The "Smile"

I took a cab home. My cab, to be precise. Tipper Gomez, who was my regular daytime relief, had covered what remained of my shift while I stewed in the interrogation room.

"Do I still have a job, Tipper?" I asked as he parked the cab curbside at my apartment.

Tipper Gomez may have been one of the last men in the country to sport a pencil-thin moustache. He smoothed it down with an equally pencil-thin finger. "I don't know how you do it, Johnny," he replied behind his heavy sunglasses. "Anybody else pulled the shit you do, he'd be out of work pronto, but Sparky says you should be ready to pull your shift tonight."

I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought for sure this latest transgression would mean the end of my tenure as graveyard shift driver for Sparky's Cab Company, but I once again had dodged the bullet.

 

Tipper took note of my mood. "Yeah," he said. "You slipped the noose again. I don't know how you get away with it."

"Neither do I, Tip," replied. "Neither do I." He removed his sunglasses as I opened the door to exit the cab and noticed the bruise under his eye. He must have another fight with his girl, Dolly. She was a notorious drunk and he fancied himself a ladies' man; a sure-fire combination for a tinder and matches relationship. They spent as much time swinging away at each other as they did making love, but raucous as their relationship was, they had been an inseparable couple for many years.

"Give Dolly a kiss for me," I said as I shut the cab door. I jogged up the sidewalk and then up the steps to my front door. I was anxious to make what I felt would be the finishing touch to my painting.

I opened the door and went inside to two big surprises.

Surprise number one was that my few possessions were laying about hither and yon. Somebody had broken in and tossed the joint. My prints of Picasso's' "Les Demoiselles Avignon" and "Portrait of Gertrude Stein" had been torn off the wall and lay face down on the floor. My two hard backed wooden chairs had been upended and lay on their sides. I could see beyond the long living room and into the kitchen, where my green formica-topped table had been pushed against the back door. The screen door behind it had been slashed and its simple hook latch dangled from the eye bolt. In spite of the damage, I wasn't concerned. If any burglar had been so hard up that he needed to break into a home as bereft of loot as mine, he was welcome to what he could find. It was my magnum opus I was worried about. I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that some low-life cretin had trashed all of my hard work, creativity and inspiration. My heart leaped as I saw it was still propped on the three chairs I used for an easel, unharmed. In front of it stood surprise number two: Cat Dupree, stroking her chin thoughtfully with one hand as she studied the painting, her other hand hanging at her side, still gripping that damned pistol as if it were an extension of herself. She refocused her gaze from the painting to me.

"I still say it needs something," she said.

I felt like baby bear when he discovered Goldilocks sleeping on his bed. "Someone's been trashing my house, and there she is!"

"I  know," I replied. "And I know what it is."

I hung the Picasso prints back on the wall. As before, they were a bit off kilter, hanging at slight angles on the dingy wall. I preferred it that way. Pablo realized art was a testament to the anarchy that lay below the surface of every human emotion, and all human endeavor. I doubt there was a plumb line in any of Picasso's voluminous works, so why display them that way?

Cat Dupree used her pistol as a pointer. "They're crooked," she observed. After a pause, she added, "Then again, considering in whose house they're hanging, it makes sense."

Now I was intrigued.

***

What set Pablo apart from his many contemporaries was his confidence, his rock-solid belief in himself and of his place not only in the world of art but in the world itself. He rose above the pack because he knew he was the superior being. While others of limited vision and limited skill and limited courage labored in relative and deserved obscurity Picasso not only reached for, but actually seized the stars. It is a rare quality not only in an artist, but in any achiever. One in a billion is a person like Pablo, and one in a billion of those actually makes the connect between an everyday life and immortality. And one in a billion of the one in a billion realizes this. And one in a billion of those actually puts all of this into action; whether in a painting, or a piece of music, or a recipe, or a street rod or a Constitution. And after you die and leave your masterwork behind you hope against hope that it will live and breathe and remain true to your vision and not be hoarded by some pinhead with money or prostituted by someone who would bend it to fit their own twisted vision of what the world should be.

Makes you wonder why anybody would even bother, doesn't it?

But I had bothered, and would continue to do so. It was why I drove cab for a living. Why I lived a spartan existence. Why I walked away from one million dollars. Called it ego if you want, but it was my aspiration to be the one in a billion in a billion in a billion in a billion who made that connect between flesh and blood and immortality. It was why I spent nearly every waking, and much of my sleeping, moments thinking about my art. It was why, in the face of the murder of my friend, a street shoot-out, a Donnybrook with the police, a dire warning about my own tenuous future, and a conversation with the ghost of my dead friend that it was this, my painting, that consumed my thoughts.

I stood next to Cat Dupree and studied my painting. "Why did you break in?" I asked her.

"I didn't break in."

"You have a bad habit of popping up where you aren't invited," I replied.

"The back door was unlocked, if you haven't noticed."

I motioned to the upended chairs. "Then you didn't do this?"

"Of course not. That's not my style. If I want to look for something, I'll do it right in front of your face."

I believed she would, and said so.

She cocked her head and looked at me quizzically, studying me like the big cat she so resembled.

"You're really a very beautiful man, you know."

She traced the outline of my mouth with her finger. It was one of the most sensual gestures I had ever experienced, and my entire body shuddered as she did it.

"How much of you is black?" she asked.

"One quarter. I'm a quadroon."

She was now fingering the Star of David hanging from my neck. "And Jewish, too?"

"You got it."

She released the hexahedron and looked around the room, her eyes fixing on the bedroom door.

"I assume you have a bedroom?" she asked.

"I do. But I don't have a bed."

"A bedroom with no bed?"

"Not the traditional bed. I have a mattress on the floor."

"Are the sheets clean?"

"Of course."

She grabbed my hand and led the way.

She didn't disappoint. We grappled like wrestlers looking for an opening to get the advantage: off the bed, on the bed and then off the bed again. It was bestial, and it was wonderful and after it was over we slept like the dead, she on one side of the mattress, me on the other. It was late afternoon, and the bedroom was hot with summer and sweat. I slept furtively, and I dreamed.

I dreamed of winter, and snow, and cold.

I dreamed of Tank.

 

 

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