by Amelia Kanan
The paint was so thick, there were mountain ranges of persimmon and valleys of jonquil. Rivers of olive and blobs of timid white. Although her posture remained poised, her brow muscles were clenched. Any minute now, the tears would blur her vision. They were like clockwork. Wishing that eyelid linings contained drains, she refused to blink until the wave passed.
She didn’t mind living in moments that she hated. That’s probably what made her come see his work. It felt good to be challenged. Fuel the fire. The more you avoid feeling something, the more intense it becomes. If you just let yourself sit in it, it’ll let up after awhile. Like, this painting. She hated it but she wasn’t going to stop staring until the pain lessened. She remembered when he painted it.
He couldn’t come to bed. Tormented by a vision. He worked for days, alone in his studio. A place she was never allowed to enter, let alone knock. That never bothered her. Nor did it bother her that he slept with his TA.. She understood why he did it. She and Jack had been together for so long, sex had become so dispassionate. Mechanical. Something you do just to nourish yourself – like eating oatmeal. He needed to feel passion. You can try to make something old feel new, but it’s impossible. He knew her body, knew it belonged to him. He needed a jolt, if not for the sake of his work then for his own sanity. It wasn’t the physical betrayal that hurt. What hurt her was the fact that he invited that 23 year old to come into his studio to look at his unfinished pieces.
She had done the same to him, in a way. She never cheated but she never let him inside her studio. Never could she let him watch her work or see something that wasn’t fully executed. That felt too unguarded, too exposed. He had 3/4 of her. The other 1/4 was hers to hold onto. She thought he was like that too. That’s what she had loved about him.
It wasn’t until a year after she left him that she realized something. He had evolved quicker. He had become ready to share all those parts of himself but since he had been still so anxious to do so, he chose to try it with someone safe. His TA. A young, bright eyed, admirer who could make him feel so safe. She didn’t have power to hurt him. She also wouldn’t hold him to any kind of conventional relationship standard. She would be grateful for any attention he had time to give. She wouldn’t ask anything of him. To repay those years of patience and resilience, he would marry her.
Her tears fell even without her blinking. She wondered if that was a defense mechanism- thinking he loved her so much that he had to marry someone else. And even though she too was married and happy, she couldn’t help but blame herself and wonder. She wished she could’ve been easy. She always had to make things difficult. At first, he had loved that about her. That she was uninhibited, living in a world that looked a lot like his. It’s always those characteristics that lure someone in that end up being the same things that cause that same person to cast you back out.
The jagged peaks of paint came back into focus. Her tears had stopped. She could blink. She stepped closer and inhaled the oil while closing her eyes. She raised her fingers to press against the rugged terrain of the canvas. She smiled, remembering the first time she had told him he was too frivolous with his brush. He made fun of her right back for how she painted, as if there was a pending drought of art supplies.
“Ma’am? Please don’t touch the art.”