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fresh new fiction from Rose Lambert-Sluder


Rose Lambert-Sluder


But so wait—what was it that I just ate? I need to count before I can sleep, and I need to focus before I can count. Cold vegetables from Szechwan takeout: snap peas, onions, baby bok choy. Baby bok choy is crazy healthy but it was drenched in plum sauce; plum sauce was trapped in each little waterslide leaf. I ate little enough that Chad won’t notice any missing tomorrow or picture me standing in the kitchen at night, eating with my fingers. He’s not too observant anyway. Let’s call it 100, 130 with the fortune cookie. Dumb, to eat a fortune cookie. Although, what can 30 do, actually? If I crushed the cookie and rubbed it onto my body, onto my thighs, the difference would be literally imperceptible. Obviously that logic doesn’t work. But just in theory, if the food particles were to be converted directly to fat cells, the fat cells added would be negligible. And there were glass noodles. Add 100. Let’s say 120 to be safe. 

     So this morning I had coffee at Chad’s—negligible. He offered me a Toaster Strudel but I declined, which was easy. Toaster Strudels are probably the worst thing you can put in your body, as I told him. He smeared one with peanut butter then mixed in the frosting until it turned an awful raw sienna. Of course, he didn’t think twice. But why should he? I did have some Fruity Pebbles—100 at most, including milk—which was weird, to eat his daughter’s Fruity Pebbles, as if I were eating his daughter’s candy, especially with her staring over her coloring book from across the table, pounding a frantic rhythm with her crayon on the edge of a bowl. I said, Did you know that I’m an artist, too? She just kept staring and pounding. Chad says he cooks. But the one time I came over for dinner, the quiche crust was frozen and the filling had turned gray. Although I guess it’s not like I’ve cooked for him. 

     That was early; I started eating before eight. Then Chad said I’d better skedaddle because his daughter had school, as if he needed to tell me to skedaddle, as if I weren’t already skedaddling. I had to put in time at the studio before the award ceremony. 

     After breakfast I was starving so I stopped at a gas station and bought a Salted Nut Roll, which I know is 240 and has high fructose corn syrup. But the peanuts, at least, have good fats.  Plus something about the rain makes my blood sugar feel low. I ate in the car where water droplets daubed the windows and blurred the Bloomington landscape, which is more like non-landscape—parking lots, a giant donut revolving on a pillar, water on the pavement blending with rainbow oil. No one talked up March in Indiana. 

     Okay so next, what?  Next the beef stick. When I turned on the ignition to head to the studio, the dashboard exclaimed at me in yellow—it was practically imperative that I get my oil changed. Maybe not imperative, but I didn’t want to risk it and the Lube It U.S.A. was right next door. I was still hungry, so I ran back into the gas station to buy a beef stick, which has only 85, with seven grams of protein. 

     Here was my mistake of the morning: the waiting room at Lube It U.S.A. had a basket of chewy granola bars, the kind that people leave in the bottom of their bags, then throw away after months. Nothing but soy, sugar, oil, carbs. I sometimes wonder, what does a gram of fat look like? I picture a tiny glob, like acrylic dried on the bottle cap, breaking down inside my stomach. Fortunately I threw away about a third of the granola bar before I could finish it, so let’s say 75. 

     It would have been smart to sketch while I was waiting, but my sketchbook was in the studio. If I were my one of classmates, I would probably have approached a mechanic and negotiated buying a dozen hubcaps for a found commodity sculpture, or something. But those people “make objects.” I just make paintings. A couple undergrad girls in black leggings were also waiting. Mechanics in their grease smocks sometimes walked lightly through the room to the receptionist, passing all the girls staring at their phones, and either pretend to look at none or clearly look at them all. Probably they made a game of it to kill time. I made my own game, seeing whether they looked at me. Each one did. The receptionist wore stretchy white slacks that contoured her curves and also the cellulite in her curves, with her thong bleeding teal through the unfortunate whiteness. The men probably made a game of that, too, those days with the thongs and the slacks. Which reminded me. 

