Art wasn’t my thing in high school because I didn’t understand it. I mean, yeah, I’d seen art because it was all over the place and some of it was OK. If the painting or sculpture looked real, I could appreciate the talent of the artist, but if it looked like some did, just splashes of color or something that looked like it was made out of blocks, not so much. To me, some of that type of art looked more like a first grader’s work than that of a professional artist.
I could have taken an art class and learned why some artists painted like that, but I didn’t. That was because of the high school art teacher, Miss Dyson. Miss Debbie Dyson, or “Debbie Dyke”, as we guys called her, was what we guys all knew to be the stereotypical lesbian who was always “on top”. All the female teachers except Miss Dyson wore conservative dresses. Miss Dyson always wore pants and shirts that were obviously made for a man. We knew this because at that time women’s pants zipped up the side, not the front, and women’s shirts had the buttons on the left, not the right like hers always did.
Miss Dyson never wore makeup and her short, brown hair always looked like mine did when I’d just gotten out of bed. She never wore the low high heels like the other women teachers. Instead, she wore tan, leather moccasins that had the backs mashed down flat so she could just slip them on like sandals and she never wore socks.
Miss Dyson didn’t seem to like the other teachers. We’d see the others going into or coming out of the teacher’s lounge and they always sat together at lunch. Miss Dyson stayed in her art room from the time she got to school until she left for the day. She didn’t seem to like the students either, well, unless you were in her art class. Then she’d tolerate you. I could never figure out why she became a teacher in the first place.
The only student she did seem to like was Frieda Fay McBeal, and Frieda Fay was a real case too.
Frieda Fay - that’s what she wanted to be called, Frieda Fay, not just Frieda - Frieda Fay was a year younger than I, so I didn’t know her well, but I did see her a lot. Lockers were assigned alphabetically, and my senior year, McBeal came right after my last name, Mason, so our lockers were side by side. I don’t remember ever talking to her that year. Doing so would have caused me to endure a lot of kidding by the other guys. They called her “Freaky Frieda” because of how she dressed and how she acted.
Frieda Fay had blonde hair that reached half way down her back and it always looked dirty. She didn’t really style it like the other girls. Her hair just pretty much went where it wanted, and she was constantly brushing it away from her eyes so she could see. I don’t think she could see very well even then because her black rimmed glasses were really thick, and half the time they slipped down on her nose so far she couldn’t have been looking through them right.
Frieda Fay wore dresses or a skirt and blouse to school just like every other girl did in those days because pants for girls were against the school dress code. The only exception was a girl could wear pants under her dress or skirt. That exception was intended to keep the girl’s legs warm in cold weather.
Every other girl in the school happily wore dresses or skirts as short as they could get away with and showed as much leg as possible from the start of school until the last day. Some would even roll the waistband of a skirt up a turn or two to bare more leg than their mother thought appropriate.
Frieda Fay wore dresses that went almost as far down as her black, high top tennis shoes and under those dresses was always a pair of baggy pants.
Every other girl wore makeup even though some put that makeup on at school because their mothers wouldn’t let them leave home with makeup on. The girls who had mothers who taught them didn’t look bad at all. The girls who kept their foundation, powder, and lipstick in their lockers often looked a little strange because their ears and hairline would be lighter or darker than their face. They all sported bright red lips and kept them that way by touching up every time they went to their locker.
Frieda Fay didn’t wear any makeup at all, not ever
The other girls in my class and the class after mine were old enough they had pretty nice figures and they did their best to show off those curves like the movie stars of the day did. Their mothers wouldn’t let them wear tight sweaters like the movie stars did, but they had a fix for that. Girls wore a lot of blouses and skirts because they were easier to get in and out of for physical education. If she was well endowed, she’d pull both sides of her blouse to the back as far as she could, tuck it into the waist of her skirt to keep it there, and then stand up straight with her shoulders pulled back. If she was less than what she considered to be adequately endowed, she’d stuff her bra full of tissues, pull her blouse back, and stand up straight with her shoulders back.
They all developed a way of walking that made their asses swing. Now, at that age none of them had much in the way of an ass, but the sway of what they did have turned us guys on.
Frieda always walked around with her shoulders hunched forward and her blouses and dresses seemed to be a size or two too big, so it was hard to tell if she had breasts or not. It was the same way with her ass. She took little short steps, and her ass didn’t move much at all.
Frieda Fay didn’t have any friends that I knew of. The other girls talked about her, but it wasn’t because they liked her. Frank told me his girlfriend, Janice, said the girls all figured Frieda Fay was either a lesbian or just wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to make herself look better. Their bet was on the lesbian thing because Miss Dyson seemed to like her and they were sure Miss Dyson was a lesbian.
Frieda Fay didn’t seem all that freaky to me. She just seemed to be really shy and not interested in anything involving making herself look better. I didn’t think she was stupid because she kept getting promoted from one grade to the next. I didn’t think she was ugly by any means. If she’d had glasses that were a little smaller, did something with her hair, and dressed like everybody else, she wouldn’t have made it to prom queen, but she’d have been at least a girl some guy would have wanted to date.
In a town as small as ours, everybody knows everything about everybody else, warts and all. I figured the way Frieda Fay was had a lot to do with her home life. Her dad evidently had a decent job as a carpenter, but he was known as a drunk. He wasn’t one of those drunks who goes on a three day binge and misses work, and the whole town would have known if he’d ever hit his wife or Frieda Fay. He just started drinking when he got home from work and kept on drinking until he passed out.
