Nate Lippens ~ The Universe Says No

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).