Lorenzo was the type of man who, if he should ever die, would die in a bullfight in Spain. Latricia believed this to be true, despite certain facts to the contrary. For instance, like Latricia, Lorenzo lived in downtown Pittsburgh.
Downtown Pittsburgh. Olé.
Similarly, Latricia, aged thirty-five, had long ago assumed her own, inevitable cause of death. A transit bus accident, right there in the city. One or more careless drivers would cause the accident. The accident would occur on the same day as Lorenzo’s fatal bullfight.
Latricia would be thinking of groceries when she died.
Latricia rode the bus once a week, to and from a grocery store on the other side of town. The affluent side of town. The good side of town, where she once lived. She liked her new, poorer neighbors actually a bit more than her old, wealthier neighbors, but she didn’t like what the new ones bought to eat.
Whether she would die going to the grocery store, or coming home from it, was still open to debate.
Lorenzo lived on the third floor of a brick building across from Latricia’s own apartment. She could see right into his bedroom when he left the curtains open. He left the curtains open most of the time. She had seen him naked, but they never spoke.
Every morning, Lorenzo got up early, dressed, drank his coffee, and took the bus to work, leaving his apartment quite empty.
Every morning, Latricia got up early, dressed her daughter, fed her, sent her off to school, and painted for the rest of the day.
Latricia realized one morning that she and Lorenzo lived much the same life as the best of married couples do. She had no idea what sort of tasks he performed at work. They never got into fights, even when issues needed resolved – she noted his habit of leaving his dirty clothes on the bed, but never said a thing. And while he was away, she fantasized about other men.
But she and Lorenzo had never taken wedding vows. Latricia never changed her name. They spent a lot of time apart, and they sometimes saw other people.
Very progressive, this relationship.
Latricia’s paintings sold well at auctions and galleries. The income was sporadic, but a single painting sometimes brought several thousand dollars. Imagine that! Latricia put the money away in her checking account. She would not live the good life again. Socially, this approach destroyed her, and she had just barely managed to pick up the remains and salvage her reputation after her last bout of success.
So Latricia stored the money away and did not keep track of her balance. She wrote checks for utilities, rent, groceries and so on. So far, she had not become overdrawn, and that was all that she needed to know.
“Can you paint a house?”
“Yes. I can paint a house.”
“Can you paint a tree at sunset?”
“I’ve painted trees at sunset.”
“How about old couples on balconies?
“I don’t paint them, anymore.”
“Can you paint a woman thinking of killing her husband?”
Latricia smiled and agreed. “That is precisely what you are looking at.”
The conversation took place again and again. It always happened at the art shows. In the metro area. The land of banks and suits and cafes and all of that. The conversation went the same way. Not a word, not an inflection, would change. Only the man or woman doing the talking changed, and yet the voice stayed the same. Latricia was never very good at imagining new voices.
How many voices were there, anyway?
Of course, it helped for her to know that she was crazy. Not insane. That’s a legal term, and she’d had no reason to use it thus far. No, for now, at least, crazy would do. And she accepted it. Just as her twelve-year-old daughter had.
“Oh, Mom. You’re so crazy.
Oh, Melissa. She looked so much like her father, Lorenzo.
Melissa, she was a little crazy, too. Latricia could spot crazies a mile away. It was like a brotherhood or a sisterhood. Whichever. They all knew each other. They all knew the signs. The little things. Not like walking down the street, swearing up a storm at no one in particular. Not like eating pins or swatting at invisible bats. Those were the things that the others watched for. The non-crazies. They’d see that stuff, and they’d point their judgmental fingers and say, “Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.”
How stupid, like saying someone is a bricklayer because he lays bricks. Nonsense! Some of the best bricklayers are retailers! Some poets lay bricks! It’s just what people do, not who they are.
Latricia wasn’t the least naïve about these things. She knew everyone was a little crazy. The same as everyone can lay a brick, or write a poem. But just a few are good at it. Just a few know how to work the texture and meld the subtleties. Take Lorenzo. He worked every day. He rarely missed a day. Sometimes, he did miss a day, and it would be because he was sick. He’d stay in bed all day – she watched. Maybe once every three months or so. Not noticeable as a slacker. Not known for a perfect work record either. Lorenzo knew how to blend in. He knew how to match his colors and textures to the milieu of the city and his job. Crazy fucker.
