Fiction

The Duplex and Picasso’s Nudes

By C. Wrenn Ball

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

James’s beard had always been spry and full, but with age came sophistication, and gray hairs. They were made especially clear upon the Wharry Bridge, a rickety thoroughfare that connected mainland Carolina to the dunes of Topsail Island. Hardly conscious, James’s eyes washed between the bridge and rearview mirror, so that his beard could remain in full view of the fading light, outshining the sorrow of his increasingly desperate car ride.

In the early days, James would study the first strands of gray that dotted his scalp, intertwined with long hair that his wife claimed to love, back when they were both under forty. He would lean towards the bathroom mirror, plucking, then ripping away those gray invaders. But now, at least ten years past the first signs of trouble, the brown remainders dotting James’s scalp and chin had almost completely abandoned the fight.

While trekking across the Wharry, just thirty miles North of Wilmington, other memories of the island sprang to mind; his uncle surf-fishing, the water rising and falling about his knees. His grandfather smoking cigarettes and drinking beer on the porch, refusing a walk with anyone except James’s mother, who hated the feeling of sand between her toes, and so the old man was safe. At least one more, James fucking his wife while everyone else slept soundly, lost in the comfort of dreams.

Harbor lights shone over ice creameries while James’s dated BMW 3 series passed tourists, street lights, and dunes. Already coated by sand and rusted by saltwater, James barely registered the neon signs of half filled cocktail bars that existed between life and the edge of the world, somewhere upon the sound. Tiredness mixed poorly with the feeling of that sorrow, like anxiety that creeps silently behind eyelids. James wanted a drink and leaned forward to anticipate the street changes and stop signs intuitively; the chipped paint on neighbor’s fences and walls. Knowing them enough to wonder, if his impending divorce was actually the first crisis of his life?

He’d never worried for money. James had been sorry when his father passed, but not over the loss of the man; sad instead for his mother who was left alone in a world she hardly knew herself. James worked hard at his mediocre profession. His father would have been proud of his son, chronicling the lives and duties of politicians who lived in Raleigh. Critiquing the policy of greater women and men who struggled to change that steadfast capital. 

But had James actually hurt? Had he ever been this desperate? Shaking his head, James abandoned the selfish reverie. It was true, he wanted a drink badly. But even more, he yearned to arrive. And quickly.

After retrieving fresh crab from a beard like his, from a burly fisherman that ran the harbor-side market, James’s BMW slipped quietly into one side of an open air carport, tucked underneath the stilts of an oceanside duplex. Splintered steps lead to either unit’s entrance door, then the darkness surrounding a shared porch, exterior, wooden boarded showers, and the beach.

In the carport, darkness was thwarted by bug lights that flickered across a locked basement door, protecting the privacy of a storage area, bike rack, and an additional shower. A lightbulb hung from warped plywood, either in need of changing. The second parking spot, typically used by those renting the Ponsoldt’s other unit, was empty. A chipped FOR LEASE sign creaked above the gravel, in full view of the road behind, and the beach ahead.

James’s family purchased the duplex before he was born, when prices were lower, before the scarcity of real estate was heightened by the rising tide and diminished shore. There was more of an island, fifty years ago, and while many of the oceanside houses were long gone, this one remained. From the beginning there was a private, family unit on the left side of the house; ritzy yet beachy. Aquatic-blue stained bookshelves, filled by Louis L’amour happily coexisting beside Nora Roberts. His and hers, plus jars of seashells and landscapes of ocean water. The second side remained for renters, even in winter. Cheaper furniture, decorations maintained and hardly replaced, then only for profits or stability.

Seen through professionally cleaned, even polished windows, interior lights flickered on. Illuminating a sparse, modern living area with contemporary steel appliances and an open planned kitchen. Slowly, James crossed a darkened hallway that led to a single bathroom and to a pair of bedrooms lying in wait. Abandoned on the porch, his cooler shifted in the open air, as if the crabs and their claws were dying for a way out. As if they could sense the sand and water lying beyond the deck, another few dozen feet. Their furious pace quickening, before James returned for the cooler.

