His parents were Christians, but their house was more filled with jazz than the holy spirit. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Sonny Rollins records played continuously, cigarette butts stood in for the Eucharist, and the wounded hand of Django Reinhardt was given more consideration by him as a young boy than the crucifixion wounds of Christ. He would stare at the large poster of Django (Gypsy, for ‘I Awake’), in the lounge and gaze at his melted, talented hand with utter reverence.
His father was a soldier and met his mother in Cambodia during a war that never happened. His mother introduced his father to Jazz. His father was a fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Doors, but he was so transfixed by a beautiful Cambodian girl with purplish lips and parenthesis eyes that he also fell in love with a music that she figured he would have known like the statue of liberty. He had never been there either.
His mother and father made love for the first time in the opaque water of a cold rice field. As he pulsed inside her and she wrapped around him they could feel tiny insects crawling into their clothes. Both of them sunk their feet into black mud.
They conceived him on a large wet trampoline in the backyard of a progressive Methodist church in Cleveland that kept the name ’First Cleveland Methodist’ to keep the financial support of the bureaucracy. They were, in spirit, a non-denominational church bordering on Pentecostal. His parents, still young and just back to the States, were invited to a lock-in at the church by a high school friend of his father’s. They fucked on the trampoline while the parishioners were having a 1 am barbecue. Their clothes smelled like mesquite when they put them back on. Their shoes were damp from morning moisture.
His name was Django, for obvious reasons. He was tentative, like an artist’s sketch that would either evolve into much more later, or end up with a grocery list scrawled on his backside. He had those lightly shaded, penciled in edges that were surprisingly rough in some places, ghostly in others. Many people had no idea how to take him. When he was fifteen he started asking girls from the neighborhood up to his room in the attic so he could paint them nude. They often obliged.
His subjects were almost exclusively between the ages of twelve and fifteen like him. They often took some convincing, ‘Come on.‘ He would lobby, varying his tone to insinuate something different on the second go round. ‘Come on.’ And they would look at each other, sometimes squint, sometimes giggle. But always they would quietly follow the artist back to his studio in the attic.
In the attic, they were greeted with wooden floors and walls with canvas faces turned towards them. “Can I see?” They would ask, pointing towards the secret art. “Take off your underwear and squat on the mirror. Then you can see your own.” He would say.
His parents were banned from the studio. They liked it. They felt more bohemian for allowing their son to restrict their access to the attic where he painted. They would tell their friends at key parties about their young son sequestered up in the ceiling. Sometimes the black men that his mother would bring home would stop playing the piano, stop laughing, stop swearing and just smoke, turn their eyes towards their berets and the ceiling and listen to the artist pace. This would always make his mother and father look at one another, pupils dilating.
Django’s babysitter, a boisterous woman with swinging honeydew breasts named Garcia sat for him once.
She was dark, with freckles and a deep manly laugh. A thin moustache caught beads of sweat as she picked his marbles and wooden cars up off the carpet before bedtime. She always wore this shirt, white, wrapped around and tied in front with a descending V-neck that was fastened with a silver, tarnished broach.
Her breasts, swollen, swinging. Ready to burst. Her freckles like tiny planets without an orbit (Or whatever they had orbited was long gone). Her ankles, thick. She stung the boy with a humor he didn’t recognize, even later as a grown man. The only way he could tell it was humor at all was that she laughed at it. He had heard her odd humor so much when she watched hem that he himself had become odd for it, more odd than he had been before.
“Someone ought to bite your palm.” She would say, cackle. His eyebrows would drop, and she would laugh. “Rouge. I should make you up.” Django would only think ‘what in hell’ and smell her yeasty odor as she sat next to him, raising an arm to rest behind him on the couch cushion. He could see the subtle, sloping line where her breast became her side, she didn’t shave her pits and her smell was often like cardamom.
One day as she was sweeping the floor, Django, sketchbook in his lap, pen gripped tightly, had an epiphany:
“Oh God you are beautiful.” he said, his hands stroking the pen. Garcia laughed.
“Oh God.” he said. She was all sweat and swagger, smiling wide and stained, freckles, freckles. He wanted to lick them off of her skin, make her pale and unexceptional. He wanted a fully belly of her explosively freckled breasts. He would wear her big saucer nipples like the plates African women put in their ears.
“Take off your clothes” He demanded, and she dropped her broom, looking at this odd drawing sitting on the couch before her, legs flat and stiff, face flushed, shaded like coal. She laughed and obliged, dropping her coil to the floor, exposing her wide hips and paler dimensions. She took hold of him in a beat and led him up the creaking dusty steps to the attic, his arms swinging at his side.