     Being reminded, I had to head all the way across town to the Shoppes at Prospect Centre to buy a pair of no-lines panties for my dress tonight. Yet another mistake—I ate the orange chicken sample that the tiny girl by Ming Dynasty Express was pushing. Let’s call it 60. 

     My dress is black on the bottom, white on the top, black being the color that conceals, white being the color that reveals. With a no-lines panty you would have to scrutinize me to see the panty lines. For a second I contemplated trying on a cute red dress, but I know those fitting rooms, where the lights are cruelly positioned right above you and even the slimming mirrors can’t hide divots of cellulite. It wasn’t worth it.  

     So then the strawberry bon-bon. On the way out of that department store, you have to pass all the fancy makeup counters like stalls in a bazaar. But instead of hawkers shouting at you the women just say, hello, hello, good morning, and make you say hello back as if you are neighbors. Watching you, their faces are like masks, so stiffened and thick with makeup, and mask after mask turns as you pass, smiling.  

     The studio was calling. It was. I needed to put in my hours for once. But, headed to the store exit, I remembered I was practically out of liquid blush, and I truly did need blush for the award ceremony so my face wouldn’t be a monochrome medium-beige. So I turned around and found the counter that carried my brand. A woman was perched, neatly composed, with a severe cream collar. She was older than me, maybe 30. If you looked closely, you could see the texture of acne scars under her concealer. 

     She asked how she could help me and said, you have such a pretty face, by the way, such high cheekbones and gorgeous eyes. 

     Of course, she works on commission. I told her what I needed. Light glinted off the counter’s triptych of mirrors and into a bowl of strawberry bon-bons—bon-bons as in those candies that masquerade as strawberries, obviously, not the chocolate-covered almond or apricot creams that I picture odalisques eating on fainting couches, with fans of peacock feathers lying at their side.

     She said, glimmer or matte? I said matte, please. She said, I think your skin wants glimmer. 

     When she told me to go ahead and have a seat, I did, unsure how to refuse. 

     She primed my face with foundation and brushed my cheeks. With her face so close to mine, I could see each spider leg of her mascaraed lashes, so I closed my eyes. I wondered if she loved her job or hated it. 

     There, she said and when I opened my eyes she squinted at me as if I were her own piece in progress that she was assessing. She said, Look at that, what do you think, I think you look beautiful, it highlights your assets; so much better, I mean even better, than before. 

     My cheeks were a soft frosted pink. Maybe my face did want glimmer. I bought the blush, and also a bottle of that foundation, which with student debt may not be exactly practical, but it’s like buying sable hair paintbrushes instead of synthetic—an investment. 

     When she was ringing up my purchase, I took two bon-bons, one for later. With the light glossing the wrappers, the bowl seemed heaping with real strawberries, plump and wet. But they weren’t real, obviously; they were only hard candy. Let’s call it 15.  

     My blood sugar was somehow still low. Also I guess I didn’t get much sleep. Not because of the award ceremony, though—Chad and I were up late, which always happens we haven’t slept together for a week. I wasn’t nervous; I figured Elena Romero would get the Hutchinson prize. All first-years had to submit ten slides to the visiting artist, but Elena is Mexican and her work has tassels of shredded construction tape and tassels of shredded serapes, so she was the obvious pick. I submitted some old watercolors, which isn’t exactly the most popular medium here—apparently I’m the only MFA student who even uses it. They probably think it’s quaint. Plus most people submitted new work. I just didn’t have much new work to submit.  

     So on the way to campus I decided to stop at El Gran Burrito because their Fiesta Lime Burrito Bowlito is less than 300. They’re conservative with oil. Plus, all the lettuce and puffy rice and air between rice grains make it seem super substantial, to eat that whole Bowlito. Except it comes with tortilla chips, which are so treacherous I should really never go near them. 

     I was wrapping half the chips in a napkin to throw out, discreetly, when I saw Whitman.