Her mother wasn’t much better although she didn’t drink. Her passion was her religion. She went to one of those charismatic churches every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, and every Wednesday night. I worked a couple hours after school stocking shelves at our local grocery store, so I saw her about once a week. She dressed the same way as Frieda Fay, except she didn’t wear pants under her dress. She didn’t wear black tennis shoes either, but instead of heels like Mom wore when she went shopping, Frieda Fay’s mother wore plan black shoes with no heels.
Most people tried to avoid talking with Mrs. McBeal because she always did all the talking. She’d go on and on about the sins people were committing every day and tried to get anyone who would listen to come to her church and confess those sins. She sounded more like a preacher than the preacher at Mom and Dad’s church. The women she was able to corner would nod for a while and then make an excuse that they had to get home to fix dinner or something like that so they could get away from her.
It was understood that I’d go to college after high school and study to become an engineer or a scientist. That’s what the guidance counselor said I should do. At the time, people thought the world as we knew it would come to an end unless every person got a degree in some type of science, so that September I started college in Mechanical Engineering.
In my sophomore physics class I discovered I liked electricity a lot more than thermodynamics, and switched majors. I graduated after four years with a B.S. in electrical engineering with an emphasis in power distribution and got a job with a major contractor in the same city as the university.
It was three years after that when E & E Construction got the job of adding a wing to the art building on campus. That building was about thirty years old, and the electrical system was barely keeping up with the current demand. The addition would require either a separate power station or a major rebuild of the old one. It wasn’t feasible to shut everything down to rebuild the existing switchgear, so the architect put a separate power house in the plans. My job was to design the electrical system, spec out all the components and then oversee the installation.
The first thing I did was visit the building. I needed a fresh copy of the building electrical prints and I needed to see where the feeders entered the building and how much capacity those feeders had. If they didn’t have enough capacity for the additional load, I’d have to design and spec a new service entrance.
The maintenance guy who let me into the existing power room told me to lock the door when I was done and then walked off. I spent an hour writing down the specs of all the equipment and making sure the one-line drawing of the electrical system matched what was really there. When I was done, I closed the door and locked it, then started to walk back to my car.
As I walked through the gallery, a painting on one wall caught my eye, so I stopped to look at it. Like I said, art has never been my thing, but this painting pulled at me for some reason.
It was a painting of a frowning blonde girl sitting in a porch swing but what drew me to look closer wasn’t the girl. It was the faint images in front and in back of the girl. From a distance, it looked like those transparent images were supposed to be people. When I got close, I had to really look to make out what those images were, and even then I wasn’t sure if they were men or women or something else.
I read the name of the painting, “Life On A Swing”, on a little engraved plastic plaque below the frame. I had to read the name of the artist three times before I was sure I was reading it right. The artist’s name was Frieda Fay McBeal. I didn’t think it was possible this Frieda Fay McBeal was my Frieda Fay McBeal, but the name was so unusual, I thought it had to be.
I asked the young girl at the desk if she had an address or a phone number for Frieda Fay McBeal. She looked up from the thick textbook she’d been reading and smiled a really sweet, but really fake smile.
“I’m sorry, Sir, but I’m not allowed to release that information. I can tell you Miss McBeal will be here at the gallery tomorrow afternoon. If you want to meet her, maybe you could come back then.”
When I walked into the gallery section of the art building the next afternoon about four thirty, a small group of people were gathered around a table, and a woman was standing behind the table and talking to them. It was obvious the woman wasn’t my Frieda Fay McBeal. This woman had blonde hair, but it was a shining yellow color, not the dirty color I remembered. She was wearing glasses, but they were wire rimmed and so fine they were hardly even visible, and even from where I stood, I could see the pale pink lipstick that accented her full lips.
I was in the process of turning to leave when she brushed the long, yellow blonde hair away from her eyes. It was the same motion I’d seen Frieda Fay make at least twice every time we were at our lockers. She took three little steps toward one of the paintings behind her then, and it was like watching Frieda Fay leaving her locker for her next class.
She turned sideways to me then, and I knew it had to be her. She was standing there with her shoulders hunched forward just like Frieda Fay had in high school.
I’d gotten to the gallery late on purpose. I thought if it was Frieda Fay, I’d introduce myself and we could catch up. I don’t know why I wanted to do that because I hardly knew her. I suppose I was just curious as to how she turned out.
At five before five, the people around the table started drifting away. Some of them carried paintings I assumed had been done by Frieda Fay. When the last one left I walked up to the table. Frieda Fay looked up and smiled.
“What can I do for you?”
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
Frieda Fay looked at me for a while, then I saw her eyes light up a little.
“Yep. I saw your name on one of the paintings and decided to find out if it was you or not.”
Frieda Fay’s brow wrinkled a little.
“Why would you want to do that? You never paid any attention to me in school.”
“To be honest, I don’t really know why. I just saw your name and wondered if it was you. As for back in school, you didn’t pay any attention to me either.”
“Well, I’m me, and in school, I tried to not pay attention to anybody.”
“I know. I’ve always wondered why.”
Frieda Fay shook her head.
“You wouldn’t understand and it would take too long to explain it anyway.”
“Well, since we did go to school together, could I buy you a cup of coffee? I’d at least like to find out how you got from there to here.”
I felt pretty old in that coffee shop. I was only twenty-four, but everybody besides Frieda Fay and me looked and acted like they should still be in high school. I didn’t remember being like that, but I suppose I must have been and that was a little shocking. Fried Fay didn’t seem to be shocked, but her blouse and jeans fit in a lot better than my suit and tie. She sipped her coffee and then smiled.
“So, I suppose you want to know how I went from ugly duckling to artist.”
“Well, I never thought you were ugly back then. I just thought you were just different. I never pictured you as an artist though.”
Frieda Fay smiled again.
