“Love” by Heather Bell

Heather Bell


The truth about Klimt is: when he painted “The Kiss,”
he was also beating his beautiful wife. He beat her
with one hand and painted with the other. He got
two sad blisters on his right palm from this. His wife
sometimes slowly pulled up the roots to his favorite
willows and cut them, delicately, and then buried
them again. He jokes, “that’s what I get for marrying

a woman from a sanitarium!” but she was from
Vienna, they met in the street, he stopped her and
she believed his eyes said, “I do not want to die,
do not let me die,” so she touched his face, there,
in the street, as a person touches a comma on a
page after they have returned home from a place
that has no commas. On their wedding night, she

ran him a lukewarm bath and his testicles looked
like overripe plums. He raped her until a low moan
seemed to come from the walls, as if wolves were
angry and coming and Klimt went to bed forcefully
and his wife went to bed with dirty blood around
her nostrils and mouth. It goes on like this for years,

just as it goes on for years for everyone who marries
someone they cannot love. You step, body over
body, into the kitchen to kiss your sweat and rot
good morning. “Let me tell you something,” she
says on the day that he paints “The Kiss” and he
hits her in the head before she can remember the
something. She thinks it might have been important.
It might have been something. When he shows

the painting to his friends, they say he must be
the most romantic man in the world and she nods.
And the man in the painting pushes the woman
down further, flows into her, gold and angry, and
her eyes are shut and they do not look clenched
and this is puzzling, but no one else seems to notice.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009


Heather Bell: “Recently, I backpacked down and back out of the Grand Canyon. The hardest part was my intense fear of heights and panic attacks when I see sheer cliffs or drop-offs. I didn’t bring a journal. I think that was the most important part—no journal. Instead, my husband and I sat in the dark in our tent, playing cards, eating granola, and talking. Sometimes I wonder where all the talking has gone in this world and then I know where it is, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, still, where I left it. I find myself writing more now, all these things I couldn’t say before the expedition. Sometimes you just need a place to put your words when the cities get too loud and no one can hear you over everyone’s talking and screaming.”

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