Whatever you need to empty

Picture an empty bucket, the man says. An empty glass. An empty ashtray. Whatever you need to empty, empty it now. Right here.

“Empty that bitch,” you whisper in my ear.

A bowl of soup? Pour it out. A bathtub? Drain it. Your head spinning from all those thoughts about your own inadequacies? Let them go. Let them out. Let them exit the room, my friends.   

“I can’t believe you paid this guy money.”

Visualize the act of emptying to prepare yourself to be refilled.

You snort.

I wave you off and nod along with the man, who winks and gives us all a thumbs up. He adjusts his headset mic and races back to the other side of the stage.

Thirty minutes later, we’re in the food court of the art museum across the street. I’m refilling. Two Reubens, a large plate of fries, and a Caeser salad. I make myself stop so I have room for ice cream later. You don’t eat, of course. You offer me a Klonopin and I shake my head. You take three and pull me out toward the exhibit.

“Women in Arts,” you say and point. “All the women in all the arts.” You laugh and I walk beside you, the paintings and sculptures merging into a jumble as we wander. A giant vulva made of lightbulbs towers over a Cassatt garden next to a photograph of Simone Biles, mid-leap.

“I feel like I finally understand our gender,” you say, taking hold of my arm. We pass through room after room, your smile loosening, your steps slowing. You lean against me and I squeeze your hand. I love you, but I’m also thinking about ice cream, a soft serve with jimmies here or Ben & Jerry’s at the truck on the corner. Maybe three scoops with a waffle cone. Once I go home, it’ll be brown rice and a chicken breast with Rob. It’ll be What did you eat today? and Have you entered everything in your food journal? and You promised you’d do this for us, Julie.

You pull out your vape and I grab it, then point to the double door to the sculpture garden up ahead. The weed will settle my stomach, I think. Three scoops or maybe-

“What’s this?” You point to a painting near the door. Barely a painting, more of a drawing, a sketch with a smudged red circle and then thinner, wobbly circles inside. A black scribble-smear along the top left curve. Like my niece did it in preschool.

I tug at you. I want to smoke and go get ice cream. I have to be home in an hour.

“Sandra Blow, have you heard of her?” Your body droops as you squint to make out the words on the plaque. I stop pulling as you put a hand next the frame, as you inch so close I wonder if an alarm will go off, if a security guard is watching us on a monitor somewhere.

“I’ll never paint anything like this,” you say and start to cry.

I look again. It’s not as simple as it looks. It’s unassuming, almost 3D. A container holding something. Empty, but ready to be filled. With what? If only we had the time, but now we have fifty-five minutes and I’m starving. I pull you up and kiss your cheek.

“Your art is better,” I swear, even though you stopped painting four years ago. “I love your art, Kat.”

“No,” you say and push at me, stumbling as I grab at you to keep you upright, to keep you from falling on your ass.

“I love you.” I grab harder and you shake your head no, no.

“Yes.” Both hands now squeezing, crushing your arms. You have to know this. You have to hear me. “Yes, Kat. Yes.” I squeeze and crush until you know this, until you hear me, until you crumble to the floor, into small pieces I shovel into my mouth.

“I love you,” I whisper, licking the crumbs of you from my hands.`

Red Circle Sandra Blow, 1960