“Polaroid of a Man in Love” – Fiction by Darley Stewart

Reclining Nude - Paul Cezanne, 1887
Reclining Nude – Paul Cezanne, 1877

Sensuality & brutality collide in “Polaroid of a Man in Love,” Darley Stewart‘s powerful & disturbing shard of impressionistic flash fiction from our Summer 2016 issue.

{ X }

{ 1 }

AS MUCH AS I WANT TO STAY IN THIS SEMI-DOMESTIC SCENE, the pink of the sun rises and infects the clouds. And I am afraid to be alone and stuck in one scene for too long. My mind wanders — often. It runs against good reason. I am afraid more than anything to be alone with my own mind. I know enough to know that I need a woman around, it can even be a girl, she can pick up and fold my socks, or she can suck me until I go blind, she can do mostly whatever she wants unless I am in a very dominant mood, but mostly, mostly, I am gone.

{ 2 }

I believe this is what has made my paintings successful. I watched her slow murder unfold. It was slower than I ever thought murder could be. I can take a polaroid of it for you. Polaroids were popular in the summer of the year she was murdered. The polaroid version is that I was fourteen years old. My mother had died from cancer, leaving me with my tyrannical father and tall, angry brother who excelled at everything he touched, athletics, women, whatever he wanted. I won a scholarship to paint, and I went off to Italy. My father grudgingly acknowledged the genius in me — said to me, quietly one night, you’re a talented fag aren’t you. I painted but I was also lured off to a part of Italy that had nothing to do with the scholarship or the program or the students. A part of Italy that had to do with a girl set against a coastal landscape. I had my first taste of coffee, good bread, and I went to the sea every morning to see her, at first from a distance. She was my age, and she liked to greet the morning without her shirt on. Her breasts were the first I had seen and touched. They were small, perfect. Her deeply tanned skin melted into the palm of my hand. Later in the day she showed me how to catch fish with wide nets. It was unfortunate but the coast was rocky, and by sunset her head was crushed against the rocks by two strong older men. They took turns with her dead body. They forced me to watch. Then I ran away. I never saw them again.

{ 3 } 

I watch her — she is sleeping. She has her dramas, as all young women do, and she is twenty, so she is expected to have them, but what is especially boring about hers — aside from the fact that she is compelled to share them — is that she attempts, in all her dramas, to be the mature one who waits things out. I find it boring that she is as middle-aged as I am. She is very tall — her name is Mildred. Mildred, a name that brings to mind both mildew and dread. Mildred grew up in Ohio before she claims to have grown up in Tribeca and was coaxed into modeling at the age of seventeen. Since then she has earned her spot this winter season as fashion’s “it” girl and she has been parading in white cable knit sweaters and see-through panties, her pubis glittering distantly behind meshed fabric, on billboards in Soho and Times Square.

{ 4 }

Her breasts arrive like two frightened young nuns in an eighteenth-century novel. I spend the morning staring at them in order to decipher the origin of my boredom. It is a hot-and-cold day in the Poconos. The rivers are here, the cabin is wide and set pleasantly above a gurgling rivulet, and there are rocks and trees and the like. All the familiar objects of nature are in place. Mildred is asleep under blue satin covers in dark red plaid pajama bottoms, topless, her breasts facing me, looking almost afloat, light brown hair flowing over her face, her eyes, her nose, only her puckish, pouting mouth bares itself to me, and as I insert myself, repeatedly, it cakes, ever so gently, with the lace of my discarded sperm.

Is this love? I think, and I conclude, yes, this is love.

{ 5 }

Have I omitted anything? True, sperm only account for up to 10% of the contents of ejaculate — chlorine is a component in semen — yet I think we would all agree that it is the part that matters most, and it saddens me that once it meets the air it dies.

{ 6 }

I sit at the breakfast table by the window. The panes of the window, these divisions — they filter the light into shapes, light that floods the round table, covered in an off-white linen. Just away from the center of the table, a vase filled with flowers that I don’t recognize, catches the light at a scarred angle. They look like pink coral, and clusters of smaller yellow ones with the same structure reach across the table with a bold, languid gesture. Their roots float in the glass and remind me of crowns of trees dissolving into the air. On my plate — a small bottle of Klonopin, half a buttered bagel, two knives, crumbled goat cheese. In bed, a stirring Mildred. I see the thinnest stream of a tear. It imprints upon her face. A hand with flashing gold nails dangles over the side of the bed, pointing towards our remains: the neon pink scarf curled in upon itself, thigh-high boots flung around needles, half-chewed oranges, a shattered glass, wine stains, my jacket with bits of grass stuck under the collar.

{ 7 }

She awakes. The windows are wide open. The air is cold.

{ X }

IMG_9242DARLEY STEWART is based in Stuyvesant Heights, Brooklyn. The recipient of a 2015 Ocean State Fiction Writing Scholarship, you can find her work in Battersea Review, Brooklyn Rail, Flapperhouse, Ocean State Review and Park Slope Reader. Most recently her short story, “The Story of Dearborn Russell” has been taught at The University of Rhode Island. See more at www.darleystewart.com.

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