“And just what did you think I’d end up doing?”
“I don’t know. I guess get married and have kids like most of the girls did.”
“I couldn’t have done that back then. I don’t know about now, but definitely not back then.”
“Why was that?”
“I thought you wanted to know how I became an artist.”
“OK, then tell me how you decided to paint pictures for a living.”
Frieda Fay took another sip of coffee and then frowned.
“It started because of what you guys called me. Yes, I knew you called me Freaky Frieda. I know even the teachers called me that when they were alone. . You can’t imagine how it feels to be called a name like that. The only one who didn’t call me that was Debbie. She always called me Frieda Fay.”
“Yes, but once we got to know each other, she wanted me to call her Debbie when we were alone. She was a lot like I was then, and she understood how I felt. She said a lot of artists feel like that. Other people don’t understand them so they retreat into themselves.
“I knew I could draw and that I liked drawing, but I never thought I was special. Debbie did, and she helped me learn as much as she could teach me. Nobody knew, but I’d go to her house after school and work with her some more. I’d always walk down the alley and go in her back door. If anybody knew what we were doing, even though there wasn’t anything going on, she’d have gotten fired just because of what they suspected.
“Yes, I know everybody thought she was a lesbian because she wasn’t married and because of how she dressed. I asked her about that after we became friends instead of just a teacher and her student. She said she wasn’t sure. She had a girlfriend in college, but once she graduated, they parted ways and she hadn’t found either a man or another woman who interested her that way.
“I knew what boys did to girls, but I had no idea what two girls did together, so I asked her what it was like.
“Debbie told me I’d have to experience it on my own because it was different for every woman. When I asked her to show me, she said she’d teach me as much as she could about art, but she wouldn’t teach me that. She said I wasn’t old enough to make that kind of decision yet.
“Anyway, when I graduated, Debbie said if I stopped studying art, I’d be doing something I’d regret for the rest of my life. I told her there was no way my parents could afford to send me to college. She shook her head and said she wasn’t talking about college. She said none of the professors in any college were very good artists, so they couldn’t help me.
“That was kind of a shock. I had this idea that all art teachers were experts. Debbie said all college art professors could draw, paint, or sculpt, but like her, they were teaching because they weren’t good enough to make a living by selling their art. She said she knew another woman who did though, and who would teach me more in less time and it wouldn’t cost me much of anything.
“One Saturday, Debbie took me to meet the woman. Brittany Ferris is an artist who lives in an old farmhouse out in the country about fifty miles from where we grew up. She raises a few chickens for eggs, a couple of goats for milk, and she grows a big garden every summer. She makes her living by painting pictures and selling them at art galleries. I liked her, but I couldn’t afford to drive that fifty miles every day. When I told Brittany that, she said I could live there if I helped her with the chores and bought my own art supplies. She even gave me a list of what I’d need.
“I really wanted to work with her, but even the art supplies cost more than I thought Mom and Dad would give me. They didn’t understand why I wanted to be an artist, and thought I should either get married or get a job in a factory. It would have been hard to get any money from them. If I got a job, I’d have the money, but then I wouldn’t be able to spend enough time with Brittany. I’d given up hope until that October
“I suppose you know my dad was a drunk. Everybody else in town did. He and Mom went out to celebrate his birthday one Saturday night. When the police found the car, it had hit a retaining wall on a curve head on. Both of them were killed. The police told me Dad was drunk and had been driving too fast to make the turn. Instead, he drove straight into the wall.”
I said I hadn’t heard and that I was sorry. Frieda Fay smiled.
“Don’t be. You’ll think I’m a horrible person, but I wasn’t sorry. I was tired of watching Dad drink himself to death and I was tired of Mom’s lectures about what was right and what was wrong. I never felt like we were a real family. We never did anything together. We were just three people living in the same house. Dad lived for his beer, Mom lived for her church, and once I got old enough to understand that, I just tried to get by without making either one mad at me.
“I wasn’t sorry it had happened, but I was sad for a little while. I mean, they weren’t much but they were still my mom and dad. That didn’t last long though. Mom’s minister was trying to do what he said would help me cope with the loss. He said I should remember all the good times we had together. I thought about that, and honestly couldn’t remember even one. That’s when I stopped being sad.
“Thankfully, Dad had a life insurance policy from the carpenter’s union. It paid enough to bury them both with quite a bit left over so I went to see Brittany again. When she said she’d be happy to teach me, I sold everything I’d inherited, bought a used car, and move into a room in Brittany’s house.
“I thought Debbie was good, but Brittany was a master and she was also a great teacher. She was very critical, often to the point she made me cry, but then she'd explain what I’d done right and what I’d done wrong and how to make it better. After that first year with her, she put some of my paintings beside hers in the art gallery where she sold her work. Three of mine sold within a week. I didn’t make a lot of money, only a hundred and fifty dollars total, but I was thrilled.
“Brittany was excited too, and told me once people learned who I was, I could make it on my own. I wasn’t sure, so I stayed with her for another two years. Last year on New Year’s day she said she couldn’t teach me any more than she already had and that I should find a gallery that would exhibit my paintings so I could sell them.
“I paint a lot, so I had lots to sell, but none of the bigger galleries would take my work because I was so new. I found a small gallery that would, and after I figured out that landscapes sold pretty well, I painted a bunch of those and put them up with a few of my other works.
“One day, a man was looking at one of my other paintings, and asked the clerk who I was. It turns out, he was an art professor here at the university and when we finally connected, he asked if I would put a few of my paintings, not the landscapes but the others, in the gallery at the university.
“This week was my first time, and I’ve sold several. I’ve made enough money to keep my head above water until I have another showing here. That’ll be in about two months.”