But Lorenzo liked coffee. Lorenzo liked it a lot. He even had a coffee maker in his bedroom, next to his bed. In fact, he had three. One on the nightstand next to his bed, another on the dresser and another hidden away. Subtle. Who would know?
Lorenzo drank coffee, even in July when it was ungodly hot. How crazy is that?
Lorenzo was as mad as a hatter. Pittsburgh was Wonderland, and Latricia, she was Alice. The maddest of them all.
But Melissa? What was poor little Melissa? Twelve-years-old and going through the sorts of changes that bring on the Poltergeists. Maybe she was a Poltergeist, herself. Would she recover and join the legions of others? Or would the mushrooms keep her small and hidden?
Mushroom coffee. Now, there’s a crazy thought.
Latricia found the third coffee maker one day while Lorenzo was at work. She sneaked into his apartment, walked into his filthy bedroom, and made herself right at home. Like a good wife, she picked up the clothes he had left on the bed. She smelled them like a lover, then hung them up in the closet. She made the bed. She smelled the sheets. How he sweats in his sleep!
But it was in the closet, while she hung up the clothes, that she found the third coffee maker. It was on a little stool with an extension cord running to it. It had its own little coffee canister full of gourmet beans, and a little grinder, too. Ethiopian beans. Swiss grinder. Stainless steel. Nice.
How did Latricia get in there, into the apartment? She called a locksmith, of course!
“My husband left before I came home.”
“I work the night shift, and I forgot my keys.”
“You know, there’s just one tumbler here.” The locksmith looked up and laughed. “You coulda gotten in yourself with a paperclip, if you knew how.”
The door unlatched.
Latricia wrote him a check for forty dollars. For the first time, he asked for some ID. She showed him her state card, and he didn’t seem to mind at all the discrepancy in her address.
The locksmith was about Latricia’s age. He seemed of similar background as her own. Like Latricia, he was a fair-skinned African-American, and when she mentioned her paintings, he told her that he had taken art classes in the evening, a few years back. But all similarity ended there. He only cared about the check, her signature.
Clearly, he was one of the others.
Craziness: like everything else that the others really care about, it comes down to money. Take the man who jumps around, screams and makes faces in front of his business associates. He falls on the floor, wears silly clothes, and sometimes his eyes pop right out of his head. Crazy, unless he’s an actor getting paid to do it. Some of these actors and singers get paid millions, making them quite talked about.
But this man or woman without a home sings in public and gets paid nothing for it?
Actually, the brief conversation about art took place on the locksmith’s second visit, the second time Latricia got into Lorenzo’s apartment.
The first time, she had gone in, cleaned up, saw the coffee maker, did some dishes, then stole the coffee maker back to her own apartment. There, she readied a canvas, readied her oils, and painted the little bastard.
On her second visit, she took a painting and left it right where the coffee maker had been. Would he notice the change?
That’s when she saw his airline ticket. Just one, one way.
So where was Lorenzo going? The mad-as-a-hatter man with a job and poor skills in housekeeping – what destination had such a man in mind?
Spain, of course. Madrid.
It was the season of the bulls!
So, Lorenzo was thinking of leaving Latricia, and that was no good. She might have seen it coming! They had drifted apart. They needed time alone together to sort things out.
Melissa hadn’t been home for days. Rebellious girl. Latricia knew it was her father’s fault. Lorenzo never paid attention to her. Always at work. Always staying out late with the boys. Hah! Latricia didn’t fall for those kinds of lies.
She was no other.
At night, Latricia sometimes looked from her window and saw that the curtains at Lorenzo’s were closed. Shadows moved. Silhouettes.
In her childhood, the silhouettes had watched Latricia. They stood at the foot of her bed at night, and they watched and watched and watched until they drove her crazy.
Now, she was watching them.
And the silhouette of the bullfighter came home with a new shadow, lean and thin-lipped. And he and his new little senorita popped bedsprings in time with the drip-drip of the coffee maker in Latricia’s bedroom. Latricia poured herself some hot water. She had no coffee beans. She sipped and drank the silhouette of Lorenzo. He defiled their bed, her other bed, with that other woman.