A glass in hand, James dumped the crabs into a pot. Ginny had always handled this part. He’d pour the drinks while she began to cook their crab. Alone, he added salt as the seaside creatures made their natural attempt, crawling at the edges of the metal pot. James watched the water, knowing that it was time to add the flame.

James dumped the crabs back into their cooler, a cool salvation instead of fiery hell. Feeling weak, and righteous, James made a salad. Tomatoes and spinach and cucumbers, instead of death. Looking onto dark dunes, James ate and drank and eventually dumped the dirty dishes into the sink. Leaving the work, the crabs, and their boiling for a brighter day.

Armed with boxes pulled from his BMW’s trunk, James finally approached the duplex’s darkened hallway. A flick of a finger while James was careful not to spill the whiskey. LED overheads illuminated a wall that stood guard between one unit and the other.

James remained motionless, in awe of five Picasso sketches, framed and tacked to the wall; Paysage de Juan-Les Pins, Femme Allongee, Nu Profil Gauche, Quartre Nus Sur La Plage, Flutiste Assise Et Dormeuse. Four of the five nudes, one in profile, another dancing, playing the flute, and lounging on a beach. The smallest worth two hundred thousand dollars and the most expensive ranging closer to one million, for ink on white paper. 

Almost nose to sketch, James tried to connect with one in particular, a saltwater passage, the lone drawing without a naked body. The cheapest at just under two hundred thousand, according to the sales associate who managed the auction’s account. James pondered the curves of that inked waterway, as if they had brought him to his family’s duplex; drinking in the curves of his whiskey, held in the curves of his hand, considered by the curves of his brain.

James had purchased the sketches, trading more expensive artists for the lesser Picassos. When his grandfather stumbled onto a record of the exchange, the old man had been as furious as one could be after giving up assets to family members that he hadn’t respected.

The truth was, James did not like the Picassos. He’d never understood them and a few, he thought, were ugly. But he knew that Ginny would love them.

And boy, he was right.

She preferred looking at the sketches to sitting on the deck with his family. Preferred taking in the curves of those ink lines to conversations with whatever distant cousins had gathered on the dunes, enjoying the private side of their duplex for weekends on end. Paying Ginny and her Picassos little mind.

Regardless, James knew that in the divorce proceedings, she would go to bat for possession. For that reason, James had set out for his family’s Duplex. To whisk away the Picassos from the walls of that lonely beach house, and from the clutches of his soon to be ex-wife. He had arrived to steal Picasso’s Nudes.

—-

And still the sound of waves; the sun rising over dunes and sand and salt water, white crashing over blue before James rose above those breakers. Coming up from the plunges of watery depths as if he’d finally managed to wash away his sins, lost in that salty air.

His hands wiped the past from hungover eyes, and that goddamned gray lined beard, the water rushing around his back and shoulders while James trudged slowly back to land. Bearing the pain that visited with every thought of his wife sleeping with someone else. The bitterness so powerful that it could not be drawn from a single shameful action, but gained its momentum from communal force; a collection of lifelong mistakes and the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Watching the tide rinse closer to his towel, James knew how long he’d be alone.

Quiet, then. Vacationers who would laugh and play hysterically throughout the afternoon continued to sleep. Locked away in other duplexes, while the intimate insides of James Ponsoldt raged at their seams. Why did he hate so much? James didn’t even know the other man’s name.

In his duplex’s shower, James gargled, allowing the hot water to scald the back of his throat, then to fall across his chest. Watching as it drained through his beard. There was plenty to do before the court processed the paperwork, handing down legally binding notices regarding their property. Meetings to discuss the disposal of their house at the beach, their place in Durham, and the mountain cabin. These had been scheduled with the mediator, a man that James disliked. Beyond the paperwork and negotiations, however, there was plenty to pack and to store. There was plenty to move. 

And the auction house in New York expected those Picassos.

The sale of the duplex hung in the balance. His real estate agent hoped to market both sides of the property, though hopes counted little relative to the orders of the judge. It wasn’t uncommon to see one half of a house for sale, though James preferred to profit from selling both. Who wouldn’t? Of course, the judge might award their possessions to Ginny, who would be overjoyed.

