Submit (Page 3)

Submit (Songs of Submission #3)(3)
Author: C.D. Reiss

Kevin didn’t sleep well. Unlike workaholics and TV addicts, he wanted desperately to sleep a full night, and unlike most insomniacs, he fell soundly to sleep at a decent hour. But about four times a week, he awoke in the early hours of the morning with a pounding, anxious pain in his chest. I woke up when he shifted. I held him, stroked his hair, hummed, but nothing put him back to sleep except me playing the viola. We had a tune we shared, a lullaby I wrote for him with my fingers and arm. I never wrote it down because it became as real as the bond between us, and it ceased to exist when that bond broke.

So I played it for him in that first0draft installation that looked more like a storage room than a homage to a breakup. And he watched me with his butt leaning on the table, and his ankles and arms crossed. I let the last note drift off. The song had no end; I’d always just played it until his breathing became level and regular.

“Sounds like shit,” I said.

“I don’t know what you were doing, playing that.”

“Maybe you can tell me what you were doing putting my shit in a museum without telling me.”

“I was scared.”

I laid the instrument in its case. “Of?”

“The piece was happening, and I wasn’t fighting about it.”

“I want my jeans back.” This was ridiculous. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about my f**king jeans. I just wanted to provide him with the exact thing he didn’t want. I wanted to fight him.

“The whole thing is sold. Even the books and catalogs are sold out. You’d be after me and some collector on a Spanish island. Our lawyers would have lawyers.”

“This is not fair,” I whispered, stroking the brittle strings of my lost viola.

“I know. None of it was.”

I knew he didn’t just mean his piece. He meant everything from the minute we met to the moment I finished playing our lullaby. I felt emotionally dehydrated and raw at the edges.

“I should go.” I snapped my case shut. “Thanks for not putting this in the piece.”

I turned to walk out, and like a cat, he jumped in front of me, putting his hands on my cheeks. “You’re happy? With this new guy?”

“Jonathan. You know his name.”

“Are you happy?”

“It’s casual.”

“You? Tweety Bird? I don’t believe it.”

I’d forgotten that. He called me his canary when he was feeling warm and affectionate. How convenient for me to overlook that when he felt confronted in the slightest, or distant, or overwhelmed, he called me Tweety Bird. I never knew if he even realized the name he used for me said more about him than it did about me.

“Take your hands off my face,” I said. His fingers fell off my cheeks as if they melted away. “I don’t mean to be callous, Kevin. I don’t want to fall into life unintentionally any more. Jonathan has a purpose.” His eyebrows went up half a tick. That had to be answered. “Get your mind out of the gutter.”

Out of the gutter meant one thing to the rest of the world and the opposite to us. It meant, Stop thinking it’s about money.

“You know, I didn’t ask you to come here to talk about us. If you could give me another ten minutes, we can sit in the kitchen, and I’ll make you some tea. Properly. I want to pitch something to you.”

I looked at my watch. I had the night shift. “You have half an hour.”

He leaned down a little to look me in the face with his big chocolate-coin eyes. “Thank you.”

He walked quickly back to the kitchen. He made tea with efficiency and grace, speaking with a catch of thrill in his voice I hadn’t heard in a long time. I couldn’t have gotten a word in edgewise if I’d wanted.

“We all make art about these big concepts. We feel like we need to put it all under a cultural umbrella if we want to get into the lexicon, but I haven’t cried in front of a piece of art since I was in college. It’s because the whole scene is up in its head. Banksy’s scribbling culture, Barbara Kruger’s still yelling about consumer culture, John Currin’s talking about sex and culture, and Frank Hermaine is… I don’t even know what that guy is talking about. No one’s doing anything about the stuff that matters, stuff that gets us up in the morning and rocks us to sleep at night. When I realized this, I started being thankful you walked out. I mean… not really, but it made me realize that nothing I was doing made a damn bit of difference or touched anyone, and I thought if I could take that pain I felt and put it in a room, so when someone walked into that room who was going through the same thing, they’d recognize it. They’d say, yes, I’m connected to this. I’m feeling it. Can you imagine it? The bond? The potential? The power?”

In the middle of his pitch, he’d sat down, and like a coiled spring, perched on the edge of the seat, his legs splayed, heels rocking his seat back onto the corners of the legs. His elbows were angled to the tabletop, hands gesturing.

How young I’d been to fall so deeply in love with his enthusiasm. “So this is what you were trying to do with the Eclipse piece?”

“I was trying to exorcise you with that, trying to figure it out so I could get rid of you. But it made me think about what something truly personal could mean as a visual narrative, and then I thought, maybe it’s not a visual narrative. Maybe it’s a multi-media narrative, with one party speaking to the visual and another to the aural.” As if reacting to my expression, he leaned forward even farther. “Before you think anything, both narratives need to fight each other. There needs to be an aesthetic tension until it all goes black and silent. It’s an experience of fullness before death. Pow.”

I sipped my tea. He needed to wait for me to think. I wasn’t f**king him anymore. I didn’t have to jump like a brainless fangirl on every idea he pitched me. Except it was a good idea. Everything about it could be beautiful, a truly moving experience, a three-dimensional cinema of tone.

“You’re not talking about a linear narrative,” I said.

“Of course not.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, what?”

“You should do it. But without my toiletries.”

“Fuck your toiletries. I want you.”

I took a long breath through my nose and closed my eyes. I needed to avoid lashing out. He couldn’t have meant it sexually. Couldn’t.

“Let me rephrase that,” he said.

“Please.”

“It’s a collaboration. You do the aural, obviously.”