I'm working on a series of short fiction regarding the different encounters people experience in their day-to-day lives. I mentioned that I was working on a short story in my last post, and was inspired by Bonnie's paintings. So...after much deliberation, I have decided to post the story here. I'm breaking out into a cold sweat, but here ya go. Hope you enjoy!
The sink was backed up and apparently so was the plumber’s work order because they said they couldn’t get to it for at least a day, maybe two. The slight stench of rotten eggs lingering in my garbage disposal was enough to propel me out the door. I headed down to the beach. I needed the cool breeze and the salt air to get me out of my pissy mood.
It was the weekend, and crowded with families as I suspected it would be. But I found a bench perched on a slight hill and facing the calm sea. The sun glinted off the twinkling waves and I briefly closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and allowed my tense self to relax. I needed to be in this moment; to enjoy the warm day, the sun on my face, the spectacular view, and I needed to forget, for a little while anyway, about all the annoying obstacles I seemed to be facing in my life lately.
I opened my bag and pulled out the notebook and pen that I stuffed in there at the last minute. I knew I would want to write, and I didn’t want to lug my laptop with me. I loved writing longhand and I never did that anymore. I got comfortable on the bench. Pulled my legs up into a crisscross position and found a blank page. Put pen to paper and began my rapid-fire stream of consciousness writing.
I had my head down, writing ferociously when I smelled the patchouli. It’s one of my favorite smells in the whole wide world. People either love it or hate it; I have found there is no in-between. But me? I love it. I’ve loved it ever since I was sixteen years old and this guy who I had a huge crush on wore it to work every day. He was nineteen and the prep cook at the restaurant where I had my first job. His name was Alex. He was the first crush I had ever had on someone who was a “real” person and not some actor or rock star. Alex was cooler than cool. And he wore patchouli. My brother called it “hippy stink,” but I didn’t care. Something about that musky fragrance got my motor running, and after Alex gave me my very own bottle of oil, I wore it all the time. Back in my youth anyway. I don’t wear it anymore. It’s too strong and overpowering. But I will burn patchouli incense from time to time when the mood strikes.
So now, here I was, at the beach smelling my favorite fragrance. I looked up and saw this bohemian-type guy walking toward me. He was short with long hair, and had a paisley scarf tied around his head. He looked like he had walked directly out of the 1960’s. His Levis were filled with holes and not the strategically placed holes like the designer jeans you buy that way. He had earned the rips and tears in those pants. He wore a gauzy, sheer white shirt that fluttered in the breeze. He had leather bands on each of his wrists and one silver hoop earring in his left ear. His mustache and goatee were well-trimmed, not shabby. And of course, he was barefoot. The wide strap of his messenger bag fell diagonally across his chest, and he carried a large sketch pad under his right arm. Patchouli oil emanated from his very soul. We made eye contact and he grinned at me broadly. He had great teeth and a sweet smile.
“Is that your man?” he asked, gesturing to a guy who had just asked me for the time. Now the guy was back to tossing a Frisbee with his kid.
“That guy over there? You with him?”
“No,” I answered indignantly. I thought it was a weird way to start a conversation. “He just wanted to know what time it was.”
“Ahhh,” he replied. “I was gonna say…you could do better.”
I laughed. “Thanks. I guess.” I put my head back down into my journal.
He sat down next to me on the bench and out of the corner of my eye I watched him chew on a piece of grass and stare at the ocean. I also noticed he had an incense stick tucked behind his ear. He pulled his messenger bag off his shoulder and set it down on the ground in front of him. Then he turned his attention to me.
“You’re a writer, huh?” He had turned his body to face me, and pulled his legs up in a crisscross position to mirror me.
“I write,” I answered, never lifting my head.
“Maybe you’ll write about me sometime.”
I looked at him and he was genuinely smiling at me. He wasn’t creepy or on the make; he seemed truly sincere and inquisitive.
“Maybe I will. Ya never know.”
“You gonna be here for awhile? Writing?”
“Can I draw you?”
“Can you what?” I really wasn’t certain what he was asking.
“I’m an artist. I sketch, draw, paint. I’d like to draw you.”
“Um…I don’t really…”
“You don’t have to do anything,” he interrupted. “You don’t have to pose or nothin’. Just sit there, like you’re doing. I’m gonna go over there, and capture that pretty face if ya don’t mind.”
“Uh…okay. As long as I don’t have to pose or sit still. I’m not really comfortable with that.”
“Don’t worry love. Just keep doing what you’re doin’. ‘Kay?”
