Pictures of You
Glenn jogged through the skinny shadow of a palm tree.
The shadow made the tree look like a little stick. But it was a normal palm tree size, if not actually rather large. When Glenn looked up he thought it was going to fall on top of him.
He jogged ten paces past the tree and heard a boom. Did the palm tree just fall? One second later, there was a scream. “I’m hurt, please help me, I’m in pain.”
The palm tree had smashed someone. Glenn imagined sharp, ridged bark pressing through skin.
He wanted to look back, to see what really happened, but his neck wouldn’t turn. His brain tried to make it turn, but it wouldn’t. Some crust punks jumping around on a bench pointed at Glenn. Glenn’s eyes widened and he jogged onto the grass to avoid them.
He zoomed passed the park’s Japanese-style bridge, taking note of its locked gate. One of the crust punks caught up to Glenn, grabbing him by the shoulder. Glenn thought he was going to say something about the body smashed by the palm tree but instead the punk pointed to Glenn’s crotch.
Glenn looked down. There was a stain on his black basketball shorts. Glenn furrowed his brow. He batted the punk’s arm away and accelerated until he was safe on the path again. He thought about body parts sticking out of torn blue jeans. He tried to shake that thought, along with any other thoughts about the smashed body, out of his mind. It began to work—he started remembering how, before he had moved to L.A. a couple months back, Annie told him, “Don’t go out in public like a cum rag.” She was referencing these shorts. The stain was a cum stain. But then he approached the end of the loop and dropped his arms. The palm tree. Someone had been smashed. It was up ahead. Blood…Wait…Was that real? He scanned the scene.There was no body or fallen palm tree.
The sun was setting when Glenn pulled into the loop that circles Terminal 7 at LAX. He kept his eyes peeled for the United Airlines signs under which Annie would meet him. He hummed along with the Cure song playing in the car, on the Jack FM radio station. “I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you that I almost believed that the pictures are all I can feel.” Glenn looked at all of the people waiting to be picked up, all disoriented. “Europeans…” he thought. He turned off the radio. A couple women with petite frames and blonde haircuts similar to Annie’s presented themselves as possibilities. He leaned over to get a better look. He was about to roll down the window. But then, no, he realized, they weren’t Annie. He thought he might just stop and wait for her. He looked around. Probably not a good idea. The airport was too busy; all the cars here were picking people up and moving on. He thought about paying to park in one of the big multi-floor lots but he didn’t want to do that either, so he kept driving in loops. Glenn looked at the time on his phone. Still early. And then there was deplaning and baggage claim…And arrival would likely be delayed; and…there were a lot of reasons why Annie wouldn’t come out for at least a half hour. But, at least, he was early, not late. It was important to him that this pick-up be smooth because her earlier trip, in which she’d just come for the weekend, didn’t go well. In fact, it ended up casting a somewhat fucked-up shadow over their whole big life-changing plan to relocate as a couple from New York to Los Angeles. The weird thing, in retrospect, for both of them, is that it didn’t seem that outwardly awful during the weekend itself. Glenn, who had come out earlier to start his job, showed her some different parts of town; they went out for nice meals; they met with Annie’s artist friends who lived in LA; they had decent sex. But there was this undercurrent. It was unspoken but it was there and it flared up in the hot sun. In the weeks following the visit, this undercurrent overwhelmed any other memories they had of the weekend. Annie went so far as to say that she wouldn’t speak to Glenn until she arrived back in L.A. She said she needed “time to herself,” which Glenn interpreted as “I'm not sure if this is going to work.” Glenn would try to call her and she wouldn’t pick up. He would try to call her again and she still wouldn’t pick up. During one of the few times she did at last pick up, he quickly pleaded, “What can I do? Just tell me.”
She replied, “It’s not always about you, Glenn.”
“Yeah,” he insisted. “But I know for a fact that it is in this case. Let’s talk about it. What did I do?”
“It’s not about you, it’s me. I’m just depressed. Can we talk about it when I’m over there?”
“But what can I do now?”
“It’s not about you. Stop.”
“Are you depressed? You said you were depressed.”
“Yes, I’m depressed. This phone call is making me more depressed.”
“What are you depressed about? Are you depressed about moving here?”
“It’s not about you. It’s not about L.A. It’s me.”
“What about you?”
“I said, ‘What’s it about?’”
“I’m a failure.”
“Oh my God, stop.”
“You’re not a failure. What are you talking about? How could you be a failure? You have all these great accomplishments. You just sold that one drawing.”