     Whitman was eating a quesadilla at the next table. Digging a triangle into a miniature soufflé cup of cilantro sour cream, sort of breaking apart the soufflé cup to make sure he got it all. I have never seen him eat. There’s something strange about seeing a brilliant artist eat. A housemade Rice Krispie treat lay at his elbow. Around us, undergrads were hefting big foil burrito cylinders in their little hands. 

     Whitman’s head was right below the mural of ingredients—giant cheese, giant tomato, group of giant black beans. The giant cheese’s cartoon eyes were sort of leering at me with the ubiquitous gaze we used to learn about in college Art History. It was too late to move. So I said, Hi Professor Whitman, before he even saw me. 

     His complexion was an eggy yellow but more gray, which seemed right, as if the nightmare lights and the dark windows brought out true color in things. His face looked blank as if he didn’t recognize me, even though there are only ten of us in the painting program.  Some of my classmates call him by his first name, Julian—he gets coffee with them and gives extra studio visits. I asked him, how was the quesadilla?  Whitman’s glasses are tortoiseshell and somewhat trendy, which is interesting because you might think he’s too out there and obsessive an artist to even know what trends are, but I think not. I think he knows. 

     He said the food at El Gran Burrito was tasty but needed more flavor. I said that was true, although I hadn’t really thought about it.  At my last open critique, he criticized my piece—the small watercolor of thin figures, fine-tipped strokes in blended pinks and blues—for “aestheticizing the selfsame gender anxieties” that I was trying to comment on. Not that he was wrong and not that I don’t get it, but sometimes I feel like, don’t people remember learning the root of “aesthetic?”  Which means to feel?  I mean, don’t you need beauty in order to feel something real?  But when a painting is too beautiful, people complain. Then when a painting isn’t beautiful enough, people complain. Okay, so I guess my work was weak. So it failed; so I won’t do it again.

     Whitman unwrapped the Rice Krispie treat, which wasn’t cut into a square but a funky rectangle, like the shape of an Egyptian sarcophagus. It must have been the size of my forearm. Usually when people know they are going to eat alone they bring a book to look at or a phone to touch, but he had nothing but the sarcophagus. He asked, is that all you’re eating? 

     Oh yeah, I said, I just have to eat and run. As if that were an answer.

     Of course, I felt him judging me. So I was not in the studio. Neither was he. If he even makes work anymore. Usually I am trying to eat slower but at that moment I was trying to eat fast, but trying also to look calm, but not so calm that I didn’t look stressed about not being at the studio. The program is always touting its emphasis on studio time and production and the implacable creative drive. As Whitman ate his Rice Krispie treat, its glaze of butter and marshmallow glistened. To seem like I was in a rush, I left with a kind of breathless, See you tonight.

     So then dried mango at the studio. Oh wait. No, I went home. I went home because I remembered that I forgot my heel pads. My heel pads are what keep my black wedges on, and my black wedges are the only shoes I can wear with that dress. 

     So at home I grazed. I shouldn’t have, but my blood sugar still felt low. I had some cashews, which have 160 in 56 halves and pieces. Obviously I did not count the number of halves and pieces, but maybe 28. A half-cup garlic croutons. A skinny, skinny slice of the barley pancake my roommate left in his cast iron pan, which basically stays a basin of canola oil. My roommate was at the studio, and is always leaving out pans of pancakes because he “forgets” to eat them, running off to the studio at seven in the morning or running off to the studio at midnight. You don’t just forget to eat. Then eight of those huge deli pickles, at an amazing five calories a piece. Four chunks of cantaloupe. Five chocolate chips. Two rice thins dipped in yogurt, and a string of string cheese. So let’s call it 200. 250 to be safe. And black tea to get my energy up before going to the studio before going to the award ceremony—negligible. 

     As always, going home took longer than I intended. Since I was home, I did half a Body Mania Fitness Frenzy video in my room—subtract 250. Then there were the regular things: hair to wash, face to wash, nasal allergy spray to find and spray so my voice would not be nasally, counters to wipe, emails to write, vitamin to swallow, birth control to swallow, grapeseed oil to moisturize my skin. I hate how much time it takes, getting ready, but I can’t see a way around it.    

