The first flush, Frida. A small picture. The painter, fiery and brown, fierce-browed, flat on her sickbed back. He didn’t understand the jolt of it at first, and maybe not now, how his pulse quickened when he saw how sick she was. The tram wreck, the polio, the crutches. In this way, her accident was his accident, the way he came to know his strange desires. He had already admired her art and personality and beauty. Now there was more. Her valiant wrestling with the infinite jest, like a horsewoman mastering the reins.
He can’t help thinking about this every time he sees the girl in the gallery. He sees her here again and again, and so he knows, this is sacred space for her, too. He watches her watching the sculptures, feels their frozen force melting under her mahogany eyes. Wonders if she can notice him that way, the way he sees her.
She is slow with her walker, one foot dragging a little, one foot a size or two greater than the other. It makes his heart race. He has delicious thoughts about her secret scars. He wants to dress her up, put her poor little feet into the chunky black boots he has at home, the ones he ordered online. Mismatched sizes, vintage, for someone with congenital talipes equinovarus, or maybe polio like Frida.
Some nights he takes those boots from the closet, polishes them patiently, with special attention to the boxier one. He trembles when he touches the tough tongue of unyielding leather. He feels tenderness, and something wild and ferine. Sometimes he closes his eyes and thinks of other things he’s seen online, prosthetics and braces, vintage medical devices. In popular videos, the guttural grunting of limber-limbed ladies always failed to excite, but a woman in a cast could ignite something he just couldn’t make sense of.
But then one day he finally told someone about his affliction. There was another artist he got on with, a fellow who seemed open and curious about the ways humans were wired. It seemed a good place to start.
And he didn’t get the response he’d been expecting. As he lowered his eyes with shame and anxiety in the telling, his mate coughed up a cloud of cannabis and waved his hand in the haze. That’s it, man? his friend asked. This is the big reveal?
A staccato of hacks and sputters ensued as he took down the rest of his medicine. That all you got, man? Your big secret? Take my advice, mate, and don’t lose any more sleep over this.
He tried to protest, fearing he had been misunderstood, but his friend said, So what, man? Stop catastrophizing … Somewhere out there is a woman with an oxygen tank, or a girl who can hardly walk, wondering how she’ll meet someone who can see her as she is. It’s win-win if you ask me … Go on then, go out there and find her, mate …
And now here he is, a spectator, alongside her, both of them admiring African masks and Inuit whale bone carvings. He tries to conjure courage to ask her out before she disappears. How can he be sure she’ll be here next time?
She drags away, into a room of splashes and stripes and he almost fails to follow. But she slips slightly on the fresh waxed floor and her walker spins. She is fine, she regains her balance, but when their eyes meet, he takes his chance. Can I help? he asks. She shifts, defensive at first, then softens. Hi … thanks … okay, she says. He holds out his hands.
Lorette C. Luzajic is an artist, writer, and editor. Her flash fiction and prose poetry are widely published, including in Axon, Ghost Parachute, Cleaver, New Flash Fiction Review, and beyond. She was recently nominated for Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfiction. She teaches ekphrastic writing workshops through the journal she founded, The Ekphrastic Review.