“Exactly, one drawing. Just one.”
“Can we not talk about this? Why are you saying I'm ridiculous?? That's not helpful!”
“What do you want to talk about?”
A surge of anger shot through Glenn. He pressed “end call” without saying goodbye.
He immediately lifted the phone and was going to call her back and apologize for being so rash but he stopped himself. Maybe a bit of hostility, he had thought, would force them to address the elephant in the room: was Glenn’s push to move them across the country, away from their apartment, jobs, friends, and families, a huge mistake? For Annie, in particular, was being away from New York, still the heart of the art world, a potentially tragic blunder for her career? For the hour after he had hung up the phone, Glenn glanced down at the device occasionally in the hope that she would call him back. But the LA art world is so hot right now, right?...Right?...
Remembering all this, a plane flew overhead. Maybe that was her? At a red light, Glenn picked up a crumpled receipt on the passenger seat. He also pushed some crumbs to the floor. At the next red light, he noticed the crumbs. He's a disgusting man in a disgusting car bringing her to a disgusting situation. He leaned over and picked up a few of the crumbs with his fingers. He rolled down the window and clapped them out so they fell to the ground. Then he looked down and saw a few more on the floor. He was going to pick those up, too, when his pocket buzzed. He looked at a text he’d missed earlier—“plane landed early r u here?” And another one, the most recent one—“where r u? terminal 7 im here pls come.” She'd sent them several minutes earlier but they just arrived now?
He pressed the gas and made a left to head to Terminal 7.
When again reached the area where the United passengers were waiting for their rides, Glenn looked up and there she was. He was relieved that she didn’t appear pissed. In fact, he thought she looked great, with a big smile, waving to him. He rolled down the window and said, “Hey, Welcome to L.A. I’ll put your bags in the back.” And then after a pause, he said, “You look beautiful.” He was about to open his door and swing around when Annie said, “Wait.” She leaned into the window and puckered her lips. Glenn thought she looked great, better than great—hot. He said, “Oh, baby, I missed you.” He wanted to grab her. He leaned over and they kissed. There was an unpracticed awkwardness to the kiss but it felt real. Glenn looked at her eyes, trying to spark one of the deep moments of contact he could share with her and no one else. She gave him a searching look in return, which threw him off.
“Is everything okay?” he said.
She replied, “Yeah…”
“What’s going on?”
She shook her head.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s good.” And then, to signal that she felt upbeat, she made a funny face and spoke in a childish voice that always made Glenn laugh. “Let’s go home, Glennie!”
Glenn packed her bags, shut the door, and pulled away. “Now the turnoff to the freeway…” he said, “…is coming up quickly…and there it is…” He signaled to change lanes but he couldn't get over. He glanced at Annie to see if she noticed that he was having trouble doing this; luckily, she was looking at her phone. He looked past her to the other lane. There was a small blue car hovering right next to him. "Get away!" he muttered He then looked ahead to the turnoff to the 105. It was coming up quickly; he was losing time. He slowed down to let the blue car pass and it finally did, but then another car, a black car, pulled up and wouldn’t let him over, either. All the sudden it was too late. The turnoff came and went. Glenn glanced over to Annie. She looked up from her phone. “Ah, so we just missed the turnoff. We have to loop around again. I’m sorry this is really embarrassing.”
Annie looked into the side mirror, trying to figure out what happened. “Why didn’t you turn?”
Annie looked back into the side mirror. It looked like she was about to say something disparaging but held her tongue.
Glenn drove around blue airport signs and concrete structures. Annie pointed out the silhouettes of palm trees in the distance.
They finished the loop, and up ahead Glenn again spotted the merger to the freeway.
He put on his turn signal and flipped his neck to the right to see if anyone was in his blind spot. A taxi was there next to him, once again making it difficult for him to change lanes. “Annie, listen, can you do something weird? Can you roll down the window and signal that we’re trying to get over?”
Annie rolled down the window. She gestured back and forth with the driver in the car to the rear of the taxi. Glenn looked back. It was a brown car this time. The driver wore sunglasses even though it was by then dark. Annie put her head back in and said, “Okay, he’s gonna let us in.”
Glenn maneuvered the car to the right. “He’s not letting me in,” he said. “He’s pulling up even faster.”
“No, he’ll let you in,” said Annie. “He just told me that he would.”
Glenn looked ahead to freeway exit. It was right there. He had to turn immediately or they wouldn’t make it. He angled into the lane and the brown car flashed its high beams and beeped at him. “Does that mean go?” asked Glenn.
