He once carried galaxies between his ears.
In the realm of realities, the walls of his skull represented infinity, a patient universe that could only find release in a million shades of water. The plasma would pump like diesel through his chrome veins, traveling through his fingertips and spiraling outward until finding its home on a canvas in heat.
I watched the stars die, constellation by constellation, until the solar system behind his eyes fell into oblivion.
He sits there, in the chair his mother bought him, and I can’t help but wonder how comfortable it is. He hasn’t moved from that chair in eight hours, so it must not be too terrible. His skin looks especially pale against the burgundy velvet, and he stares at me with eyes that don’t see—that can’t see.
His face was beautiful once, soft and welcoming like a summer chateau. His features were hard like Scotch, but his skin was soft as butter. A man made out of butterscotch, but now all I can taste is black licorice. The scars and boils that emblazon his cheekbones don’t feel the same, but he recoils when I touch them anyway.
“Darling,” I prod, peeking into his study, smelling the powder and inertia wafting through the air, “would you like something to eat?” The chair is shackle-free, but it seems to bind him like Velcro.
“I’m fine,” he says, without moving, without blinking. He doesn’t blink much these days, but I suppose he wouldn’t need to. The Caribbean waters that used to swirl in those sockets drained weeks ago, replaced by globules of smoke that glaze incessantly. His face always seems damp, but I wonder if he can cry.
My feet find their way into the room, and the rest of my body follows suit. His easel, rising high above his chair like a ladder, sleeps with its empty canvas, infertile. The palette, complacent with its pastels, sits lonely in the corner, a thin sheen of dust lining its surface. “Come on, love,” I continue, approaching him slowly, the floor creaking beneath my shifts in weight. “Why don’t you try to do some work? You haven’t touched your brushes in over a month.”
“You don’t get it,” he whispers, his lips cold and deliberate, like an ice pick. This is the most I have heard him speak in weeks. Our once glamorous life now consists of nothing more than thumb-twiddling and ambulation. “I can’t see the colors. How am I supposed to paint anything?”
“I’ll help you, dear!” My movements hasten, staggering to the other side of the room to grab his paints, watching his body withdraw as I move. Slipping a long, slender stick of wood between his fingers, I hold my palm over his knuckles, feeling the tingle of his blisters against my babybell skin. “Here,” I say, dabbing the loin of the brush in a verdant puddle. “This is a nice green color, let’s paint some trees, okay?”
His neck rolls, his head flopping against my chest, and he moans, “I can’t do it.” I look down at him, groveling, leaving wet stains on my shirt. “I can’t see it.”
“It’s green!” I repeat with conviction, dragging his fingers to the canvas, blotting the empty white space with green smudges. Green like the topiary that dotted the streets of Mexico City. Green like the artificial grapes we used to keep on our dining room table. Green like the irises I fell in love with and watched decay. “You’re doing great, baby.”
“Nooo,” he groans, pulling against me. “What kind of green? Is it pine? Or teal? Or chartreuse? I need to know!” His pitch heightens to that stark arpeggio of rumbling half-notes that signals ire or agony. I’ve only heard it a few times in our years of being together, a few times far too many. “I need to know.”
Breathless, he drops the paintbrush, the color splattering across the floor. “I need to know.” His body coils in the velveteen chair, his knees acting as a life preserver that he hugs for security, and his face is moist. “I need to know.” The holes in his face stare blankly at the far wall, the rosebud beneath them quivering with every susurration. “I need red.”
“You want to paint an apple, dear?”
The galaxies stand still for a moment before he speaks. “Yes, an apple. A-And I have the perfect shade for it,” he stutters, veering in my direction, a single finger floating into the air. “Downstairs, in the laundry, I have a big jug of crimson red. Will you please fetch it for me?”
“Of course, my sweet,” I say, and flee from the room, flee from the musk, from the dimly lit architecture.
His study. I would bring him lukewarm matcha tea with a lemon garnish to force him to take a break from his work. He would spend hours in there, working diligently on one piece or another. He never painted still-lifes or landscapes like other artists would. Every scene he blotted down on a canvas, every creation, came from the cosmos in his skull.
Our bedroom. We would write poetry to each other with our bodies and sleep half the day away when we could, when the blue notes of work didn’t shatter the melody of sweet silence. Every night I would fall asleep soundly with the promise to see him again soon, and every morning I would wake up to find that he was a man of his word.
The stairs. I would complain about how arduous they were on my knees, but he would confess he liked to watch my ass wiggle as I climbed them. He would come home from work on more than one occasion to find me clutching the railing in a sorrowed stupor, blubbering over one failure or another.
My feet reach the laundry room floor, cold and steady, unlike any part of my body. I flit about the room, checking the cabinets, the storage boxes, even opening the dryer door, but there is no paint to be found. I scuffle back up the stairs quickly, calling for him as I reach the top. “Dear, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t find any—“
Body first, I gasp when I see him, contorted on the floor, but peaceful in his face. I run, water in my eyes and wind in my hair, but then I tiptoe, stepping lightly over his body and around the velvet chair. I can feel the galaxies swirling around me, the once stifling walls of his cranium now stretched to fill this entire room. The easel drips, and I look to see a bright, dazzling apple painted on the once empty canvas in purely crimson red.
And I smile.