Dante’s Fine Finish



When I arrived at Lenore’s apartment, I could smell the mold even before I knocked on her door. Foul mildew locked in the corners — corners I would most assuredly be smashed against if I were to be giving her what she wanted.

Standing on her welcome mat, I wiped my boots and lay down my bag of goodies before ringing her doorbell. How much would this job win me? A grand? Yeah. I quoted her $750, but that was only for my bedroom work. Once she saw what I was capable of, I felt confident she’d have me in the bathroom as well as the living room.

Modern NYC, with those incongruous door bells and their majestic, antique gong-rings — she had one of those, and for one moment I anticipated Jeeves on the other end, moustache a-twitch, white gloves prepared to test for unsightly dust. No such luck, no dazzle, no Jeeves.

What coagulated on the other side of the now opened door was Lenore. She had mentioned to me on the phone during the consultation that she had been a former cabaret performer and by the look of her come hither pose, I could only assume she was boning up on her method acting. Like a tub of warm, beige cream cheese, she too smelled like she’d been left out too long.

I guesstimated she was about four foot one and as wide as she was tall. Her hair — too chic, so chic, way chic, godawful chic in the way that deep, deep scarlet orange made an impact in the early 90s but when it went wrong, it was an over-gone-get-it-out-of-here wrong. Curly. Shoulder length. She was Bette Midler and Edie the Egg Lady, only in miniature and about as stale as old blender ingredients spattered on a cupboard.

Opening the door, she twirled a fried strand of carroty hair and said, “Yes?”

I silently thanked the gods that she had already sent me a check for the supplies, because as soon as I saw her, I knew finishing the job and getting paid wasn’t going to be easy.

I avoided shaking her hand and forced out a slightly sickened smile. “Hi. I’m Dante. Right on time.”

She smiled back, and that broken-toothed smile in itself should have sent me flying backwards down a flight of stairs to an irretrievably broken neck. But, as it was with the Jeeves-free scenario, no such luck. I just couldn’t will myself to die on the spot, so I just kept on smiling.

“You’re Dante?” All of her aging girth was triple-time undulating with some version of false entitlement. She mocked me generously. Dahhaahaannhhhaaannntay, she said, tossing a garbled chuckle into my previously two syllabled name as she licked her lips with a tongue that seemed too short to be useful even for eating.

Praying for a swift death and not receiving one, I responded to her charms with my best line ever: “Yep, that would be me.”

I retrieved my supply bag, entered and what do you know — she reached up to sniff my neck as I crossed the threshold.

“Mmm, you smell divine.” Yeah, I got it. Cabaret. You’re Liza with a Z, not Lenore with a stank.

“Uhh, thanks. So, where do you want me to start?”

Up and down, up and down, her eyes cruised my body, up and down.

Lenore offered me a cig. I declined. After a phlegm-clotted drag-and-cough mini-session, she said, “I’ll be honest with you, Dante. For some reason, I thought you were going to be a hot Italian guy.”

“Well, I’m a girl. As you can see.”

“You sounded like a guy on the phone. I could only assume that between your name and your voice that you were male.”

I looked at her (as hard as that was) and asked her, in all seriousness, “Yes, well, I have a low voice. Does it matter?”

She gagged out another spitty laugh and said, “You’re the artist, Dante. Let me show you where I want you to start.”

I schlepped my glazes, mediums, plasters, trowels and brushes into the bedroom, where the walls were speckled with cockroach shit and what appeared to be Twinkie smears. Lady Lenore wanted a faux finish.

“I want…romantic Tuscany!” she requested, and so, there I was, bringing the romance.

After an hour of prep and production, I couldn’t take another minute of Lenore’s ceaseless yapping. She was that client who felt the need to hover — every wall painter’s dream come true.

“You know, I’m really not much of a talker, Lenore. Don’t mind me if I just, um, don’t answer. Ever. OK?”

“Oh-ho-kay, Dante. You sly dog, you. I’ll leave you alone now.” She walked out, humming The Waitresses’ song, “I know what boys like, I know what boys need…”

Sly dog. Me? Lady, let me paint and get paid. That’s what I’m here for. No slyness involved.

As hard as it may be to believe, laying on the dusty pube-covered floor beneath where her bed used to be before I pushed it aside to paint — while feather-brushing a grimy corner that seemed to be caked in old mayo — was about a thousand times better than hearing her gasoline-on-the-rocks voice.

Unfortunately, in about ten minutes, Lenore was back. She stood in the doorway, waiting for me to notice her; she had changed her clothes. From my position on the floor, I looked up to see a woman-thing in white lace. Not bridal lace, but Madonna at Radio City white lace, tight spandexy lace — with nothing on beneath. Just a big, white lace elastic body suit with three enormous brown blobby things in triangular formation: one gigantic brown nipple here, one semi-gigantic brown nipple there and just below, the source of all that horrific floor adornment: her pubic area — which took up more space than a mind my size could ever deal with without going completely mental.

Fuck, I gotta die now, was all I could hear myself saying. Was this chick serious? What was she thinking? I got up and looked at her, desperately trying to avoid staring at those three, brown crop circles of doom. What fucking alien was I dealing with?

“Dante. I like that name.” She slithered on to the top of the pushed aside bed.

“Yeah, well, it’s not my real name. It’s just the name I use for the painting company. You know… I think I’m finished for the day.”

“Dante, such a sexy name.”

“OK. Bye.” I stood up. She lunged at me. The entire slime-pit that was Lenore was on top of me, writhing. My glaze cup spilled on to it’s side.

Licking my ear she whispered, “Such a pretty, pretty boy…my Dante…”

Alrighty. Now I was awake.

Lenore, the small but rotund leech of a female had pressed past all the clear lights in me and in what could only be known to me now as pure survival mode, I saw the stain of sin in everblossoming ripples and let me shout it on my soapbox loud — I felt strong, baby, strong as I flipped her off of me, sat on her globulous whatever the fuck, tugged her by the hair and fuck be damned if my hands weren’t fuck orange after with straggles of dying hair — the way her head cracked as I trashed it, again and again against that New York City hardwood, oh fuck me Lenore, you want your party boy, your half naked slippery paint dude to fuck you hard, I’ll fuck you hard, Lenore, I’ll fuck you so hard you’ll bleed into the floor below, they’ll see your fucking red stain on their ceiling and at first they’ll think, oh shit, we better hire a painter, and then they’ll see, they’ll see and

oh shit. I better get out of here.

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