I told Frieda Fay about being drawn to her painting.
“I admit I’ve never really understood art, but for some reason that painting just begged me to look at it. It was those faint images behind and in front of the girl. I still don’t know what they are, but it’s amazing how you put them into the painting so I could tell they were there, but not really see them.”
Frieda Fay smiled.
“You weren’t supposed to be able to tell what they are, only that they’re there.”
“You did a great job at that, and I’m dying to know what they are. Are they people or something else?”
Frieda Fay swirled the coffee that was left in her cup, then sat the cup back down on the table.
“That’s for you to decide. I really need to be going now.”
I couldn’t just let her walk away like that. I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t.
“Frieda Fay, how long are you going to be in town?”
She looked at me and frowned.
“Well, I just thought maybe…I mean, I haven’t seen you for almost seven years and you’ve changed a lot and…well, would you have dinner with me some night? We could talk some more and maybe we could get to know each other better, that’s all. I don’t get the chance to talk to many people from home and most of them wouldn’t want to talk to me anyway. We don’t have anything in common anymore except we went to the same high school.”
Frieda Fay smiled.
“You think we have something else in common?”
“Well, yes, sort of. You painted the picture I liked. It’s not much but it’s something.”
Frieda Fay smiled a quirky little smile.
“If it’s just talk, OK. I’ll be in town until next Wednesday. After that I’ll take all my paintings down and go home until my next showing.”
Dinner with Frieda Fay that Friday night was both interesting and frustrating. She’d talk about almost anything – what she’d done with Debbie and Brittany, things she’d seen, things she wanted to see – but every time I steered our conversation to her personal life, she’d find a way to not answer and turn the question back at me. By the time I dropped her off at her motel room, she knew a lot about me and all I’d been able to find out about her was she had paintings at home she never brought out in public and I think even that was an accident on her part.
We were talking about things Brittany had taught her, one of the few things she seemed comfortable talking about. I asked her if Brittany had taught her how to make the faint images on the painting of the girl in the swing.
Frieda Fay smiled.
“No. I don’t know how I did that and that painting wasn’t the first time. It happens when I’m in a dark sort of mood. I can see the person I’m painting into the picture, but when I step back, what I’ve painted is just a shadow or wisps of fog or something like that.”
I hadn’t really looked at her other paintings closely once I’d seen her name. I told Frieda Fay I’d have to go back to the gallery before she left and have a look at those too. She frowned.
“I never show those to anybody. They’re too dark and too personal.”
Her face went from a frown to a smile then.
“So, how do you like being an engineer?”
Frieda Fay’s next showing at the gallery was two months later. By then, the footers for the new addition had been put in and E & E was getting ready to put down the floor slab. That meant the big conduits for the service entrance had to be buried and then stubbed up inside the power room where the switchgear would be located. I spent a couple days double-checking that everything was in the right place, and the first day I stopped inside to see what Frieda Fay had brought with her this time.
She was usually busy with people looking at her paintings and then asking about the price for this one or that one. That Friday, I stayed until the gallery was closed and asked her to dinner again.
That dinner, and the others we had together over the months the addition was going up weren’t much different than the first. After her second showing, people apparently kept asking the gallery when she’d be back, so she ended up having a showing every two to three months. I’d ask her to dinner at least once while she was there, and while she always asked if it was just to talk, she always accepted.
She seemed to get more comfortable with me as time progressed, but there was still this mystery about her that kept me wondering if I was seeing the real Frieda Fay, or just the Frieda Fay she wanted me to see. Every time I tried to get her to talk about herself – what she liked and didn’t like and especially what she called her “dark” paintings – she just changed the subject.
It was developing into an obsession with me. I had to know. I finally just blurted that out one night when we were standing at the door of the motel room where she was staying.
“Frieda Fay, you probably won’t believe this, but I really like having dinner with you. You’re not the same person as you were in high school, but the thing is, I don’t think you’re really the person I’m seeing either and it’s driving me crazy. I know it’s sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong, but I can’t help it. I know there’s more to you than you tell me, and I want to find the rest about what I’ve realized is a very sensitive and very talented woman.”
Frieda Fay looked at her feet.
“I’ve never let anybody see who I really am. In high school, it was too embarrassing, and now…the only two people in my life who ever understood were Debbie and Brittany, and that was because they were like me. You’re not like me, not at all. Neither is anybody else. You’d just think I’m weird or maybe even crazy.”
I gently lifted Frieda Fay’s chin so I could see her eyes, and once I did, I saw her eyes had tears in them.
“Frieda Fay, I think I’ve learned enough about you that if you were crazy, I’d know that by now. You’re not crazy, and as for being weird, we’re all a little weird in some ways. The fact that you’re different is one of the reasons I keep asking you out.”
“What’s the other reason? It’s what Mom always told me, isn’t it?”
I shook my head.
“Frieda Fay, the other reason is I like you, that’s all. I don’t know what your mother told you, but I just like you and I want to meet the real Frieda Fay.”
Frieda Fay wiped her eyes but she still looked like she was about to cry.
“I can’t tell you who she is. I’ll have to show you my other paintings. You still won’t understand, but I’ll show them to you if you still want that.”
That Friday afternoon, I helped Frieda Fay load her van with all the paintings that hadn’t sold, and then followed her out of town. She’d seemed quieter than usual when we loaded everything. She just looked at me and said, “It’ll take us about half an hour to get there. If I lose you, just stay on the interstate until you come to Exit 284. Get off and I’ll be waiting for you after you make the left turn onto Highway 6”.