Until she realized that the Picassos were gone.

Free of sand, salt, and ocean water, James hung his towel, and carried their toiletries into the hall, leaving the bathroom empty. Void of life signs and memories, as if James Ponsoldt had never been there at all. 

Picasso’s Nudes were left on the walls of the hallway, in sight of the living room and kitchen. He cleaned the marble countertops of utensils and spatulas and silverware. Boxed away, taped together, and left by the door, while shelves loomed empty without their usual books. Lonely coffee tables without coasters or magazines or mugs. James sat at the family table, looking onto the beach filled by tourists and their colorful umbrellas; their towels and the sounds of their playing drifting in through his hurricane proof windows.

Sipping coffee, James watched them all from the cool interior, before the sounds of nearer voices interrupted his beachside reverie; a man calling after a woman, their laughter emanating from the other side of James’s duplex.

His interest piqued, James watched as a pair of lovers ran past the sliding glass doors of his rental unit, down wooden steps and out over sand. They laughed, passing the casual beach goers, joining the masses splashing together into breakers. Then falling beneath the surface of ocean and sky.

Confused, James pulled at his cell phone while digging through a drawer, searching for a card that listed relevant contacts. Utilities and power companies, sewage and plumbing specialists. The leasing office.

James found the local number on the back of an index card tossed between the yellow pages and a forgotten, worn pack of cards. He would dial and wait, before eventually providing the address for the Ponsoldt duplex. After dim jazz finished ringing in his ears, an agent confirmed the fact that absolutely no one had leased the rental side of the Ponsoldt duplex. The next booking was scheduled in six day’s time.

While James’s head spun with thoughts of trespassers and thieves, the automated manager apologized for their lack of booking weekdays. Apparently the island’s market hadn’t bounced back after last year’s hurricane, though they all hoped to build upon what looked to be a promising summer season.

James descended upon the carport, eager to gather more information, to root out the identity of these apparent lovers, and how exactly they had gained access to his family’s beach house. He discovered an Acura Sport Utility Vehicle tucked into the renter’s side of the carport; that year’s shining model and certainly lacking the battered style of his BMW three. He noted the license plate number before the sounds of footsteps drove James back to his side of the driveway. Quick to mask his curiosity in the face of some confusion, James pretended to search the depths of his own, raggedy sedan, as if after some long lost possession.

Clean shaven, spry and probably five years James’s younger, the woman’s Lover rounded the corner smiling. Dressed in a gaudy Hawaiian T that James recognized from the racks of those dollar stores that sold conch shells and cigarette lighters, the Lover casually retrieved their luggage from the back of that polished Acura, his movements lacking the nervous energy of a thief or trespasser.

James registered a strange familiarity; if not for the clean shaven face, and combed, greased hair, the Lover could have been James’s brother. And if James were to adopt a decent work out regimen, lose five pounds, and tone some of those long lost stomach muscles… The Lover could have been his twin.

When the other man said hello, James nodded his reply; then pretended to swipe through his phone while reclining awkwardly in the BMW’s passenger seat. Crossing the space between the SUV and dated sedan, the Lover introduced himself. Asking how James was enjoying his stay? Apparently under the impression that his partner owned the duplex, the Lover was unbothered by James’s surprised silence. Energized by the salt and the sound of waves, the man climbed the stairs with that luggage in tow, attributing James’s non-response either to mania or exhaustion.

As the sound of footsteps departed, the Acura’s horn beeped, the doors locked, and the tail lights blinked. The other man obviously feared that James would pilfer his shiny SUV.

That night, revelers crossed the dunes, their flashlights marking their way upon the sand. If they had looked up, they would have found either side of the duplex illuminated; in one, James sat at his table drinking whiskey, while studying Picasso’s Nudes. On the other side of the duplex, in clear view of the darkness, Ginny Ponsoldt screwed her lover, his attention passing over the curvature of her body.

Shaken, James hit the light switch, allowing darkness to overtake the private side of his family’s duplex. Though darkness did little to limit the sounds of lovers, and their nighttime fantasies.  

