The Portrait

He was not one to paint portraits.

He could, if pressed, push and pull the paint around the canvas to create an image of the person he saw.

But the work never moved him inside. It was a lifeless effort for him. One that paid the bills or pleased a friend but for him, the exercise was generally filled with emptiness.

He wanted to capture something else. To find hidden grace, for instance, in a car abandoned along the road was his specialty. To place onto the canvas the feeling he had when he saw such things. To make the viewer also wonder, like him, about the miles traveled and those that it carried and why, now, it sat alone on a city street, a hulk of once limitless freedom and power slowly falling apart.

She came in on slow day. He was considering leaving early to meet friends for drinks when she quietly slipped in through the door.

“I was closing,” he said. “But I can wait.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just pass by all the time. Today, I thought, I would slip into your studio and see the paintings from the inside today.”

“It’s good,” he said. “Take your time.”

He watched her as she slowly prowl through his makeshift gallery. She would ask why he painted what he did. She complimented him. She was polite. She looked over his work with a careful eye. She noticed things in the painting, parts of him, that others never saw before.

“Do you do portraits?” she finally said.

The question was a bad note in symphony. He thought about his finances. He thought about how slow the paintings were to sell. Finally he replied softly, almost defeated.

“Sometimes,” he said.

“I’ve always wanted one done,” she said. “I like what you capture. Will you… consider it?”

“Sure, Come by tomorrow morning and we can discuss it,” he said.

She smiled. The splash of joy from her face spilled across the floor, reaching him and slowly… steadily… warming him.

He watched her leave and instantly regretted having to wait until the next day to see her again.

She arrived early, dressed in faded blue jeans that hugged her legs and featured small holes in her knees. A thin white t-shirt clung to her with the faded image of Mickey Mouse splashed across the front. Her hair was slightly wild and it framed her sharp features perfectly. Her make up was minimal. Just small splashes of color that highlighted who she was.

“I didn’t know what to wear,” she said.

“Well, most people never really do. But, you… You look very nice,” he said.

“I thought about getting dressed up.” she said. “But, well, these are my favorite jeans. I’ve had them for a long time.”

“And you like Mickey Mouse?” he said.

She blushed.

“Not really,” she said. “A friend gave this to me. He said, at the time, that when he saw the shirt he wanted to become the cloth. Like… he wanted to cling to me softly. I’m weird. He’s strange. Anyway…”

“No, I like that,” he said. “You obviously picked the right things to wear.”

“Oh, and I want to be bare foot!” she said.

“No problem. This can be done.”

He made various sketches from different angles. He placed her gently in different poses. He took pictures of her in different light conditions. He spoke softly. She felt as if he breathed her in while he asked her questions about who she was and what she did and what she loved, hated, wanted and needed.

It took most of the morning and, finally, he suggested lunch.

At a café near his studio he watched her carefully as she ate a salad. He studied how she held her fork. He memorized how her face shifted when she laughed at his jokes or thought about his questions. She was private. She was slightly reserved. But there was that warmth to her. She carried this brilliance about her. It was a natural, simple beauty.

They agree to a price. He would not need her again. He would work alone on her portrait. She left.

He shook his head. She remained deep inside of him. He was fixated.

As he started something began to turn deep inside of him. This was not the tedious exercise he had endured in the past.

The way she said words like “nervous” and “excited” and “I like this” became a soundtrack for his work.

He found in the paint the same richness she spoke of when she sampled a sliver of dark at the café. He worked painstakingly on every aspect of his vision. He wondered allowed about when she fell in love with those faded jeans and who else fell in love with how she looked in them.

Her eyes were so complicated. That odd mix of cheer and depth of knowing took him a whole day to capture. As he finished her lips he found himself longing to know if they felt as soft as he had painted them.

And he knew, yes, he really knew, exactly what that boy meant when he said he wanted nothing more than to be that soft, thin cotton clinging to her skin.

She looked lean and almost cat like as he painted her. Through his careful brush strokes, she slowly became a wild animal that was just barely able to tolerate her tame surroundings.

The brilliance.

The beauty.

All of it…

And when he finished, he collapsed on the floor of his studio.

He wept.

It was a quiet sob that came from the idea that he was finished and that his hands would never grace her image again.

“It is finished,” he said.

She squealed with excitement at the news and announced she was on her way.

Her car soon roared to a stop in front of his studio. She burst through the door beaming that smile that bathed him in warmth weeks before.

“I’m, like, really excited,” she said.

“Well, it’s all dry and in the back,” he said, smiling.

He waited up front. He knew she would love it. He captured everything about her and poured it across the canvass.

Eventually she emerged from the back. There was no joy on her face.

“I don’t…” she said.

“What’s wrong?” he said, shocked by her transformation from glee to despair.

“That…” she said, a slow anger rising in her voice. “That is not me.”

“What do you mean?” he said. “That is you. That is all of you.”

