Arts & Culture » Books

Still Life with God

by Lee Runchey

Catherine’s glitter-pink nipple turned into an ocean of layered glass, each deeper than the next. The layers formed an alliance of fish hooks reaching into the heavens. Emmett put his lips to the edge of the glass tunnel and with a long exhaled breath he placed a direct phone call to God. To the rest, it came in the way of a long hiss, but to Emmett, it was an entire inquiry to see if the divine one was listening. Emmett laid his body against Catherine’s naked tunnel and put his ear against the entrance.

"Get off me," Catherine giggled as she lifted her head from the platform. "The paint isn’t dry."

"SSSShhhh," Emmett replied, running a painted stained finger across her flat belly. "I’m listening for God."

She looked around the gallery. The glitterati turned out in droves for the fashion parade of A-list superstars, B-list pseudostars and C-list nobodies feeling star-like because they found the unmarked loft. Emmet’s opening was definitely a success. Kasbah was thee gallery for Detroit and Andrew was showing all the hot new artists.

Together they were the players who lifted the stage curtain for the rapturous boy trying to talk to God. But for Emmett, none of them existed beyond Catherine, who served as a portal.

It was Andrew’s whim for him to paint on a naked Catherine while the opening was in progress. Give the crowd a better insight into Emmett’s personal art world, Andrew said as the bullshit bullets flew. But he let them call it art as they drooled over the Fertility Goddess herself while Catherine reclined on the platform thickly covered with Emmett’s paint, feathers and glitter. Yet within the layers of the drama, he thanked the acid for opening a greater path to God.

Catherine knew he was peaking. She giggled and decided to stretch the boundaries of both art and life.

"Emmett," she whispered, breathlessly.

"SSShhh, can’t you see I’m concentrating?" he replied.

"God is between my legs."

He lifted his head and looked at her. "He is?"

"Yes, and if you mount me night now and look into my eyes you’ll see him."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Oh, that’s cool," he said with a sigh of relief as he stood up. "I don’t think the other tunnel was working."

She turned her head to one side and watched him fumble with his baggy jeans. Her stunned eyes grew wide and her mouth opened to a string of silence.

Shit, he’s really going to do it.

And the Love Goddess herself parted her legs as Emmett reached inside his jeans. He was definitely ready to talk to God because he’d been trying to reach him all night. He brought it out through the opening in his jeans, stepped on the platform and snuggled between Catherine’s glittered thighs. He cradled himself with the left hand and touched her glistening portal with the other. He reached for a bowl of glitter and sprinkled her portal with a shower of dusted silver. If he was going to talk to God, it had to be done right.

And with a smile of satisfaction in lieu of intense preparation, he pressed his tip against the window of the portal and began to dial directly.

In the real-time of everyone else’s reality, the phone call lasted for about ten seconds before Andrew nervously disconnected the phone call and pulled him into the belly of the gallery to Meet Some People.

But in Emmett’s personal reality, it went something like this:

He dialed directly into God as he lay over Catherine, his face inches from her painted one. Her shrine of starful, platinum locks glowed á la Jean Harlow, the flawlessly smooth white skin lay imprinted with arched, inky eyebrows and the lips burned sierra crisp. The lips opened, they spoke of God as in "oh my...." Her back arched and when she found her reality a moment later, the flat blue discs of her eyes locked on his.

Transmission.

Ready. Begin.

He flew into her discs at 100 m.p.h., down the tunnel through time and space, twisted, turned, burned straight ahead to a path of nowhere. Flashes of the past and future scanned the walls of the tunnel that walled obscenities and epitaphs of past sins. Somewhere there was a God. His God, her God, from the ancient days of Sekmet to the reincarnations of rock stars as God. Where is your God now? the wall asked. He pressed deeper into the matrix of light and sound on a mudslide rollercoaster shooting down, down, down. Sound transposed almost as glitter birds, sparkled sweetly through gentle chirp melodies. Color melted as a path to greater insight, swirling purple, green and gold. Gold, days of old, whispered like trees in a gentle wind. Burnished figures poured liquid gold into an alter stream of consciousness from where he dead stopped cold calm like a character from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

He sat at the edge of the gold stream and mentally photographed the room. It felt as an underground cavern turned alter and everything was dripping gold. Yellow gold cones oozed from above, creating a natural frame for the burnished gold alter illuminated by hundreds of candies. Browned gold stars sparkled above from an unknown source. And from the alter stepped Catherine, dressed in a Grecian gown of silkened gold.

