She walked back and forth in front of a white canvas. Light poured into the white one room studio above New York’s Fifth Avenue like water flows into a glass. The large spotless wall-sized windows seemed to magnify the beauty of the city, focusing on the busy people below, each with their own story to tell, but none of them with enough time in which to tell it.
She walked back and forth in front of a white canvas. The day was perfect, the sky was blue, the air was clear, and her schedule was free. Painting had always been her pleasure, more than books, more than walks in the park, more than going to The Gallery and being inspired by the paintings of others. She felt guilty thinking this way, but none of them seemed to be as beautiful to her as what she could herself create.
She walked back and forth in front of a white canvas. The tip of her paintbrush tapped her lower lip, as if trying to send, in Morse Code, a description of what it wanted to paint. She didn’t know Morse Code, of course, but she once had a boyfriend who did. His portrait lay smothered in her closet between an old coat she swore she never even saw her grandmother wear and a pair of pants leftover from the junkyard of color she called, “the eighties.”
She walked back and forth in front of a white canvas. The world outside was screaming color, but those windows answered back with the cool calming whisper of everything white from her studio: her walls, her furniture, her carpet, the butcher paper spread under her easel, her painting smock, and of course, the white canvas. The only deviations of the light spectrum were her ocean eyes, her sunbeam hair, and eight tiny buckets of paint.
She walked back and forth in front of a white canvas. This moment was so sought after, so desired… so expensive. How many dates and engagements have been changed for this time alone with the white white canvas. How many meetings and presentations have been rescheduled? She wanted this. She needed this. This was where she was supposed to be, in this magnificent studio apartment, set up just the way she liked, lots of light, lots of white to spur on her creativity. What’s missing? She thought, I have everything I need, but my brush is still dry.
She walked back and forth in front of a white canvas. Birds started to circle inside her head. She wasn’t sure if they were seagulls pre-telling of land, or vultures waiting to feast on the rotten flesh of her brain. She saw somewhere in her head something red on a blue-sky background. The sun? She couldn’t see it clearly. The birds had flown off, leaving her to a red shapeless object floating in her sky. She spotted bits of yellow moving around inside of the red shapeless object, testing out every inch before finding a place to settle.
She walked back and forth in front of a white canvas. Her eyes were closed, and her still-dry brush extended in front of her painting the air magnificent shades of red, blue, and yellow. Her great sweeping strokes seemed to organize the air in front of her, pushed away the bits that don’t seem quite right and filled the space with strokes of brilliance, turning the air into song, until the singing surrounded her and created such a feeling in the base of her spine, that by the time it reached her finger tips, her brush had already plunged itself into the red and frantically recreated her entire world on a white canvas.
* * *
Her alarm clock was the sun. Her bed was arranged in such a place that the first beam of light that floated through her glorious windows landed gentle on her closed eyelids. She opened them soft, soaking in the first light like her sponge soaked the excess paint off her painting, leaving it beautiful. Her apartment, still a shade of gray as it awaited the rising sun, glistened with anticipation as she placed her feet on the soft white carpet. She gripped at it with her toes, feeling the strands rub themselves against the bottom of her feet. She changed into a pair of sweats for her morning race with the sun and paused a moment at the door, distracted by her newest painting. The color leapt off the canvas and filled the room with such life that it seemed to encompass the entire apartment. It wasn’t a painting on a canvas, but a piece of a bigger picture.
Her run continued as usual, three steps ahead of the disappearing shadows. Her run took her past Gabriel, who owned a fruit and vegetable stand. He was a small lonely old man from a little town somewhere in Indiana who wanted to bring real apples to the big one. She had the pleasure of his conversation once, when she stopped by his place on the way home to pick up some peaches. She promised herself to stop by and talk to him more. Gabriel waved, as always, from his morning perch near the fresh vegetables.
Her run also took her past the bakery, which was always in full production when she ran by. The bakers never noticed her, but busied themselves kneading and forming their own creations. They were an elderly couple and they seemed to take great pride in their work, although she never saw anyone ever go in there.
And just before she reached her apartment, her run took her past Jeremy’s door. Jeremy was a man she ran into one day a long time ago. She was on her morning run when it was still new to her. She tripped, fell, and sprained her ankle right outside Jeremy’s red oak door. He happened to be leaving when it happened and saw the whole thing. He was kind enough to help her to her apartment and fetch her an ice bag from the freezer before he left for work. He had dark curly hair that reminded her of turbulent waves in old paintings and the kryptonite eyes to her Super Girl. When she tripped, she was more stunned by the rescuer than the pain in her ankle. She ran past his red oak door every morning at the same time, but it was always closed.
