Revlon ColorSilk Black #10
a novelette by Anderson Council
Obi-Wan rides up to the farm homestead, dismounts, and takes the infant Skywalker
out of a papoose on his back. He walks over to Aunt Beru who takes the baby from
Obi-Wan leaves, while Luke and his new parents watch the sunsets of the twin suns of
The screen fades to black and the credits begin rolling.
“I have to piss like a racehorse!”
Jack sprung up and headed towards the exit. He stopped mid-stride, doubled back,
and said “I love you”. He leaned over and kissed Lexi on the highest part of her neck,
just below her right ear.
Lexi looked up and smiled. The reflections of the credits quickly rolled up her irises.
Her long, bright red hair was slowly combed by the very same photons that
shuttered her eyes.
Jack turned and made a dash for the restroom. Lexi uncapped her pen.
She sat and waited as the credits rolled. Finally, she saw what she needed.
She wrote in her journal:
Star Wars III: Regenge of the Sith
Best Boy: Maxime Imbeau
Lexi capped her pen and gave the page a wry smirk.
As a young girl, Lexi’s parents would take her to the movies as a special treat. Lexi
adored films, and would insist on sitting until the credits were over and the
projector turned off. She would read every line in the credits. She giggled every
time the “Best Boy” credit ran by. She thought it was such a silly thing to name a
member of the crew. When she began keeping a journal when she was nine years
old, she included the films she would see, always noting the Best Boy in her entry.
Lexi has no idea what exactly it is that a Best Boy does.
Finally, the projector shut off. Lexi got up and made her way to the restrooms to
It was noisy when she left the theater. People were running and screaming. There
was a group crowded around the men’s room.
Lexi looked around for Jack. She didn’t see him. She started to franticly call his
name, louder each time. She was in a panic.
She charged towards the men’s room, barreling through the small crowd. A theater
employee stood in front of the door. He crumpled against the wall as Lexi threw the
She entered the men’s room and saw Jack flat on his back, a pool of blood spreading
from underneath him across the bathroom floor. The sink was running.
A single drop of soap fell from the dispenser above the sink. Half of the drop landed
on the tile, and five perfect pink eyelashes curled up and out from the epicenter.
The other half hit the grout with a silent splat.
A rush of current surged through ten million neurons. Everything went black.
* * *
Lexi opened her eyes. She was standing in the bathroom. She ran to Jack and tried
to bring him back, beating on his chest, attempting mouth-to mouth. After a few
tries, she gasped and spit out a quarter cup of blood.
Lexi turned to the door to try to get help, but there was no door. It was gone. She
beat on the walls and screamed for help. There was no reply. She frantically
searched every inch of the bathroom for a way out. There was none.
Lexi sat and cried for dozens of hours. She eventually looked at her watch. The time
was 8:42 PM, the date, August 15
For the next three days, Lexi talked to Jack. She told him everything she ever felt for
him. At first, it was all the things she loved about him. As time went on, she
divulged all the things that bothered her about Jack. Sometimes she would hit him.
Blood would sputter up through the knife wound in his chest.
After a week Lexi wasn’t talking anymore, neither to Jack nor to herself. Instead, a
dialogue began in her head. At first it was akin to having a conversation with
yourself. After another day that conversation had deteriorated to just simple
thoughts, memories, and emotions.
After another three days, anything resembling a thought or memory was gone. Only
emotions remained, running wild through her head. As the days went on, the
emotions ceased to elicit the typical response they once had. They remained in
form, but did not alter her mood as emotions are meant to do.
Lexi began to play with the pool of blood that surrounded Jack. She would move the
blood around, pushing it in and out. There was an empty soda cup on the shelf
above the sink. She washed it out and skimmed it along the floor to get some blood
in the cup. She dipped her fingers in the blood and covered her face and arms with
crimson markings that made no sense whatsoever. She took a half-eaten box of
popcorn out of the garbage can. She pumped Jack’s chest so that more blood would
spill out onto the floor. She would line up the pieces of popcorn at the edge of the
pool and gently pushed them so that they would glide across the blood.
Lexi took off all of her clothes. She would press one hand on Jack’s chest, the other
hand made a cup to catch the blood that came up out of the knife wound. She
covered her hair, her face, her body, every inch of it, with Jack’s blood. She then took
her clothing and put it next to Jack. She rolled him over so that he was face down on
the pile of clothes. She pumped his back repeatedly as if she was giving CPR on the
wrong side. Jack’s blood saturated her clothing. Once the clothes were completely
soaked, Lexi rolled Jack over and got dressed, now completely caked in blood. As it
dried, her clothes would creak and crackle when she moved. Sometimes she would
close her eyes – when she would open them, her eyelashes would stick together.