I didn’t lose her, and after about five miles down Highway 6, Frieda Fay turned onto a gravel lane through a thick stand of trees. That gravel lane wound around for about a quarter of a mile and then stopped in front of an old, rambling farmhouse. I saw chickens scratching in the grass beside the front door, and in a pen beside the small barn were a couple of goats.
Frieda Fay drove up to the front door, stopped, and got out. When I walked up beside her, she smiled.
“This is where I live. I wanted a place like Brittany has so I could be alone. I paint better when I’m by myself.”
Frieda Fay unlocked the front door and then led me inside to her living room. It looked about like any other living room I’d ever been in except there wasn’t much furniture. She had a couch and a chair, a coffee table, and a couple end tables by the couch. On the wall opposite the door was a fireplace, but it didn’t look like she’d ever used it.
Frieda Fay put down her purse and then asked if I’d help her get her paintings inside.
It took half an hour to do that, mostly because I kept stopping to look at the paintings hanging from the wall or stacked against the walls in her studio. I’m no judge of art by any means, but she was right about some of them looking dark. The first time I carried a painting into her studio, I asked her about one on an easel beside the window. Frieda Fay shook her head.
“Let’s get everything inside before I tell you about that one.”
When we carried the last two paintings into her studio, Frieda covered the lot with a big piece of white canvas, then turned to look at me.
“Are you sure you want to know the real me? She even scares me sometimes.”
I squeezed Freida Fay’s shoulder and grinned.
“You don’t look scary to me at all. Now, tell me about this one.”
The painting was mostly black except for the woman in the center. She was nude and lying on her back with one arm over her breasts and the other hand covering her mound. Floating above her was one of Frieda Fay’s hazy representations of something that looked like a man. She wasn’t looking at me when she spoke.
“This is a woman doing what my mother told me women do to men. She said women are evil and entice men to sin by showing men their bodies.”
I hadn’t missed the fact the woman in the picture had blonde hair.
“The woman in the picture…she’s you, isn’t she?”
Frieda Fay’s voice was so soft I barely heard her say “yes”.
“If you’re the woman, who’s the man?”
Frieda Fay shrugged.
“I don’t know. He’s just a man looking at me and wanting to do things to me.”
“If the woman is trying to entice the man, why is she covering herself like she is?”
Again, her voice was more a murmur than anything else.
“She…I want to entice him, but I don’t want to entice him.”
She turned to me then.
“See, I told you you’d think I’m weird.”
“Frieda Fay, you’re different, but you’re not weird. I’d bet a lot of women feel the same way. I see them all the time. They dress sexy and act sexy, but they don’t really want to hop into bed with just any guy. They just like feeling like every man would want to do that, that’s all. It’s the same with guys. We want to think every woman is dying to sleep with us. We don’t really want that, but we like to think about it.”
“I don’t just think about it. I want it to happen. I’ve wanted it to happen since I was fifteen, but my mother scared me to death. She said it would hurt really bad and I’d get pregnant and have a baby and everybody would think I was a whore. That’s what she said…that I’d be a whore just like the whores in the Bible and I’d burn in Hell for it.
“The woman in the painting wants the man, but she’s afraid of all that. That’s why she’s covering herself. If he can’t see all of her, he won’t think she’s a whore.”
I was starting to see some of why Frieda Fay had been like she was in high school. If she’d heard that from her mother every day, she probably believed it.
“That’s why in high school, you never tried to be attractive, isn’t it?”
Frieda Fay nodded.
“I didn’t want to give any boy the idea I wanted to do something with him.”
“Do you still believe that, that just showing yourself to a man makes you a bad person and that all those things will happen to you?”
“Yes, because it did. I didn’t get pregnant, but that was the only thing that didn’t happen.”
“Want to tell me about that?”
“I can’t. It hurts too much. I painted it and you can see the painting.”
Frieda Fay took the painting down from the easel and then took it to a row of paintings leaning against the wall. She put the painting in front and then pulled out the third one, walked back, and sat it on the easel.
I didn’t tell Frieda Fay, but this one really was weird. It was faces spread across the canvas and each one sort of blended into the ones on either side like the time-exposure pictures you see of traffic in a city where there are tail lights connected by lines of color. It was obvious the faces were Frieda Fay. What was really unsettling was what the expressions told me about her.
The first face looked innocent, but when it blended into the second, the innocent look turned evil with a sly smile and squinting eyes. The third face looked shocked, the fourth was obviously a woman in pain. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut and her mouth was open in a scream I could almost hear. The last face was crying.
I looked up from the painting and saw tears streaming down Frieda Fay’s face.
“Frieda Fay, this happened to you didn’t it? You were with a man and he hurt you. He didn’t…were you raped?”
Fried Fay sniffed and then wiped her eyes.
“No. I wanted him to do it. I enticed him to do it to me. I let him see me without any clothes on and then told him to do it to me. When he did, it was like my mother had said. It hurt and it kept hurting. He didn’t care. He just kept doing it until he was done. Then he just left me there. I never saw him again, and it was all my fault.”
I put my arm around Frieda Fay’s shoulders.
“Frieda Fay, you didn’t cause that to happen. Whoever that man was doesn’t deserve to be called a man. He was an animal. No real man would ever treat you like that.”
Frieda Fay looked up at me.
“I used to think that. I saw boys kissing girls at the football games and they were being gentle. I thought sex would be like that and I really wanted to find out, but every time I got up enough courage, I heard my mother’s voice telling me I was evil. This man delivered a package for Brittany one day, but she was gone to a showing and wouldn’t be back until the next day. When I took the package, he told me I was pretty.
“I should have listened to the voice in my head, but I didn’t and that’s why it’s my fault. I asked him to come in and then I took my clothes off and said he could have sex with me if he wanted. If I hadn’t done that, he would have just gone away, but I did.”
