Chapter 4: The Powerful Ballad of Al Green
Her eyes twitch. Fingers dance across bare skin. An exhausted sigh snakes out of her nostrils as Callie squirms under the covers. The spider waddles across the bedsheets until Callie unwittingly crushes it with her thumb.
Entering the room is Matt draining his water bottle.
He scratches the sun tattoo near his belly button, collapses on the bed, and showers his Callie with tender kisses.
"Good morning," he whispers in her left ear.
Callie giggles. She wraps her arms around Matt's neck and kisses his neck. Delicate fingers and hair intertwine. Matt's moist lips caress Callie's jawline and collarbone. But once the alarm blares its siren, their passionate morning stops.
"Ugh!" Matt groans. "Another special moment ruin by the fucking bell."
Callie squirms over to the clock and pulls the plug from the outlet.
"Well, at least it's Saturday." she yawns. "But I have to leave at 10 o'clock."
"Why 10 o'clock?"
"Because I have this huge art project to do," she explains. "I am going to take a walk around New York and shoot some photos."
His lips stretch into a smile. "Cool. Do you want me to make you anything for lunch?"
"No, they're treating me to lunch at John's Pizzeria."
"Save me a slice?"
After planting a kiss on his mouth, Callie grabs her crumpled Abercrombie tee off the floor, puts it on, then wanders into the bathroom. Long lines sag under her eyes. Large pimples and disgusting whiteheads have already started growing on her face. Not to mention her breath smells like rotting fruit.
"Ugh," she mutters.
Turning on the water, Callie grasps her dark red toothbrush, applies a dollop of mint green paste, and scrubs her teeth until she sees a naked Matt entering the shower. He spent a couple of hours scrubbing himself under the running water. White soap smells like mango and oranges. It slides out of his hands and soars into the drain, leaving behind a trail of white foam.
"Babe," he called, yanking the shower curtain. "Can you pass me a towel?"
Nodding her head, Callie pulls the large, gray towel from the rack and hands it to him.
"Thanks." Matt winked.
He takes his time to dry himself and wrap the gray towel around his waist before wading out of the bathroom. Heavy eyelids droop. He wanted to go back to bed, but Matt has a lot of errands to run.
Tugging his black sweatpants, Matt starts his day by playing Al Green in the living room.
Sunlight came into the room like a powerful wave. It not only helped brighten the apartment, but it keeps him relaxed. Roaming towards the small kitchen, Matt prepares coffee, pancakes, blueberries, and scrambled eggs for the two of them.
Profanity and car horns fade—like the wispy clouds in the sky. Dewdrops snake down cold windows.
Callie's photography, paintings, and collages bask in the morning heat as they cover the walls. Potted plants and paint cans scatter across the floor, prompting Callie to tiptoe around them.
Tucking her twisted dreadlocks behind her ears, Callie sports a loose tank top and black undies. She sees the brewing coffee pot and pouts, "Aw, I am supposed to make breakfast."
"Don't sweat it, babe." Matt smiled, taking out a jug of milk. "And besides, you need to focus on your art project."
Callie smirks. She takes out two ceramic coffee mugs from the cupboard and hands one to her husband. Three years after they got married, Callie and Matt began settling in a one-room apartment in Brooklyn. The rent is cheap, it's close to Callie's art school, and they have a place to themselves.
Applying thick vanilla creamer to her black coffee, Callie asks Matt if he slept well.
"Are you kidding?" Matt yawns. "I couldn't even shut my eyes. And it's thanks to those fuckers next door."
Yawning, Callie blows on her drink then takes a long sip. The brown liquid ran down her throat, reliving her sinuses. She rubs her small nose piercing with her thumb and watches Matt happily putting whipped cream on his pancakes.
Although he is twenty-two, Matt has the attitude of a teenage slacker. He plays video games, writes stories in his notebook, watches old cartoons, and enjoys skating with his friends. Still, he got a job as a record store owner, so he can help her wife pay the rent on time. While Matt creates video games, Callie works in a coffee shop near her art school. The job pays her nine dollars an hour, but it gives her a place to draw.
"Ugh, God." Matt switches off the kitchen stove and stares at the small pile of blueberries. "Sometimes I wish we bought a damn house."
"Oh please, we hardly make enough money to buy a car." Callie reminds him. "Besides, I enjoy living here with you."
After putting the milk jug back in the fridge, Matt slurps his coffee, takes her plate, and places it in front of her.
"Wow, they taste delicious." Callie beams.
She nibbles on her berries first then pours one drop of honey on her butter-smeared pancakes. Matt squirts an ocean of syrup over the mountain of whipped cream, staggers over to the table, and sits on a chair—next to his wife. While they ate, the couple talks about their plans, art, music, and imagine themselves being parents.
"If we have kids," Callie began. "I think we should make like two distinct mixtapes. One for the boys and the other for the girls.
Matt sets his coffee down next to his breakfast and grins excitedly.
"That's a great idea! If we have a son, then we'll introduce him to Public Enemy, Biggie, LL Cool J, Method Man, DMX, and other shit." he beamed. "I could even tell him about the time I met Rakim at that record store on 439 East Sixth Street."
"Okay," Callie nods. "But if we have kids, I want them to listen to songs that will get them in touch with their individuality."
"Oh?" Matt swallows his scrambles eggs. "Like what?"
"Like I want our kids to get into jazz and soul music," she suggests. "So they can learn from their older generation."
Matt nods. "Like Al Green and Marvin Gaye?"
"Yeah, but I was thinking about women like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu," Callie says, after chewing her pancakes. "When I was little, my mom used to listen to their songs while she did the laundry."