She did this over and over for hours on end until most of her eyelashes had plucked
After 12 days, Lexi did not move much at all. The last time she moved was when she
went into the handicapped stall, and curled up in a ball in the corner, just under the
bottom of the stall. She remained there for another six days.
Lexi stared at the point of the room where the floor met the two walls. There was
no activity whatsoever. There was no thought. The only thing that existed was the
corner on the floor and the periodic drip of the faucet. Her mind no longer existed
beyond rudimentary sensation and perception – the buzz of the fluorescent lights,
the drip of the faucet, and her hairless eyelids clapping every six or seven seconds.
After a few more days, a flake of dried blood fell from her cheek onto the floor.
* * *
Lexi’s eyelids quickly opened. Two pupils moved in unison, violently drawing back
from two dark saucers into two pinpoint black specks.
“Lexi? Oh my God, Lexi are you ok?”
Lexi turned and looked at the man. She did not recognize him. He was holding her
hand. She snapped her arm back against her body.
“Who are you?”
“Lexi, it’s me…it’s Dad. Lexi are you ok?”
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital. Lexi, you’ve been in a coma for the past three weeks. Lexi
please tell me that you’re ok!”
Lexi knew one thing – she wanted this man to get away from her. She had no
memory of him at all but there was something about him that elicited a singular
She screamed at him to leave. A nurse came in and pulled Lexi’s father off to the
side. She had a conversation with him and ultimately asked him to leave. She
explained to him that strange things can happen when a patient wakes up from a
coma, and that sometimes some distance is necessary for proper recovery. He was
not happy about leaving his daughter but was certainly happy that Lexi was awake
and at least somewhat coherent. The nurse made assurances that she would call
him at home once Lexi had adjusted and was ready for visitors.
The nurse left the room with Lexi’s father. She told Lexi that she would come back
later with some food.
After Lexi had calmed down, she got up out of bed. She was weak, but able to walk.
She disconnected her IV and went over to a mirror.
When Lexi saw her face, a shot of pain ripped through her core as she stumbled
away from the mirror and fell onto the bed. She looked around the room. There
were flower arrangements and balloons wishing well to Lexi. Looking at all of the
cards and balloons with her name on them shot pings of pain through her. She
destroyed anything with her name on it. She looked out the window. She
recognized nothing, and felt as much.
The nurse returned with a plate of food. Fifteen minutes later, the neurologist
After going through some tests, the Doctor quickly realized what was going on. Lexi
had no memory of her life. She was able to complete procedural tasks that required
muscle memory, but she could not identify people or places – though some things
that the Doctor asked about that had some relevance to Lexi’s life yielded a violent
reaction from her. Satisfied that Lexi was of no danger to herself, he left her for the
evening and left to make plans to discuss her psychiatric rehabilitation program
with her family.
Lexi was making other plans. At 3:30 that morning, Lexi quietly left her room and
walked towards the elevators. She saw the front desk which was staffed by middle
aged woman who appeared to be doing a crossword puzzle.
Lexi went back to her room. Her parents had left her a partial wardrobe in the
closet of her hospital room. All of the clothing disgusted Lexi, but she picked a pair
of pants, sneakers, and a dark long sleeved t-shirt that she turned inside out and put
Lexi creeped out of her room and hid in the Janitor’s closet in between the men’s
and women’s room. She waited there for almost an hour. The stench from the mop
and bucket was vile, but she didn’t really mind.
Finally, she heard the woman walk down the hallway towards the bathrooms. Once
she went in to the ladies room, Lexi quietly slipped out of the janitor’s closet. She
went to the front desk and opened the purse on the desk, took out $80 from a
bulging change purse, put it back, and buttoned the purse. She walked to the
elevators, and pushed the down button. The doors opened. She walked in and
The doors opened. Lexi walked out of the elevator, past the sleeping security guard,
out the front door. She walked quickly and noticed the sign at the entrance, Yale-
New Haven Hospital.
Lexi was operating mostly on instinct. She knew that she had to get away from here.
Wherever it was, this place called New Haven, she meant to leave it - permanently.
She walked, seemingly without knowing where she was going and ended up at the
Yale Library. She entered and walked about until she found the computer lab. She
found a station that was logged in. There was a knapsack in the pod. She quickly
went onto Google Maps to get directions to the nearest train station. She went into
the bag and took out a pen and tore off a page from one of the books from inside the
bag. She quickly scribbled down the directions, closed the web browser and left.
She arrived at Union Station fifteen minutes later.
Lexi went to a ticket machine, took out one of her four $20 bills, and bought a one-
way fare for a 6:11 train to Grand Central Station.