"What are you doing here?" Emmett asked. "Uh ... you haven’t seen God, have you?"

She stared at him wordlessly as Emmett dipped his hand into the stream of gold to cup a rippling wave between his painted-stained fingers and held it above her head. She giggled childishly sweet as he let the streaks of wet gold travel south against her skin. He smiled, feeling the heat of her body as she moved closer. He dipped his finger in the gold and, like a fingerpainter, brushed her lips with color, working carefully to stay between the lines.

"I think I’m becoming aware."

"How so?" her eyes asked.

"I think I’m becoming aware that someone is calling me. Did God come home?"

He looked again into Catherine’s flat blue discs, blinked and found himself wrapped in Andrew’s firm embrace, steering him away from the portal.

"Save the girls for later," he whispered. "Let’s make some money."

And then loudly he said, "Come on Emmett, let’s Meet Some People."

Emmett wasn’t sure about real time with Andrew, preferring to talk to his artwork and melt into one of them for safekeeping until the gawkers were gone. But that didn’t appear to be an option, so Emmett surveyed the room. It was a trendy little cocktail of mod-like art posers talking about money, ducky navy suits trying to talk about art, strange art groupies trying too hard to be different, professor types and the usual vultures of the local glitterati trying to make the scene.

For the sweetest moment, everyone in Emmett’s room stopped. They move within their circles accumulating things, things of value to other people. Tell them that something is important and they will covet, tell them that a piece of art will give them a personality, a piece of the maker himself, and they will purchase it for the sake of immortality. Buy it in place of a personality, as a substitute, and use it to fill the void like the unaware people who take pictures of themselves surrounded by their art collection. Are they so desperate for acknowledgment? If it’s easier to buy me than be me then the joke is on them.

Andrew steered him toward a fat-decked daddy. "Emmett, I want you to meet Calib. Calib, this is our hero of the night."

The man held his hand to Emmett’s, flashing a diamond ring the size of the Penobscot Building.

"It’s so wonderful to meet you. And this is Sergio," he said, parading his impeccably-dressed ornament.

"Andrew, I love the green one over there," Calib said. "How much?"

"For you, twenty-five hundred."

"Oh, I don’t know. Sergio, do you think the green one will go well in the foyer next to the Glenn Barr? It’s rather bright."

"Hmmmmmmm, maybe if it had less green in it."

Emmett pulled a marker from his pocket and lifted Calib’s hand, turning it face up. "You would be brighter with less green in your pocket," he scrawled.

"Oh Andrew, he’s positively charming. I’ll take it. It was nice to meet you, Emmett."

Emmett pulled a small flask from the trusty slide pocket. "Andrew, do you want some vodka?"

"Put that away," Andrew said with a smile. "Oh Sandra," he said, flagging a well-dressed middle-aged woman. "This is our star of the night. Sandra writes for one of the newspapers. Can I peek at your notepad?"

"Paws off Andrew. But don’t worry, the kid’s a hit. Look for a great review next week."

She turned to Emmett. "I just luuuuuuv your work."

"Really, what do you love about it?"

"Oh ... it’s just so strong."

"How?"

"I think it’s your use of color."

"What’s so strong about the color?"

"It’s really powerful."

"Wow, that’s deep."

"I especially like this one here," she said. "I like the social commentary of the gun as a catalyst for change. "

"That’s a turkey leg. Actually."

Andrew jumped in. "We gotta run. Lunch next week?"

"Call my office on Monday."

"You’re doing great, Emmett," Andrew whispered. "Now can I trust you to behave while I do some business?"

He grinned.