"Cool," Matt smirks. "Maybe when you come home from the museum, I can buy you some cassette tapes."
"Aw, thank you."
Once they finished eating, Matt and Callie spent the next five minutes washing the dishes. Warm water flows from the faucet drowning Al Green's powerful voice. Callie places the ivory plates between the rack while Matt rinses the sponge in the scorching water.
Her eyes caught the ink-black fishes on Matt's left arm. But it also makes her feel drawn to Matt. His eyes are beautiful, the tattoos transform his body into a mural, and oddly enough, the scar across his left eyebrow makes Matt look kind of sexy. But the bullet wounds on his chest and abdomen frighten her. They look like sore bee stings under the warm sunlight.
As he sways his shoulders to the side, Matt couldn't help but chuckle when he glimpses his Callie trying not to touch his scars. Matt drops the sponge in the tub and wraps his wet arms around Callie's slender waist. She looks down to see ink-black koi fishes on his left forearm.
"Does your tattoos hurt?"
"Not at all."
After she finishes drying her hands, she rubs his tattoos with her pinkie finger then tilts her head to the side.
"What time is it now?"
Callie checks the time on the stove. "8:49 a.m."
"Okay," Matt murmurs in her left ear. "Since we have at least two hours on the clock, why don't we spend them wisely?"
Callie giggles. "Not so fast, tiger. I don't want to be late—not like last time."
He did a childish pout then shrugs. "Alright, then."
"Maybe I can shoot some photos of you."
Callie picks up the Olympus Camera off the kitchen countertop and tells Matt to lie on the couch. Her almond-colored eyes are focused; a variety of silver rings brush against the camera lenses as Callie tries to adjust them.
"Are you ready?" she asks.
Yes." he nods.
Pushing his hair back, Callie leans forward to kiss his lips, tasting his courage.
"Okay," she whispers. "Let's do this."
Callie hoists her camera and snaps a dozen pictures of Matt until she is finished.
"You can relax now, my love," says Callie. She sets the device back on the kitchen countertop and does a yawn.
"Dope," Matt smirks, abandoning the couch. "Let me see how they turned out."
Wrapping his arms around her waist, Matt studies the screen. "They look fantastic."
Callie turns her head to meet his eyes. "You think so?"
"Yeah." Matt grinned. "They are fucking incredible."
And so, Callie switches the music from Al Green to Bob Welch. Matt watches as she sways to the slow beat. She lip-syncs to the song "Sentimental Lady" while pulling her spouse to the living room floor.
Matt twirls her around like a fragile ballerina. Her eyes focus on Matt's peaceful smile growing like a green bud. He pushes her hair with his hand then studies her movements. She seems as if she is in control of her body. Her hips gyrate effortlessly while her dreadlocks bounce on her shoulders. Whenever Callie dances, paints or takes photos, she always has that dreamy look in her eyes.
She loves the feeling of acrylic paint and sticky clay on her fingertips. She loves walking around New York with a camera in her hand. And, if someone asks her why she wants to be an artist, Callie would tell him it makes her feel alive. Shifting her head to the side, Callie's dark brown hair caresses against her bare neck. The strap of her white tank top slid off her right shoulder.
"Woof!" Matt whistles. "Since when did you become a dancer?"
"I did ballet when I was ten. You?"
"My older friends introduced me to MC Hammer when I was like six years old." he laughs.
Callie couldn't help but laugh along with him. She is trying to picture her spouse as a six-year-old dancer, but she can't imagine him without his scar or bullet wounds.
"What?" Matt snickers. "I was the best dancer in all of Queens."
"I ended up ripping my pants."
Callie laughs as she wraps her arms around Matt's neck.
"At least you hadn't broken your foot in tap dancing class." Callie frowns.
"Yeah," she groans. "When I was ten, I had to do this complicated number, and it did not end well."
"Damn," Matt mumbles. "We are shitty dancers."
Callie nods. "Oh, yeah."
After the couple shared a few chuckles, they hug each other and resume dancing until Callie gazes.
"Jesus Christ, it's 9:20!"
"I can't be late again!" Callie escapes Matt's warm embrace and sprints to their bedroom. She opens the closet door, picks out a clean outfit, and begins changing.
She peels off her tank top and discards it on the floor. Next, Callie plucks the black sports bra hanging from the coat-hanger. Then, she dons a striped shirt. Callie sports a brown cardigan, light blue jeans, and vintage penny loafers. After she gathers her belongings, Matt lends her money for lunch and watches Callie vacate the flat.
He let out a lazy yawn then turns off the stereo. He boots up his laptop to check on his emails when Matt's cellphone buzzes inside his jeans.
Curious, Matt pulls it out and answers the call.
"Hello?" he asked. "Who is this?"
The caller was quiet for a moment, then asks him if Callie is here.
Matt raises his eyebrow. Although the guy sounds like a nice person, there is no way in Hell he is going to tell him where his wife is. "Uh, who are you?"
"I am Elijah Swan," the voice responds. "I am Callie's father."
Matt nearly drops his phone. He badly wanted to tell him off, but the last thing he needs is Elijah finding their apartment number. Also, how the fuck did he get this number? Callie was pretty sure she blocked his emails and calls.
"Yeah, I just got out of prison," Elijah went on. "I am working in Fed Ex, and I have—"
"Listen, dude," Matt interrupted. "You got the wrong number."
"Yeah, sorry. My name is Phil Neuman. I don't know anything about your daughter. But if I were her, she would tell you to fuck off."
"Bye." Matt hangs up on Elijah and deletes his call.