Lexi was gone.
* * *
Zana stood in front of her bathroom mirror, naked save for a towel draped around
her neck. She picked up the box that was sitting on the sink and ripped the package
open. A tear ran across the front of the package as she ripped off the top of the box.
She threw the top of the package into the garbage. The top of the box no longer said
“Revlon” but now simply “10”. Below the number was the word “black” in three
Zana took out the plastic gloves from the box, put them on, and mixed the
ingredients into the applicator bottle. She shook it up and down for 45 seconds.
Zana tilted back her head, and began to squeeze the dye across the front of her
hairline from left to right. She put down the bottle and picked up a comb, dragging
the dye from the front of her hair down through the middle of her head several
times. Another line of dye was drawn from the top of one ear to the other, and was
combed down to the top of her neck where her hairline abruptly ended.
Zana’s hair was short – very short – but she still used the recommended procedure
intended for a shoulder length head of hair. She had not seen so much as a hint of
red hair in the last two and a half years, and she intended to keep it that way.
She put a dab of dye on her gloved fingertip and pressed it across each of her
eyebrows, mashing it in by quickly running her finger back and forth.
Zana left the bathroom and sat at the solitary chair that she had at her kitchen table.
After she finished smoking six cigarettes, she returned to the bathroom and got in
the shower. She rinsed the dye out, shaved her legs underarms and vagina, and got
out of the shower.
She opened up a contact lens case. There waded two dark lenses in a clear saline
solution. She quickly glanced at her face in the mirror – two bright blue eyes shot
daggers back at her. She scowled at herself. She dabbed the lenses into her eyes
and blinked. As the excess saline ran out of the corners of her eyes, she saw two jet
black eyes. There was no sign of a pupil. There was the white of her eyes, and then
immediately two circles of complete darkness. The right corner of her mouth
turned upwards ever so slightly.
Of course, the main reason why Zana hid her eyes and hair was to block the pain
that that would shoot through her when she saw them. However, her appearance
had another effect – it made her look frightening to most people. Very few strangers
would dare even approach her with conversation. The eye is drawn to beauty,
which Zana certainly had an abundance of in her face. However, the short black hair
sitting atop a pale white face punctuated by two huge black holes was shocking.
Zana looked possessed, which was ironically the exact opposite of what she was.
Things had greatly improved since Zana first came to Bedford-Stuyvesant. At first,
she struggled to survive. She lived on the streets for almost two months,
panhandling and eating out of garbage cans.
Zana eventually found a squat inhabited by a half a dozen heroin addicts. It had a
working bathtub and toilet. It was relatively safe. She would clean the place a
couple of times a week, and her squatmates would occasionally steal from her. She
didn’t mind, she considered it as sporadic rent. As long as they stayed concentrated
on scoring junk, they didn’t concentrate on her. It worked.
Zana had moved past panhandling to being hired as a barback, and was quickly
promoted to bartender, at a bar called 10 AWG Steel. Steve, the owner of 10 AWG
Steel, also owned the tattoo/piercing parlor connected to it that bore the same
name. It was the only bar in New York City where you could get wasted and get a
tattoo without even going outside – or opening a door for that matter. There was a
corridor that connected the two, and it was quite common for customers to
medicate themselves before they got inked.
Steve hired Zana because of the way that she looked. While she didn’t exactly fit in
with the typically rough crowd at 10 AWG, the clientele seemed to like her. She was
not afraid of them – and for that they respected her. She was very cold for sure, but
not completely unfriendly. Zana did her job well, and she was interesting to look at.
She showed up for her shifts on time – Steve was happy.
Steve also noticed that he picked up a few new customers since Zana started
working for him, mostly street art nerds and skaters. This was not a problem in and
of itself, but occasionally an art geek would get a bit too uppity and be asked to
leave. They were asked once – after that the door was opened with their head. The
parking spot outside 10 AWG Steel was famously vacant. There was no hydrant –
locals found that their passenger side door would occasionally be dented with the
skull of someone very stupid. The same fate was dealt to anyone who dared get
frisky with Zana.
This is not to say that Zana never sat with men. She was in her mid 20’s and she
certainly had healthy urges. She satisfied them in a very mechanical fashion. When
the mood stuck her, she would simply ask one of the regulars to help her close up
the bar. After the bar was closed and her chores were done, she would have him
take off his pants and lie face up on the floor. Zana would mount and fuck until she
had an orgasm. When she was done – it was done. There was no emotion, no
affection, no thank you. She said the same thing to her partner every time after it
was over: “Mop the floor”.