—-

And still, we hear the sounds of waves. Eventually we see the sun rising over dunes and sand and salt water where James Ponsoldt climbs from the depths. His torso barely visible in the breakers, James walks onto the as of yet empty beach. He remembers how cold it was in November; he would never, ever let his children, if he were to ever have children, swim in the ocean off the coast of North Carolina in November. In a moment of lacking judgment, on a cold November afternoon, his parents had surrendered their defenses and allowed James out of the house, onto the sand. Then into the water, if only for ten minutes of swimming. Ten minutes before the cold water ruined a child’s body. Ten minutes to enjoy the feel of the ocean upon your skin. Ten minutes of freedom before the world crashes down around you.

Ten minutes.

What was it about middle age that took away everything he’d ever wanted?

Water, like memories, fell from the gray tips of James’s scraggly beard. His eyes found the shared deck of the duplex, where Ginny stood on guard, a sweater wrapped around her shoulders. She cradled a steaming mug, looking down on her soon to be ex-husband, who remained motionless upon the sand. With an obscene motion of her hand, Ginny reentered her side of their beach house.

Fear consuming, heart pounding, James returned to his bedroom, surrounded by more of those boxes. Half empty bookshelves and dressers looming around him. The sheets of his double bed possessed the mess that usually followed a night of sexual rendezvous.

If only the storm had ripped their place down the summer before. How many other beach houses and duplexes, gone in a matter of nights? Why were they so lucky, allowed to remain? He wouldn’t have had to pack, to sell, to whisk away those sketches that would have been otherwise lost in a sea of rising tide. Maybe James wouldn’t have had to face his wife’s betrayal. Maybe one or both of them would have been lost in the storm, pulled to a place where pain was no longer real. And maybe he wouldn’t have had to face the distinct possibility that she was going to catch him stealing away their Picassos.

Between his bed and the window, James parted the shades, looking down on the carport as Ginny and her Lover dragged bikes across the gravel. Watching as they pedaled closer to the harbor and that fish market. Apparently in search of food, or ice cream, or beachside rentals. Perhaps the motherfucker fucking his soon to be ex-wife could surf. 

Abandoning the bedroom, James retrieved a worn pair of rusted keys from that same kitchen drawer, tucked between the forgotten pair of cards and a Topsail Island flier for every local fish fry. Passing the Picasso nudes, James approached that middle wall, and a doorway.

Beyond, the typically rented unit felt more barren than the Ponsoldt’s modestly cultivated side. Here, wood paneling was dated, lacking the typical bright, beachy paint or the sturdiness expected from a lived in unit. Certainly there were no Picassos. Instead, cliche’d landscapes of dramatic coastlines hung crookedly on the wall. A dated bathroom and a washer-dryer combo stood between bedrooms that belonged in motel advertisements.

James approached the kitchen. Marked by outdated, original wooden cabinets, the sink was crowded by Ginny’s dishes, left atop the counter. Dirty, stacked haphazardly close to, but not inside the sink. James opened Ginny’s fridge, but found little in the way of supplies. His eyes clocked leftover takeout, stored in the styrofoam of the island’s eateries. In the bathroom, James palmed her Lover’s soaps, shampoos and deodorant. His bathing supplies next to hers.

In the bedroom, their sheets had that familiar, tangled look; pulled down for easy access. Luggage laid across worn carpet, zippers opened, clothes visible. James looked down, immediately knowing the lace, the cotton, the denim. He turned to her Lover’s bag, setting aside a pair of novels and revealing briefs, then gaudy Hawaiian t-shirts atop neatly folded sweaters.

At first, James was content to stare down into the depths of the bag. But like all temptations, the longer he looked, the harder it was not to touch.

As soon as he did, James overheard the sound of footsteps, cringing at Ginny’s laughter and her Lover’s deep tones. As they climbed the exterior steps that hugged the outer wall of that very bedroom, James vacated their unit, pulling and locking the in-between door. Safe on the private side of his duplex, his hands clutched Ginny’s other Lover’s bag, tucked tightly to his chest. 

