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.
“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.
“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.