Sex was a way for Zana to remove an urge, nothing more. Sometimes there would
be a month where this would happen twice – and then again after six months or
more. The regulars knew what was going on, and they were all content to be patient
and participate in the lottery. Customer loyalty at 10 AWG was…strong.
Zana never had any interest in tattoos or piercings, but was occasionally drawn to
the artwork itself. One day she was gazing at a beautiful tattoo that Jimmy, one of
the regulars, had on his forearm. It was a classic – a heart with a dagger through the
center, underneath it, “MOM”. Jimmy said to Zana, “my God, that’s beautiful…”. Zana
replied “I know”.
“No Zana, THAT is beautiful.”
Zana looked down and was shocked to see that she had sketched a facsimile of
Jimmy’s tattoo on a cocktail napkin. The only difference was that it had more depth,
more life. It was simply better. Zana threw the napkin away.
The next day, Jimmy went to the tattoo parlor and told Steve what he saw. Steve
was skeptical, but intrigued. He decided to approach Zana and see if there was
really anything to this.
Zana was not interested. She noticed that there was a ping of pain when she looked
at what she drew. She was not interested in replicating the sensation. Steve
explained to her that the money for a good tattoo artist was considerably better
than the wage paid to a good bartender – and that the unique layout of 10 AWG
would make it very easy for her to do both. Zana was not overly enthused, but living
at the squat was wearing thin. She figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. Jimmy eagerly
volunteered the inside of his right bicep as a canvas.
Steve showed Zana how to operate the equipment and let her practice on an orange.
She picked it up very quickly, and she was ready for Steve.
Jimmy sat in the chair and started to tell Zana what he wanted. She quickly
“No. I draw what I want”.
This concerned Jimmy at first, but he remembered her ability based on what he saw
her do on the napkin. Steve said, “relax Jimmy, have faith”. Jimmy responded, “I
don’t need faith, I have conviction”.
Jimmy was ready. Zana wasn’t. She didn’t know what to do. She put down the
needle and sat and thought…she thought of Jimmy for a while.
Zana didn’t have any actual friends per se but she knew that Jimmy was ok. He
worked hard, and lived hard. It seemed to her that he was a guy who tried to do the
right thing, though sometimes he failed. She decided that Jimmy was a good man –
albeit with some major flaws.
With that, Zana closed her eyes and dug the needle into Jimmy’s arm. Her eyes
stayed closed as she drew.
After about an hour Zana put the needle down and shut off the machine. She turned
away, and opened her eyes. She did not look at the tattoo. She sat in a chair at the
other side of the room and lit a cigarette.
Steve and Jimmy were still looking at the tattoo when Zana put out her cigarette.
Jimmy spoke first.
Zana looked away.
The tattoo was nothing like anything either Steve or Jimmy had ever seen before.
They both knew what it was – it was Jimmy. It did not take a human form, nor did it
have any lettering or discernable shapes. But it was unmistakable, it was Jimmy. It
was rough, it had a certain purity that was tainted, it was dark, it was sad. It had
hope – not much, but it was there.
Word of Zana’s talent spread like wildfire. Within a day, there were two dozen
people on the waiting list. Zana moved out of the squat a week later with an
advance from Steve. The waiting list reached triple digits in ten days.
Her process was totally unique, both in the way that she created the art, as well as
the way one had to pay for it.
The pricing structure was simple enough: Zana’s time was billed at $500/hour (she
kept $375, Steve kept $125). Cash only.
The process began with the customer talking with Zana. She would ask questions.
No two customers were asked the same things.
“Do you like olives?...Air or water?...Can you juggle?...Even or odd?”
Sometimes this would go on for 20 minutes, sometimes 90 or 100. It took as long as
it took. This was, of course, all on the clock.
When Zana was satisfied that she had derived the customer’s character, she began
to draw. This too was highly variable, it took between 45 minutes to four hours.
Regulars at 10 AWG got a discount of sorts. Zana did not have to go through the
interview process with most of them, which lowered the price of their tattoos
There was one customer whose tattoo led to a policy change at 10 AWG. After the
interview, Zana absolutely, and properly, recognized this customer for what she
was: a vapid cunt. The tattoo reflected that fact exquisitely. It was exactly as foul
and putrid as her mind, her values, her life. Not a happy customer to say the least.
From there, 10 AWG Steel had a policy of releasing the customer before the artwork
was made if it Zana thought poorly of the person. Of course, the time for the
interview was paid for whether or not it resulted in an actual tattoo being made.
While this happened from time to time, it was far less often than Steve had
Zana worked whatever hours she liked. When she wanted to work, she would come
into the shop. When she would arrive, Steve would call the next person on the
waiting list. No answer? Next. “Hi, Zana is ready for you. Can you be here in 20
minutes? No? Sorry.” Next. Sometimes Zana would do one or two tattoos.
