass artist.”

“And you’re a chef.” Elise said, with a bit of bite.


“I’ve been painting since I was a child.” She was clenching the brush in her hand and didn’t notice it dripping on the floor in her passion.

“Hey. Uh. You’re dripping.”

“Gah!” She said in exasperation.

“It’s okay. I’ll get the rag.” He went over to her and wiped the flooring off with the damp rag. Then he reached up and smeared a tiny streak of the purple paint across her face, not unlike a warrior tattoo.

“What are you doing?!” She shrieked.

“Your turn.” He moved his jaw to the side a bit so she could have a bigger palette.


“Come on, lay it on. Make it look cool.” He smirked. Elise dipped the tip of  her brush in the jar and began to paint on Leon’s face.

“Turn to the other side.” She was focused. After a minute, she finished and laughed out loud.

“Okay. Let me finish yours.” He said, excitedly. He absently stuck his tongue out a little bit as he focused; he did that often when he was really honing in on something. “Wallah!” Elise was a little nervous, but eager to see what creation he had come up with. She was still giggling from the marks she put on him. He walked to the bathroom and she followed him. They stood side by side in front of the tiny vanity and inspected their artwork.

“What is this?!” He exclaimed, laughing.

“I would think you would recognize that shape anywhere, dearest.” Elise said, with a heavy dose of sarcasm.

“You drew two saggy boobs on my face!” He was cracking himself up, trying not to smear the paint as a few burning tears slipped down his cheeks. “That certainly was a surprise!” Elise inspected hers and couldn’t quite get a handle on what the image was.

“I’m stumped.”

“It’s Greek.” Elise inspected it further. “Ἔρως”

“I recognize that word.”

“Eros. Romantic love.” Elise blushed and tried to hide the huge smile that was taking over her face.

“You know, when I was a kid, my mom used to send me to this total hippie artist camp. I think she just liked having me out of the house for a week at a time. Anyway, one year, the camp theme was ‘art of the indigenous peoples of the middle west’ or something similarly ridiculous. One of the days, I remember being absolutely shocked. I was probably like eleven or twelve and this man had brought all these artifacts in from excavations they had done in Ohio and Kentucky. They were clay figures of female anatomy. We’re talking serious jugs. And I remember going home that afternoon and taking my shirt off and looking in the mirror and being horrified at thinking that my body—my petite little body—would have to carry those things around my whole life Luckily, I got apples instead of watermelons.” She chuckled.

“Let’s have a look.” Leon said playfully, attempting to lift up her shirt. She slapped his hand away and ran back toward the living room. She picked up the paintbrush and applied more paint to it. Leon came running after her, but flinched halfway there when he saw her pick up the brush. She found a blank spot on the wall and proceeded to drawn more egregious versions of human anatomy. Leon stood back and inspected, not believing that this was the gentle, prudish wife he had known up to this moment. He couldn’t help but laugh.

“What?!” She asked. “That’s kind of what it looks like.” She stepped back and admired her outrageous drawing.

“You took art classes?” Leon laughed through his teeth as he said it.

“For six years.” Leon looked at Elise trying not to seem cruel, but severely judging her skills in this particular field. “I’m so bad.” She began to laugh too. “I’m probably the worst painter alive.” Now they were both laughing hysterically, trying not to spill more paint as they came to realization that Elise was not quite the home decorator she aspired to be.

“No babe. I’m sure there are worse painters out there. Like, maybe three year olds.” They both slid to the floor cackling at themselves. Elise soft punched Leon’s arm and went to hit him again, but he caught her and spun her toward him. She straddled his lap and faced him. She traced the lines of the saggy boobs that she had drawn on his face.

“Happy Birthday, Mr. Burke. Sorry to have kept you indoors painting all night.”

“Honestly, this is one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. A little wine, my two favorite women, and a good laugh are all I need.”


“There will always be Ella. She was my first love. Does that make you jealous?”

“It would, if she were still alive. And if you didn’t have two old lady boobs painted on your face. Where’s that rag?” She looked around and couldn’t find it. She slipped her shirt off over her head and dipped it in her water cup. She wiped the paint off of his face, staring deeply into his eyes.

“Mrs. Burke, I do believe those are mangoes, not apples.” Leon said, gazing fondly at his wife’s ample breasts, still covered by her bra. He took the rag from her and wiped her face clean, too.

“Eros.” She whispered, marking some profound meaning deep inside of her for future safekeeping. He stroked her face, her hair, her chin.

“My E. My favorite E.”

“Even more than Ella?” She implored.

“Even more than Ella.” He said, with a sense of gravity. She kissed him playfully, just brushing her lips across his, waiting for him to ignite. She loved to tease him. He paused, holding her gaze for a long moment. “I think maybe I should do the cutting in, from now on.” She couldn’t help but smile, kissing him passionately and pressing him against the wall. They were surrounded by disarray and unfinished projects, young and in love, and utterly unfazed by this new stage of life.