Glenn turned the wheel hard and plowed into the lane; the brown car slammed on its brakes. The driver yelled “Are you crazy?”--they both heard it--and laid on his horn. Glenn accelerated, trying to get away from the whole situation. He looked back. “I thought you said he was going to let us in!” He looked over to Annie.
“He was,” said Annie. “What did you do?”
“I did what I was supposed to do.” Glenn sped up to merge onto the freeway itself. He took a breath. “So how was the flight?” He meant it to come out sincerely, as if nothing had happened and everything was cool, but there was an ironic edge to his voice that made him sound like an asshole.
“It was fine,” she said absently.
Glenn breathed through his nose. He was about to try another conversational route when Annie cracked up laughing.
“I was thinking of you turning into that lane.”
“What was I supposed to do??”
Annie got herself under control and pressed her forehead into his bicep. One of them had to figure out a way to make this be less terrible. He let her continue until he had to turn the wheel and force her back to her seat.
When they arrived at their apartment building in Echo Park, Glenn led Annie past the landscaping, up a stairwell and through their bright orange door. She surveyed the open space of the main living room.
“What do you think?” said Glenn, putting down her big bag. “Does it look okay?”
“That’s one of the new chairs,” he said, pointing to lounge chair.
“You did a good job,” she said with another nod.
He was happy to see Annie then switch to a performative mode. She swirled around on a Persian rug, arms outstretched, and said “I’m a princess in a castle.” He didn’t know if she was being sarcastic, but he appreciated her upbeat mood. She looked out the window to the lights of distant hilltops. Then she looked down to the surfboard, succulents, and Navajo rug in their neighbor’s outdoor patio. Glenn grabbed her from behind. He did so roughly, making sure she felt it. A quick breath left Annie’s mouth. She turned her head to look at him but he wouldn’t let her make eye contact. He put his lips on her neck and pushed down her t-shirt to reveal her shoulder. His lips moved to the shoulder and his hands lifted-up the bottom of the shirt. Before things could be taken any further, Annie pulled away, batting her eyelashes at him. She picked up one of her bags and lugged it into the bedroom. “Glennie, you’re feisty,” she said as she turned into the room and flipped on the light switch.
Glenn walked over to the kitchen and called out, “Are you hungry?”
“Yes!” she called back.
“Alright, I’ll make you something.”
He pulled out kale, green pepper, tomato, soy sausage, and asparagus from the refrigerator. He cooked it all in a pan with oil, hummus, and spices.
“Ready!” he called, pushing a portion onto a light blue plate.
“I’m starved,” Annie said, prancing over to the little two-person dining table and taking a seat. “Wha’d you make Annie?”
“So this is the sort of thing I’ve been eating in your absence…”
He set the plate down and Annie looked at the mush. She tested its consistency with her fork. She brought a bite to her mouth and did a little head-bob to signal that it was at least edible. She ate half of it and said, “Thank you, Glennie!” in the sort of voice a first-grader uses to say “Good morning!” to their teacher. A second later, she pulled out her phone and Glenn followed suit. hey checked various sites and didn’t speak for a couple minutes. Glenn picked up her plate and brought it to the kitchen. He scooped what was left, along with what was in the pan, into a tupperware container.
“This is going to be my lunch tomorrow,” he told her matter-of-factly. “I always bring my lunch to work now.”
Annie came up to him and put her head into his chest.
Glenn kissed her head. “You smell good,” he said.
“Like grandma?” she replied as if she was a crazed grandma.
“No,” Glenn laughed.
“I don’t smell like grandma and the beach? That's what this girl in grad school told me I smelled like...”
“No, you smell like my Annie. I love the way you smell.”
“You love the way I smell?” she asked, this time in a high-pitched little girl’s voice.
“Yeah,” Glenn said, smiling.
“You love me?” she asked in the same voice, her hands clasped, her eyelashes batting.
“Yeah baby, I love you.” Glenn rubbed her back.
“That feels goooood,” she said.
“Yeah?” He brought his hand down to rub her butt.
They walked into the bedroom. Annie flopped down on the red and white comforter, opened her computer, and checked different sites. She picked a mole on her face. Glenn looked at himself in the mirror. He checked to see how much splotchiness was on his face. “Do you know my friend Jeremy?” he asked, looking at her through the reflection of the mirror.
“Who is that?” she asked without looking up from the monitor.
“He’s this guy I went to college with. You’ve met him a few times.”
“All your college friends are the same to me.”