—-

On his side of the beach house, almost all of James’s property was packed into cardboard boxes, taped up and stacked by the door. Facing the wall that remained between units, James donned plastic gloves, and with the touch of a professional, removed each of the Nudes. He ignored Picasso’s scandalized expressions, unable to connect to the joy that hid in the expression of skin, water, music, and sand. One by one, James wrapped the portraits into plastic, and placed them carefully into sturdy, wooden boxes. Secured, tight, and ready for transfer, before a knock interrupted the work, sounding from the other side of the duplex’s front door.

James stood by as a team of hired movers cleared the furniture, cardboard boxes, the pile of lamps and appliances, the books and bookcases, and even those covered nudes, sealed. And ready for moving. Trailing their efforts to the carport, James reclined at the back of his BMW, watching as the movers and their trucks pulled off the gravel lot. He was partly surprised to find that the Acura had gone, Ginny’s parking spot abandoned in the busy afternoon. Finally alone, James faced the FOR LEASE sign, and inspired, ripped it from its hanger, and tossed it into the trash bin. 

His world shining a little bit brighter, James mixed a drink, and sipped, carrying smaller boxes from the bedroom and the bath. Clearing the living room, stacking his things by the door, as if preparing a perfectly orchestrated escape.

Meanwhile, not thirty miles away, the same sun fell over a highway cutting through swamp and woods, where that Acura SUV was parked on the shoulder of the thoroughfare. Just ahead were those moving trucks, illuminated under the flickering of a faulty billboard. An advertisement for a gentleman’s club just past the county line.

In the Acura’s passenger’s seat, Ginny tapped gnawed fingernails on her armrest, watching as her Lover engaged those same movers in lively debate. Their eyes darted between the trucks and the SUV, eventually considering the Ponsoldt’s property, and then accepting a heavy stack of bills from Ginny’s lover’s hands.

By midnight, James Ponsoldt’s whiskey bottle had been drained, resting on the tiled floor of their duplex. In calmer, soberer moments, James had laid a pillow and towel across the hardened duplex floor; a breath more, and he had passed out. Quickly asleep, his body returning to the fetal position.

Beyond the comfort of dreams, Ginny silently crossed the Ponsoldt’s side of the duplex. Her body wavering through space, carrying cheap, rental furniture from her side to his. Disturbed, James muttered after Ginny’s ghost, struggling against the effects of sleep and alcohol. Eventually, James rose, careening into an unfamiliar coffee table.

Searching for clarity, James hit the lights, and found himself alone. Somewhere between hungover and drunk, he discovered that the duplex’s rental furniture had been moved to the usually private portion of the shared beach house. Those cliche, beachy landscapes hung in contrast to his nude Picassos. The rusty washer-dryer combo in an open utility closet between bedrooms and the bath, while dirty dishes were stacked beside his sink.

In the fridge, James discovered rotting takeout, leftover in styrofoam boxes.

In the bathroom, he found Ginny’s Lover’s soaps, shampoos and deodorant.

Struggling to think against the weight of booze, James vomited into the toilet.

—-

Awake in that early morning, James stood at the in between wall, keys in hand. Listening for any sign of movement, James slid open the door, and stepped into the duplex’s rental side. Knowing the sound of Ginny’s breathing even in quiet darkness, James approached the bedroom. There, he found his bed, his sheets, his travel bag, and a pair of lovers surrounding his property that should have been on their way back to a storage facility in Durham.

In the living room, James marveled at his furniture, his books and their cases. His shelves and kitchen appliances that had been packed on trucks, and rolled away some hours ago.

Turning to the middle wall, James found their Picasso Nudes tacked to wooden paneling. He stared at the sketches, clearing his mind of drunkenness, of anxiety, and the jealousy that followed. But while James stood silent, the sound of a moving body ripped away his stupor.

Without a clear path to the in-between door, James stepped silently onto the shared deck, while Ginny’s Lover passed through the duplex’s hallway. Resolving himself to the safety, comfort and quiet of the bathroom. In order to take an early morning piss.   

