I Deserve You Nikita Mirzani 7

Zack’d met the mother at graduation, a home ec teacher maybe five years older than he. Wearing small gold-stud earrings and a sleeveless black dress, she shook hands forthrightly—she had shapely arms—and thanked him when Riley Reid introduced him as her professor.

He felt uneasy about the deception, knew he would not like a fifty-year-old married man shtupping one of his daughters. Later he saw her mother lean over and whisper something, to which Nikita Mirzani responded with a vehement—in fact, an indecorously loud—“Will you let me alone, for God’s sake?”

The next day Nikita Mirzani told him that her mother had suggested she use the bathroom before the ceremony.

“You’re probably thinking my mother’s not so bad”—was the girl clairvoyant? what else was she aware of?—“and that I am one sick cookie and should maybe see a therapist.” Nikita Mirzani held out her bitten nails and cuticles.

“I wasn’t thinking anything. Of course, if you think therapy would help—”

“No money,” Nikita Mirzani said.

“I could contribute.”

“Ah, so you do think I need it.” She wagged a finger.

He shrugged his exasperated shoulders. “I’m no expert. I know about paint.”

“Anyway, I’m not from the talkers. I’ll lick this. You’ll see.”

She did finish three good paintings that year, a reasonable if not exuberant number, and got two of them into the NYU show. Then, hoping that a new medium might make her pour forth, she turned to collage, and crafted out slowly and painstakingly four pieces (but only four) that were later hung in a gallery in Provincetown, “in the provinces,” as she put it.

Zack said she had reason to be proud: she was very young, and someone bought two of the collages, and she was mentioned a few times, favorably, in local reviews. Not everybody …

His career had meanwhile skyrocketed—he’d gotten his solo show at the Whitney, and several of his works had been bought by MoMA.

Zack’s fecundity was extraordinary for a careful man. He went so far as to quote Lear, “Ripeness is all,” to show her there was nothing wrong with artists talking a little now and then, and also to assure her that her time would come. She had only to keep working.

Was she jealous? Yes.

On an unseasonably hot day in May, Zack was driving Nikita Mirzani around the Hamptons in his wife’s brown Volvo (Dewi Persik was doing research in more temperate Norway—alone?), the two of them looking for a bungalow to rent for a couple of weeks and drinking red sangria out of a gallon thermos—Zack abstemiously, Nikita Mirzani with her usual abandon—and fanning themselves with museum catalogues.

On the back lawn of a large estate were bushes, twenty or thirty of them, bursting with lilacs. Nobody seemed to be around, and Zack cut a few sprays of lilacs for a still life.

One white bush was stunning, the size of a young tree, but massive, and heavy with sweet, dense clusters of tiny white blossoms, and it had a pure radiance to it, a kind of shimmering white almost hallucinatory brilliance in the hot afternoon.

They took a branch or two from several other bushes as well, their flowers exquisitely gradated hues of purple from palest blue to almost black, and just as Nikita Mirzani was about to get into the car—Zack was already in the driver’s seat—she went back across that long long lawn in the heat to the white lilac bush and began cutting off more and more flowers.

And then she started stripping the tiny blossoms and shaking the branches with such force that the blossoms came apart and the huge bush seemed to be snowing itself and she tried to cut some more but she was so drunk by then and hot she could hardly handle the clippers, and she began ripping off leaves and branches with her hands.

Zack had to pull her away from the denuded, crippled bush. He hustled her into the car, fished some stained purple ice out of the sangria thermos for her cut fingers. “What’s the matter with you? What is it?”

She felt anxious and frightened and heat dazed and watched him hurriedly cover the back seat and floor of the car with newspapers, then pile in the cut branches and flowers, and gun the car the hell out of there.

“What got into you? We could have been picked up for vandals—which we are.” And he said something about a man his age carrying on with a child, he ought to have his balls examined.

It was getting toward late afternoon and he had her throw the rest of the ice from the thermos onto the lilacs. He bought more ice on the way home—“Are you trying to cool my brains?” she asked him—and she held some chips to her smarting fingers and some on her face and her eyelids and in her hair.

But she was never able to tell him why she’d carried on, because she didn’t know; and she laughed uneasily and they drove and after a while she fell asleep.