Sometimes she would work for 20 or 30 hours straight. She never saw a single
tattoo that she created.
Zana still worked her shifts at the bar. Alcohol sales at 10 AWG also flourished
thanks to her newfound fame. If the mood struck her, she would tattoo a bar
customer in the parlor pro bono after her shift was over. It was another lottery of
sorts, though the odds of winning this one were worse than the other drawing.
Zana stayed in the same studio apartment that Steve fronted her the rent and
security deposit for a month ago. It was all she needed. The rent was $750 per
month, well below her means. Her refrigerator was filled with cans of iced expresso,
jars of pickles, and hard boiled eggs. Her freezer was filled with cartons of
cigarettes. She hung her bicycle, a second-hand three-speed Schwinn, upside down
from two ceiling hooks.
There was a bed, a table, a chair, and the bathroom. She had ten pairs of black jeans,
ten black t-shirts, ten black long sleeved t-shirts, three pairs of shoes, a light black
jacket and a heavy black leather jacket. She kept some cash in the apartment but
kept the rest of it in the safe at 10 AWG. When Steve ran out of room in the safe, he
implored Zana to get a bank account. She was not only uninterested but also unable
– Zana had no ID, no Social Security number…she did not pay taxes, and she only
worked for, and paid for things, with cash. Steve made an account for her in his
name and made deposits every couple of weeks. He set her rent and electricity
payments on autopay from the account. On the rare occasion where Zana needed to
replenish her speding money, she would just go to the shop. Steve would take out
$3,000 and give it to her. Typically it was so that she could go out and buy another
20 cartons of Marlboro Reds to restock the freezer. The iced coffee cans were heavy,
she would call from the shop and have them delivered.
Such was life for another year. It was easy. Zana was neither happy nor sad about
her life. She could survive easily. There was no pain. She was…content.
* * *
The cracks started in February of 2009.
Every now and then there was a crack, a certain familiarity that would trigger a shot
of pain. The cracks started sporadically; sometimes they happened two months
apart. By summertime, there were two cracks a month.
Zana was now well aware that her past life, whatever it was, was not erased from
her brain, but rather that her memory was scrambled and sectioned off. While the
cracks were extremely unpleasant, she was not overly concerned.
By July there was a crack ever other day. The cracks no longer seemed to have any
correlation to familiarity. They began to be more severe. After three crashes, Zana
realized that she could no longer ride her bicycle safely. What was worse, the cracks
no longer simply manifested themselves as pain. They began to be accompanied by
sensations that resembled what could best be described as emotional imagery. She
could not make out the form, rather she tried to push them back. She knew it was
only a matter of time until she would no longer be able to do so.
It was then that Zana bought the necessary attachments for her La Santa Maria
rotary tattoo machine to deliver the appropriate sedatives and poisons to her
bloodstream for a quick and painless death.
She never considered the irony that the first time a tattoo needle would break her
skin would be the last.
* * *
Grayson Tannor was excited. He took Friday off to spend a long weekend in New
York City. Tomorrow morning he would be on a train to New York to spend the
weekend with his college roommate at his flat in Park Slope. They were going to see
a band called Black Lips perform at The Music Hall in Williamsburg. He had never
been to Brooklyn, so he decided to read some music blogs about the band and the
As he jumped from one blog to the next, his phone rang. He saw on the caller ID that
is was his ex and soon to be future (temporary) roommate Dale.
“Hey Dale, what’s up?”
“Nothing, just wanted to make sure that you were all set for your trip.”
“Oh yeah, I’m all set. I’m already packed and I bought my train ticket online.”
They continued to chat about plans for the visit while Grayson continued to bounce
from blog to blog.
With yet another click, a page from freewilliamsburg.com loaded with various
stories about current goings-on. He scrolled down the page and froze.
Dale continued to talk for a while about their possible plans for Saturday.
“..so if you like French food, I could make a reservation at Moutarde. What do you
think? Hello? Helllloooo? Gray, are you still there? Gray!”
Gray still had his ear to the phone, but his mind was elsewhere. His eyes fixated on a
single image on his screen, a picture of a tattoo.
“Oh, sorry! Yeah, I’m here. Hey, listen, can I call you back?”
Gray didn’t wait for Dale to respond. He hung up, closed all of his other browser
windows, and started reading.
The article was about a tattoo artist named Zana. It wasn’t so much about her, but
rather interviews with customers who had gotten a tattoo done by her. After a few
quick searches, he was able to find six other blogs with stories and photos. Zana
never appeared in any of the articles – there were no quotes from her nor were
there any pictures of her, just the tattoos and interviews with those that got
one...and pages of comments from people still waiting for their chance.