Rage swept across her face and filled her voice.

“Whatever,” she said. “That’s not me. That’s not me at all. It look nothing like. Fuck. Seriously. You are an asshole. Real fucking funny, you know?”

He was speechless. She ripped into her purse and spilled cash across the floor.

“Keep the fucking money and keep the fucking painting!” she screamed.

She ran from him, letting the door to his studio slam shut behind her.

He was lost. He didn’t understand.

It was her. He captured everything about her. The brilliance. The beauty. The elegance. The grace. The dry humor. The way she quietly laughed under her breath. All of this and more. Right there. Painstakingly placed on a canvas. Just for her. As he had never done for anyone ever before.

But she couldn’t see it.

She could not believe the things he saw in her, the things no one else ever told her.

He died that day when she ran away. He became a walking corpse.

His art changed too. It became meaningless symbols and lines forced onto a canvass.

These sold well.

They sold because they matched someone’s couch or the colors fit with someone’s re-modeled bathroom.

Many customers made offers for the painting of the beautiful barefoot girl in the faded blue jeans and sheer Mickey Mouse shirt. His reply was always the same.

“It’s been sold.”

And, deep down, every morning when he rose from his bed he wished the buyer would come back, embrace what he saw as herself and take her portrait home.

The Cup of Tears

Turner was almost home when the pain became unbearable.

It started with a sudden sadness when he left her house. Then his left arm started to turn numb. He felt a crushing weight pile upon his chest. His legs began to shake and his knees felt like they were buckling.

He pulled over into a gas station parking lot. The urge to wail with tears flooded over him. A single cry of utter anguish echoed through his car.

Then, a slow, loud ripping noise — as if the fabric of the night sky was being torn in half — started at the base of his sternum and continued up through his throat until his mind splintered and all he saw were stars.

Turner wheezed once. Blood ran from his nose. He slumped over the steering wheel. Turner ceased to exist.

Months earlier Turner was like anyone else his age. An impromptu road trip with two co-workers to New Orleans led to his eventual demise.

He was standing in a cluttered shop near Jackson Square trying to buy a Saints coffe mug for a girl at work when he saw it. There, on a shelf cluttered with toy alligators and shot glasses was a small silver cup.

“Is that a high ball glass?” he asked the cashier.

“Is what a high ball glass?” the man asked.

“The silver cup there. Behind you on the shelf.”

The cashier turned slowly around and carefully pulled the cup down.

“This cup here?” he asked.

“Yes,” Turner said, reaching for it.

The man let him take the cup from his hand. It didn’t seem valuable to Turner. The silver plating was tarnished and thin. The etchings were deep but unremarkable in the craftmanship. But when he looked inside, he saw a broken heart stamped in the bottom with measuring lines marching up the interior.

“What is this, a shot glass?”

“Oh no,” the man said. “This ain’t a shot glass. This is a Cup of Tears.”

Turner looked at the mean with a skeptical scribble running across his face. The man simply continued.

“You see when you come across someone who is hurting, the cup collects their blues and their old wounds and their pain and their lonesomeness. Then you drink the hurt for them and their low down feelings are gone.”

Turner laughed.

“Like a sin eater!” he said.

“No,” the old man said. “This don’t collect the sin.”

“How much?” Turner said.

“For you? Today? With the sun shining and the birds chirping? I’ll need $30.”

“Deal,” Turner said.

The man placed the silver cup in a brown polishing bag.

“Be careful,” he said. “Too much of the sadness can take even someone with the red streak like yours apart.”

The “Cup of Tears” quickly became a shot glass for tequila once Turner was back home in Houston. The story of the cup was told to friends who would laugh as he aped the old man’s speech and manners.

One night Turner was laying on his couch combing through his feed.

A girl by the name of Sorrow86 was filling his timeline with comments about crying until her eyes burned. He’d flirted with her before but nothing came from it. She had a boyfriend and had quickly moved to snuff out any interest.

Bored, he sent her a direct message anyway.

The exchange was brief and predictable. Her boyfriend had turned out to be married. He lived in another state. They would never meet. Fantasy had crashed into the unyielding brick wall of reality.

“I can help,” he said.

“How?” she asked.

He sent her a picture of the cup.

“It collects your sorrow and takes it away forever.”

She laughed. He flirted. She let him. The conversation flowed more easily. It ended with her agreeing to meet him for coffee.

“Bring the cup, just in case,” she said.

At the Starbucks she proved to be more attractive than he realized. She was dressed down in blue sweatpants and a ribbed muscle shirt. Her face was free of make up but soft and natural.

“TurnCoat91?” she asked as he approached her table.

“Yah,” he chuckled. “But my name is…”

“STOP!” she said. “No real names. What if one of us is a stalker?”

He laughed, sat down and began peppering her with smal talk.

