Once Jane realized she had mistaken masochism for perseverance, leaving was a song on continuous play. On I‑5 to Sea-Tac, she watched tall pines zip by. How had life gotten so small?
In Chicago, art supplies went in storage. Jane waited for signs while she wandered strange streets. Friends sent memes, words of encouragement, and tough love. One mailed a crystal, an astrology book, and a note: Protect your heart.
Her sister in Michigan called with cancer news and Jane packed at once. Afternoons, she helped her niece with homework at the dining room table as Liz slept on the couch.
After chemo, Liz hurried but didn’t make it, vomiting across the floor. Jane watched her sister moving about like an action painter. Liz waved her off, backing down the hallway, bent over.
Her niece decorated the Christmas tree: musty pageantry and brittle bulbs. Liz smiled through pain and Jane drank too much. Texts went unreturned.
February was suicide watch month. Jane checked in with depressed friends and held back her own story.
March was birthy and Liz died. The niece went to the ex-husband and the house was sold. Jane found an apartment and talked about returning to Chicago or moving to Savannah.
The mattress factory shift was ten hours. One hour lunch and two fifteen-minute breaks. Jane messaged with coastal friends and longed after coworkers’ cigarettes but did not partake.
She thought about Jay DeFeo painting The Rose for seven years. Brandy-drinking, chain-smoking, layering oils mixed with mica chips until the canvas weighed almost a ton and wouldn’t dry. It had to be fork-lifted out the second-story bay window, ripping a piece of the wall away as it went.
Jane unpacked her paints. She would find a way to love it again. She would become obsessed and work all night like she once had. An hour later, she was in bed streaming a show people praised. It reminded her of something, but she fell asleep before she remembered what.
Her younger coworkers talked about vibes and cringe. Styles she had worn decades ago had returned. She bought a Tasmanian Devil sweatshirt at Goodwill. $4.99.
She dreamed of Liz. They’d never been close, but now gone Liz was a place to visit. She woke damp-faced, got up, and walked the neighborhood. Familiar dogs in fenced yards put on ferocious displays.
Jane thought of a story about Agnes Martin. The older artist had hosted a young painter at her New Mexico home and issued advice. Never have kids, never live a middle-class life, and never let anybody in your studio, she said, opening the door to her studio. That night, Jane dreamed about the scene. Martin was played by Liz. When she flung the studio door open, it was just a cluttered garage, and the artist told her, Haul this shit away.
Nate Lippens is the author of the novel My Dead Book (Publication Studio, 2021). His short fiction has appeared in Catapult, Entropy, and Fugue, and is forthcoming in the anthology Pathetic Literature, edited by Eileen Myles (Grove, 2022).