Gray knew that he had seen this art before. Not in this shape or format, but the
essence of the work was unmistakable. Lexi drew these tattoos.
Gray took out a piece of paper, wrote down the address for 10 AWG, and put it in his
* * *
It was the summer of 1997. Jack found himself living in a new house, with no
friends, and a bad case of the chicken pox. He hoped that he wouldn’t be to scarred
from all the scratching before he would start in a new school this coming September.
Gray’s mother went over to the Paige residence to greet her new neighbors with a
fruit basket a few days after they moved in. Mrs. Paige and Mrs. Tannor talked
about the neighborhood, and of course their sons. When Mrs. Tannor found out that
Jack had the chicken pox, she was thrilled. She was eager to have Gray get the
chicken pox this summer to avoid him missing school time during the year. Mrs.
Tannor left and returned with Gray a few minutes later.
The boys were sent down to the basement. Jack was shy, but he immediately found
something to talk about when he saw the posters of Rowdy Roddy Piper and Jake
“The Snake” Roberts. They instantly bonded as they watched WWF Superstars.
They would imitate the moves that they saw on TV quietly so that their mothers
would not hear them. In fact, Mrs. Paige would peek down the stairs and saw them
wrestling. Typically she would have been furious, she hated wrestling and thought
it stupid and vulgar. For once, she was thrilled.
After a few more play dates, Jack had a sprained thumb and plenty of red spots. Jack
and Gray were inseparable for the rest of the summer. By the first day of school,
they were mostly healed save for a few scabs.
Jack and Gray were best friends all through middle and high school. Jack bloomed
early in eighth grade, shooting up three inches in a year. His shoulders broadened
nearly as much as his vertical growth spurt.
Jack was a natural athlete – he excelled at any sport he played. Gray lacked the
physical attributes that Jack had, but made up for it with ambition. They were
tennis partners and they refused to play on opposing teams for any other sport. As
time went on, Jack and Gray went on to be one of the top tennis doubles teams in the
county. Jack knew that there were a few players that would have made for a better
partner than Gray, but there was never a question about changing partners. They
would occasionally miss winning a tournament because Gray was weak at the net.
Jack never thought twice about it. He won all of his singles matches, usually without
dropping more than two games per match. Jack liked to win, but due to the fact that
it happened so regularly it wasn’t a particularly salient sensation.
Jack had a strong memory which helped him with history, math, and science. Jack
was hopeless with English and art.
On the first day of eighth grade, Jack took his seat behind a canvas in the back of the
room in Mrs. Ungar’s classroom. Painting. He knew this would be the worst 44
minutes of his day.
Indeed, Jack was dreadful at painting. He found it difficult to even try. After being in
the class for a week, he pretty much gave up and was ready to mail in the F, perhaps
a D if Mrs. Ungar was feeling generous.
As he was walking out of the room for one of his many bathroom breaks, he noticed
a painting in the second row. The scene was two old men playing chess in a park.
Jack was struck at how real they seemed. He was able to feel an intensity between
the two men in the painting. The rest of the painting was disassociated from the two
men, but there was nothing visual to suggest that be the case. It was intense and
serene all at once.
“Jack? Did you get lost on your way to the bathroom? I would think you knew the
way by now?”
The class laughed at Mrs. Ungar’s quip as Jack turned beet red. He didn’t realize it,
but he was staring at that canvas for over two minutes.
Lexi was looking at him. When his eyes met hers, they burned. Her eyes had a blue-
green iridescent quality. Jack shuffled out of the room.
Immediately after class that day, Jack asked Lexi to help him with his painting. Of
course Jack had little hope that he would improve at painting, but he very much
wanted to see more of Lexi’s painting, and of course more of Lexi.
Jack did improve at painting. He was still horrible, but he was clearly trying and
even sought extra help…of course Mrs. Ungar was aware that Jack probably had
alternative intentions, but he improved regardless. She gave him a generous C+.
Jack and Lexi became great friends. Lexi had not matured as quickly as Jack, and he
understood that they were not the same age, despite the fact that they were.
Lexi always wore flats with a double strap that loosely traversed her instep. She had
the same shoes in four colors. On Gym days and weekends, she would wear
One day, about halfway through ninth grade, Jack noticed that Lexi switched to a
strapless pump. That day Jack asked Lexi if she would hold hands with him as they
walked home from school.
Jack and Lexi had a wonderful relationship. They were very different, and thus very
complimentary. It was kismet.