As they were leaving she started to thank him for his kind words regarding her break up when she burst into tears. Instinctively he hugged her. Her body was shaking against his. Her sobbing caused chubby tears to soak the shoulder of his dress shirt.

“Hey…” he said. “Hold on.”

“What?” she said as his arms left her sides.

He winked, reached into his pocket, opened his hand and presented the cup.

“Ta da!” he said.

She smiled.

“The cup!”

“Yes,” Turner said. “Now let me just collect that tear off your cheek…”

He placed the cup against her cheek and a single tear jump off into the cup with a loud ping.

“Woah,” he said.

“Holy shit!” gasped the girl. “Now what?”

“Uh… I drink it.”

“Gross,” she said.

He smiled, raised the cup as if to toast her and then tilted the cup to let the single salty tear run past his lips, over his tongue and down his throat.

“Feel better?” Turner asked the girl.

“Uh… Yes. I do actually. Weird.”

She stared off into the sky lost in thought. Then a smile formed.

“Placebo?” she said to no one.

She giggled and kissed him on the forehead. A manic pace of thoughts sprung out of her.

“Thank you TurnCoat91. I actually feel better. My real name is Sadie don’t tell me yours because I am a stalker. Hey! You! I gotta go, you know? That rhymed. Jesus. Send me wonderful thoughts tonight. Bye. Thanks. Bye. Jesus. Wow. TurnCoat 91. Yah.”

She turned and left. Her stride was brisk and strong.

A strange feeling came to Turner. A hollow little gnawing. He shook it off and left. They didn’t talk that night. He wanted too but didn’t want to. Besides, she didn’t message him. And there was sleep. Yes… To sleep for days.

Days turned into weeks and then she finally said “Hello” again.

“I need you. Come see me tonight. Bring the cup.”

And so he went, cupnin pocket to Sadie’s address.

She answered the door in tight jeans and a blouse that was partially open. The sheer material allowed the delicate lace of her bra to to be seen. Her breasts peaked out just right. A dark shade of red was painted on her lips. Her eye makeup was thick and smokey.

“Are we going out?” Turner asked, suddenly feeling foolish in cargo shorts and a Green Lantern shirt.

“Maybe… We can do whatever you want. Did you bring the cup?”

“Uh… Yes.”

“Show me,” she said, dragging her nails down his arm. “I want to see… feel… touch…”

She slid her hand into his front pocket, letting her fingers brush against his thigh while she felt for the cup.

“Mmmm… Good boy, TurnCoat91.”

Then she laughed.

“Sit down at the kitchen table,” she said.

He complied and she scooted herself close to him. She leaned her head against his arm.

“You have strong legs,” she said, rubbing his thigh under the table.


“You and your cup. I bet I could fill that cup with tears. You have no idea what I’ve been through. If I filled it, would you drink all the bad stuff for me?”

“Uh… Sure.”

“If you drink every drop every drop… I would thank you forever.”

“Oh yah?” Turner said, blushing slightly.

“Oh yes… Anything for you.”

As soon as Turner said “Yes” the touching and the cooing stopped. Sadie grabbed the cup and leaned over it staring at the broken heart in the bottom.

Methodically she started at the beginning, with a father who left when she was a little girl and never called on her birthdays. There were girls who made fun of the clothes her mother bought her in junior high. A boy who promised to love her but only took her innocence and never called again.

“I’m sorry,” Turner said, touching her shoulder.

“Don’t” she said, shrugging off his sympathy.

She went through an extended list of boys, a sorority that turned her down, a dog that died, a cat crushed under the wheels of a garbage truck. She talked about dieing alone.

The tears flowed. Her perfect smokey eyes caused black smears of makeup to run down her face. The sobbing grew violent, as if she was coughing her soul into the cup.

“That’s it,” she finally sighed.

The cup was totally full.

“Do it for me, please,” she said. “Drink it.”

Turner looked at cup. Her hand found his leg again, massaging him into compliance. He breathed deep, picked up the cup and swallowed it all.

A weird fuzziness, as if sedated, clouded his head.

“Thank you,” Sadie breathed into his ear.

He felt totally full as if in a food coma.

She felt alive. Unstoppable. Bulletproof. Her hand left his leg. New blood coursed through her veins.

Her phone chimed. She ran to it.

“Oh no,” Sadie said scrolling through her phone. “I forgot I was supposed to see this friend tonight. Ugh. I’m a wreck. I need to get cleaned up. You don’t look well. Let’s meet for lunch tomorrow. My treat.”

Sadie was giddy and just had to go do something, anything, everything. TurnCoat91 needed to go. He seemed down. She wondered “Why is he still here? Go away dark cloud.”

She quickly ushered him out the door. He walked to his car in a daze.

“Hey, maybe you can tell me your real name tomorrow!” Sadie called out.

“Okay,” mumbled Turner.

And soon it was all over for Turner.

And Sadie? She never thought of him nor his silver cup of tears ever again.