The One Who Gets Away – Philip Kobylarz
He was your basic paranoid type. A painter. In this vein, a realist. Portraits of locals was his thing. And objects. His one really good effort was a study of a bed sheet. A white bed sheet. It looked like it was actually tossed within the frame. People would go up and touch it, much to his consternation.
He did landscapes too. Always something tranquil. A farmhouse, a stream, a plot of green land. He wasn’t painting regularly since he hooked up with the Gallery because Rex worked him to death. Rex antagonized him like living hell for reasons nobody knows. Probably it was because Raymond was so damn tall, nearly seven feet, and Rex was only five foot eight. Reason enough.
Raymond didn’t have much quotidian luck. He hated getting up in the morning, came into work late, stayed until seven or eight at night, ate, slept, visited the bathroom for lengthy intervals of time at the Gallery, sort of made his job into his second home. Indeed the Gallery was a cooperative, a funny title that is destined to never work in such a manner, but Rex and Nora were living in the back of the place, so it was really their home away from home, too. In the meantime they were renovating a trailer they were fixing up out in the hills. They didn’t need a son and Raymond was around all the time.
He didn’t smoke, listened to all kinds of music, usually hard rock, constantly lunched on self-made ham sandwiches, with a jar of pickles, and worked at a leisurely pace.
He hailed from somewhere in Michigan. Never said much about his youth. Would talk about too many things when he pinned you down in conversation. He’d go on about his journals, his weird and perverse attempts at poetry, or what he called his own type of new literature. He would sketch little caricatures all about the Gallery, mostly near the wall where the phone was. A note about the phone: it was once white. Underneath it years of grime from iron dust and grease and ketchup smears and mouthfuls of smoke, was its original shell, now cracked, but miraculously keeping its guts of electricity functioning.
Raymond did the faces of everyone at work. None too well, either. Never himself, and no one knows why. His favorite writer was Lewis Carroll. Sometimes he brought in his books, loaned from the library, and books on photography most usually dedicated to the subject of the nude. The man was starved for affection even though he had a girlfriend.
She was a big woman of Swedish-Irish descent who sometimes moonlighted for the Gallery as a book-keeper, and who always was in between lousy, low-pay jobs. Her name was Anne. She was a clean freak, thus her visits to the Gallery were far and in between.
When she did show up, she was quite nice to everyone. Big smiles and ample gossip. She talked of the goings-on of the small town she lived in. These stories involved infidelity, drunkenness, tragedy, heartbreak, and resolution. And she regularly tried to pawn off her stock of natural, health conscious, green cleaning supplies. She was sort of a rep for a local company, toting in these expensive products of hippies gone bourgeois, to sell to the business at cut rate prices. Out of pity Nora bought a few and kept them under the sink of the bathroom, so no one would ever discover such a transaction of folly.
Once, the happy couple, Raymond and Anne, decided to have a dinner party to show off the new house they had just rented. Three bedrooms, a porch, a cellar, big kitchen, right in the midst of the town (678 population) for only two hundred and fifty dollars a month. The reason why humans continue to populate the Midwest reason made obvious.
The carpets of the first floor level had just been cleaned. The orange lawn of the main room was brilliant; the sea green of the hall was luxurious. Raymond’s paintings hung on every available inch of wall space. Anne put out bowls of pretzels and nuts as appetizers. There was a bouquet of prairie wildflowers adorning a coffee table varnished, by the smell of it, a day hence.
Three of the nine people invited came. A tumultuous downpour broke half an hour before the get-together. When the first guest, Pablo, came in, Anne almost fainted at the wet footprints he left in the carpet, but she composed herself while fixing her hair in the tiny half-bathroom off the kitchen.
Mikey came in next, toting dope smoking paraphernalia, and started to light up at his presumed seat at the dinner table. Much to the chagrin of Anne, Raymond joined him, and within minutes, the house smelled of a skunk farm. Dana arrived shortly after and remarked that the place smelled as sweet s a highway ditch in the height of summer.
Anne asked everyone to sit down, put on an lp of Nina Simone, and brought out from the oven the main dish: roasted pheasant. Raymond popped open the bottle of California rouge. Mikey was especially hungry so asked to be passed the cold corn salad.
When Raymond sat down, his knees jolted the table, which spilled the bottle of wine all over it, then, as he was getting up to make amends for the mess, hit his head on the overhung light fixture which rained down a flurry of dried up insects, mostly moths and gnats.
Anne turned red. Then she began to cry.
The rain outside was coming down in sheets. Dana didn’t mind the spice of dried bugs on her portion of the pheasant and began eating, after scraping them off with her knife, joking about the mysterious, but very good indeed, flavoring. Anne bolted up out of her chair and ran upstairs to the sound of a slamming door.
Party that had begun was over. The three of them finished the food, opened up another bottle of wine, this time white, and a six pack appeared from the cellar. A steady drip of water had begun to squeeze its way through the crack on the ceiling in the kitchen, so Raymond promptly put the empty mashed potato pan underneath. Nora, Mikey, and Raymond went to sit on the porch since they were getting wet indoors anyway, turned up the volume of the record player, and set their sights on smoking the rest of the dope until only its dust and a few seeds remained.
Dana and Mikey apologized for the stream of events, the lack of others, etcetera, but Raymond shrugged it off, rationalizing that Anne could miss a few meals for the better. They called for her to come down; she said she would in a minute.
Mikey, on a whim of flighty intoxication, told Raymond that his pictures were awful pretty – the still lives of medicinal plants, the rural land forms, the sheet, and the portraits of locals, but wondered out loud why there weren’t any nudes.
Raymond eased himself back into his iron rocking chair and attempted thought. He said, well, that, is was a case of, well, never meeting a model (meaning a woman) with a body of a model (meaning perfect) who would get to know me well enough to feel comfortable enough to disrobe in front of me. While he said this he was looking at Dana’s heels, exposed by her clogs.
He said his dream was to find just such a perfect female, classic body- caring mind- intelligent and loving, not to have as a lover, but as a friend, a partner in the artistic process, as he put it, and he would capture her essence in a, singular, nude study, that he would never show to the public, but just keep in his studio, his own personal Galatea, as a reminder of what?: Time, death, the joy of the physical. For all the parties Raymond went to, and all the bars, and all the art shows and vernissages, it was impossible for him to find, this apriori woman concealed in so many different bodies layered in so many layers of confusing clothes.