Life changed for Gray as well. Jack wasn’t around as much anymore. It was
confusing to Gray – he had no interest in girls and could not understand how Jack
would want to spend time with Lexi instead of sports or TV. The confusion faded as
Gray got older and began to notice girls in a different way. The acceptance that
finally came was accompanied by a certain splash of jealousy. He wasn’t alone –
every boy in high school fawned over Lexi.
Though Gray saw less of Jack, they still remained close friends, best friends. Gray
would opt out of third wheel get-togethers. Jack understood why, and there was a
silent understanding between him and Gray.
Lexi began to be very serious about her art. Her teachers were in unison with praise
for her work in Realism; they were unanimous with their criticism for her lack of
depth. Lexi simply refused to partake in what she viewed to be meaningless
exercises. She rarely got an A in any art class because she simply refused to
complete, or even start, several assignments. One assignment was to mimic Seurat’s
technique for a Pointillism project. “If I wanted to create art like that, I’d buy a Lite-
Brite.” During another lesson she flatly proclaimed “the Golden Rule is for
architecture and financial models, not for painting humans”. Her teacher was both
offended and thrilled by Lexi’s passion for her convictions regarding art.
Lexi’s art was featured in a few local galleries in Norwalk. She won a competition
that allowed her work to be showcased at The Frick Collection in Manhattan.
Though her painting was not for sale, it did eventually sell as a buyer contacted Lexi
through the school. Tesla, Oil on Canvas was her first of many sales. Though she
never knew, the painting was acquired by David Bowie.
Getting into the art scene in Norwalk was not easy or pleasant for Lexi. There was a
hierarchy in the top art studios, and it was based on tenure, not skill. Despite the
fact that Lexi was the best painter in Norwalk, she was throttled by the studios.
They would only allow her to hang one painting at a time. It was partly a prejudice
against Romantic Realism, partly jealousy of talent.
Lexi decided to open up her own gallery. She learned how to make a simple website
to display and sell her paintings. Two weeks after she launched LexiPaints.com and
pulled her paintings out of three galleries. The owners begged her to reconsider,
offering her more spaces for her art – one director even offered her a say in the
creative direction of the studio. Lexi politely declined.
That was life – painting, Jack, Mom and Dad, and films. Lexi had no intention of
going to college for art. She had received scholarships and her parents urged her to
pursue a degree – but she figured there would be time for that later in life if she felt
For now, she just wanted to be in love, and to paint.
* * *
“Dude. Are you kidding me? Let’s get the fuck out of here before we get our asses
Dale did not find the atmosphere at 10 AWG Steel to be welcoming. He felt a bit out
of place with his bright plaid collared buttondown amidst a sea of denim and
leather. He didn’t like Slayer either. Angel of Death was ripping through the
speakers at about 237 bpm – quite a stark contrast to the Black Lips show he just
saw with Gray.
Gray convinced him to stay, telling him about the unusual history of 10 AWG that he
read about online. He did not mention Zana, but he didn’t need to.
“Do you have the hots for that bartender or something?”
“No! What, you mean the girl with the black hair?”
“No I mean the 300 pound bald guy with the septum barbell and neck tattoos. Yes,
the freaky chick.”
“Yeah, I mean she is a little freaky I guess. She’s ok.”
“A little? She looks possessed. And you totally have her locked in on your radar.
That’s cool, I just didn’t know you were into that whole look. You should talk to
Of course, that was why Gray was here. He wanted to find out what happened to
Lexi – and there she was, barely recognizable, but it was her.
Gray decided that he needed a nip of courage. Or two. He asked the other bartender
for two shots of Jim Beam and two PBRs.
Gray chatted with Dale for a while, but he was only partly there. He struggled to
make small talk, all the while wondering what he was going to say to Lexi.
After another shot and a can, Dale was ready to leave. Gray explained to him that he
was going to stay and talk to the bartender. Dale was not enthused about leaving his
good friend at a place like this at this hour, but he could tell that Gray wasn’t going
to budge. Dale gave Gray the number for a car company he could call and made sure
that he had money for the ride back to his place in Park Slope.
As 3:15 rolled around, the bar started to thin out a bit. Gray went around to the
other side of the bar and sat near Lexi. Eventually she came over to check on his
“Do you need something?”
Lexi was not there. The sweet girl he knew in high school was gone. There was a
wall with a stranger standing behind it.
“Yes, I’m looking for my friend, perhaps you have seen her? Her name is Lexi.”
Her central nervous system all but self-destructed. There was no sound. Zana could
barely see through a thick fog of red. Her arms and legs locked in place. An
unhealthy dollop of adrenaline was rushing through her veins.
