Dan Azzi
May 2019


The Painting

Dan AzziDan Azzi

[This article was first published in An-Nahar on May 29, 2019]

It was a blotch that literally looked like someone had dipped a brush in red paint and splashed the empty canvas, then with orange, and finally some black — an explosion of random colors, aka modern art. I’m no expert, but the whole thing would take my five-year-old kid three minutes to replicate. Of course, my nouveau riche wife loved it. It cost $100,000, which grinds on me, but I convinced myself that it was OK, because it was part of a charity event. The practical side of my brain valued the painting at $100, or whatever the price of a frame goes for these days, but it was for a worthy cause, funding a scholarship in my alma mater … and my wife looked so hot in that tight skirt the night she made me buy it.

I always envisioned myself dying in an exciting, heroic fashion, on top of Mount Everest or in an intense firefight as a commando. Enemy forces would surround me and, and after killing dozens of them, they close in and shoot me in the leg. But I would limp away, still fighting. I was totally impervious to pain, mind you. Finally, one of them would approach me and look me in the eye, while this is being broadcast live on CNN, and I would courageously say, “Go ahead. Do it, Motherfu**er.”

And then it was lights out.

I’m not really sure why I envisioned dying this way. After all, I’ve never climbed a mountain or served in the military. Hell, I don’t even jog. I studied accounting in university. I wear thick glasses. I work for one of the Big Three, analyzing balance sheets, income statements, debits, and credits. And I actually enjoy it. Most people find this stuff boring, but to me numbers tell exciting stories. They leap from the pages and talk to me. I see Italian operas, epics, and sonnets in financial statements.

From when I was a kid, I was involved in exciting activities at school like the Chess Club, Artificial Intelligence Club, and, my personal favorite, the Forensic Accounting Club. When I grew up, people expected me to major in Computer Science or Mathematics, but I wanted excitement, so accounting was my calling.

It was pretty clear that I had a gift for that stuff and could look at a balance sheet and income statement and, instantaneously identify probable embezzlement, without ever visiting the company’s offices or meeting its executives. I received multiple offers from the best accounting firms and was snapped up immediately by the top firm in the country. You might even call me a geek, if you’re superficial.

So, you might not find it surprising that I married a stunningly beautiful girl. Susan was my high school sweetheart, and from the moment I met her, it was love at first sight … for me, as in those days, the relationship was one-way. Frankly, and I know this is hard to believe, but she could never even remember my name. Back then, she was really popular, and, before she saw the light, she was into the captain of the football team and other jocks, and never noticed me.

A few years later, those jocks were unemployed or clerks at the local supermarket. Meanwhile, I was making a six-figure salary in my early 20’s. I ran into her at our five-year high school reunion and this time I must have made a huge impression. We started dating, and one thing led to another, and I proposed in the most romantic setting you can imagine, the Accounting Museum. I explained to her the artifacts one by one, especially my favorite, double-entry book-keeping, I felt that the scene was set and she was ripe. I got down on one knee and presented her with a 5.27-carat diamond engagement ring, because I had met her on May 27, five years earlier. She accepted immediately and we were married 5.27 months later.

I was doing well at work, so I splurged on a brand new tricked out Kia, because I was the minimizing emissions type. Susan was a bit more ostentatious, so I bought her a brand new bright red fully loaded Porsche convertible. I was a perfectly responsible provider, maxing out our savings plan, optimizing the portfolio mix of stocks and bonds, using the efficient frontier to maximize return and minimize risk. Susan worked as a debutante and spent her days supervising the nannies taking care of our children, going to the gym, and at fancy brunches with other socialites. Once a year, our family would spend a 10-day vacation in our timeshare in Cyprus.

Things were perfect, until one day as I was driving back from work, I got this text message from a client, and I know I’m not supposed to text and drive, but he was saying something that would infuriate anybody. He thought that you could deduct the principal payment of your mortgage, even though paragraph 2 of page 1,243 of the tax code was pretty clear about that. So I had to answer this idiot right away, and right then, this cab stops in the middle of the road to pick up a passenger. Now the Kia is a great commuting vehicle, phenomenal for balancing human existence with the environment, that is, if you don’t have an accident where you run full speed into the back of a not-Kia.

