Friday, February 12, 2016

A short story on The Fountain of Youth

Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Fountain of Youth, 1546

Coming across this painting online a couple days ago, my breath caught in my throat, transported to a vivid and detailed memory I hadn't accessed in many years.  It takes me back to one moment in time the way an unexpected Tracy Chapman song on the radio rips me back to my childhood bedroom with all the angst and melodrama, I can nearly feel the spongy pressure from those little headphones.

Luckily the painting takes me to a much better place, and even though I was younger, probably about 10, it takes me back to much more complex feelings than those Chapman years.  Rarely, anymore, do I remember something from that pre-middle school era that I haven't gone over many times in my memory since...
My brother and I were to be watched by my cousin who was probably in her early twenties at that point.  She had just moved into a tiny trinity apartment in queen village, a Philadelphia neighborhood with colonial brick buildings and charming corner restaurants-- not without an edge though, a tattoo shop with gothic early 90s vibes-- I remember walking down a narrow street just as the sky was deepening into navy and feeling awe.  I'm guessing our mom was with us but curiously absent in my recollection, I remember being absorbed in the idea that I was independent and old and this was cool.  We made our way through a back alley garden just as the twinkling lights from her neighbors' homes were turning on and the cold was becoming something to notice.  Inside her door, and only four more steps to the stairs, a miniature kitchen with worn wood floors held the sides of the room.  That feeling of awe that started on the way over now completely enveloped me, with every inhale I felt drunk on the smell of spaghetti sauce.  Heather was amazing, with dyed red hair and an ankle tattoo, some kind of bohemian outfit with no conventional beginning or end.  She talked to us like we were no big deal, no fussing as most adults did.  She kept with the script that we were mature and I imagined that was how she greeted friends.  Part of me was uneasy in this new role, my eyes fixed on a row of succulent plants on the windowsill, but that bit of fear was electrifying.  She told us to go all the way upstairs.  As we climbed the corkscrew steel steps we hit a landing that was her bedroom.  An unmade bed without boxspring sat oddly low on the ground, we hurried up the next turn.  On the top floor we found a cozy attic space.  Warm red from the exposed brick wall and soft carpet, it was the antidote to the cold, dark blue out the glass sliding door.  We could look out and see the garden and rooftops, perched and wide-eyed like little birds.  Everything was in this room, the dark made it so.  Above the futon hung a crappy poster reproduction of the Fountain of Youth.  I stared at it, I loved it.  Everything about the way I was feeling was reflected in the painting.  It was dangerous with its nude people but it was joyous, it was warm in its color and sensousness, it was secretive in its unfolding narrative.  We ate spaghetti and I looked at that painting for what feels like hours.  It was safe to look there, but it was also cool to discuss with Heather, it was echoing all things internal, externally.

Only now, can this thing be analyzed, but I don't want to overthink it or rationalize the importance.  Like playing a tape too many times erases the vividness of color.  All I can say is to harness that feeling of that night into a painting, is to make a masterpiece.


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