Her painting was waiting for her when she walked in. It captured her attention before the door had time to latch behind her. Even after all the paintings she’d painted and all the acclaim she’d received for her work, each creation still amazed her. Each one is a new baby, one that grows from an infant to eighteen in a matter of days. She never had enough time alone with her paintings before they left the nest, and they always left it with such a strong sense of barrenness that she often wondered how she lived there before that particular painting ever existed. Her white Persian cat was also waiting for her, but she didn’t notice Butchess until he meowed.
“So, you’re back.” Jennifer hadn’t seen the cat in three days. “Well, what do you think?” Butchess meowed again and headed for the kitchen. “So it makes you hungry.” Jennifer turned towards the bathroom before adding, “just like all my other paintings.”
As she waltzed into the gallery at eight that morning, her feet counting off the one-two-three one-two-three pattern, her head weightless off the fumes of her new painting, she was suddenly brought down to earth by Roger, not someone she would classify as a friend, but not really a work associate either. He was someone she saw everyday, trying to do what she did, but failing miserably. She would probably have felt pity for him, if he hadn’t had a crush on her and no inhibitions about hiding it.
“And how is my favorite painter doing this morning? Still beautiful as always, I see.” Roger’s slicked-back hair seemed to match his smile.
“Actually Roger,” she replied, “I’m doing quite well. I painted yesterday.” She had decided earlier not to tell Roger about her new painting, but in the moment, she couldn’t think of another topic to talk about.
“A new painting? So that’s why I couldn’t find you?” Roger’s eyebrows, trimmed with a weed-whacker, rose to the top of his growing forehead.
“Yes, Roger,” her gait changed from the light one-two-three rhythm into a solid one-two march. “I like to be alone when I paint.”
“Well beautiful things come from beautiful people.” She decided not to succumb to the obvious temptuous remark. Roger kept babbling, “I’ve just created another masterpiece myself, but I’m sure that I could use a little more inspiration for my next masterpiece, although knowing you is inspiration enough. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
“Well… I was thinking about bringing it in tomorrow. I like to let the paint sit a little before I start moving it around.”
“I wouldn’t mind accompanying you home after you’re finished here. I’m a busy man, but I’d stop the world for you.” Roger swept his hand across himself in a grandiose gesture and bow, but the entire movement seemed to her as if he were dusting cookie crumbs from his pants.
“Thank you, Roger, but I’m afraid that won’t be necessary.” To her daily rescue, there happened to be a women’s restroom at this juncture in the gallery. She excused herself and stepped in breathing an almost audible sigh of relief. “At least I’m evolving,” she whispered to her mirrored image, “I used to make up excuses, but now all I do is say ‘I’m unavailable’. Perhaps next time, I’ll do a gigantic painting of the word, ‘NO.’ Of course, he’ll probably think it’s an upside down ‘ON’ and try harder.” Her smile metamorphosized itself into a quiet laugh, but was completely silenced at the sound of a toilet flush.
The stall door opened to reveal Janet, the gallery owner and curator. Her hair was woven into its natural beehive state, secured by the usual two cans of hair spray. Her long Roman nose and slit-like eyes gave her an essence of elegance to accompany her figurehead. “Jennifer, so nice to see you. Roger outside?”
“Good morning Janet. And yes.”
“It figures.” Janet washed her hands and started pruning her appearance in the mirror. “Who were you talking to? I thought I heard…”
“No one. Just talking. Is that a new suit?” Janet was wearing a red skirt-suit that emphasized her height and lack of appetite.
“Yes, it is. Thank you for noticing.” Janet smiled showing all thirty-two beef forbidden teeth. “I went downtown yesterday afternoon and picked it up.”
“It’s pretty.” Jennifer paused for a moment. “I painted yesterday.”
Janet stopped pruning. “Really?” Jennifer’s paintings have always sold well in the gallery. “Will you be showing it here?” Janet was also an admirer of Jennifer’s work and bought a couple of her paintings for permanent display in The Gallery windows.
“Of course I’ll be showing it here,” Jennifer smiled, “You are always so helpful at taking care of certain,” Jennifer gestured her head toward the door, “someones.”
“Will you bring it in tomorrow?”
“Great, I’ll go take care of that certain someone.” Janet walked out; leaving Jennifer to her mirrored self.
Brian walked into his office where Janet was already waiting for him, sitting in his chair. “I wish my chair was this soft,” she said as she propped her feet on his desk. “Would you like to trade?”