I had to stop my smile, though nothing Frieda Fay had said was funny in any way, shape, or form. I felt like smiling because on the outside, she was a grown woman, but on the inside, she was still that high school girl who never talked to anybody and looked like she was scared of her own shadow.
“Frieda Fay, most guys wouldn’t have taken advantage of you like that. They’d have just walked away.”
“You’re just trying to make me feel better about what I did.”
“No, I’m not. There’s no way I could do that anyway. The only way you’re going to feel better is if you decide the guy was a jerk and it wasn’t your fault. I can help you try to do that, but I can’t change your mind.”
Frieda Fay didn’t say anything. She turned, put her face against my shoulder and started to sob. I held her for what seemed like a long time before she stopped. When she did, she looked up at me.
“Do you really think it wasn’t my fault?”
I pushed the hair back from her face and smiled.
“No more your fault than if it started to rain right now. All you did was act like a woman with a woman’s natural feelings. It was the guy who caused that to go wrong for you. Most men wouldn’t have done that to you. I sure wouldn’t have.”
Frieda Fay looked at the floor for a few seconds, and then looked back at me.
“Would you show me what you’d have done?”
I hadn’t expected anything like this from Frieda Fay. She’d been friendly, but she would never let me know much about her other than her work. Now, she was asking me to do something way more intimate than just talking.
“Frieda Fay, I’d feel like I was taking advantage of the way you’re feeling right now. I can’t do that to you or I’ll be just like that other guy.”
“No, Jack, you won’t. You said with him I was just acting like a woman. That’s all I’m trying to be right now. I cried because you’re the first person who ever told me I wasn’t weird or crazy. I never heard anything like that at home, and Debbie and Brittany thought they were weird and I was just like them so they never told me that either. I know what I’m asking. I’m asking to know what it feels like with a man who won’t do to me what he did, and I trust you and know you won’t.”
I know a lot of guys would figure Frieda Fay was really screwed up in the head and they’d have just walked away. If I hadn’t known her for so long, I might have too, but as she stood there looking at me, I realized I’d known three Frieda Fays. There was the Frieda Fay from high school, scared to death of her own thoughts because of her mother. There was Frieda Fay the artist, carefully telling me about her life after school but never letting me see the third Frieda Fay, the woman standing there and asking me to make love to her.
Fate had brought us together after almost seven years during which I’d met a lot of women, but had never met one who intrigued and impressed me like Frieda Fay. As I stood there thinking maybe there was a reason we’d met and why Frieda Fay had become a woman I looked forward to seeing, she started unbuttoning her blouse. I gently pulled her hands away to stop her.
“Frieda Fay, you don’t have to do that to get a man to want you. A man who really wants you would want to undress you himself.”
“Do you really want me?”
“Yes, but not here and not like this.”
Frieda Fay led me through the house to her bedroom. Like the rest of the house, it wasn’t furnished very well, but the bed was a queen and there was a chair and bedtable with a lamp.
She turned down the spread and sheet, then came back to me.
“Is this a better place?”
I put my arms around her waist.
“Much, much better. Unless you’ve changed your mind, I’m going to kiss you now.”
Frieda Fay put her arms around my neck.
“I haven’t changed my mind.”
I don’t think a man ever forgets the first time he kisses a girl. I know I hadn’t and Kissing Frieda Fay was the same. She didn’t really know how, so after she tried pressing her lips tight against mine, I pushed her gently away.
“You let me do this, and then you do whatever you feel like doing, OK.”
She just stood there while I kissed her softly, then inhaled quickly when I brushed my tongue over her upper lip. I felt her open her mouth a little, just like I hoped she would. I kissed her a little harder then, and when I slipped my tongue between her parted lips, she made a little sighing sound. I felt her hand on the back of my head, holding me in place while she started mouthing my lips with hers. When I pulled gently away, she was standing there with her eyes closed and her mouth open a little, so I kissed her again. This time, she didn’t wait to feel my tongue on her lips. She opened her mouth and tried to find my tongue with hers. When she did, I felt a little shudder run through her body.
When I started undressing Frieda Fay, she just stood there and watched me undo the buttons on her blouse. She still had her shoulders hunched forward, so it wasn’t easy slipping it down her arms. Once I’d tossed it on the foot of the bed, I stroked back up her arms to her shoulders and she shivered.
“Are you cold”, I asked.
“No, I just never felt anything like that before. It feels good.”
“Still want to do this?”
“Yes, more than anything I’ve ever wanted before.”
I unhooked her bra then, and when I slipped the straps from her shoulders, I cupped her breasts and fondled them gently. Frieda Fay caught her breath when my thumbs touched her nipples.
“Oh…I didn’t know it could feel like this.”
“I didn’t know your breasts would be so nice either.”
I bent down and licked the tip of her right nipple. Frieda Fay moaned and pushed my face into her breast, then moaned again when I closed my lips around it and sucked gently.
She liked the sucking part better than the licking part, and she held my head to her breasts while I undid the button and zipper of her jeans. I had to move away to pull them down her legs, but as soon as I raised back up, she pulled my face to her breasts again.
I let her keep me there while I rolled the panties down her hips, but pulled away again to pull them down to her feet. When I raised back up, I kissed her while cupping her soft hips and then pushed her back on the bed. I pulled her jeans and panties off the rest of the way, took off my own clothes and then joined her.
I like foreplay, and I was taught what women like by two. One was a grad student in Accounting when I was a senior and we had a fantastic semester. I was living in an apartment by then, and Sharon usually spent the weekends with me. Sharon wasn’t backward about telling me what she liked, and once I’d learned those things, she wasn’t backward about telling me how it felt.
