Candy Apple Smile by Catherine Chiarella Domonkos


Blurry black and white photo of woman
Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

Kat’s portrait tilted on Wendy’s dresser festooned with effulgent skyscrapers: birds of paradise and stargazers. A spent cork from a New Year’s Eve, a paling Polaroid of the two at the Whitney Biennial laid in front. Some days Wendy endured a seemingly endless passion for Kat.

At some point though, exhausted by unquenchable longing, Wendy moved the portrait to the kitchen wall adjacent to the airshaft window, but there it gathered grime and the stray pigeon feather, so she took it down, tissue-wrapped, bubble-wrapped, boxed and labeled it. Like Kat taught her. She leaned it next to the front door where it lingered, dropped a damp coat on it when she came home from her Chelsea gallery on a rainy night, propped her Prada on it while she searched for keys in the morning. Stacked mail and magazines for recycling.

Warhol gave that portrait to Kat at her thirtieth birthday party at Area. In it, she blazes through a frenzy of diamond dust, a luminous corona of hundred dollar bills. One of Warhol’s Reigning Queens, if ever. You’re a vision of beauty and grace, he said. And besides, good business makes for great art. Kat passed the painting to Wendy all the while looking over her shoulder to the dance floor jonesing to get back to the action. To Wendy, Be a good girl and have Damien drive you straight back to the gallery with this. To Warhol, Keith and Jean-Michel are here. Let’s go. Abandoned, Wendy watched Kat walk away.

She clung to the glorious image of Kat, queened.

It was May 1984 when the cover of Art in America crowned Kat “The Hot One.” It was May 1984 when Wendy, newly graduated from Smith with an art history degree and surviving as a nanny to the Vandergriff triplets of the Upper East Side, stepped into an art opening at Kat’s Soho gallery for the very first time. Wendy, checking out a colossal canvas with two eyes squinting through a smog of gray and brown. Kat suddenly beside her, an apparition in crimson and black. Pat Benatar in her MTV video for “Love is a Battlefield.” He was an outsider, Kat said, made that his trademark along with obscuring the faces. She handed Wendy her winking flute. Wendy sipped from its candy apple smile. Well, he’s not an outsider anymore. Wendy, breathless as Kat swung back into the swarm. Wendy, left with Kat’s glass, a whiff of Obsession and royalty. To Wendy, Kat was magic.

Wendy became Kat’s adoring assistant, solicitous lady-in-waiting. With Kat, bouncers raised the velvet rope even before the limo door opened. They never paid for champagne, cocaine or Quaaludes. They were invited from Palladium to Pyramid to the Tunnel. Together, they closed them down. Together, they visited artists’ studios, toured Art Basel and The Armory Show, graced front row seats at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Wendy drank in everything Kat offered.

For a beat Kat considered auctioning her prominent portrait when Warhol’s death in 1987 caused his sales prices to soar. Ultimately she proclaimed, I’ll make its value immeasurable, determined to hold on to her treasure while her own fame flared.

Whenever Kat’s parents visited from Maine, Wendy joined them at Gotham, Windows on the World, The Empire. They’re my parents and I adore them, Kat said in the limo that first time, but I escaped that stifling town ages ago. And kiddo, there’s no going back. This sounded about right to Wendy. After all, Kat ruled the center of the universe.

At those dinners the two would crack up with the slightest prompting, typically Kat’s matronly mother Barbara trying to have a conversation despite the din—So what have you been up to, pussycat?—or her myopic father Jack trying to read a menu nose to page. Kat guffawed, resounding and real. She ordered champagne. Wendy sipped. To Kat, she toasted, Long may she reign. Kat tossed back her glass, ordered another bottle. Kat’s parents considered their hands. After her third stay at Betty Ford, Barbara and Jack came to New York and brought her back to Maine. The eight-hour drive was an absolute purgatory, Kat said.

Wendy swathed the Warhol in Kat’s pink pashmina which lay draped across the back of her desk chair and carried it home. Maybe she would present it to Kat’s parents. But no, they couldn’t possibly cherish it as she did.

During their phone calls Kat recounted her messy memories of New York-London-Tokyo. Ah, that bastard Koons. And Gagosian. Let me tell you.

I miss you, Wendy said. Mostly, she listened.

Without Kat, Wendy waited in line behind the velvet rope at Area. Stayed home and ordered lo mein from Wo Hop. Flipped through Artforum, studying the Robert Gober sinks and doors, and the Nan Goldin snapshots of drug addicts which had become fine art.  Served as an uptown gallery girl where she met new artists, recently-enriched collectors and auction house experts.

Their calls became fewer and fewer over time because for Wendy they were murder. She let them go to the machine. Sometimes she called back, sometimes she just couldn’t. Kat repeated the same lame plan to get back to New York.

I’ve still got the Sultans and the Clementes to sell.

It’s the 90s, Kat. Those guys aren’t hot anymore. They aren’t worth much.

I’ll make them famous. I did it once, I can do it again.

Selling the Warhol never came up.

Maybe a year or two after their last call, the Christmas card Wendy sent Kat came back, its blue envelope fragile and frayed. Along with return to sender on the front, a gutless hand had scratched: Katherine died August 14th on the flipside. That’s it. No one bothered to call.

Wendy tasked her assistant with moving the portrait to storage.

Black and white photo of woman holding skull mask in front of her face
Photo by David Taffet on Unsplash

Catherine Chiarella Domonkos
Catherine Catherine Chiarella Domonkos’ recent short fiction appears in X-R-A-Y, The Citron Review and Bending Genres among other literary places. It has been selected for Best Small Fictions, nominated for Best Microfiction and longlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50. For more, please visit

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