Outside, James did not descend to beachy sand, nor did he approach the private side’s entrance door. Instead, he remained hidden on the exterior wall. Listening as Ginny made coffee, watching from a corner of the door frame as her Lover sat upon James’s couch, admiring Picasso’s skill. Just out of view, listening as the other pair ate their breakfast, frying the crabs that James had bought at the harbor’s market. James remained motionless, as Ginny and her lover exited the house, walking upon the deck. Silent, James watched as the pair of Lovers trudged over dunes, as Ginny fell upon a towel, basking in the sun. And James watched her Lover roll into salt water, succumbing to waves.

That night, James marched across the sand, clutching a flashlight, and a bucket, the illumination causing crabs to freeze somewhere between the water and their holes. Keeping his light trained on their backs, James bent down and pressed their shells to the sand. Depositing them safely, one after the other, into his bucket. The sounds of their desperate claws denting the inside of the plastic prison. Over and over again.

On his side of the bedroom wall, reclining underneath the dramatic painting of hurricane waves dashing a rocky shore, James wondered how long it took those crabs to boil in water, the heat of the stove top turned to medium-high. Surely, less than ten minutes.

And then, on Ginny’s side of that bedroom wall, the familiar bucket overturned beside James’s luggage, and his bed, and the feet of her Lover that fell over the side of their mattress. Allowing the crabs to crawl quickly across the floor. 

On the other side of that wall, James checked his watch before hearing the sound of their surprised screaming. Then the pounding of footsteps as Ginny and her lover fled the crabs and their conquering of the rental’s bedroom.

—-

White waves crashed over ocean blue, as James climbed from breakers, saltwater dripping off his sandy beard. Retrieving a towel, he dried damp shoulders and climbed the wooden steps to the private side of his duplex; where inside, Ginny sat waiting for her soon to be ex-husband. Calmly atop the kitchen counter, beside her own dirty dishes, her hands clasped angrily together.

When James asked why she was on his side of their duplex, Ginny told her former lover to stop fucking around.

Unyielding, James asked Ginny to bring back Picasso’s Nudes. 

Tired after a night filled with creeping after crawling crabs, Ginny leapt from the counter, a finger held threateningly in his face; the Picassos were their nudes. Not his. Not hers. She cursed his audacity, sneaking off to the beach to steal their sketches before the courts could make appropriate, legal arrangements. Furious, she demanded that James return her Lover’s luggage, that he join them for a meal on her side of the duplex. And that James bring tequila as a peace offering.

The night began like many before, save for the rental side as a cozy setting for their dinner party. Ginny managed the oven, the prep, the stove, the heat. While James mixed the drinks, triple sec and tequila from the island’s only liquor store, ensuring that the strength of the margaritas would dull their awkwardness.

Beyond the strange arrangement, her Lover sat on James’s couch, his legs crossed, waiting on food and drink. Watching as Ginny worked, mostly ignoring her soon to be ex-husband, mostly ignoring their strange similarity; their hair and shoulders and the tones of their skin. The way their chins cut across their faces. Ginny’s Lover ignored this for the longest time; surely he wasn’t a type. Surely she liked him, and not because he reminded Ginny of her soon to be ex-husband. But then the drinks were ready, and were served. And there was no ignoring the inevitable.

            They drank, while Ginny broke the silence, rounding the first corner of tequila’s courage; Ginny told her Lover that James had always forced her to cook. James laughed, his wife had always made him clean the dishes. He had never learned to cook properly and Ginny refused to hire help.

            At dinner, they didn’t talk very much. Crab legs and crab cakes and crab salad that reminded James of low country boils; newspapers spread across the table, metal crackers for the shells, Old Bay and potatoes and corn. A family laughing and working and eating together. Then sitting there, looking down at everything they had destroyed.

But that night, no one was happy. Not James, Ginny, or her lover. Five maragaritas deep and James wondered out loud, whether Ginny ever enjoyed their sex? Another pour, and the triple sec is gone; instead, they mixed leftover tequila on ice with a squeeze of lime. Retaliating, Ginny suggested that James was impotent. Brought on by his age, and fear.

Her Lover excused himself to the bathroom.

Ginny lit a cigarette as James stood, and turned over the whole of the table, spilling those cracked shells across the worn carpet floor. 

Then, James left Ginny alone on the rental side of their duplex. 