Well, she’d seen other men. But not for a while. She thought that she and Lorenzo had made it through those rough times. Maybe this was a slap in the face for her, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as what he’d done to Melissa.
Poor girl. This was no way to raise a child.
“With this ring, I thee wed . . . “
Latricia put her articles up on the little conveyor belt. They moved along in a straight line up to the cashier, a plain, white girl with a red scrunchy in her hair and red earrings and mouth to match, who scanned them while the register and the bag boy did the rest.
Lettuce. Bread. Mayo. Orange Juice. Lip-stick. Coffee. And so on. The bag boy bagged them. That’s what bag boys are for.
“Twenty-seven eighty-three,” the cashier said.
By her tag, Latricia knew that the cashier’s name was Melissa. The other Melissa. Latricia didn’t know her. She’d never seen her before, and she’d swear on a stack of Bibles to the fact. All the same, after Latricia had written the check and handed it to her, Melissa acted as though they’d been acquainted with each other for some time.
“You got married!” Melissa squealed in delight upon seeing the ring.
Latricia pulled her hand away. The check fell on the conveyor belt, and Melissa picked it up and ran it through the printer, asking all sorts of personal questions.
When was the big day. Who’s the lucky guy. Why didn’t you tell me. That sort of thing.
“Yesterday. Lorenzo. Because I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
Latricia caught the bus right out in front of the grocery store. It dropped her off safely a block from her apartment.
Latricia got out her keys. Latricia put away her groceries. At three o’clock, she dug through what paintings she had in her den/studio and found one of her daughter Melissa alone, plus two of Melissa with her mother and her father. Latricia got out a knife and slashed the paintings to bits. Melissa was never born. The past changed. It hurt, but why wouldn’t anyone just play along? The longer this went, the harder and harder it was to hold the whole thing together. Even the paintings had turned against her.
Melissa was never born. Latricia had an abortion.
It wasn’t Lorenzo’s. Lorenzo could never know. Melissa was some other’s.
The knife she used to cut Melissa away was long and silver. It had a black handle, and a sharp, serrated edge. The end came to a point, and this point stabbed neatly through canvas so that the serrated edge could slash down, nice and neat.
Just like that.
Is that how a bull’s horns carved naughty little bullfighters who ran away from their problems? And how many others had disappeared because they wouldn’t play along? Hard to say. Maybe a dozen.
That night, Latricia and Lorenzo had coffee together. It was a bit awkward at first. Neither of them said much, but they had much on their minds. A lot of shadows and silhouettes. A lot of others.
But once they got talking, things were good. He told her about his fling with that little senorita even before Latricia asked. Of course, Latricia wouldn’t have asked. That was before they were married, and the past was his own. She had her secrets, too.
But he told her, and in that way, he welcomed her in even deeper than she had hoped. Her eyes turned red and filled with tears. She held him by the neck. They kissed, and when he turned out the lights, she turned out hers. They made love together, for the first time as man and wife. They nearly put the headboard through the wall.
She didn’t ask him about the airline ticket. The night was too perfect. Why spoil it? Besides, maybe she could paint over it. Put a clock there, or something.
The walk to Cadrell’s was a long one, but one that Latricia enjoyed. It felt good to get out and stretch her legs, to fill her chest with fresh air and the ears with the sounds of the city. It was sunny and clear. Not typical of Pittsburgh, but almost.
At Cadrell’s, she found that two of her three paintings had been sold. Lucy, the curator, was very pleased. As always, Lucy wrote a check.
It wasn’t that easy, of course. It never was. Lucy didn’t like writing checks. She’d have a million excuses, but after some cajoling, Latricia always got what was coming to her. Latricia took the check with her and walked down to the bank. A nice check. A check for fifteen hundred dollars. Very good. The bank smelled of marble and wealth.
“This check isn’t signed.”
“What do you mean? I just signed it in front of you!”
“Yes, you’ve signed it. But whoever wrote the check didn’t sign it.”
