The following story is written to go with the above painting, “Narcissistic Bathers” by Jack Vettriano.
Never was there such a strange trio. We lived together. We played together. And well, no, we did not sleep together. But a communal snooze on the living room furniture was not an unheard of idea.
I loved them both–as friends and…well…yes, as friends. Brenda was flighty–a brisk redhead, slender, petite, quick to respond and not long to linger. And Brad, well, he was her opposite–tall, solid, a personality who considered long and hard about every decision. And then there was me, the last member of this group of three. I’m just a regular Joe–I wouldn’t stand out if you saw me on the street, and I’ve got no earth-shattering inventions or ideas to offer the world. I’m just me.
We met in college. Brenda and Brad became an instant couple, and me…well, I just sort of wandered in…an odd extra. It takes three to have a good party, so the other two kept me around. I was a ready partner to go places and see things, and I added that one extra laugh to turn a date into a party on wheels. I was surprised when they asked me to move in. I guess they just wanted to have a party 24/7. I agreed without hesitation. Perhaps I needed a family. We were family, and I was the voice of reason that settled familial disputes.
“Brad, I don’t want to go to the museum. It’s so boring! How about the Skylight Cafe.”
“What, and sit around with a bunch of airheads and get jumped up on caffeine”
“How dare you? Those people are my friends, which I’m beginning to think you are not.”
At this point, I would step in. “Hey, they’re both good ideas. Why don’t you do both, only on a timetable you each promise to obey–Say, 1 hr. for each. That way everything is equal.”
“Will you come so Brad plays by the rules?”
“Yes.” And there I’d be, off on another of their dates. A strange life, but at least the rent was cheap.
I never saw two people so infatuated with their good looks–not each others–each loved his own reflection. Brenda spent hours getting ready to go out–hair, make-up, clothes–whatever else women do. And Brad, exactly the same…well, not make-up, but everything else. Me? I can throw on a pair of pants and a shirt, flatten my hair with my fist, and I’m good to go. It’s a wonder the other two wanted to be seen with me. But I guess I served my purpose, being peacemaker and all.
One day we went for a walk on the beach. A summer day, the sun blasting in the sky produced shimmering jewels on the water while the sand glistened in unison under its glare. The waves crashed against the shore in vigorous strikes. I wished I had a surf board as my mind swirled on the waves with ideas.
Brenda went strolling like a beachcomber until suddenly she stopped, a look of tragedy plastered her face in a long smile and wide eyes. She squatted down and, I kid you not, studied her face in the water’s reflection. She turned right, left, scrunched up her nose, patted her hair, examining, examining.
Brad saw this and ran over and squatted next to her to see his own reflection. She elbowed him out of the way, and he pulled back to stand next to me, red-faced from the rebuff. It wasn’t because he was rejected by her; it was that he couldn’t get in to see the “mirror.”
I stood forever while Brenda, then Brad, had their turns at the “mirror.” While waiting, I pondered how many people in the world would do this–use the ocean for personal vanity. I thought and thought and came to only one conclusion. Only these two. That was the day I decided to leave them.
“Tommy, why are you doing this?” Brenda asked, her mouth fixed in a pout when I told them.
“It’s just time. That’s all.” As soon as I said it, I worried it wasn’t enough.
“Who will settle our disputes?” Brad demanded.
“And how can we have fun going out, just the two of us.”
“Other people do it all the time. It’s called giving and sharing.”
“But what will we talk about?” Brenda asked.
I studied her a moment and then gave the obvious answer. “Talk about each other.”
“You mean about clothes and hair?”
“Exactly,” I said. In the next instant, I picked up my suitcase and left. I didn’t look back, but I wonder sometimes if the face and clothes talk ever stopped once they got started.
Copyright 2006 JO Janoski