I feel like this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever written. But it’s so fun. And it’s only the beginning.
And from his temple, the hair flowed in a quiet whirlwind of dull blonde, tinged gold at the tips and sprouting brown at the crown. He smelled like an art store and never wore clean pants. His socks were always mismatched, some quirky pattern that was just as confusing as the dull smirk he always flashed at old ladies. He reminded me of a tree during autumn, a tree that was once used to carve initials into.
That was Arnold. He was a weird kid, much too confident with all of his mismatching features, too confident for a kid who grew up stealing half eaten breakfast sandwiches out of garbage bins. People didn’t know about that, and he’d never tell them. His voice was deeper than you’d expect it to be, his nose rounded and his lips pouted. He wore thin rounded glasses, with thick lenses that made his eyes look a bit too large.
But his smile… Toothy and slightly crooked, could make any heart warm to his features.
I met him for the first time at an art gallery.
I had just graduated college with a creative writing major. It wasn’t a great time for me, I’ll admit. I remember moping around feeling largely unsuccessful and unsure that I would actually succeed in becoming the next J.K. Rowling (a childhood dream that rewarded me many a pitying glances) I was living with my aunt, in a nice three story house near a cemetery in Philly. She was letting me live with her so long as I did all the cleaning and cooking. She was a dreadfully lazy lady, and I wasn’t quite sure what she actually did for a living. My sister always theorized that she was secretly a drug dealer, or some kind of illegal saleswoman, but we just couldn’t see her putting that much effort into making money. She was quite overweight, enjoyed Korean dramas and spaghetti sauce plain. But what could I say? She was letting me live in this grand house with her for minimal payment, so all of these things were fine with me.
At some point after I moved in, I started to get quite depressed. I would lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling until drool passed over my lip. I wouldn’t move until my leg fell asleep and I had to shake away the pins and needles. I’d watch the same tv shows over and over until they all blurred together and I could recite the lines before the characters appeared onscreen. A week went by without showering or brushing my hair. My pitts became forests and my legs grasslands. Still, my aunt said nothing. She came home and patted me on the head, murmured something under her breath and then shut herself in her room to eat ramen and watch the bachelorette.
It was like I was trapped in some sort of lucid dream where I couldn’t move my body, I just saw the world moving around me.
On a rather uneventful Wednesday morning, my aunt must have had enough of something because she burst from her room in a rage. Satin pink night robe clinging to roundness, hair curlers and the like, her face a steaming dumpling.
She barked at me, causing me to lurch from my position on the couch.
“Enough. Shave yourself, put on some nice clothes and go somewhere. I’m not letting you back in the house until you come back with proof that you’ve been out with someone.”
And with that, she picked me up by my arms and dragged me up the steps. It was a pitiful sight, something that I now laugh about.
I moaned that I was tired and useless, and she released me on my carpet.
“You’re young. Curvy and thick as a pear under those ratty old sweatpants. Just go out and explore. Get a man and let him excite you. Then you’ll find something to write about.”
I started to say something about how I was a strong independent woman who don’t need no man, but she shushed me and told me that wasn’t the point.
“Then what is the point.”
“The point is you aren’t some foul deformed creature as I am. You have no reason to be sulking like this, it’s sickening. Don’t get a man then. But go experience something you can write about. Here.”
She shoved an envelope in my face. I opened it to find a ticket to the art museum.
I looked up at her quizzically.
“Just go. You’re a writer. Writers like weird things, right? There’s weird things there. Now shower and brush your hair out girl, you’re looking like you got a tumbleweed on your shoulders.”
She left me to continue whatever it was she did during the day. I stared at the ticket, not especially expensive. I could have bought an it myself, but for some reason she went out of her way to go downtown and buy it for me. That meant I had to go. I would feel too guilty otherwise. I needed the change of scenery. I was started to lose myself in this strange eggshell blue mansion.
I showered, shaved, curled my hair and found a black dress and tights. I found some soft brown shoes with bows and an opal ring in my jewelry box. It was the most effort I had put into my appearance in weeks. It also made me realize, wow, I really needed to get a job. I hummed on my way out, slinging a leathery purse over my shoulder and across my hip. Art. That always seemed to awaken me during these dry spells. Perhaps I would get a spark for my first bestseller.
I took the bus and walked several blocks until the famous steps from Rocky were in sight. I watched people run up and down them, laughing and playing the accompanying music on their iPods. I ascended them lightly, nearly hopping. It felt so good to be out, to just see the statue and the large, looming architecture.
I went in, went crazy exploring. I wandered and wandered, taking my time to carefully examine each painting. I found myself more drawn to the works with people. The stranger the better. I have always been enraptured by people, their odd mannerisms and expressions that create enigmas worthy of taking place in my stories. I never cared much for landscapes of mountains or lakes. I wanted to see faces and hearts. I stood in front of the wall, apprehending.
There was a loud voice making comments across the room. I paid it no mind. The voice drew closer, moving behind my back until it stood beside me.
“Hello you strange beautiful girl.”
I blinked, unsure who he was talking to, so I stayed looking at the painting. He cocked his head, as if checking for some kind of physical reaction. He got none.
“You’re into nudity then?”
I looked at him that time, making a face. Yeah. A weird guy with blonde hair and glasses stood beside me. His jeans were so tiny yet they still managed to hang loose on him. They were black and stiff, rolled at the ankle and ripped at the knee. They were covered in pink and yellow paint splatters, and his fingers were black with ink. He was strange to behold, perhaps more than the work in front of me.
“There’s a naked man over there.”
“I’m not looking at that one yet,” I said impatiently.
He looked absolutely delighted that I responded.
“You look like an artist.”
“I’m a writer,” I snapped.
“Oh? Really? Wow. Yeah. That’s cool. You need a muse? I’ll be your muse.”
“Write about the exciting guy you met at the art museum. A real character he was, that Eggbert Noodleham… He was a seahorse carcass of a man, and still managed to carry that body of an arrogant noodle.”
I did my best not to react, but his words were so unexpected that I ended up giving him another face.
He turned away and was quiet for a few minutes before he leapt back into conversation.
“Actually, my name is Arnold.
He stuck out his hand. His fingers were twiggy and held little knicks around the short fingernails and pink knuckles. He wore a gold ring on his awkward, jutting thumb.
I stared at his hand, and then his odd grey-blue eyes behind the fishbowl frames. I took it, as one might take a jar of worms a child has excitedly handed their squeamish mother.
“Odette,” I said.
“Like swan lake?” He sounded so excited.
“I guess so.”
“How grand of your parents! You know what?”
“I bet you’re here looking for something to write about.”
He did a dramatic wink.
“If you don’t want to write about me… You should come to my art club. There’s a lot more muse worthy people there.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small index card. He held it out as if it were a rose. I plucked it from his hand, narrowing my eyes.
You are invited to attend
Whimsical illustrators Together
Pst. Address on the back
I looked at the messy handwriting and then up at the beaming face.
“We meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at four. Come sometime.”
And with that, he walked away with a certain bounce to his step that caught glances from haggard looking adults clustered in the gallery.
I blinked, still holding the card.
I met someone, and now I wanted to go back inside and not meet people ever again.