The second was Marilyn, a woman I met on a job site. She was an electrician with a very healthy libido and was a little more direct in telling me what she wanted. “Suck my tits now”, she’d moan, and a little later, when she was starting to wiggle around on the finger I was using to rub her clit, she’d gasp, “Oh, fuck. Stick your cock in me”.
When the job ended, she moved on to a job in Wisconsin. I, of course, stayed where I was. Both were great in bed and taught me a lot about how women like to be touched, but I always had the feeling that some of the ways they acted was just that - acting. They were doing what they thought I’d expect them to do. There were just too many moans and too many words like, “Oh yeah, Jack. Do that again.”
I knew Frieda Fay wasn’t acting. She didn’t know enough about sex to know how she should act, and I don’t think she had enough control to act anyway. Her body was just doing what it felt like doing and Frieda Fay was just letting it do what it wanted to do.
At first, she just laid there while I stroked her skin. When I touched her inner thigh though, she sighed. As that touch went higher and higher, I started nibbling from her breasts down her soft tummy. My fingers and my lips touched hair at the same time, and Fried Fay gasped as I stroked her soft, rippled outer lips.
She gasped again when my fingertip slipped between those lips, and her hips rocked a little. I felt her hand start stroking my back. When I slipped that finger down and then inside her, I felt her fingers curl and then the tingling sensation of her nails on my back. I slipped that finger back out and up, and Frieda Fay moaned.
Between using one finger stroke her passage, lips and the little button at the top of her slit, and moving back up enough to nibble on her stiff, swollen nipples, I’d already aroused myself to the point I was more than ready. I wanted to make sure Frieda Fay was ready too, so I added another finger to the one sliding in and out of her entrance, then curled them both up to the little pad just inside her and gently massaged. Frieda Fay gasped, then moaned, then spread her thighs a little more.
I kept doing that until I was sure she was wet enough I wouldn’t hurt her. When she was, I gently opened her thighs and knelt between them.
Frieda Fay looked down over her breasts and tummy, and I saw fear in her expression.
“Will it hurt”, she asked.
“No, Frieda Fay, it won’t hurt. I won’t let it hurt you.”
I didn’t push my cock inside her at first. I move the swollen head between her lips until it felt slippery. When my cock head probed for and then found her entrance, I felt Frieda Fay tense up. She couldn’t close her thighs because I was kneeling between them but she tried. I whispered, “Just relax. I won’t hurt you”, then leaned forward and sucked her nipples again while I used my fingertip to gently rub the hood over her clit.
It took me a long time to get my cock all the way inside Frieda Fay, but I intended for that to take a long time. I’d just push in gently, then pull back, then push in a little farther. When I was half-way inside her, Frieda Fay sighed and opened her thighs wide. When the base of my cock finally pressed her lips flat against her inner thighs, Frieda Fat moaned and started pulling on my ass.
My cock isn’t all that big, but Frieda Fay was still a snug fit. I couldn’t stroke very fast or I’d have lost it, so I kept my strokes slow and deep. For a while, I heard her making little mewing noises, but shortly, I felt her hips starting to rock up when I stroked in and then relaxing enough I had to be careful or I’d have pulled my cock all the way out. A little while later, that rocking became Frieda Fay straining to get my cock deeper. It didn’t help because I already had my cock buried as deep inside her as I could.
It did start pushing me to the point of no return though, so I slipped my right hand under her hip and up beside my cock so I could reach her clit. It wasn’t hiding anymore. The satin smooth tip had swelled out of its hood, and when I stroked it gently, it was like I’d touched Frieda Fay with a live wire.
She gasped, arched up, and then started to shake. She kept shaking when I pulled back, and then moaned when I pushed my cock back in. After three more strokes, she dug her nails in my back, and made a little shriek. The next stroke was more than I could take. I let my fingertip flutter over Frieda Fay’s little button, pushed my cock deep, and then let go. As the spurt raced up my cock and inside Frieda Fay, she cried out, arched as high off the bed as she could, and her hips started rocking up and down over my cock. She stayed arched up and rocking her hips like that until I’d shot my last, and made another little cry when I started stroking my cock in and out again.
After a few more strokes, she gasped, then gasped again, and then pulled me down with her as she eased back down onto the mattress. She didn’t say anything and neither did I. I was just enjoying the feeling of the little contractions in her passage massaging my softening cock.
When it did slip out of her, I rolled to her side, pulled her close and kissed her. Frieda Fay just sort of melted into me, and this time, she didn’t fumble with the kiss. It was a kiss that told me fate did have a reason for bringing us together.
When she pulled away, I saw she had tears in her eyes, so I asked her what was wrong. She wiped her eyes with her hands, and her voice was so quiet it was almost a whisper.
“Are you going to leave now?”
I kissed her on the forehead, then stroked her cheek.
“If you want me to, I will, but I don’t want to. I hope you don’t want that either.”
Frieda Fay hooked her thigh over me, wiggled close enough I felt wet hair brush my leg, and then kissed me again. When she pulled away, there were more tears in her eyes.
“I don’t want you to leave, not ever. Please stay.”
No, we didn’t get married right away like they always did in the romance novels Mom used to read. We had a lot of things to talk about before that happened. One of the things we had to talk about is love. I found that out the day she explained that first painting that brought us together.
“The two people are my mother and father, and I painted the picture after they were dead. I didn’t paint them so you could really see them, because they were only there in my mind. I’m swinging between them because that’s how it was living at home.”
I asked her why she felt it was that way.