Brian threw her a smile, but it wasn’t a real one. It clunked on the desk and wobbled a second before settling. “We’re in trouble Janet.” Brian was the manager of The Gallery. He did all the books, took care of everything except standing around and looking pretty. That was Janet’s job. “We haven’t sold a painting in weeks, and I don’t know why you keep showing Roger’s work here, it’s… it’s…” Brian searched for a nice way to say ‘horrible’, but everything he could think of had the ability to get him fired.
“It’s a favor. Roger is my nephew, after all. One of them is bound to sell eventually.” Her lie didn’t make it across the room, but instead fell out of the air and landed next to the fake smile. “And don’t worry about sales. Jennifer is painting again.” Brian’s ears perked. “She’s bringing in one tomorrow. I wonder what it’s of.” Janet’s mind drifted to past worlds of oil and acrylic: lavender skies, blue bellflowers, an African heartland.
Roger let out a sigh he’d been holding in for weeks. “That’s great… but do you think it’s the same? I mean… she’s been through a lot.”
“I’m sure it’ll be great. Better than before. Loss brings out the artist in a person.” Janet closed her eyes. “This will be Jennifer’s blossoming period. A time of discovery, rebirth.”
* * *
Jennifer didn’t return from The Gallery until late that night. She had spent the day roaming from wall to wall coming up with reasons why her new painting was better than any other one in there. A few of the paintings were Roger’s, and the reasons were endless. Her only real competition was Stacy, who had almost sold as many paintings there as she had. “But I haven’t painted in weeks.” She told the air in front of her. “Stacy didn’t go through what I went through.” She haunted the halls just long enough to start to doubt the enormity of her painting. But once she returned to her one room studio apartment, her faith in her own creation was restored as she stared into her living colors, stationary of course, but with a dynamic impression that seemed to give the colors a will of their own to mix and meet as they pleased. Butchess rubbed himself against her leg, purring his own furry congratulations for another painting well done.
“I think it’s my best yet.” Jennifer told him.
“Meow,” Butchess replied.
“It has more… emotion, frustration, everything.”
“I don’t know, what do you think?”
“I suppose you’re right. I’m hungry too,” She told the cat, but she spent another hour in front of her painting before wrapping it up in butcher paper and twine.
An elegant candlelight dinner to celebrate: Chicken Parmesan and light mixed vegetables, with a glass of white wine to wash it down. Butchess ate a special brand set aside for him whenever she finished a painting. The painting sat, in its wrapped form, across the table from her and she stared at it as she ate. Her thoughts melted into tomorrow, at all the possible reactions Janet might have, that Brian might have, that Roger… well… she didn’t want to think about Roger. Her imagination had so overpowered her, that she was surprised to find all of her food eaten and wine glass empty. She washed the dishes, stepped down out of her shoes, which she only realized she still had on when she heard them click on the linoleum, and stood at the window and watched the city. She watched cars chase their headlights up and down the street. She watched the windows darken in other buildings. She watched the colors change on the street light. Tired as she already was, she stood at the window until slightly past midnight. Sleep was coaxing admission to her bones. She finally settled the negotiation, folding her clothes before placing them on a shelf to be washed, and stepped into bed as one would step into a warm embrace. The sounds of the streets swept into the apartment, creating a white noise to comfort the silence.
The next morning at two minutes to eight, she stood outside The Gallery doors, held her covered coveted painting in her hands, and counted to some imaginary number between seven and eight. She ran over her prophecy of the reactions and filled her lungs with city air one more time before going in. She was greeted at once by teeth, grease, and hair.
“Jennifer, you are absolutely ravishing. Is that the painting? I brought a masterpiece of my own in this morning as well. It is, I must admit, one of my best. I’m just cranking these babies out. The Gallery is just full of them. My newest one is in the main hall, would you like to see it?”
“Good morning, Roger. Not yet.” She walked by him without giving him a second look. She went straight to Janet’s office. Janet’s office was a glass cube in the middle of the gallery, ten feet to a side. Her desk sat in the center, elegant and eloquent, with a matching chair, a lamp, and a small stack of papers to one side. Janet and Brian were inside. Brian was sitting in Janet’s chair reading a newspaper and Janet was pacing the office, talking on her cell-phone. Jennifer tapped the glass door. Brian and Janet looked up at the same time. Janet hung up her phone, Brian put down the paper, and they both dashed for the door. Janet, being closer, burst through first (as fast as one could burst wearing a skirt so tight that her knees were forever touching). They ushered Jennifer into the office and both spoke at once. Roger followed them in, but in all the commotion was unnoticed.
“Good morning Jennifer,” said Brian.
“Jennifer, I’m so glad that you’re here,” said Janet.
“Would you like some coffee?” said Brian.
“Or tea, how about some tea?” said Janet.
“I can’t wait to see your painting,” said Brian.
“I’m sure it’s wonderful” said Janet.
