susan d abello

Painting pictures with words, sharing vignettes of a colorful life.


I don’t like my friend’s Yorkshire Terriers. They’re absurdly perfect. They’re trim around the middle, they look cute in sweaters and they can fit in her purse. They remind me that my Yorkie, or as my husband says, Porkie, is not perfect. His name is Joe and he has Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s means that Joe drinks a lot of water, so much so that he inflates like a football during the course of a day. In a Christmas sweater, Joe looks more like Santa Claus than an elf.

Cushing’s also means that Joe is always ravenous. My husband and I wake to the sound of soft whines at 5am each day. Incredulous, I check the time on my cell phone beside the bed. Not even daylight savings can fool my Yorkie — darkness or light, he wakes us at five. In the glow of the phone light, I can see him looking up at me. He bounces; his tiny paws lifting just a hair off the floor, just enough to punctuate his “words”. His pointed ear-tips flop on his head like banners waving, imploring me to pay attention to his needs. Joe’s tone grows more urgent, more demanding. His whimper becomes a yip and I realize that one of us is well trained.

I slip out of bed before my husband does, and follow Joe down the hall to the kitchen where, half asleep, I prepare the low fat, gluten free meal. Feeding Joe is like throwing slop to a pig. Before his bowl hits the floor Joe has his nose in it, snorting and grunting, kibbles fly about in the ensuing frenzy.

Cushing’s Syndrome is a disease where a dog’s body produces too much cortisol. Some of the symptoms are the potbelly and the extreme hunger and thirst. Another symptom is a weakness in his hind legs. Joe needs to go out to pee every two hours or so. His weak legs make it impossible to get down the two steps outside our door, so I carry him. On some days he has the energy to come up the stairs on his own, pulling his hind legs like a fish tail behind him. To me he is a champion of strength and fortitude. To my husband, he is just a pain in the ass. Joe doesn’t cuddle or play. We are not rewarded for our efforts.

Upon meeting my dog, a woman once exclaimed, “oh, look at that one, you could put a saddle on him!” and I felt as though she had called me a failure as a mother. I wanted to ask her to leave but I could see that she was admiring him even as she spoke those hateful words. I have heard people refer to Joe as “that little box,” and “that little shit,” among other things less appealing, but he has a way of winning them over with his sad yet tenacious personality. No, Joe doesn’t fit into a sweater or a purse; he’s not perfect, he’s just perfectly spoiled.

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Vinyasa, I hate you.

I hate how when I dip down into your pose my shoulders feel a ripping pain and my lower back aches. I hate how the instructor says your name with such ease, with such energy and pleasure. “Do your Vinyasa!” she says in her soothing youthful voice, fueled by tofu and ginger root and surely loads of kale. I hate how everyone seems so full of peace and love and I am in pain. My body, like an old dog has stopped responding to my commands. Fibromyalgia is the word on my mind, not the Sanskrit words the young woman speaks like poetry. She speaks with love in her heart for all of her students, even me, the angry woman in the back row.

Of all the poses, the only one I can do with some skill and little pain is the Savasana, or the Corpse Pose. At that I excel. Laying still, flat on my back, arms and legs outstretched is the Corpse Pose. Here I collect my pain like shards of broken glass from the floor. I find it where it is, my neck, my back, my arms and wrists and knees. I sweep it up and put it back where it belongs. I own it like I own my whole self. I recognize it and let it settle after I have disturbed it for a while.

This is my reward. I come here for this moment of collection as I lie on my thin rubber mat that smells like tires in the summer and is, I believe, almost a humorous attempt at cushioning one’s self from the hard wooden floor. I come for the lilting music and for the incense that burns and curls into the air, into the healthy lungs of my friends who lay strewn about this room. We are worn out after doing our Vinyasas and other torturous poses. Yes Vinyasa, I hate you, but I will be back for more.


The Isabey Kolinsky

The Isabey Kolinsky is his favorite brush. The number 14 watercolor brush is at once delicate and substantial. Fatter than a pencil and longer too, it sits with a delicious weight in your hand. I know the artist likes this brush best because it is worn, not the bristles, but the handle. Its black paint, once shiny and smooth, is now peeling and any identifying information is long worn away.

He doesn’t need to read the brush’s label to pick it out from the others he keeps lovingly in the bamboo sheath. He reaches for it automatically. His fingers touching all the brushes, dancing over them, caressing the wooden handles softly until they find the Kolinsky 14. He likes that it holds so much water, so much paint. He likes that it holds its point even after so much use, so much abuse.

I have seen him abuse his brushes. He presses too hard and sometimes scrubs the colors onto the thick paper. When he cleans them, he brutally smashes the bristles into the palm of his big artist hands. There with just a dab of Murphy’s oil soap and some vigorous scrubbing, all trace of his latest endeavor is washed away. It may seem like he doesn’t care, but that is the way he shows that he loves the brush. I know that I will never find it cast aside with the colors of the day left to dry in its fine red sable, its soft red sable.

Soft like a cat’s fur, I remember the day we bought it. I felt drawn to it, as I know he was. I ran it across my cheek to feel the smooth and pleasing touch of it. We admired the length of it, almost eleven inches of brush to hold. We admired its symmetry and design. A circle of sable extends fat and pleasing from the shiny silver ferrule. Not too long, perhaps a little more than an inch, the sable tapers to a lovely point when wet, a point for details like eyes and lashes, or the fabric of a shirt or the pattern of a doily. The artist tells me that the Kolinsky 14 gives him the freedom he needs to express himself.

With a flair that seems careless he dabs the brush into the colors on the pallet, always mixing and mashing his colors, he places them on the paper with confidence and daring. The Kolinsky takes them, those colors, from the fattest boldest strokes of a background to the tiny glimmer in his model’s eye. Today the artist is away, and the Kolinsky sits, one among many brushes, some not so loved. When I move them, the wooden handles click together musically like the wind chimes that hang outside our kitchen window. They click and clatter and speak to me about masterpieces yet to be born. They speak to me about color and light and mood and most of all they tell me about the artist that loves them.

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The Artist’s Studio


You have to take the back stairway, the one in our mudroom to get up to the artist’s studio. There is no other way. He doesn’t want people passing through. He wants to work in peace. Sometimes I go there, while he is painting. I tiptoe on stocking feet up the staircase made of cherry wood.

I bring him coffee and the smell of it makes him turn to me with a smile. It is warm in my hands. He lays down his pallet and the long handled brush to take the cup from me. I stay with him for a minute or two, just long enough to absorb a little bit of his world but I don’t want to distract him from his work.

He smells of turpentine and oil paints and sometimes, wet watercolor paper. They are the smells of work for him. They are the oily stench of toil and struggle and frustration on some long afternoons and on others they are the fresh aromas of a masterpiece completed. For me, they are the pleasant smells of him, of home.

His clothes are splattered with burnt sienna and ultra marine blue, the colors he is most fond of. I sit on his knee to more closely observe his work and he wraps one paint-smudged arm around my waist and pulls me near. I lean against his chest, smelling his warm coffee breath and laugh because I know he has made me dirty on purpose. There is no keeping clean with an artist upstairs. He lets me have a sip of his coffee and I cringe at its bitterness, just the way he likes it.

I tell him the shadow is perfect in his painting and he grumbles his dissatisfaction. In the end he will love the work as I do. Months down the road he will look at it with fresh eyes, when it is out of his studio, in someone else’s home or on the gallery wall and he will say that it works. And I will smile and remember that afternoon when I sat on his knee up in his studio, offering a bit of inspiration. And coffee.