     So then I walked to the studio—subtract 70. On the way to the building entrance you can see the second-years through the studio windows in the basement. You can see who’s in the shop bending over a saw or lowering their welding helmet. Who’s in the print room grinding pigments onto a glass sheet with a glass muller. Who’s staring at their painting like it’s talking, like it’s a lecturer they are listening to.

     I stopped in the studio kitchen to shake my umbrella into the sink and to get a glass of water to stay hydrated in the studio. Elena Romero was near the microwave kind of bouncing on her feet. Whenever she says hi her eyelids flit wide open, like a doll’s, as if she’s going through a lot at that moment and wants to let you in on how stressed she is. Her baggy work clothes always swallow her but underneath them she is thin, thin, thin. If you could grind up a whole Elena into little grains, you could put two Elenas in one hollow me.

     She pulled out a steaming container of short ribs and gleaming bronze potatoes—leftovers, clearly, from some extravagant dinner date. Who has time to go out? It seemed kind of rude, to make the whole floor smell of garlic and onions and butter. She leaned against the counter poking her potatoes, as if to chat a while. Of course, I was in kind of a hurry. Her lips curled back when she bit into the short rib, revealing teeth that are square and quite nearly white. 

     It was getting late. I needed to start painting. The last Diet Sunkist from a twelve-pack was still in the fridge, I remembered, and I was ready to grab it then head to my studio. But Elena started talking about how eager she was for the visiting artist lecture before the awards ceremony; was I eager, too? 

     I said, Oh yes. I’ve been looking forward to it all day. When I opened the fridge, the buckles of my boots made too much noise, pointing out every movement. 

     What do you think of Suzanne Lafey’s work? She asked. 

     Oh, I said. Oh, well I think it is a little didactic. I think it’s little idea-istic. A little reductive, but I think it’s formally strong. What do you think? 

     Elena said, I love her work. Her sculptures appear anemic but are spatially substantial even as they try to assume a stature of non-spatiality, and especially with the masculine medium of iron the sculptures seem to inhabit, rather than actually be, a delayed signification of their feminist sociocultural ethos. 

     She used her fork to gesture. A piece of crumbling potato was ready to fall off the tines. I had taken a look at Lafey’s website, once. The sculptures were bulky and plain and frankly ugly—they didn’t stun me or make my mind feel lighter and heavier at once, like I guess I think art should.

     I said to Elena, that makes sense. So then Lafey decides who gets the Hutchinson award. 

     Yes, how exciting! Elena likes to add a little flourish to things. Honestly, I expect you to win, she said. Your work is beautiful. You’re so talented, it looks really easy for you. 

     Elena bared her teeth in that perfectly symmetric smile. In grade school art class, when we drew self-portraits and my self-portrait was always the most realistic, the teacher would hang it up in the most visible spot, under the clock or above the doorway.  Classmates would tell me I was so great at doing art. Teachers said I was naturally talented. Talented means you didn’t work for it.  Means you didn’t earn it. 

     Back to work! Elena said. Chao chao. 

     She left with her leftovers, and I grabbed the three pieces of dried mango for an energy boost. Out of the package they looked like peeled yellow scabs. Let’s call it 60.

     My studio has a window set high on the wall; my studio gets good light. But somehow it feels dim even when it’s bright, and today with the rain it was actually dim. The room felt chilled, like a tomb shut for centuries and now opened and musky. 

     I had every intention to start painting. I really did. I set up my rags, my brushes, my rinsing mug, my sketchpad. I took my palette, since I’m trying to paint in oil more, and squeezed a dollop of burnt sienna. Then I thought, no—today is a watercolor day. But then I thought again, no—I should confront one of the dozen unfinished paintings leaning against the wall, or the dozen white canvases, already primed. I couldn't decide.

