Vermillion: Sudden Fiction

by eatonhamilton


My wife painted a fresco on one wall of our living room and now my wife needs surgery on her hands.  Those two things are not related.  Her nerves were not damaged by plaster and pigment work; her problem, the doctor says, is intrinsic, a degenerative disorder that robs her of tactile sense and causes her pain.

My wife’s name is Mary.  You have probably seen her signature on canvasses but if you haven’t it doesn’t matter.  I wish no one did; I wish my wife had never sold a painting, not one painting.

There are words I wish I had never heard, too: chartreuse, I wish I had never heard the word chartreuse.  Turquoise is another one.  That word turquoise goes right inside me; that world turquoise is a bad word.  Vermillion.  Is there any other word in the English language that goes to work on a man the way vermillion does?

The world is filled with unpredictability.  Things wait around corners; words lie in wait around corners.  Once I was a boy and I lived with a mother and a father and all that waited around corners for me was love; I wasn’t surprised for the first time until I was eleven and came around one corner too many and there was my mother and there was a man and kissing.

I am a man who appreciates a good kiss.  I like a good kiss as well as the next man.  What man wouldn’t appreciate a kiss?  An excellent kiss can make a man overlook corners and words like chartreuse.  This is just the way of things.  In this world a wife and a kiss and a sunset make a fellow stop.  They make a fellow stop in his tracks just outside some doorway and they make his eyelids widen.

Let us say the sunset seen through the window was chartreuse.

Let us say my wife Mary was kissing someone else.

Let us say her damaged hands were against the breasts of an artist named Diane.

This is the truth.

The truth is two women were kissing and Diane’s shirt was undone and her breasts were bare.  My wife’s hands fit Diane’s breasts perfectly; I saw how well they fit.  They fit so well an artist could have drawn the four as parts of one body.

One of Diane’s paintings is of a vermillion figure poised on the edge of a globe, bending over.  My wife Mary’s fresco is turquoise.

This is just how it happens, a man turns one corner too many in his life and then it happens, that kiss, and he doesn’t know how to act or what to say or how to impart one color, the one he saw, black.  He hits his chest with the flat of his hand over and over, he does that.

Here is a photograph: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a sculpture: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a story: a man, a woman and a woman.  Here is a sunset and a fresco.  Here is a painting by a woman named Diane.  Here I am.  Here is my wife, Diane.

In the photograph I age and age.  Soon I am fifty.  Soon I am eighty-four.  Soon I am a hundred and two.  I am lucky to be so old, such a very old man with a thin windpipe.

-Jane Eaton Hamilton from the New Canadian Fiction, ed Kristina Russelo, Black Moss, 1992