The Mare

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill

Book: The Mare by Mary Gaitskill Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Gaitskill
school.
    Early the next day I went to my cotton-ball box in the closet and got out pictures of Ginger and the horses and picked the ones I would paste on my notebook for school. I would put the ones with ponies on the outside and the ones with Joker and Reesa on the inside so my mom wouldn’t see them. Though she never looked at the pictures anyway. I just put them in my box in the closet and she never said anything.

Ginger
    Sometimes I don’t care what Becca says; other times it cuts. It cuts when I feel myself small and insignificant against her and her friends and their big proud bodies, when I feel the fear and chaos that’s always in me, and the nothingness, the nothing I’ve done with my life except to continue to live. But it’s not too late. I am stronger than I was. And now I have Velvet.
    I decided I was going to do a painting of Melinda, a figurative painting for the first time since art school. It was Velvet who put that idea into my head—after I showed her my sister’s “portrait,” she said, “Why don’t you do a real picture of her?” She asked the day after she saw the red abstract, which meant she’d been thinking about it. I told her I didn’t do representational or figurative work; she looked at me blankly and said, “Why not?” I started explaining to her that everything had already been painted at this point, and that there was no reason to represent figures anymore. The way she looked at me, I was suddenly embarrassed. “Did somebody else paint your sister already?” she asked.
    “No, it’s not that,” I said, and she just looked at me.
    So I decided to try. I decided to work from two pictures, one from when Melinda was ten and seriously beautiful, and another when she was a thick-necked, swollen-faced adult, some teeth already gone, her eyes dulled but still with a hard glitter deep in them. She was wearing a sweatshirt and holding a plastic take-out container; whoever took the picture had obviously surprised her. It must’ve been somebody she was happy to see because she was actually smiling. Which is probably why she’d even kept the picture in a drawer full of buttons, batteries, colored lightbulbs, and broken toys: It was the only one of her as an adult smiling so you could see her teeth.
    I decided I’d put both Melindas in the same picture. I wanted to foreground the smiling, disfigured adult and have the pretty, sweet-faced child in the background. It was harder than I thought. I was unpracticed and couldn’t make the lines properly expressive. The adult Melinda was comic, nearly pumpkin-faced, the child wraithlike and weird. After dinner I came back to try again. This time I put them together, one half of the face a child, the other half an adult. That was worse.
Did somebody else paint your sister?
Blurry thoughts filled my head; gooseflesh came up on my arm. What was I doing to my sister? Why?
    When Melinda was fifteen, our mother had her hospitalized. It was a state mental hospital and she got into fights with the other girls there; she came home for a weekend visit with a black eye and a swollen mouth. Her body was stiff and fearful, but her eyes were sarcastic and she mumbled tough, boasting things with her hurt lips. We shared a room and she sat in the corner of it listening to our little record player while I sketched in my diary. She listened to the same song over and over. It was by Alice Cooper, I think, crowing and clowning about runnin through the world with a gun at his back. Melinda listened to it hunched over and rocking intently. If the music hadn’t been there, it would’ve looked like she was crying. But I was barely twelve. I listened to the music over her body because I think she wanted me to. She just kept picking up the needle and putting it down in the same place. It didn’t even bother me.
    I rested my brushes in a jar of mineral spirits and put away my paints. I turned off the lights and listened to the dense sound of bugs outside the open

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