“Alright, well he lives here now and we met up a few days ago.” Glenn looked closer into his reflection. “He said that I looked healthier than I did when he knew me in New York.”
Annie looked up from the monitor to judge for herself. “Come here,” she said. He turned from the mirror and sat next to her on the bed. She shut her laptop. “Yeah, you look better.”
Glenn massaged her groin. Annie looked down to this provocative gesture and up to his eyes. He then stood and went to his dresser and pulled out a condom.
“Someday I’m gonna fuck you without a condom and you’re going to love it.”
“Noo I wo-on’t,” she said. “I’m never getting pregnant.”
He set the condom on top of the dresser and took off his shoes and socks and leaned over to her. They kissed. Annie moved her computer off of the bed. Glenn pulled off the comforter and the sheets. “You always gotta pull all the sheets off, don’t you?”
“I don’t like getting tangled up,” he said. He took off his shirt and jeans so he was just in his boxers. Annie checked him out and began taking off her own clothes. Glenn came up to her. The erection he had developed in the kitchen was no longer there. When Annie was down to her underwear, Glenn felt like it wasn’t best to rush into the sex. He just needed a minute to get back into the mood. Without knowing what else to do, he slid her underwear to the side and went down on her. She didn’t seem to mind. He brought his hand up to her breast and played with her nipples as he continued with his tongue. She was getting into it and he was getting hard. He moved up to her, slipped off his underwear, and put on the condom. He pulled off her underwear and they were both naked. “This is different than porn,” he said. “I’ve been jacking off to porn too much.” Before she could say anything, he entered her. She made a little high pitched noise. He started slow, wanting to feel every piece of her. And then, after he had done that for a little, he tried to think about what else would be hot, but he couldn’t think of anything so he started getting kind of out of rhythm. He fucked her faster but he could tell that she was growing less engaged. Glenn tried a different rhythm and flexed his groin deeper, but the sex, already at this early point, was slipping from the category of what you would call “good sex.” He started thinking about whether or not having bad sex on the first night back would create a weird dynamic moving forward. Annie grabbed his face. “Can we stop for a second?” she said.
Glenn stopped. He pulled out and looked at her. “It didn’t feel good?”
“No, it was fine. I just wanted to tell you something.”
“It couldn’t wait?”
“I don’t know…”
“Ok, well, before you say anything, I just want to say that—“
“Glenn, can I talk?”
“Yeah, but I wanted to say that it might take some time for us to find our rhythm. But that doesn’t mean anything. Right now, I’m just happy to be close to you and having sex with you. OK, that’s all I wanted to say.”
“That’s the way I feel, too.”
“I’m just glad that we’re back together and it’s for real.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Glenn ran his finger along her groin. “So what were you going to say?”
Annie looked at him. He had a dark-eyed “sultry” expression on his face that Annie thought looked corny. He brought her down to the bed and entered her again. Annie took a quick breath.
He felt harder than he had before, like it was filling more of Annie. He looked at her. He had this thought: “This is the first time I’ve felt at home in three months.”
Annie said, “I’m just glad I’m back home.”
When they finished, Glenn said, “I’m tired.”
“I feel wide awake.”
“Aren’t you on east coast time?”
“I don’t know.”
“So do you want to do something? We could go somewhere.”
Annie put on her underwear and shirt.
“You want to get a drink or something?”
“Let’s go for a walk. I never went to that park around here, let’s go there.”
“I don’t know what it’s like at night. Might be sketch.”
“Should we not go?”
“No…let’s go. If it’s weird we can turn around.”
They arrived Echo Park Lake and the lights and big fountain in the middle were still going. Joggers and dog walkers were milling around and the streetlights cast an atmospheric glow. It was pleasant.
“I don't really come here at night that much,” said Glenn.
“Echo Park Lake used to be dangerous. They put a lot of money into it, I think.”
Annie looked at the downtown skyscrapers in the distance.
They walked along the path.
“I jogged here earlier today.”
“Is this where you jog now?”
“Yeah, I like it. Each loop is about a mile.”
“How many do you do?”
“Usually four or five. I only did two today, though, because all this weird shit happened and it threw me off.”
“Well, nothing really.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I heard this sound, like a boom, and a scream, but then when I looped back around I didn’t see anything.”
“Was that weird?”
“I don’t know, it seemed weird. I just thought I saw all this stuff.”
They approached the Japanese bridge, the one with the lock.
“Look at that,” said Annie.
“You can’t go on it.”
“Yeah, the gate’s locked.”
Annie walked up to the gate and pushed through.