What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. – T.S. Eliot.
Prior to being the woman sitting peacefully by the pool in her skinny little polka dot bikini, the swimmer who dares remove the top before cannonballing unabashedly into the water (see Naked as the day, 14 January 2024), she was these people.
Toothpick, in her blue jeans, white turtleneck, green hoody, and bowler hat.
Florence Belleville, née Toothpick, previously known as Winter Waters, dressed in greyish brown pants and a simple pink sweater over a white turtleneck.
And Frankie, formerly Toothpick, here clad in a brown kepi hat, a pair of burnt umber colored pants, and a white turtleneck over which she wears a blue-collared yellow jacket.
If Pectus carinatum were a piece of literature, it would be an illustrated choose-your-own-adventure type of memoir titled The Book of Florence. If this book were written in Arabic, then it would read from right to left.
Let us begin, then, with Frankie.
Frankie is a stubborn, hard-headed mule; an impudent, know-it-all smarty-pants; a defiant, hot-tempered bull shark; a loner, a bookworm. Amongst the things Frankie despises most in the whole world, the top three are 1) milk, 2) being given advice when she hasn’t asked for it, and 3) being told what to do by anyone whose reasoning she deems faulty, irrational, unreasonable or absurd. Her mother, for example. No sooner does this poor mother of eleven turn her back and Frankie is grumbling under her breath, “Toi, tais-toi, pour une fois!” or “Ferme-la donc, toi, ta gueule!”
If her father told her what to do, Frankie would listen. But he doesn’t tell her what to do. He doesn’t even scold her for things that merit a good scolding. Drawing all over the cover of his old Bible, for example. He must have known it was her; why hadn’t he said anything? He could have asked her why she’d done it; he could have told her to say she was sorry. She would have said I’m sorry and I miss you, and things would have gone back to the way they were. But they never will, and though she is unclear on the why or the how, she understands that she is to blame. What had she done, exactly? She can’t remember. Just that it was bad. That she’s a bad girl. That it’s her own fault if her father doesn’t pay attention to her, if he doesn’t love her. She doesn’t deserve his attention; she doesn’t deserve his love. She must not, then, deserve anyone’s attention; she must not, then, deserve anyone’s love.
Which brings us to the subject of chapter two: Florence Belleville, née Toothpick, previously known as Winter Waters.
Florence is Frankie essentially, which is to say a scared, lonely, wounded child.
A new divorcée, Florence lives in a beautiful one-bedroom apartment on Adelphi Street in Brooklyn, not far from the school where she teaches French, and only a stone’s throw from Fort Greene Park where she power walks every morning and sometimes again in the evening. She must! This is New York City, in case anybody forgot. For every eligible straight man living in this zoo there are 1.07 women. That’s practically one and a half, which may as well be two, though it feels more like three or four! All of them younger and prettier than she is! At 43, Florence Belleville is a dinosaur!
A dinosaur with fake boobs, we should add, one who suffers not only from an enervating auto-immune disease against which only death seems the best antidote most days, but also from a deep sadness and a profound emptiness that have been following her around now for as long as she can remember. Where do they come from, these things? If the answer to this query has escaped her until now, it is because Florence has avoided asking the hard questions, avoided doing the work. She is about to now, though. And luckily for her, she has her mother’s blood running through her veins. If there is one thing Florence has in common with the woman who brought her into the world, it is that she knows how to get shit done.
This shit being heavy existential shit, however, Florence won’t be able to do it alone. She will need the help of the big gun, the head honcho, the high muck-a-muck, the fat cat, the chief. That’s right: God. And therein lies the problem. Except perhaps to disparage him, Florence hasn’t thought about that guy in many, many moons. As in too many to count.
Which brings us to the next chapter, the one about Toothpick.
Toothpick is a child of God. Consequently, she is precious and therefore 100% lovable.
Amongst the things Toothpick loves most in the world, in order of increasing importance: 1) her black stallion horse figurine, 2) her book Morgan Morning, 3) her schoolbag in which she keeps the stallion, Morgan Morning, a bunch of Ticonderoga number 2 pencils, and her drawings, 4) Johnny Colorful, and 5) Vlegie.
And now if you’ll excuse her, Toothpick has work to do. God’s work. Florence is about to walk past a stain on the ground that looks like a woman walking her dog, her birds, and her little angry whale. God needs Toothpick to get Florence to stop and take a picture of it; he needs her to go home and draw it and then paint it on one of the pages from the pad of watercolor paper he had left for her on that stoop near her apartment a few weeks beforehand.
This work is urgent; Florence’s life depends on it.
And that, dear reader, concludes the project I set out to accomplish of writing a weekly blog on my artwork for one full year. If it saddens you the way it saddens me to see it draw to a close, I invite you to do what Frankie always did upon reading the last sentence of a book she hated to see end: go back to the beginning, go back to where it all began, to the woman walking her dog, her birds, and her little angry whale (Art is a fortune teller, 5 February 2023).