Jen’s my kind of disconcerting—dark hair, petite, lazy right eye, bites her lower lip while she’s waiting for my answer. I’d had a couple of Newcastles down at O’Malley’s, and as much as I hate painting and parties, I couldn’t say no.
In hindsight, I might have dubbed the Onanist prematurely. His real name is Mark. He seems like a good enough guy: wears ties to work and brings home leafy groceries in a canvas Trader Joe’s bag. The thing is, our johns share a common wall. Back when I first moved in, I was sitting on the can and heard something kind of funny coming from over there. Mark could have been brushing his teeth or plunging the toilet for all I know. But I’d just run across ‘onanism’ in the dictionary. It was an unfortunate coincidence. Anyway, maybe I can rectify the moniker if I paint his walls.
The party started at twelve. I drank a couple of cold beers and left my place at a quarter after. I couldn’t resist bringing an organic blush.
The door was open. I gave it a couple of warning raps, stepped in. Hey! It’s the guy from three-thirteen, come to paint. Everything was covered. Something slow was playing on a hidden stereo, a deep, funky groove that didn’t sound like Mark or Jen.
Jen came out from the back, cheeks speckled in ceiling-white. Nice freckles, I said. Oh, god, I know, she said, brushing hair from her eyes with the back of her hand. I gave her the wine. Thanks. We’re all in the bedroom. Come on.
I followed her to the master. Mark was on his knees cutting in the base. The other two painters—girls—I didn’t recognize. Jen made introductions, friends of hers from work: Alyson and Sarah. I was the only tenant who showed. There were a couple of pizzas on the floor. Hope you’re hungry, Jen said, nodding at the boxes. We ordered six.
After a slice of pepperoni, I was sent to the bathroom with a four inch Purdy chisel and a can of something blonde. Sesame, Jen said. It’s a base coat. I’m sponging.
There were no new nicknames in the john. Everything was covered and taped. I had the corners behind the toilet cut in when Alyson showed. I’m supposed to keep you company, she said. She had a clean brush in one hand and two open Heinekens in the other. Mark thought you were a beer man. She forwarded me a cold one. Thanks, I told her, taking the bottle. Mark guessed right. Good, she said, I can’t paint sober, and I hate drinking alone.
So you’re single? Alyson asked after our third Heineken.
More of Marks speculations?
Yes, I’m single.
I’m… occupied. I write.
Ah. That explains the hair, Alyson said. Celibate, onanist or prowler?
Yeah. Do you ja…
I know what onanism is.
Suddenly the funky music made sense. Onanist, I admitted. Purely medicinal.
Cool, Alyson said. Me too.