“What are you waiting for, go ahead and open it,” said Brian.
The contrast between the clamor of chatter and the silence that followed the unveiling was so great, that Jennifer thought that it could be a painting itself, and she made a mental note to ponder that idea at a later time. It was Roger who first slaughtered the silence.
“You only used three colors.” His teeth reveled in their own glory. “Well, I think I know of a perfect spot to hang this one.”
“Let’s hang it in the main hall.” Janet said this in such a motion that the words seem to almost trip over each other.
“Let’s hang this at my house.” Brian was usually about the logistics and rarely took an interest in the paintings themselves. So the fact that he said this made Jennifer first blush, then laugh. The tip of her ponytail tickled the base of her neck as she lowered her head in modest embarrassment.
“The main hall?” Roger started, “but there’s no room.”
Janet’s eyes never left the painting. “Oh, we can make room.”
The main hall consisted of three walls and the front of Janet’s office. The spot of honor was a golden easel in the center, where Roger’s newest painting currently sat. His painting consisted of a series of criss-crossed lines using every color known to man, and then a few Roger just made up out of things lying around his garbage pile. His gargantuan signature weighted the lower right hand corner. The seven other rooms surrounding Janet’s office were numbered two through eight in a counter clockwise manner. The spot Roger was thinking of, which is where his newest painting finally hung, was near the door to seven from eight. It was the place of least importance, least likely to be seen, least admired, looked at, bought. Janet thought it would be a perfect spot for Roger’s painting and since she was the boss, that’s where it hung. There was also a window room, a small-elongated room facing the street where two of Jennifer’s paintings hung permanently. The walls were angled, so that one who wanted to look at either painting straight on, could look at both without moving anything but his or her head, and also have a direct line of sight to the golden easel.
The one in the left window was a painting of eight circles of different colors, chasing each other, leaving trails of color which, when one stepped back and tried to look past the painting, gave the illusion of a giant sphere. The painting in the right window was of a silhouette man in the distance on the horizon under a star filled sky. Meteors zoomed skyward, and the man seemed to be pointing to the only blank space in the sky. The colors and activity of both paintings seemed to tempt the viewer’s attention toward the door of the gallery, and often people came in who had no intention of looking at or purchasing art, but simply enticed by the paintings outside.
The three of them stood looking at Jennifer’s perched painting on the golden easel. Roger had left the main hall in search of better real estate. Janet and Brian stood side by side, not touching, not blinking, just staring. Jennifer stood behind them. She knew this process was a long one, and even though art jumped out at you, the real treasure in it was what it showed you when it invited you in; when you felt surrounded by the paint and you aren’t just looking at it, but living amongst the colors. This process took a while, and she was willing to wait… … …
Janet was the first to speak after what seemed like an hour, but probably not any longer than a few minutes. “I’ve never been spoken to so clearly from a painting before. Jennifer, you’ve out done yourself this time. I should call Clyde right away and have him build a marvelous frame for it.” She said this as though it were going to be done with her very next breath, but she didn’t move.
It was another long silence before Brian answered, “No… I don’t think this one needs a frame. I think it’s much stronger without one. It seems raw, it seems real.”
The seasons seemed to have pass before Janet replied with, “That’s a good idea. We’ll call it “Raw” and price it at about twelve thousand.”
“Let’s not give it a name or a price.” Brian seemed to let the planets rotate the sun a few times before he continued, “Let’s put a blank card under it and just have people ask about it. I think it’s stronger on its own. We couldn’t possibly do anything to help. It’s… well, it’s… it’s done.”
They both turned to congratulate Jennifer as Roger walked through the main hall on his way out the door. Jennifer noticed he was carrying his painting.
“Oh, he’ll be all right. He just needs time on his own. You know how artists are, they need their lives to be a certain way before their happy.”
Jennifer smiled and let out the breath she had been holding since she walked in this morning. It was almost one; time for the gallery to open for its four-hour business day. Janet once explained that people who couldn’t make up their own schedules couldn’t afford to buy art of this caliber anyway, but that was all well established before Roger first asked to display his work there. Since then, the average price fell as far as their sales, and that, coupled with Jennifer’s artistic draught, threatened to relieve Janet of her designer clothing.
“Let’s go to lunch and celebrate. My treat.” Janet suggested.
“But we’re about to open,” Brian said.
“Okay,” Janet said, “You stay here and run the place, I’m going to take Jennifer out.”
“But… what about selling the painting?”
“Don’t sell it. Say that it’s on display only and will be on sale on Saturday. That gives us three days to find out how much the public is willing to spend on it before coming up with a price.”
Want to read chapter two? What's the name of Jennifer's cat?