Painted Life

Trevy Thomas’s work has appeared in The Coachella Review, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Forge Journal, Sliver of Stone, Drunk Monkeys, Five on the Fifth, the 2017 River Tides anthology, and in Woodwork magazine. Trevy lives in Virginia with her husband and four dogs.

It was easy for her to confess to the loss of old memories. Everyone experienced those. The loss of herself was much more troubling. It hadn’t turned ruinous yet. She could still remember most of her days, but parts were uncertain. Did she wear a black jacket to dinner last night? She’d stared at the pegs filled with coats in the restaurant and wondered which one was hers. Finally, Ronald had come up and held a green leather jacket for her. Did he know? “Oh, there it is,” she smiled.

Her sister tells stories of when they were young. She says Jasmine cried when a boy grabbed her sketchbook and ran. “Don’t you remember?” But she doesn’t, and must trust her sister’s retelling. That day is gone now, just like the sketches he stole with it. What had she drawn? She kept no diaries then that might nudge her memory.

She thought the journals would help. They were beautiful. The old ones were locked in her grandmother’s suitcase stowed under the bed, key in a nearby drawer. There is pleasure in creating them, words interspersed with paintings and sketches. But the real reason she writes in a paper diary is for fear of being hacked. Her identity is already fragile, so she guards what she can the old-fashioned way, under lock and key.

Once, her boyfriend read her journal while she was at art class. He didn’t like that she was painting nudes. He came to pick her up and saw the fit, exceptionally handsome naked model reclined in a chair, one leg tossed over the side as though he were offering his exposure only to her, working at a canvas directly in front. Ronald saw that she had painted the model’s member even larger than it already was. He drove her home then, red faced and silent. Jasmine wasn’t sure why she’d painted it larger, but it seemed to her that men were terribly engrossed by their genitals and that made them vulnerable to a kind of power.

When they got home, she saw the journal sitting out where he’d been reading. She turned and stared at him, betrayed. “Yes, I read it. Why do you lie? What’s the point of keeping a journal if you’re going to lie to yourself?” She thought back over the last few weeks and months, trying to remember the day that began this recent journal. The book itself was green, with blue and gold flowers painted over the cloth cover. It had a silk ribbon attached to the inside to use as a marker. The pages were lined in gold ink. She remembered everything about the journal itself except the period of her life it covered and which stories she’d recorded there. “What do you mean? I don’t lie to myself.” Does it count as a lie if you can no longer discern words from paintings, life from dreams, thoughts from events?

It had started with simple embellishment, painting in details to her journal that made her happy, even if they were false. The words themselves became a new art form, painting a prettier story of her. The journals created a different life without any risks. She’d just paint a new memory. The habit was a drug she could no longer control, and now the pages were coloring her real life. Usually, she could tell truth from creation when she read them again, but not always. “If I live to be eighty, will I remember the real stories anyway?”

He laughed as he opened a beer and sat down at the sofa near the journal. She wanted to pick it up and run. She felt ashamed. Ashamed that she’d been caught, ashamed of her childish journaling practice. Ashamed of whatever was happening to her.

“You do lie, Jazz. You wrote about some job you’ve never had. A docent at the museum? You’re a member there, not an employee. The last time we went, you got lost on the way back from the bathroom and I had to get the guard to help find you. Why don’t you write about that?” She stared at the journal wanting to pick it up. What had she written instead? She didn’t want him to know she couldn’t remember. That’s why she needed the books that were both preserving and transforming her. Who did it hurt if she elaborated her memories?

“You’re not supposed to look. They’re mine.” She picked up the journal and carried it to the bedroom, getting the key from her drawer and locking it away in the case under the bed. Her hands trembled and her breath was fast. She would start again with only the truth, the real things she remembered.

That night, her dreams pulled her deep into another world. In them, she danced with the nude model right out onto the street and into a taxi. They kissed in the backseat until the driver stopped at her childhood home. She got out of the car alone, but the model called to her. “Here, you forgot this.” It was her sketchbook, the one that was stolen when she was a girl. She sat in front of the house staring at the blank pages.

She woke to Ronald rubbing against her. She pushed back, grateful for the physical escape from her mind, which was tormenting her now even in sleep. Her body knew what to do even if her mind did not. In the morning, she poured hot water over ground coffee in their cups and watched it strain through the filter. Ronald was happy this morning, wrapping her and her flowered silk robe in a hug. “You look like a painting in this.” As soon as he said it, she remembered her dream, the model, the sketchbook. And then she wondered if she’d ever danced with that model, kissed him, or more. She had no idea.

Jasmine carried their cups to the table, and he put bread in the toaster, got butter and jam, squeezed oranges into juice. He brought her toast and smiled, putting a hand on her shoulder. “What time do you want to leave today?” She looked at him, expecting to see the model’s face and was startled a moment. Where were they going? What was his name? “Whenever you want,” she smiled.


[image: Evening Jet Trails, 1963 | Richard Lack]

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