    So. So I didn’t start painting. But I did stare at an old watercolor for a long time. At the figures, really just fine-tipped brushstrokes, hundreds of them in clusters at the base of a mountain-shaped form, some figures tightly together as if they might merge in the manner of water, some figures alone at the side. The color is thin, barely there. Some of the figures are barely there.   

     It was late. Already close to five and the reception started at six. So I had no choice but to get ready, to change in the studio and put on my makeup. My dress seemed tighter than I remembered, tighter than I planned, tighter than it should be. Was it my imagination? Sometimes I don’t know; sometimes I feel I can hardly see.  

     Then I got a text from Chad, saying that he hadn’t eaten all day since the Toaster Strudel and did I want to get Szechwan takeout later. No, I did not want to get Szechwan—I had already mentioned the award ceremony. Although, figuring that Elena would win, maybe I didn’t emphasize it. It’s not exactly part of our relationship anyway, to attend events together. Plus Chad says he “doesn’t get art.” I don’t argue with him. We never talk about painting; sometimes we talk about his job at Terry Plastics as product directives strategist, but we rarely talk about anything really serious. Which is what’s so nice about Chad. Chad is easy. Not much is easy, but Chad is. 

     I didn’t eat again before the award ceremony, except for the bon-bon I had saved, which was gone in two seconds. I want to suck hard candy but I just bite it. I want to savor chocolate but I just chew it. Chew and swallow, I can’t even taste. 

     It felt dumb, dressing up for the award ceremony just to see the people we see everyday—I mean, Bloomington isn’t Brooklyn or Chicago. But you sort of have to look nice, as everyone else does. I walked down the hallway, past the wall sculptures donated by alumni. People stood in clusters in the reception area outside the lecture hall, which was just one of our studio classrooms with the chairs unstacked and set in rows and a podium, probably borrowed from some other department.

     I said hi to people drifting around me. Hi to Elena, hi to Paul, hi to Celine, hi to Whitman, hi to my roommate. I stood beside him with a cup of white wine—red is better for you, but I was wearing white—and talked about how the turnout was good, good meaning the turnout was us and some undergrads. But after a minute my roommate had to skedaddle to ask someone for advice on using epoxy resin. I tugged my dress down, discreetly, and stood there in the right posture for my heels: shoulders back, knees just slightly bent. Composing myself, like you’d compose a still life. Sort of lifting my chin as if looking for someone in particular. The white wine is 80. 

     Under the hallway’s dark window, food was arranged in a table skirted with a rich cobalt cloth. The cloth draped nicely with folds deep in shadow. And so much food that the department could never afford but the Hutchinson donor, whoever he is, obviously could. A bright platter of sliced fruit draped with grapes. Refined white flour in a variety of forms. A golden pillow of baked brie steaming in the center. People kind of hovered around the table saying how fancy it was and commenting on the cloth, as if they meant, I’m not really endorsing this fanciness, just remarking on how it’s silly to have this extravagance for us here in Indiana, although I will eat this cracker caked with olive tapenade. 

     I compiled a little Chinet plate: three fig crostinis. Six butterfly-shaped crackers, plain. A handful of spiced almonds and a spoonful of hummus. Four cheddar triangles, because I was so hungry. A stack of baby carrots and some raw broccoli. My blood sugar was low again. Let’s call it 250. 

     The fork and knives were silver in color but plastic in actuality, and the imitation was so convincing it had me fooled for a second—the weightlessness took me by surprise.  I was trying to eat a crostini delicately when I heard someone say: Hey.  It’s Miss Picassa. 

     Behind the table, a man in white was planting a little urn of toothpicks at the base of a cheese pyramid. It took me a second to place him—Mike has catered art school events before. At the sculptor lecture this winter, while walking by swinging sleeves of plastic cups, he said to me, You look bored. 

     Tonight I said, Oh hi. 

     He said, Picassa is like the female version of Picasso. So how is school, how do you like learning how to paint pretty pictures? He touched his chin with a big latex-gloved hand. His lips are the kind of deep red lips that would look better on a woman but that women never have.