She laughed at the oddness of this little workshop with all of the paintings facing the walls. “Let me see.” She said without waiting for an answer. She turned one canvas away from the wall, then another. “These are fine. So colorful” She said. The boy smiled. She sat on a stool in the center of the room.
A small trail of hair ran from her belly button down, expanding into a lush field. “Oh God.” Aching.
The painting was terrible and it took hours. Django was ruined as an artist. “Break me in half.” He begged her. “Break me in half!” He begged as she demanded colors he’d never mixed be mixed, curves he’d never navigated be dug in and dragged across the sturdy, diminishing snowfield.
She walked over to him after he was done, all sweat and anticipation, carefree, balled him up like crumpled paper and swallowed him hole. They had sex, he was broken, cracked open. The attic smelled like the aftermath of that sitting until the house was demolished in 1986.
“We have to do something about your makeup.” She said once in her unfeminine brogue as she held him to her bare chest beneath a crisp yellow sheet after a particularly exhaustive session.
“What do you mean?” He said, one hand slid hopelessly beneath one of her slag, pregnant breasts.
“You look like a preliminary sketch. For a boy raised under the circumstances you have been raised under, I’d expect a color that would make my eyes bleed in unbelief. But you’re almost a sheet of tracing paper.”
Django sighed and rubbed her belly. “I know. I’m too old and too young. I’ve known so many black men and have breathed in so much of their cigarette smoke, I’ve been baptized by it. I’ve painted every girl in this neighborhood nude and I’ve slept like an infant beneath the blanket of your thick scent. How can I not be more colorful than all of my mother’s black men, or the words that squeeze through their thick lips?
“I don’t know Django. I don’t know why you talk that way either. Are you trying to be poetic? Why are you so brooding? You think despair equals sophistication?”
“I’m not interested in being sophisticated.”
“To hell you aren’t.”
“I’m not. I resent you saying so.”
“Django, you’re translucent. Black and white. I could fill you with anything I chose.”
“Is that what you’re doing?”
“…Maybe it is. I suppose it is.”
“I don’t want you to come here anymore. Turn in your resignation.”
“No, thank you. You’ve done me a service. Thank you, but you have to leave. You didn’t take away my innocence by yourself. This whole place did. I never had any actually.”
She propped herself up on an elbow. “How long have you been thinking this?”
“Just now actually” He said. “Maybe I should sleep on it.” Pause. Looks at the floor. “I have something to confess.”
Garcia arched her eyebrows as a prompt.
“…I don’t see colors.” He said, dimpling.
She laughed. “What do you mean you don’t see colors? What about all of these paintings? They’re so colorful.”
“I know. I know. I recognize them, I know what everyone responds to. I know it means something to my parents to be surrounded by all of this art deco, all of this jazz. To my dad, jazz is ethnic music, you know? To me, and I know they would disagree, they’d say all of this color was a spilling over of all of the color they had inside, but I don’t think so. I think it’s a compensation.”
“So you’re color blind?” Garcia asked.
“Probably the exact opposite.” Django Responded. “I see so many colors so often, none of them mean anything to me at all. I am struck by black and white.”
Garcia gasped. “I’ve seen you looking at the priests in the field…I thought you were just going to paint them.”
“I’ve spent hours watching the priests and nuns at the seminary across the street. That’s where I’m going. I’m pretty sure I’ve made up my mind. You’ll have to go.”
She looked at him for a moment, and he didn’t blink. She stood up, gathered her clothes and walked down the steps. He heard her pause at the bottom of the stairs to dress, her belt buckle clanging, the sound of fabric sliding against her skin.
Django went to the window and looked at the cathedral across the street.
Saint Peter in Chains.
The windows were beautiful stained glass. An amalgam of colors, pious imagery. A couple of priests sat on a stone bench in a winding garden next to a tall white gazebo in front of a wide trellis, covered in ivy. One priest, balding, fat, held a book serenely on his lap. The other, tall and thin, smoked a pipe thoughtfully, his legs crossed.
Django wasn’t sure why he lied to Garcia about not being able to differentiate colors. He wasn’t sure why he lied about considering the priesthood. He stood, and walked around the room turning all of the canvases to the wall that Garcia had faced out, and moved his easel to the window, where he could see his reflection. Thick black lines with some subtle shading around the eyes. He picked up his brush.
His wrists ached arthritically with anticipation.
About the author:
Spencer Anthony Troxell lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife Abby and his two sons, Spencer Eliot and Jack Lewis Anthony. His work has appeared at Eyeshot, Rouse Magazine, Word Riot, EOTU E-zine, and Thieves Jargon. A story of his will be appearing in an upcoming sex Anthology being put out by Better Non Sequitur. He collects bottle caps and attends college at the University of Cincinnati, where he is seeking a degree in Social Psychology. He was born in March of 1981.
© 2011 Word Riot