C. A. Kaufman

The Artist

When I first moved to New York I made the mistake of signing a lease in Queens. My roommate in that apartment was a man in his mid-thirties named George who kept a roll of toilet paper in front of his laptop on the desk in the living room. He was a harpist in the New York City Ballet’s pit orchestra. He kept a few harps at our apartment, each one looming comically over any space outside my room where I might have wanted to store my belongings. George would play them about once a month, and that was the only thing about living with him I found soothing. I couldn’t figure out how a person I hated so much could make such a warm sound. He singlehandedly disabused me of the notion that art came from a pure and earnest place, or that beauty was in any sense terrifying. George’s sliminess was totally banal; he didn’t scare me and I didn’t see why he should. I got no thrill whatsoever from any of my interactions with him, and he put me off art in general for a very long time.

He would often expound on his belief that high schoolers had the best hair, the softest. He looked like his hairline was receding a little more every day. He was desperate to find a serious girlfriend he could convert into a wife, but nobody he dated lasted more than a few weeks. He always wanted to have long discussions about the nuances of each candidate’s perfunctory, generic texts to him. He would call these torture sessions “our girl talks.” For a while I would try to point out that these women clearly weren’t interested in what turned out to be his pretty strident opinions on how they should go about their business, but this only seemed to trigger a deeper spiral into the chasm between his yearning for a true and lasting human connection and his sense of entitlement. His questions grew exponentially more cloying the longer we talked, and I found myself nodding in agreement with anything he said, staring at the mole under his right eye to create the illusion of eye contact, plotting my escape.

One of his favorite pastimes was getting wine drunk on weeknights while parked on the couch watching My So-Called Life. On one of these nights I walked into the kitchen on my way to the shower and found him leaning out the window smoking a cigarette. As I passed, he pulled his head back in and said, You know, you just look like a victim. Some people just do. I can always tell who they are. And I said Okay, maybe, and took my shower. Later that night he opened the door to my bedroom at 3 A.M. and poked his head in, calling my name over and over in a singsong voice, like it was something he could tease me with. I rolled over, turning my back to him, hoping he would not come inside but also resigned to what would happen if he did. Part of me felt a perverse satisfaction in knowing that I would do nothing to prevent it. But he didn’t come in, and I broke the lease a week later.

C. A. Kaufman received her B.A. in English and History from Cornell University and is currently an editor at Bedford/St. Martin's. Her work has appeared in Storychord, Bodega, and Hobart. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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