     I gave him the laugh he wanted and said, I don’t know, I’m not really learning how to paint pretty pictures. 

     Oh no?  He said. Then what are you here for?

     That was not a question I wanted to answer. I’m here because why? Because I want to be a better artist, because I love making art? 

     But before I had to come up with an answer Mike said, Hey, try the spinach and feta things, they’re wrapped in filo dough. The crust is mad flakey. 

     Mike in white was maybe a little reminiscent of dough himself, though his jaw had strong firm lines. I was certainly not about to try the spinach and feta filo balls. People will find a way to make anything unhealthy. 

     The lights went off and on and off, and people began migrating toward the lecture hall. On the food table, still bountiful, the baked brie had been slit open. Molten fat was sliding out of the puff pastry and pooling with warm apricot jam. Back when I was a twig and could eat whatever I wanted, I put cheese on sandwiches.  I put it on pie. No one was hovering near the table, no one was watching.  Mike was nowhere to be seen. I cut a large slice and ate it quickly, then cut another. 

     It felt so good. Almost a relief, sort of like the moment you have everything ready to start painting and you realize you left your linseed oil in the supply room, and you are so relieved to have to go get the linseed oil, the delay so sweet and the walk to the linseed oil, which you savor, suddenly the world’s most pleasurable activity. 

     In the lecture hall, I sat right behind Elena Romero and her friends. Her dress contoured her small curves with diagonal lines traveling down—red shooting toward her legs, green shooting from her shoulders toward her cleavage. She had the kind of upper arms that, from behind, taper to the elbow like carrot sticks. She leaned over to her date and touched his arm with a single finger in a light way that looked practiced, and probably was practiced—a clever design. 

     Another 80 for the second cup of wine. I tried to listen to the lecture. Suzanne Lafey was pretty but she talked about herself too much. Her ideas are nothing new. The artist is always working. The artist takes risks. The artist must be vulnerable to the sublime experience of making art. She claims she can’t sleep sometimes, distracted, making art. Making art is her obsession, it exhilarates her, and so on. 

     It was a big mistake I made at the food table. A day of relative control, lost in a minute. How much?  200, 300? There was no way to tell. I was trying to reframe my thoughts to be positive. To think instead in terms of what I did not do. I did not eat the whole shitty granola bar in the waiting room. I did not eat much of the barley pancake. I did not eat the Toaster Strudel and I did not eat the spinach and feta filo ball. I did not eat the thousand gleaming poisonous candy bars at the gas station. I did not eat the black pepper potato chips open at my house. I did not eat the cheese that the burrito-makers toss on, or the sour cream they smear so avidly. I did not drink the gallons of syrup and soda water from the soda fountain. I did not eat the hundred other triangles of cheddar dyed a horrible cadmium orange. 

     Of course, I wasn’t prepared when Whitman called my name. I don’t think he had ever said my name. How often does anyone say my name aloud?

     I almost spilled my wine setting it on the ground.  I had to sort of multitask, tugging my dress down while standing up. Walking toward the podium, I felt a little wobbly, felt my heel pads might slip, felt my face might be smudged with chocolate, though I hadn’t eaten chocolate, felt my dress was constricting my legs and that my advancement was very, very noticeably slow. I had won the Hutchinson prize. Lafey had seen my paintings—the quiet, thin, simple watercolors —and selected them out of all the first-year slides. Unless it was a mistake and someone had copied the wrong name onto the certificate; but I stood next to Whitman as he read the prize’s description: for the outstanding visual artist in the first year class who exhibits both individuality and commitment to quality of craft. He held out the award in its charcoal black frame. Commitment to quality of craft. As far as they knew, it wasn’t a mistake.  I couldn’t tell if the applause was big or small. 

