Coating the Surface

Jackie Domenus

She asks me to paint the bench to match her new apartment. Half of our home is already in boxes, stacked atop one another and pushed to the side of the kitchen where the table and chairs used to be. Soon, a new family will live here. A new couple, perhaps, who knows how to love each other in the right ways.

          She leaves for work and I lay a wrinkled, white bed sheet across the ceramic tiles of the kitchen floor. I grab the bench from the living room. It’s a deep red to match the accent wall, the one we always imagined for our dream home. Red like a vow, like devotion turned resentment, like blaming fresh scratch marks on a passion we’re certain no one else could ever understand. When I first stumbled upon it in the furniture aisle at Hobby Lobby, I knew it would match perfectly. Even without the paint swatch, I carried it to the register on impulse. We joked that karma would come for us if we bought something from such a problematic store. We couldn’t have known the joke would be on us.

          On the kitchen floor, I pour the primer into the plastic paint tray. “Red is a tough one to paint over,” the woman at Sherwin Williams said. She suggested a gray for priming. I dip the mini roller into the primer and spread gray across the bumps of the tray. Gray like a Polaroid that’s been overexposed—an honest memory fading, like the sky out the window the day she hurled the ring dish across the bedroom, like two years’ worth of in-between making it work and giving up. With the first roll of gray across the top of the bench, my throat tightens. There is something absolute about “painting over,” a permanence I am not yet ready to face. I set the roller on the tray and pull my knees close to my chest, my back against the dishwasher. I close my eyes and steady my breath until my hands stop shaking enough to keep going.

          We declare ourselves “amicable” and shop together for décor for our separate apartments. We share a cart in HomeGoods, spend money to pretend this is not happening. Her new apartment will have an accent wall in the bedroom—a crisp, dark navy blue. She buys accent vases in whites, throw blankets in yellows, but she wants the bench blue. So when the gray has dried, I open the lid of the navy blue pint and swirl it with the flat, wooden mixing stick. I use a brush for the first coat and lay it on thick, the bristles leaving thin lines in the blue. Blue like cartoon tears, like an old bruise unsure if it will ever be capable of healing, like a pilot light—a tiny flame barely burning, hardly there. I lie on my back with my head beneath the bench, the chill of the tiles pressing into my body through the thin sheet. I cover the underside in quick, sloppy brushstrokes. One coat is all it takes, so I kneel there and watch as the wet parts slowly turn from glossy to matte, now irreversible.

Jackie Domenus (she/they) is a queer writer and educator from New Jersey. A graduate of the 2021 Tin House Winter Workshop, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pigeonholes, Foglifter Journal, Entropy, Hooligan Mag, and elsewhere. She serves as a publishing assistant at Guernica Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @jackiedwrites.

© Variant Literature Inc 2021