He took a box out of the bag. He opened it and seemed proud to show me his supply of charcoals, pastels, and colored pencils. He picked up the sketch pad and moved about 25 feet away from the bench. I watched him get himself situated, and then I went back to my writing. I thought he was an amusing little fellow, quirky as hell, but then, I suppose, so was I.
I looked around and watched the man with the Frisbee and his kid; the families picnicking on the grassy area above the shore, and then I looked back at my new artist friend. I realized suddenly that he might want money for his efforts. Why else would he be here on a day like this filled with potential customers?
“Hey,” I yelled over to him.
“What’s up, love?”
“I can’t pay you. For the drawing. I don’t have any money.”
“I’m not drawing it for you. I’m drawing it for me. I don’t want your money, sweetheart. I just want to capture that sweet face of yours.”
“Oh. Well, now I feel stupid.”
“No need.” He smiled that warm grin of his and continued to do his thing. “Hey, do you mind if I light this?” He pulled the incense stick from behind his ear and held it up for me to see.
“Not at all. Is it patchouli?”
“What else?” That grin again. He lit the stick and stuck it into the ground and proceeded to draw on his sketch pad.
I went back to my writing, and got so involved in what I was doing, I forgot about the fact that I was being studied and captured on his drawing pad. I loved breathing in the patchouli scent which overpowered the smell of hot dogs and barbeque. I was enjoying myself; hadn’t felt this relaxed in a long time, and was able to get some very good ideas down on paper.
My legs had fallen asleep, so I stretched them out in front of me and then stood up to stretch my entire body. My stiff neck needed motion, so I closed my eyes and rolled it around and around to get the kinks out. With my eyes closed, I felt his touch on the back of my neck. His hands were warm and strong as he massaged me. I jumped a bit. I wasn’t used to someone entering my personal space so freely. Touching me without permission. It was weird, but I could not deny that it felt good and I let him continue to rub my shoulders for a little while longer.
I opened my eyes and moved away from him.
“Thanks,” I said. “Did you finish the drawing?”
“Why are you so tense? You got a lot of knots in there.”
“I’ve got a lot on my mind. Did you finish?” I quickly asked, wanting to change the subject.
“You want to talk to me love? Empty that sweet head of all those negative thoughts?”
“No. But thanks for the offer.”
“Why are you so guarded?”
“Yes you are,” he chuckled. “But it’s cool. I won’t push.” He picked up his bag and started packing up his materials.
“Hey,” I said. “Can I see the drawing?”
“That’s not fair. I want to see how you drew me.”
“Then dump the contents of your brain in my lap. And we’ll have ourselves a trade.”
“Why are you so curious to know what I’m thinking? It’s not that interesting, trust me.”
“Oh, I doubt that. Look around…you’re the most interesting person here.”
“No. I think maybe YOU are the most interesting person here.”
“Thank you love. And thank you for letting me draw you. You are a stunning subject.”
“Stunning? Hardly. But thanks for the compliment.”
“I don’t suppose you’d like to give me your phone number?”
“No worries. It’s cool. Don’t look so scared, my guarded little friend.”
“I’m not scared of you," I said, feeling scared.
“Okay. Whatever you say. Maybe I’ll see you here again some time? Do you come here a lot to write?”
“Not as often as I should.”
“Well, come around more often, and maybe we’ll cross paths another time.”
“Okay. Maybe I will." I started to let him go, but thought it was worth another try. "Hey…one more thing?”
“What’s that sweetheart?”
“Can you please let me see the drawing? I’d really like to know what you see, when you look at me.”
He hesitated, but then opened the sketch pad and let me have a quick peek. Then, before I had the chance to study it in more detail, he closed the book, and tucked the pad under his arm.
“That was amazing. Can I see it again?”
“No darlin’. I gotta go. You liked it?”
“I like it a lot. But that’s not what I look like. I definitely don’t look like that.”
“Yeah, you do. You just don’t know it.”
He leaned over and gave me a light kiss on my cheek. When I didn’t move or flinch, he got bolder and gave me another kiss…this time on my mouth.
“You sure you don’t want to give me your phone number?” he teased.
I laughed. That was how I answered him.
“Okay then…until next time, love.” He blew me another kiss and then walked off down towards the beach.
I watched him move through the crowds effortlessly…a vagabond on the road again. His patchouli scent lingered in the air as I gathered up my things to leave. The image of his drawing was etched in my mind and I knew it would remain there for a long time. Someone in this world saw me as beautiful. Perhaps I needed to see myself in a similar way. I didn’t even know his name, but I would always remember him as Mr. Bohemian.
Thanks Mr. Bohemian. Thanks for truly allowing me to see that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Hmmm….maybe I should have given him my phone number…