     At the reception, people touched my elbow and said congratulations. Whitman shook my hand. He said, Allie, your hard work paid off. Suzanne Lafey hugged me briskly and said, Dear, I thought your work was very brave. Elena kissed my cheek, her cheek cold against mine. My roommate squeezed my shoulder. A couple second-years said I earned it. But how could they know?  

     I didn’t know where else to go, so I stood by the food spread. I was on my third cup—another 80. Guests had enjoyed the open bar, and the crowd was thinning. People were leaving in twos and threes. Standing there alone, I had to hold the cheap frame which too big for my purse and too small to just lean against the wall. That frame, which looked like it would break if shaken, was made to look like wood painted black but was actually just cheap black plastic—a fraudulent frame. 

     It was like I had them all fooled. Even Elena, swaying those little hips as she walked out, deserved the prize more. 

     I started to find my coat to leave, but paused—I noticed the fruit platter had been replenished. Whoever composed it had an excellent eye. Red strawberries were heaped beside green honeydew. Pineapple, yellow, was juxtaposed with cascades of purple grapes. The landscape rose and dipped. Mountains of strawberries fell into a pineapple valley, which was treed with mint sprigs, leading into a ridge of honeydew ascending to a lemon wedge. And past it, the rich cobalt of the tablecloth that draped like those Greek togas. What are they called. That draped like himatia.

     Allie, someone said, and of course it was Mike. He said, You look hungry. 

      I was staring at food. I was. But was I hungry? No. Not at all. Not even a little.  

      He said, here, I have a treat for you, and he picked a strawberry from the platter.Then he crouched behind the table and pulled out a glass bowl covered in tin foil. The inside was brown; the brown caught the light like only melted chocolate can. 

      I nuked some old fondue, Mike said, leftover from a lawyer luncheon. 

      Strawberry in one hand, bowl of chocolate in the other—he held both toward me. His gaze followed me. I didn’t want to eat it. But what could I do? 

      I took the strawberry with my free hand, and I dipped it in the chocolate. 

      Get more than that, he said. It’s Belgian.

      I dipped again. Deeper, until it coated the whole tremendous strawberry. 

      Try it, he said. 

       So I did. I tried it. It tasted the way chocolate should taste—smooth and rich and slightly burnt. The strawberry was cool and sweet, simply a strawberry. I didn’t want it.  In that moment, I didn’t want it at all. It wasn’t satisfying. The chocolate smeared my lips, and began to harden, harden on my lips, so I had to lick them and scrape them with my teeth.

       I finished it and put the green stub in a napkin and said to Mike what he wanted to hear and what wasn’t true: That was good.  People want you to be thin for them. People want you to eat for them. The strawberry must have been, how much?  I don’t know.  

       Mike smiled, having watched me the whole time. I told you, he said.  He said, chocolate looks good on you. You should eat it more often. 

       When I finally left, I had to go to back my studio to put my boots on for the walk. Everything in the cold studio was of course untouched, the mug still full of water and the burnt sienna firming on the palette’s wood.  Walking down the empty hall, my boot buckles broke the silence like the jingling of someone else’s keys.  I called Chad, which I never do.  On the phone, he said, Hi you. 

       His house is dark now. Everything is still now. He’s sleeping; his daughter is with her mom. I just need to put the takeout away. The huge refrigerator with its heavy door, like the door of crypt, is dumping light onto the naked floor. The little bulb gives the room a dramatic chiaroscuro, sharp shadow and light, and on Chad’s kitchen table the coloring book, the junk mail, the fruit snacks box, the wrinkled apples are like a bleak still life that I could paint but won’t. Everywhere I look is something I could paint, and probably won’t. I’m suddenly exhausted.   

       Okay, so what does that all amount to? I forgot to count the creamer in my coffee and the honey in my tea. When I close this fridge door there will be that quick plunge into darkness that always comes. I don’t know the shape of Chad’s house well enough to make my way to his bedroom in the dark, but here I am about to try. Here I am trying.  





Rose Lambert-Sluder grew up in Asheville, North Carolina.  She lives in Eugene, Oregon where she is pursuing her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon.