When I got home, she had already started slinging paint onto a large piece of newsprint taped to the spare bedroom wall.
Arcs flared out in brilliant orange red, a color you might see at day's end, or beginning, atop a college-town roof, alive, like blood laced with almost too much liquor.
"Nice," I said. A dusty earth smell filled the room.
She stood silent, brush hand flicking. Her bare feet danced, smearing pigmented droplets across the plywood floor.
We had long ago ripped up the carpet. One day we'd rip up the floor, too, turn the pieces into wall hangings maybe.
I sat the uzo on the paint table, dumped brushes from cups, poured. We drank quickly. Licked remnants from each other's mouths. Kissed roughly and drank each other, spinning as art became flesh, became the liquor, became thought spilled on paper.
"Grab your pencil," she said, as a haze began to fill the night. I could smell words rising from the paper, the paint, the floor, the earth.
They pushed into me, ripped open capillaries, gushed idea after idea until I swayed, and sat, leaning against the wall next to her. I grabbed from a stack of notebooks, and pages flew by as I penciled dreams with warm words, words wet from paint and bottle.
A clock ticked in the hallway. We didn't need it.
Half past twelve and delta blues licks clashed with the shop's roasted coffee bean air. We had forgotten to eat lunch again.
I looked up from my tablet and said, simply, "I need you to make art again."
Her book closed. Dark brown eyes mined my face for details, then took a slight descent into sultry.
"Anything in particular?"
We had, once, rolled around naked on canvasses, finger painting each other. Nothing much artistic survived. I smiled at remembering that.
"It's not a euphemism, I'm serious. I need a fix."
Our code word. For when the world starts closing in and one of us needs the other to pull, and uproot. My creative tree needed a shake.
"Hmm. Okay, got some new red pigments I've been wanting to try."
She stood, sucked the last of her chai latte.
"Pick up some uzo and meet me at the house, big boy," she said, a bit above table talk level. On purpose, I knew.
I chuckled, and knew without looking that more eyes than mine followed her out the door.
The day we met we had sex behind her car outside a church's summer tent revival.
I arrived a reporter, intent on documenting the true spirit of fundamentalist mountain religion, and left a convert to her free spirit. Writer turned vagabond passenger, in a beat up old Audi, riding with sun roof open, Erasure songs cranked.
Neither of us knew why we stayed together. No, that's not right. It didn't matter that we didn't know, because we never asked. It never occurred to us to ask.
We just were.
I woke to the scent of curry. And peaches.
Notebooks lay scattered across the wood floor like they had melted in place. I stood to survey the scene. 'Throw up in the morning, clean up at noon,' I thought. Bradbury's best advice. Ever.
Deep breath, then my feet shifted out the door, down the stairs, around toward the kitchen where we would trade one intoxicant for another - spices, sauces, all splashed onto remnants from the fridge. Emmie's way with food, and I loved her for it.
"Figured you wanted to eat before you cleaned up," she said.
I smiled. She meant words, of course, despite paint flecks that covered us. Why would we need to erase those? They would linger, and fade finally, like a sunset. Which would be in a few hours I noticed. I wondered if there was something I was supposed to do today. Saw trees sway out back, wondered if any bluebirds had nested in my box yet. Blue would be a nice color for the new mailbox.
I shook my head, trying to dislodge the fog. "Sounds good."
I inhaled the curry's tang, and focused on it instead. That's what will remain, I think, in the end. When I'm too old, too crinkled, too mindless for anything else. Smells. Only smells, of curry and jasmine rice, the Egyptian musk perfume that she wore in college, fresh coconut. Powerful scents, like books, hold scenes from our past. We preserve thoughts with words. Smells preserve whole books. I mean, who doesn't smell barbecue and think of a dozen summer evenings with friends or remember entire week-long trips to coast when they grab Old Bay out of the spice cabinet?
In one breath, I daydreamed on curry. The times we shared at Indian restaurants in Cincinnati, the psychic fair in our younger days. Patchouli, and stewed lentil nights.
My fog had placed me in front of the table, apparently. So, "What do you want to do with the rest of today."
"I have a few errands in mind," she said. "Then maybe see Delia about a new project I'm working on."
"Oh? Can't wait to see it."
"You might be surprised, or disappointed. Or both." She stirred some chicken, chopped from yesterday's leftovers, into the curry.
"That sounds ominous," I said. "I guess it's not a painting then?"
She turned, a half smile flashed out as she walked across the tile, fresh naan in hand.
"It's a surprise."
Thinking back, I should have noticed the tremble in her hand as she left the plate.