“I wasn’t a baby they wanted. They had to get married because my father got my mother pregnant. I heard about that ever since I can remember, how I’d caused all their troubles. My mother said that’s why my father drank, and I know that’s why she was so religious. That church told her women are evil, and I think going to church all the time was her way of trying to not be evil like she thought she was. She said if I did what she did, I’d be evil too and end up the same way.
In my painting, they’re pushing the swing, but instead of doing that because they want to make me happy, they keep pushing me away from them. That’s why the girl isn’t smiling. I never smiled at home.”
I stroked her hair.
“You smile all the time now.”
Frieda Fay looked at the floor, then up at me.
“Does that mean I love you? I don’t know how love is supposed to feel.”
I kissed her on the forehead and then stroked her cheek.
“I think it’s different for everybody, but if you smile all the time, I’m pretty sure you at least like me. The other thing is…Frieda Fay, I can’t compare you to other women because you’re so different, but when we make love…I don’t think you’d be like you are if you only liked me.”
“I just do what you make me feel like doing.”
“I know, and that’s the difference. It’s like we aren’t two people then. We’re like…well, it’s hard to describe how it makes me feel.”
Frieda Fay smiled.
“I didn’t know how to say it either, but I painted it. Wanna see it?”
Almost all of the paintings Frieda Fay had done but wouldn’t show anybody were done on a background of black or very dark gray. This one started out with a black background on the left side, but that began to change. It went from black to gray to a pale blue, then to a brilliant blue and then into a white that was almost blinding in intensity. The figures in the painting weren’t difficult to understand.
In the dark black section was a woman with long, blonde hair and she looked like she was crying. That face faded away into streaks of color and then came back in the gray section, this time joined by a man’s face who could only have been me. Those two images faded back into streaks and then appeared in the pale blue section with bodies, but the bodies were a little hazy.
They were both nude and lying down and embracing, though because they weren’t very clear, that was about all I could determine. When those bodies changed into the brilliant blue section, it wasn’t because they faded and then came back. What Frieda Fay had painted was a gradual increase in clarity that clearly showed both their bodies locked together. They were kissing, and splayed out onto the blue field were splashes of bright red, brilliant green, yellow that seemed to vibrate, and pink so soft it looked like if you touched it, it would feel like a wisp of cotton.
In the white section, both the man and the woman were walking away, hand in hand, towards a tiny lavender dot.
I’d been able to figure out everything except the last two sections, though I had a pretty good idea about the blue sections. Frieda Fay held my hand as she explained the painting.
“The black part is me when I was sad all the time. In the gray part, you found me and made me feel better. I was still sad, but only when I wasn’t with you. The pale blue part, that’s that night when you started to make love to me that first time. It was like everything started to feel right, and the more things you did, the more right it felt.
“The bright blue section is how I felt right at the end of that time, and the way I still feel when we’re together. It’s like I can’t see that black time anymore. All I can see are colors that keep flying through my mind and they get stronger the longer we’re together.
“The white part, that’s us being happy together.”
I asked her about the lavender dot, and she squeezed my hand.
“I don’t know what that is. I just painted it thinking it should be there, and I picked lavender because it’s a combination of blue, red, and white. I think blue is happy, red is sad, and white is what lets us see everything else. Maybe it’s our future. I’m really not sure.”
I have that painting hanging on the wall of the spare bedroom we converted into my office. It’s there to remind me of the many faces of Frieda Fay McBeal. She still signs her paintings as Frieda Fay McBeal, but her driver’s license says Frieda Fay Mason, because we married a year after that first night in her house.
There are several more of her paintings hanging in my office. After six years together, I’m still finding more faces of Frieda Fay. She has a lot of trouble expressing how she feels about something, a trait both Debbie and Brittany told me is common to very talented artists.
I met them both at our wedding, and they come to visit sometimes. Debbie now works as an artist for a greeting card company, and she usually brings her partner, Melody, with her. Brittany still lives in her old farm house, raises chickens and goats, and sells her paintings. I’ve found all three women to be very much like Frieda Fay.
Because Frieda Fay has difficulty expressing herself with words, her paintings are her way of telling me how she’s feeling and what she wants. It was a little difficult to get used to that at first. Engineers are pretty “black or white” type people with little room for gray areas. I’ve learned that artists operate mostly in those gray areas and have difficulty speaking in definite terms. It’s only though their work they can put their real feelings out there.
Frieda Fay still paints landscapes and she still sells her work, but now it’s at several galleries instead of just the gallery at the university. She doesn’t have to work because I make enough money we could live comfortably, but I’ve never suggested she should stop. Painting is her reason for being, her reason to keep on living, though I know I’m part of those reasons now. I think another reason is starting to take shape in Frieda Fay’s mind as well.
I never ask to see what she’s working on, but she’ll always show me when she’s done. Last night she asked if I’d like to see what she’d painted over the last two days.
The painting was about the same as the one where we were walking hand in hand toward that lavender dot, only this time, the dot was flesh tone and had a face. It was a very small, round face, but it was easy to figure out what it was. I hugged Frieda Fay, and whispered, “does this mean what I think it means”.
Like always, she didn’t really answer me. She just said, “I don’t know yet. It just seemed like it belonged in the painting so I put it there.”
I don’t know if Frieda Fay is ready for a baby yet, but I know she’ll tell me if and when she is. She won’t just come out and say, “I want to have a baby”. No, it will be with another painting, one with two people who will be her and me, and a third little person who seems to materialize out of thin air.
Well…it will be something like that anyway. Every time I try to figure out what she’s going to paint, I find out I’m wrong because there’s another face of Frieda Fay I’ve not yet seen. Some men would find that frustrating, not being able to predict what their wife was going to do. I just think it keeps life interesting.