‘Why don’t you paint me?’ she asked.
‘I don’t paint anyone,’ I replied. ‘Actually, I don’t paint at all.’
‘But you could,’ she remarked.
‘In theory, I suppose. But I’m not any good.’
‘Do you have to be good?’ she asked. ‘In order to paint someone.’
‘Well, I’m not sure you have to be good,’ I said. ‘Only if you want to impress them.’
‘Is that what you want to do?’ she asked. ‘Impress me?’
‘Always,’ I said confidently.
‘Is that right?’ she mulled.
‘That is right,’ I repeated.
‘That’s good to know.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘It lets me know I’ve got you working,’ she answered. ‘Women always want their men to be working, at least for them.’
‘Really?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Really. That never changes.’
‘This is good information.’
‘You said you wanted to impress,’ she repeated.
‘That’s right,’ I confirmed. ‘I did.’
‘Well, then, this will help.’
‘That’s what I love about you,’ I said. ‘You’re always trying to help.’
‘Don’t be a smart ass,’ she snapped.
‘Was that meant to be helpful too?’ I asked.
‘Always. Just like you said.’
We sat there, facing one another, sitting at the tables of the outdoor café along the river. It wasn’t a fancy café. It had nothing special. No fine tablecloths or folded napkins. No stylish decor. No decorative fonts. But it was along the river.
Cafés along the river were always busy. It wasn’t because they were so good, but they were along the river, and people could sit there in the early mornings, late afternoons or inviting evenings and watch the river flow. This never changed. No matter what you were talking about or who you were with, this never changed. Not ever. The river kept flowing. Slowly. Steadily. Through the days and nights and everything in between. Through time and space and back again. There was the river. Flowing. Next to the cafés all lined up alongside it.
We sat there for a long time, facing one another, trying to determine who would offer the next comment. Our coffee cups were empty, and I signaled to the waiter to refill mine.
‘Would you like another cup?’ I asked her.
‘Please,’ she said, more shyly now.
I couldn’t tell if she was frustrated by our conversation, worn out, or merely taking a break.
‘You could still paint me,’ she said.
‘I thought I told you,’ I remarked. ‘Are we back to this?’
‘Picasso painted his women,’ she said.
‘Well, Picasso was a great painter,’ I added, overstating the obvious. ‘And a genius.’
‘Are you a genius,’ she asked.
‘I’m not sure,’ I said, neither humble nor arrogant.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Geniuses aren’t often declared geniuses until long after they are dead,’ I answered.
‘And you believe this will be the case with you?’ she asked for confirmation.
‘Only time will tell,’ I said.
‘That’s not very convincing.’
‘Well,’ I said. ‘I don’t have the benefit of knowing what the future holds.’
‘Do you think Picasso knew he was a genius?’ she asked.
‘I think Picasso’s ego was bigger than mine,’ I said. ‘But I do believe Picasso knew he was a great painter. I think he always knew.’
‘I would have liked to have known him,’ she said.
‘He certainly knew lots of women,’ I said. ‘He knew them, and he painted them, not always in a positive light I might add.’
‘That couldn’t have gone over well,’ she said.
‘It often didn’t. But there were always other women, more women; at least for Picasso.’
‘Why would he paint them in an unflattering way?’ she asked.
‘I can’t answer for him,’ I said. ‘But I think he painted what he saw, what he felt.’
‘That sounds dangerous.’
‘Perhaps. But Picasso painted without a shred of diplomacy. He was merciless in his pursuit of his art.’
‘That doesn’t sound so smart,’ she said.
‘No,’ I added. ‘But it does sound like a genius.’
‘Are you saying geniuses aren’t smart?’ she asked.
‘I am saying geniuses don’t make choices based upon what is good for them or good for others,’ I answered. ‘They only make choices that serve the best interests of what their genius pursues.’
‘Perhaps I shouldn’t want you to paint me,’ she remarked, reconsidering.
‘Well, I can’t paint, so I don’t think you do,’ I said.
‘But you do paint,’ she said. ‘In a sense. You paint with words.’
‘I am not sure I would call it painting. But that sounds like a compliment.’
I looked at her across the table from me. She was staring at me intently, wildly, in a manner which was both beautiful and savage. I wondered if she was thinking of all of those women Picasso painted. All of those women who were represented on canvases in different colors, through different forms, shapes, sizes and textures. Each was so distinct, so specific in the features he portrayed, in the aura she gave off to the world through his paintings. There was nothing uncertain about those women, nothing unremarkable. Each, in her own way, was completely memorable, entirely remarkable, brought to life in a manner only Picasso’s paintbrush could summon them.
‘It is,’ she said. ‘It’s a great compliment. I’ve compared you to a genius, after all.’
She didn’t need to look across at me wildly to be remarkable. I always knew she was remarkable, from the first moment I met her. That was never in question. The difference was she didn’t have to try, try harder, to make an impression. She couldn’t help but make an impression, but now she was trying, just a bit harder. Perhaps she really was thinking of those women in Picasso’s paintings, with all of their contortions, all their asymmetry and angles, all their harsh lines.
‘I’ll take it,’ I said. ‘It’s not every day I’m compared to a genius.’
‘Or a ladies’ man,’ she quipped.
‘No, you’re not,’ I said. ‘But you’re right.’
‘About me and about Picasso. He certainly was a ladies’ man.’
‘And you’re not?’ she asked.
‘I am not,’ I said. ‘But I’m your man.’
‘My man who can’t paint,’ she added.
‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘I am your man who can’t paint.’
‘It just doesn’t seem right.’
‘What doesn’t seem right?’ I asked.
‘That you can’t paint,’ she repeated.
‘Well, I’m not sure what I can do about that,’ I said.
‘If I had dated Picasso, I bet he would have painted me,’ she snapped.
‘Over and over,’ I agreed. ‘I have no doubt.’
‘Perhaps I’m with the wrong man,’ she smiled.
‘Picasso did like his women young. He was vital until the end.’
‘And you,’ she said. ‘Do you like ’em young?’
‘I like you,’ I said. ‘How many times do you need to hear me say it?’
‘The truth?’ she said.
‘Always,’ I replied.
‘You can’t say it enough. You can never say it enough.’
‘Because you don’t believe me?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she said. ‘Because I need to keep believing you. I need to keep hearing it. All women need to keep hearing it.’
‘I’m not interested in all women,’ I reminded her. ‘I am not Picasso. I’m only interested in you.’
‘In that case, tell me just how much you love me,’ she said. ‘Tell me over and over and in every imaginative way you can think of, with every beautiful word you know. Tell me until the sky grows dark and there are no more words to find out there, until they are no more words to summon anywhere in the universe, no more words capable of illustrating the depth of your love for me. And then tell me the same thing over and over and over. Paint me. Paint me with words if that’s all you’ve got. Paint me, goddammit, like you’ve never painted before.’
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