—-

The following day, James resolved to end the spiraling madness that came in the wake of pain, and just before divorce. He descended into the basement, pressing against the storage room’s drop in ceiling tiles, retrieving the other man’s luggage.

He reclined in a lounge chair, underneath the carport, wearing a familiar, gaudy Hawaiian T-shirt, toasting fish wrapped in foil on a small, coal fired grill. As the light glistened off the intercoastal waterway, James was happy to welcome the sounds of tires groaning upon his gravel. A visitor coasting into James’s carport. 

Ginny’s Lover’s Acura came to a slow and complete stop, the brakes squeaking in the humid air. The door opened, and with his arms full of groceries, Ginny’s Lover stepped towards the grill. Glaring down at his rival as smoke rose between them, either looking exactly like the other. One with a beard, the other clean shaven. Pleated pants and Hawaiian shirts apiece.

Without a word, Ginny’s Lover spat on the grill, ruining James’s efforts. And James dove over fiery embers, pummeling Ginny’s Lover’s face.

They fought in the broad of daylight, one devouring the other, knocking her Lover to the ground, the grill overturning as the ash blackened the concrete lot. The sun fell as James slammed the other man’s face, fists acting upon every regret and passion and sweetness that existed in his past life, with and without Ginny. James hit and hit and hit the man that had stolen his life, that had been living in his shoes.

That was fucking his soon to be ex-wife.

Grappling, they stumbled through the storage room door. Shouts and screams echoing from the dark interior. Shadows moving as a body slammed into the wall.

Then silence. And that open storage room door was shut from the inside.

Sometime later, after the sun had completed its journey over the waterway, Ginny was surprised by the groceries left behind in the wake of the still open, SUV passenger’s door.

Inside, she poured a drink, and sat before the Picassos, enjoying the view.

Tipsy, Ginny watched as the door to her duplex opened. She watched as a man who looked like her Lover, (wearing his watch, his Hawaiian t-shirt, his shorts, an especially clean shaven face) walked inside. They took one another in, before he moved to the bathroom, and she drained her glass, deciding on their future. 

Hearing the sounds of water splashing the tile, a grin spread across Ginny’s lips. Having abandoned her book, Ginny passed Picasso’s Nudes to join him under the water…

For ten whole minutes.

That night, they ate quietly at the dinner table, the sounds of the tide washing under the stars. Ginny made homemade pasta and so he washed dishes after their meal was through.

He sat amongst James Ponsoldt’s things; enjoying the couch and the view of the ocean. The books upon bookshelves. The knick knacks and modern steel appliances. Mostly, he stared at the Picassos. Finding clarity and understanding in the abstraction.

Returning from the bedroom with a book of her own, Ginny sat beside him, snuggling into the comforting firmness of his shoulders. As they kissed, her hand drifted to his whiskey, and in a quick, quiet, and unobserved movement, she spiked his drink with a dense liquid that spelled trouble, and shame.

—-

Alone and nude, James awoke on the floor of the rental side of his duplex. Blinking his eyes open, James was surprised by his surroundings, those cliche’d landscapes of dramatic coastlines, still hanging crookedly. His bags and possessions were gone. His furniture had been replaced by that cheap, rental property.

Groggily, James rose, clutching at his temple, calling for Ginny, then listening intently to the lonely silence that screamed in response. Slipping on briefs, James stumbled out the door and down the steps to an empty carport. He tried to enter the private side of the duplex, but found the door locked and his keys gone. Squinting through the cracked shades of a living room window, James discovered that the place was left completely barren. Without character, luxury, or privilege.

And certainly without Picassos.

Somewhere along the highway, past the bay and the harbor, Ginny drove her Lover’s Acura over a bridge. The morning light shone over the waterway and the gulf, the rising and lowering of the tide continued, regardless.

In the backseat, her bruised Lover reclined, half asleep in the monotony of the car ride, numbed by painkillers and barely comfortable beside half a dozen wooden storage boxes; all stacked in the spacious rear of the SUV.

The Nudes were secure, oblivious to their travel.

Happy to be drawn.

And to be appreciated by anyone at all.

Categories: Fiction

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