Fiction- The Dead Lover / by D.M. Jerman

The kiss. It was when I peeked through the base of my eyelids, past the long lash which so close looked gray and thick like a beaded curtain in a doorway, that I enjoyed the kiss the most. Observing that soft place where his nose fit beside mine. All corner in the cheek. The upsweep of lip illustrating a white even row of top teeth as out they peek. And all the pink rawness behind the supple suckle and pull invested in that fucking great kiss of his, of mine, ours.
It is in my brain and it is all I have. The best thing he did was teach me how to fall.
“I’m a second hand smoke machine.” His voice puffed out in the rest of a cloudy exhale, sounding low and choked and sexy. I was clipping my fingernails beside him on the couch, among the mess. He was slouched like a doll with a broken neck; his overalls hiked up on the leg showing all the laces on both boots with feet turned out and spread wide from each other. Sandy floppy hair draped over his floaty eyes. He was becoming exhausted. It was all in the way he breathed through his mouth.
Hung over the couch were two large white sheets. We had pulled all the furniture to the room center and covered it. Somehow, when collecting all his things from his mother’s house he had come across gallons upon gallons of white paint. She was going to “throw it all out, someday. Your father died and I went thru this cleansing period where I decided that everything must be clean and new and blank and white. So I decided to paint both the interior and exterior of the house. But I got about as far as our bedroom and bathroom and just gave up. I rearranged the kitchen cabinets and bought some new furniture instead.”
Inspired, he decided our living room should be done. I agreed. The walls then were goldish yellow and reminded me of a nursing home. A kind of infected-octogenarian-piss color.
I almost wanted to go for my camera and take a picture, he was so at peace and beautiful. I would have if it hadn’t been for the drying paint on my hand. I wanted to take photographs of his hand – the way it looked was surreal, resting on the milky white sheet, his fingers swathed in paint; the cigarette and the little dim fire it held between leaves and white paper- it looked as if all things white were washing onto his color, ready to change him.
We took our first break with only one wall left to finish and I was admiring our job beside him on the covered sofa, my legs tucked underneath my ass. I brushed off the nail clippings from my belly, pulling two out of my belly button and tossing them to the hardwood floor. He was watching me and laughed lightly. He reached over with his cigarette hand and with free fingers began to pluck flecks of paint from my pubic hair. “Hey, you’re going to ash on me.” I protested. He sat up and quickly took a drag as I picked some of the paint out myself. He proceeded to ash in the soft fur purposefully.
“Asshole!” frightened, I pushed at the ash and my body. He giggled again, butting out on the floor.
“You’re beautiful.” I looked at him past the flat reply. I never knew if it was apology or sarcasm?
I was painting naked because all the clothes that I had brought I didn’t want to see ruined. He really didn’t have any clothes for me to use either. Being naked in such a public part of the house became comfortable fast. I was warm from working so hard and my skin glistened. I thought it better after I had been naked for a time. He went into the bathroom and I got up and shook off. Let down my hair and combed at it with my dried fingers.
Asshole. How unoriginal. And funny, now that I remembered that he had been the one to teach me that word. I used to only swear in Portuguese when something startled me or I became frustrated. I was taught never to lose composure or submit to unproductive behaviors like too much swearing. When I met him, all he was doing was swearing. I had only been in America for a week, knowing near nothing of what he was saying as he was trying to seduce my friend and roommate. We went drinking on a night when just taking a walk down the tree lined avenues and calm orange street lights wouldn’t appease us. My roommate had been flirting back – but I’m not the type for those behaviors so much. Instead I sat back and watched. He was intoxicated by then. When she went home with someone else, I had to walk him home. He didn’t live far from our apartment.
“You’re from Brazil.” he said to me after I got him up to his room.
“Yes.” My voice flat. I swung his legs unto the bed.
He smiled. I’ll never fail to remember this smile he gave me. The stay-with-me-and-talk-to-me-smile without words. All with this stupid innocent charm. I listened to this smile. Somehow he sobered and sat up, telling me all the American English swear words in the dictionary and I was laughing all evening. I fell for him as fast as my shoes fell off my feet. Fell like I was just learning how to do it. I liked men in my country, but the American atmosphere with its unsure, mysterious men like this one- what was it? I tumbled like a child in its first steps. He taught me the words asshole and fornicator and facefuck. He encouraged my falling, but kept catching me. My terrible fall. It hurt like tumbling down a well.
A few more evenings and this American man, hard in his soft ways, offered me a kiss and I accepted. This kiss- it was when I peeked thru the base of my eyelids past the long lash which looked gray, so close like blurry lines, and thick, like a beaded curtain in a gypsy’s doorway- that I observed a place where his nose fit beside mine and I felt that facefucking great kiss the most.
I painted the rooms all day and slept at night. And now each of these motions are in a place that can never come back.
Two years. Now we are engaged. We live together in a newly bought house with new jobs and new intentions. Fresh as the white paint.
I picked up the wet roller in the refilled pan and started in on the wall. High up on the ladder my arm reached for the ceiling, for the floor, then the ceiling again. He came back in from the bathroom. I was concentrating when he ascended the ladder to meet me and pressed his hands full against the flesh of my buttocks. The coolness of them made me jump and I turned slightly so as not to escape but to watch his lips move to kiss the flesh caught between his hands. I made myself still, thinking he might want to stop and make love. He likes to make love, and so do I, but not now. Somehow I was determined to finish this room and maybe start another. This painting felt good, and it looked good. It made my muscles burn with a welcome ache. When I stared down at him, I felt interrupted. He looked up at me with eyes that could make a snake feel sympathy.
“I’m sorry I ashed my cigarette into your hair. I was only playing. Did I hurt you?” His hand moved around for a moment and I thought he meant this as a come-on. I almost removed his fingertips from where they gently rested at my midsection.
“I am fine. Please, let's paint.” I said soft and serious. He smiled that smile that I’ve always known before climbing down to answer the ringing phone. He disappeared for a long time into the study, and I finished the wall alone.
I moved all the supplies into the adjoining room and lay out the sheets. When I turned off the ceiling lights the room glowed with the colored shape of window in streetlamp. Seeming to shimmer when the wind rustled tree limbs the light filtered through, spreading shadow over wet paint.
I watched the room for a moment and a chill came over me: It was now a familiar place made new.
Hearing him talking in the study, I became frustrated at his ease with distraction. I left the hall light on, but didn’t speak to him when I entered the shower. I dressed for bed because it was something put into me to do, and fast went to sleep. I didn’t hear him come in, but in my dreams I could identify his arm wrapped around me. That same cool shudder from watching the room bathed in paleness flow in and through. When he began to cry the tears clung to the skin between my shoulder blades. Frozen in the entryway to the unconscious, I could not awaken. Only without words could I ask the reason.
He had set out his painting clothes on the closet door. Hung there like a defeated hero. I focused on the hung man and came out of sleep. He was in the shower. Impractical- he would only get dirty again. I turned over and kept sleeping. He was putting on a tie in the mirror when I woke again. “What are you doing? Where...? Are you leaving? We have to paint again today.” I sat up to say this and the bedclothes slipped off of me showing off the anti-scars of paint splotch. When he turned his face was a bit awry. “I’ll be back and we can paint later. Maybe tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry you were on the telephone so long.”
He stopped and we looked at each other for a moment. My searchlight glance fell out of me, heady and desperate. I knew I had said the wrong thing, but I couldn't take it back. He countered perfectly: “You’re beautiful.”
He didn’t kiss me. Then he left.

Later I tried, but I could not paint.