Latricia reminded the silly clerk that she’d been a customer there for some years.
“That doesn’t matter. Unless this check is signed--”
“But I just signed it!”
“It needs signed by the creditor, ma’am! Not just by you, but by the person who wrote it. Right . . . here!”
So, Latricia signed it right . . . there!
And when that didn’t work, she demanded to see the manager.
And when the manager turned against her, Latricia went home.
What a day! And to make matters worse, she’d locked herself out, yet again. This time, she didn’t call the locksmith. She walked right across the street instead. She went to her other home. The one with the one coffee maker that had fresh beans, and she made herself some nice coffee from the grocery store.
Lorenzo came home early. What a surprise!
“I have another surprise,” he said, and he dug up two airline tickets. “We’re going on a honeymoon to Spain!”
Latricia cried. Lorenzo thought it was from pure joy. It wasn’t. Joy was only part of it. The other part was guilt for ever doubting her dear, dear Lorenzo.
“Lorenzo. Lorenzo.” She shook his sleeping body awake. “Lorenzo!”
“What is it?” he growled.
“Lorenzo, look! She’s doing it again!”
“Who? Who’s doing what?”
“That woman. The artist! She’s watching us from her window.”
“Go back to sleep.”
“God damn it! What?”
“She’s watching us, Lorenzo! She’s got her easel out. I think she’s painting us!”
“Latricia, please. Stop. No one is painting us. The lights aren’t even on.”
“She can see in the dark, Lorenzo. Shadows see in the dark!”
“Come back to bed.”
“I can see her. I can see her brushes!”
“You’re the only painter in the neighborhood, Latricia. For good reason.”
“I can see her canvas.”
“No one lives there. Now please, come back to bed.”
“I live there, Lorenzo. And you do, too. And she’s taken our daughter away. Lorenzo. Lorenzo! Are you listening to me?”
He wasn’t listening. He was snoring again. Sleepless Latricia got water from the tap. She filled three coffee makers and turned them all on. She’d stay up all night, if she had to. She ground up the beans in three different grinders, then set the coffee makers brewing. While they brewed, she sat down on the edge of the bed and worried.
“Why can’t we have children, Lorenzo?”
“Good night, Latricia.”
Lorenzo rolled over. “Have your imaginary painter friend paint you a child. How’s that?”
He could be so cruel.
So goddamn cruel.
Lorenzo didn’t go into work the next day. He was sick in bed. He complained that her keeping him up half the night had made him sick, but Latricia doubted it. Anyway, it was nice to have him for a day, all to herself. Even if he did nothing but lay in bed.
Latricia painted. She painted a fantasy. She painted not in the den, but in the bedroom. That way, she could see Lorenzo’s body, and she he painted him. She painted him in an arena in Spain. Lorenzo versus the bull. A fight to the death. Man against beast, and the beast had won.
She painted the horn that lanced his chest, and she used his own blood for the for the splash of red.
And when she asked him how he liked it, Lorenzo didn’t say a word.
Never a complaint. Brave, brave Lorenzo. Lorenzo, the bullfighter.
Latricia painted and painted. She painted into the next evening and into the night, and still the next morning when the phone rang and Lorenzo’s boss asked where he’d been.
“He’s sick. Sick from fighting the bulls!”
“Are you kidding me, lady?”
Latricia hung up. Who needs that kind of negativity, and she kept on painting until all the painting was done.
When she finished, Latricia picked up her painting of Lorenzo and took it with her on the bus. When someone on the bus asked her why she had a painting of a man lying stabbed dead in his bed, she told him that it wasn’t a bed. She told him it was an arena.
The bus took her to the grocery store, where she got out and bought her groceries. She she leaned her painting against her leg at the checkout and wrote a check. Latricia waited for the next bus with her bags of groceries and got on again, on her way home..
The bus dropped her home again, and now she was alone. She had nowhere to go.
Then, Latricia remembered the ticket.
In her apartment, she cut out the ticket from canvas with her bloody knife. Tired as all hell, she caught a bus, transferred, and headed for the airport.
Spain. Spain. Beautiful Spain.
Hurry. Hurry. Drive safe along the way. The plane leaves in just an hour.