The next thing you know I’m in a coma, with my soul hovering near the ceiling, looking at myself lying there, with my wife and her personal trainer by my bed. What a nice guy. My parents aren’t here and this guy is by my side in my time of need. I always felt that he put a lot of effort into training my wife and didn’t seem like he did it just for the money, although at a rate of $100 an hour, you might be forgiven for reaching a different conclusion. Coucou was an extremely competent personal trainer. He had a size 28 waist, with a wide V-shaped chest, and huge muscles trying to liberate themselves from his tight clothing. His thigh was as thick as my midsection. He trained every inch of his body. Even his toes had muscles. Coucou looked like the Incredible Hulk, after a two-minute conversation with Jack Mcgee, notwithstanding his nickname, which seemed more appropriate for a fashion designer.

Flying yourself around a room may seem easy, but it’s really like flying a remote control drone for the first time. So I was bouncing against the walls and hit my head against the ceiling a few times, but I soon got the hang of it. I reduced altitude, hovering above them to listen in on the macabre conversation. Susan and Coucou were discussing unplugging me from the life support machine. WTF! I’ve been in a coma for a few hours and they’re already giving up?!

I tried to haunt the room by making the curtains blow or by moving furniture around, but I just didn’t have the requisite mind-over-matter skills.

The attending physician walks in and they tell him to unplug me.

“Oh, don’t worry, Mrs. Choueiri, it’s not that kind of coma. In fact, you can take him home with you tonight. He’ll be in a vegetable state for the rest of his life, but by your side for quite a long time, probably 30 or 40 years.”

Susan and Coucou let out a gasp of horror.

Soon after, I was sitting in our living room, with her and Coucou cuddling on my damn couch, watching my 110 inch Ultra-HD TV, while I was in my wheelchair watching them. I tried to frown real hard, and maybe they sensed it, because that was when Coucou got up and kicked my wheel-chair. After it spun around six times, Coucou placed his tree-trunk sized leg on the side of my wheelchair, bringing it to an abrupt stop, with me now looking at the wall. I was dizzy for several seconds and couldn’t see well. As I regained my focus, I began to discern a red square shape, which I now recognized as that shitty painting we overpaid for. It wasn’t really very entertaining, so after an hour, I noticed a spider in the corner, constructing its cobweb. There was a fly caught in the web, buzzing frantically in a futile attempt to get away. The spider calmly made its way towards the fly. I started to wish I was the spider and Coucou was a fly. A giant fly, because of his giant, overgrown, useless muscles. Then the spider slowly consumed the fly. I breathed out a sigh of satisfaction.

That part of the living room became the limit of my existence during waking hours. Whenever Susan and Coucou were out, our domestic helper Isabella would gently turn me around. We would watch Mexican soap operas together all day long, in between her short breaks cleaning the house. After a while, I really wanted to know if Rosario would go back to Pablo, after he had slept with her sister Rosalina. Isabella would turn me around to face the wall as soon as she heard the roar of the 443 hp engine as their Porsche pulled into the driveway. I would then spend the rest of my time watching that spider. Every few days, it would catch a new prey, although in my mind, each of them was Coucou. Sometimes, in my imagination, the prey would be Susan.

Every night, Coucou would carry Susan in one arm and his beer in the other, belching all the way to our old bedroom. That’s when Isabella would turn me around and feed me fluids through a straw. I now weighed around 40kg, down from my original 80kg. She would then wheel me down to the converted basement closet and place me in my tiny bed, which I inherited from my kid, and I would fall asleep. Every morning, after Susan and Coucou left to do their socializing or gym, Isabella would carry me into the wheelchair and push me into the living room, facing the TV when they were gone, or facing the wall and spider, when they were there. God, how I loved Isabella and that spider. For years, I would vicariously get my revenge through the heroic feats of that beautiful spider.

One day, Susan noticed the cobweb, so she called Isabella to clean it. I started to scream “NOOOOOOO!” but nothing came out. Isabella used a long stick and rag and destroyed Charlotte and its web. I could feel a tear roll down my cheek, but since then I grew to appreciate modern art, and I now absolutely adore that painting.

Disclaimer: This is part of a fictional series conceived by a demented mind. Any similarities between actual people or events is purely coincidental. In fact, the names are spelled differently, just to make sure. 

Comments 1
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    Reply Author

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