She wasn’t a musician. She just loved music. Opera chilled her and ripped through her body like fireworks when she saw and heard it live. She wanted Sam to take her to the opera tonight. She could get the tickets easily from her friend. But it was 7:30 and Sam was still not home from work.
Lily was an artist, a drinking, smoking, dancing, party it up painter. She painted Sam once, in his underclothes--black silk boxers with a drawstring waist. He was perfect for her to paint, body-wise. Subject-wise he was way too energetic. She sat him in a huge wicker chair and posed him comfortable in a lounging position. She thought it would give him a chance to finally relax. Relax for me, she said to him. But he had a hard time with it. He fidgeted with a loose straw piece on the arm of the chair. He looked around him, flitting his eyes from one painting to another in Lily’s studio.
Lily sat back on the fluffy cushions of the couch, letting her spine sink into its softness. She closed her eyes, hearing La Boheme in her head. She had an urge to paint, slapping bold strokes of anger on the canvas with Sam’s profile in the center. The opera would start at 8:00.
After a few minutes, she drew herself off the couch. As she walked to the bedroom, she slipped out of her tight black evening gown, then kicked off her suede heels, tugged her pantyhose off and dropped the fake gold choker from her neck. She left this trail of clothes littered on the floor and put on her white painting shirt; an oversized button down with paint stains covering the material that had sunken comfortably into the weaves.
Lily’s studio was in a loft room on the second floor of the small house. For her birthday three years ago, Sam had an entire wall of the studio made into glass so Lily could look out into the rolling hills and lush forests of central Missouri. Sometimes, a long while ago it seemed to Lily, she and Sam would lay together on the old couch that faced these windows and watch the sun fall beautifully from the sky, in gloriously rich colors, like the ones Lily loved to use in her work. The last time Sam was in the studio was a few months ago when Lily begged him to pose for her--the silk boxer portrait. Her work was often abstract, so her version of a portrait included swift brush strokes, vibrant colors and hazy lines. She still had not completed the portrait she now called “Sam in silk.” It was leaning up against an easel at the side of the room. Every time she put it up to work on it, she drew a blank. All the lines on the page that made up her half naked husband were a blur. He acted differently toward her now. She didn’t know what to make of it. She pushed out of her mind, quickly, the thought that he may be having an affair.
On her stool, with her pair legs perched in the horizontal posts, she took a large brush in hand and dabbed it into a glob of brick red paint she’d just squeezed from its tube. Today her strokes were quick and exact, like the swiping claw of a cat. There were no concrete images today, just angry strokes of red clustered in tight circles on the canvas. The center cluster was a broken circle. Lily began to add black to some of the clusters, white to others, and a clashing shade of red to the center one. As she brushed hair out of her eyes, she left a streak of paint on her cheek. It was 8:30 when Lily heard the door downstairs slam shut.
“Lily?” Sam’s voice.
She did not answer. Slowly, she washed out her brushes and placed them on the brush shelf. Sam could be heard taking of his suit coat and rattling hangers in the bedroom closet. “Lily?”
She waited until he had reached the kitchen, and she was sure he had no intention of coming up to her studio, before she went downstairs. Sam was standing over the sink drinking a glass of water. He wore a white button-down and had loosened his solid blue tie. Even after five years of marriage, Lily got a thrill sensation in her stomach when she saw him in his dress clothes. His black hair was tousled on his head.
“There you are,” Sam said as Lily entered the room. “Been painting?”
Lily chose not to reply and poured herself a glass of wine. It was the cheap stuff in the bright blue bottle. It made no difference to Lily. She seated herself, leaning back against the chair with her elbow on the kitchen table and the glass of wine hovering just above the table surface in her hand.
“What’s the matter?” Sam asked. He put down his glass, sighed, and sat across from his wife. They did not look at each other. “What did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything, Sam.” Lily said quietly. “It’s what you didn’t do that matters.”
He didn’t ask the obvious question, but instead sat completely still with a contorted expression on his face.
“Jane was going to give me tickets to the opera tonight. I waited for you to come home after work. You didn’t. You didn’t call.” Lily sloshed her wine, gulped down the rest and exited the room. Sam did not follow for a long while. When he finally did enter the living room, he went straight to Lily, sat behind her on the couch, because she was sitting sideways with her left leg on the cushions before her. He eased her shoulders back until she was leaning on his chest. His arm rested comfortably around her. “I’m sorry,” he said. Lily turned and buried her face in his chest.
The following morning, Sam gave Lily a peck on the cheek as he left for work. She watched him get into the Cavalier and wished he would kiss her on the mouth, long and slow.
Lily smoked four cigarettes within an hour. She busied herself in her studio. She cleaned brushes, again, straightened the leaning stacks of empty, unfinished and finished canvases. She even cleaned the window wall with glass cleanser and newspaper so her view of the hills would be more precise.
She skipped lunch, taking a vodka and tonic into the bathroom as she showered. Lily soaked herself with the water spray for an hour. When she finally emerged, she downed her drink in four satisfying gulps.
Wrapping herself in a towel, Lily went to the bedroom to put lotion on her legs. She sat on the edge of the bed, facing a bay window that looked out into the back yard. She squeezed lotion from a bottle and the scent of guava filled her senses. The pink cream rubbed smoothly into her skin. As she massaged it on her leg, her towel loosened and fell to the bed. She paid no attention. Taking her time, she applied lotion to her other leg and rubbed the excess into her arms.
She screamed, bolted up and hugged the towel to her neck. It fell to her knees, flimsily covering the front of her body. It was Sam. He stood in the doorway with a look Lily hadn’t seen in a long time. His mouth curved into a half smile. His eyes seemed playful as they kept still, resting on her.
Sam went to Lily, uncertainly, hesitating as he skirted the bed. He eased the towel from her grasp, letting it drop, lifeless, to the floor.
Lily felt as if she’d found a precious gift that had been lost and given up on long ago.
A while later, Sam and Lily sat at the kitchen table sharing a bowl of strawberries. “Why did you come home early today?” Lily asked. Sam shrugged and bit off the juicy fruit from its fragile stem. Lily watched intently as he chewed the fruit, hoping he would elaborate after he swallowed. He didn’t. “What? Did they close the bank early for some reason?”
“I worked so late last night, I felt like I could skip out on half of today,” Sam said.
“Joe didn’t mind?”
“He told me they’d probably sign more loans without me.”
Lily moved over and placed herself carefully on Sam’s lap. With her arms around his neck, she laid her head on his shoulder. After a few moments, too long, he rested his head gently on hers.
“I feel different, Lily.”
“About what?” she asked, careful not to move or spoil his willingness to talk to her.
“I don’t think I can explain.”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It’s too late,” Lily whispered into his warm neck.
“I don’t want to hear that.”
“I don’t want to hear what’s in my head either.”
“Sam... what do you want?”
Reluctantly, Lily got up from his lap. She slid onto the table, facing him. She bit into one of the strawberries to keep from crying out of confusion. No more questions were asked. They were both waiting for Sam to continue. Lily’s stomach sank as the silence stretched into minutes. “The other day when you went into the post office, I could see you the entire time from the car, through the full length glass windows. I could see you wait in line with your arms relaxed at your sides. I saw you rifle through your purse to find cash. I saw your mouth move as you asked for the stamps from the old man at the counter. Your lips moved quickly, but I swear you just said, ‘A book please.’ All I could think while I watched you was don’t come back here to me. Don’t get back in the car with me. Walk away. Go somewhere else. Yet I was in awe of your beauty. I registered the fact that your calf was showing because of the slit in your skirt.”
Lily put another strawberry in her mouth.
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