After 30 seconds or so, Zana was finally able to move. She slowly crept over to her
soda gun and poured herself a pint glass of club soda on ice. She drank about half of
it and walked back over to Gray.
“This is what’s going to happen now. You are going to leave. You will never come
back here. You will never say that name again. Go.”
“Ok, and then what? Do you really expect for me to not tell your parents where you
are? And what about the other ten dozen people whose lives were devastated when
you disappeared? Sure, I’ll leave – is that what you really want?”
She realized that this wasn’t something that she could ignore. She told Gray to just
sit there and not talk to anyone. She would talk to him after the bar was closed up.
Just after 4:30 the remaining locals were asked to leave. The other bartender asked,
“are we all set here Zana? What’s the deal with the guy at the end of the bar, do you
“No Tiny, I don’t, but he’s going to help me close up the bar tonight.”
Tiny had heard that before and he knew what it meant. He said, “ok, no problem see
you next Friday” – while he thought to himself “lucky motherfucker”.
After everyone else left, Zana and Gray talked.
Zana decided that it was pointless to lie. She told him everything – escaping the
hospital, living on the street, her life at 10 AWG, and of course the total lack of
memory of her prior life. She also talked about the cracks, and her plans for suicide.
Gray had the idea that he was going to confront Lexi and convince her to come back
home, or at least talk to her parents – and if that didn’t work just tell them that she
is ok. Of course that wasn’t going to happen now. Gray knew that the suicide rap
wasn’t a bluff, and he had no intention of putting her parents through losing their
Instead, Gray told Zana about her prior life – and how much she loved it. He was
careful not to be too specific to avoid another crack from flaring up, but he got the
point across. Lexi died and was replaced by a shell. Zana was a life without joy or
pain – a butterfly that turned into a caterpillar.
Zana agreed to try to remember. She didn’t care about the people she left behind.
Rather, she was interested in what it would be like to feel something good.
They talked for hours. Gray finally convinced Zana to not kill herself for at least a
month. They shook on it. At around 10AM Gray finally left the bar.
As Gray got up to leave, Zana touched his shoulder.
“Mop the floor.”
That was the first joke Zana ever told.
* * *
The last eight months were exhausting. Gray was having difficulty keeping track of
two humans in one body. Zana was making progress for sure – and she was still
alive! He was happy about that, but at the same time, he wasn’t sure how much
more he could take of the daily sessions that amounted to intense therapy – the
breakdowns, the mood swings – living your life for a person who only showed up
once or twice a week. And of course there was the fact that he left a comfortable life
with a good career in New Haven for two jobs waiting tables and a shitty apartment
He was reminded every so often why he was doing this. Lexi would come out every
so often. Eventually he convinced Zana to buy an easel and canvas, palette and
paint. One time Lexi came out, and Gray asked her to do a self portrait.
It was as true and as beautiful as anything that either Lexi or Zana had done before.
It was a gorgeous tribute to life and one’s love of it.
When Zana returned, she was not fond of the painting. Gray convinced her to keep
it. She refused multiple times but finally acquiesced when Gray threatened to leave
if she did not keep it. Zana certainly despised the painting, but she didn’t want to
die anymore – and she knew that her only link to her old life, to life at all, was
through Gray – to get to herself.
Another six months passed. Zana was making spectacular progress. She no longer
despised the painting – in fact she bought a frame for it. She still did tattoo work
with her eyes closed, but she would look at the ink when she was done. There was
happiness in her life – and it was getting to the point where she was Lexi almost as
often as she was Zana. Lexi had a sexual relationship with Gray – Zana did not.
One day Zana woke up and looked at herself in the mirror. She saw a fraction of an
inch of red hair creeping out of the base of her hairline. She grabbed the Revlon box
and ripped the top off. As she was putting on the gloves, she looked at the box,
looked at herself, and threw it away.
Over the weeks and months that followed, her hair grew out past her neck and onto
her shoulders. A red coat crept across her head, the black dyed hair remaining only
at the longest parts of her hair.
Gray was staying with Lexi more often than not at this point. He kept a toiletry bag
in Zana’s bathroom. One Sunday morning he awoke to an empty bed, odd because
Zana loved to sleep late.
As Gray entered the bathroom, he found Zana staring in the mirror, holding her hair
in her hands, her contact lens case was open, the right lens was in her eye, the left
still in a pool of saline.
Gray went into his bag and took out a pair of scissors. Without saying a word, he
began to cut the last two inches of black hair off an otherwise crimson mane.
The last lock of black hair fell to the bathroom floor. Zana looked at it, and then
looked at herself in the mirror. She pinched the black lens from her eye and flicked
it into the trash.
She turned around and looked at Gray.
“My name is Lexi.”