Emmett sought the nearest wall and the nearest piece of art for comfort, turning his back to the TV-fed mass of technology tuned plants. He found himself looking at an old, untitled piece of black ink on red paper, drawn in a fit of rage over the loss of his last girlfriend. It was an angry piece of him. He wondered how someone understand his rage for a price. Or if it’s even rage at all or just something to hang in the goddamn foyer. Of what price, understanding?

"Heeeeeyyy Emmett," came the familiar voice behind him as the familiar arms reached to hug him.

"Beaubien, where’ve you been?" Emmett said with the warm relief of a pedigree dog out of the ring.

"Bad hair day, but what’s a Queen to do?"

"This angry one is getting ready to suck me in, Beaubien. I can just feel it," Emmett said while he took a small square of blotter paper from his pocket. "Open your mouth, it’s time for communion."

Beaubien swallowed the paper and laughed, eyes wide. "Honey, I can’t believe you just dosed me in front of all these people."

"Oh, they’ll be gone in a couple of hours. Sooner if you want to jump into one of the paintings with me."

"Maybe later. Where’s Catherine?"

"I painted her for the show and she let me in her to talk to God, but he wasn’t home."

"That’s great, but where is she?"

"I left her on the platform with the rest of the art."

"Then let’s go look at some great art."

The pair waded through the sea of "Wow, your art is great" and "Congratulations," but like Moses, the waters parted slowly and there the ethereal Goddess lay in state on a blanket of velvet. Her eyes were closed and in her still, deathlike pose, their dear friend became an ethereal immortal beloved. She was of average height and had a body made for love – not at all heavy, but filled with sweet pearish breasts, full woman hips and shapely legs tipped tonight in five-inch black stilettos. She was hardened to life’s inequalities, but in her face was the angelic quality of an innocent cherub.

Beaubien stepped forward with a dramatic flair, bent over and pressed his lips to hers.

"Wake up darling."

And with that gentle command, Princess Catherine opened her eyes. She lifted her head a couple of inches and kissed him again.

They laughed.

"How’s it going out there?" she asked. "The glitter is starting to itch, if you know what I mean."

"Oh honey, I definitely do."

He reached for Emmett with his left hand and Catherine with the right.

"OK kids, it’s a special night. Let’s get out of here and celebrate for real. Simon’s having a party in Eastern Market tonight. What do you think?"

"Let’s do it," Catherine said.

"Ummm ... I think I should stay here for a while so Andrew can parade me around some more," Emmett replied. "But I’ll come by after."

"OK, we’ll catch up with you later." Beaubien said, extending a manicured hand to the platform princess who stood up.

Emmett watched his lifesavers exit stage left and slowly felt himself sinking within the Pretention Sea. It was a sea that he could never quite navigate. As the movers smothered him speaking in the language of "Whose clothes do you wear?" and the shakers encircled him speaking the language of free wine and cheese, Emmett felt a twinge binge of isolation beginning to cloud his uncertain vision.

He knew that God would have a good solution, but there was no phone now that Catherine was gone.

He surveyed the raved-up, reared-up room, playing it downtown, kitty-cat cool until the muse whispered the answer into his burning ear. Emmett smiled and pulled the marker from his pocket again, letting it twirl like a baton between his fingers as he walked to his nearest painting.

The painting was a tranquil chill-out vision that swam throughout his head for several hours one night after his swallowed five or six hits of acid at a party. The vision was so purpley smooth like a scene from Monet’s Japanese bridge, so sugar sweet that he had hours to move it from his head to his canvas. The cool alizarin crimson waters of a still life pond spelled Godly serenity as tiny thought bubbles appeared on the canvas as indigo dots floating on the water. The painting was crowned by the sagging pink branches of a willow tree.

Emmett smiled at the acid-washed moment preserved on paper as the acid-washed moment of Right Now told him that the branches in the painting were swaying. The branches gently told him what to do. He followed their directions, uncapped the magic marker and began to draw a phone on the canvas. He could faintly bear someone at the gallery telling him not to write on the art, but by then it didn’t matter.

The marker fell to the floor as the rapturous boy flew into the canvas to make his phone call.

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