I’ve never been an art connoisseur or anything of the like – that was more my girlfriend, Lauren’s thing. She always insisted on going to art fairs, local galleries, meeting strangers off of Craigslist – you name it. And whether it was photography, paintings, or even some kid’s pencil drawings, Lauren seemed enamored by every piece she saw. At the beginning of our relationship I found it kind of sweet. But there’s only so much times you can indulge in your partner’s unshared passions before it starts to become a bore. I’d stand there, rolling my eyes, staring at something I probably could have slapped together in under ten minutes that would leave her starry-eyed. And when I saw those price tags upwards ten grand, I sometimes thought it was who was the problem.
But that was all until about a month ago when I decided I was bored enough to come along on one of her art-seeking outings. There was a thrift shop I could have sworn used to be a Dunkin’ Donuts in the middle of town that she found on a local Facebook page. She said we just had to go and for some reason I said “yes”. So off we went to that thrift shop on one Sunday afternoon. When we got there, I could still smell the coffee beans and chocolate icing in the air. There was even an old donut rack with discounted watches, rings and other assortments of jewelry. I couldn’t help but laugh at the display, thinking of those former desserts. The cashier caught my giggling and scowled at me – she was an elderly woman with triangular reading glasses that would have fallen off the end of her nose if it weren’t for that silver chain she had on them that wrapped around the back of her head. She shook her head and grunted, then pivoted to glare at some of the other customers as if they were on the verge of stealing everything in the store at once.
“Are we almost done?” I asked Lauren with a whiny groan. She was turning over some dress that looked to be in perfect condition and asked me whether I thought it would look good on her. She had a knack for finding those sorts of things in the oddest places. And speaking of which, apparently I did too. Over her shoulder, I caught a glimpse of a painting from which I couldn’t look away. At first glance, was the usual impressionist bullshit I would usually make fun of: it was filled with a series of black splotches that were darker and thicker at the centers, then bled outwards and down the canvas. It looked like the artist had used a mixture of brush-whipping at the canvas and pressing the paintbrush hard to create those darker tones. There was nothing special about it – at least not to anyone else – but to me it was the greatest piece of art I’d ever seen. The funny thing was, the art aficionado between the two of us didn’t seem to notice it at all. I almost shoved past Lauren, forgetting she was there as I approached it. “It’s…beautiful,” I said.
She spun around, still holding the dress up that I’d entirely ignored. “That thing?” she said. “All these years of hating art and that’s what catches your attention?”
“Yeah,” I said. “What do you think?”
I could tell she hated it, but I think something about my interest in the piece got her excited: she wasn’t about to strike down my appreciation for her hobbies no matter how sudden. She asked the cashier how much it was and the cashier squinted, trying to get a better view of the piece we were talking about. “I’ve never seen it before,” she said.
I finally managed to break my gaze at the painting and whipped around toward the cashier, feeling a certain hate flowing through me. It was a rage that could only be described as a passionate defense of a piece that had been my life’s work even though I’d never even seen the thing before. “What? It’s in your store – how have you never seen it before?”
She looked stunned by my lashing out. So was Lauren. With a slight fear in her eyes, she told me she’d give it to me for one hundred dollars. And what a bargain – I would have given her my life’s savings for that thing. I gladly forked over the cash and we took the painting home. I even encouraged Lauren to buy that dress.
When we got back home, I immediately began searching for a place to hang it – somewhere I could always see it. I pleaded and pleaded for us to hang it in the living room or at least bedroom, but Lauren’s support would only go so far. She said she thought it’d look nice in the second bedroom, which we were using as a storage closet. This was equivalent to saying she never wanted to see it again. I understood her implications and grumbled a fair amount about it, but ended up hanging it in the second bedroom like she’d said.
Despite the painting being virtually out-of-view in the back corner of our condo, its effects over me started rather immediately. That night, Lauren was reading a book on the couch. When she did this, I usually played a video game and sat next to her, and we’d call that our ‘relaxation time’ together. But after hanging the painting, I never left that second bedroom. I stared at it and lost myself in its beauty, nearly dropping the hammer on my foot that I’d used to set the nail. It wasn’t just black splotches to me: it was a masterpiece of dancing figures packed with emotion. And I felt it speak to me, not in the way that a painting “speaks” to a person metaphorically – it actually spoke. In my head I heard its story – its pain and struggle and its journey that landed it behind a clothing rack in a pop-up thrift store. Despite its modern style, it was old and worn and told me it was glad to have found a home. But it wanted certain assurances it wasn’t sure I could provide. I tried to reassure it that it had finally found its home and that –
“Jasper?” I heard a concerned tone from behind me and jumped. It was Lauren, leaning on the doorway. “Are you okay? You’ve been in here for hours.”
I couldn’t respond, I felt like I’d never met her in my life. I felt like I’d gone on the journey of a couple lifetimes and somehow ended up in a room I’d never been in before, approached by this concerned woman whom I’d never seen. I felt like she was some home invader I had to defend myself and more so the painting against.
“You’re sweating, Jasper. What’s wrong?”
I just shook my head and dabbed my forehead with my shirt. “Nothing,” I told her. “It’s just hot in here.” But it wasn’t at all: the thermostat was set to around 68 degrees; Lauren liked to keep it cold.
When I finally left the room, I felt my body pulling in the other direction. My feet hardly cooperated as I dragged each foot through the doorway, leaving the painting behind as it…no, I must have been hallucinating.
Only the next night, I found myself again in that second bedroom, sitting on the edge of our guest bed and staring up at those black splotches. The room was poorly lit since one of the lightbulbs had gone out a couple weeks back and I hadn’t replaced it yet. But I could still see the painting just fine. The splotches leaped and swayed as they continued their harrowing tale and voiced their concerns. They told me they’d never met anyone as passionate as me. They told me they didn’t see the same virtues in Lauren. They told me she had just agreed to bring the painting home because she was trying to encourage my pursuit of the arts – she hated it. I knew it was correct. And suddenly…I hated her.
“Jasper?” I heard again, this time with less surprise. She sounded so shrill and nagging. I could hear her disdain for the painting shaking in her voice.
“What?” I said. I realized I snapped more than I meant to – or maybe it was just the right amount.
“Don’t yell at me,” she scolded. “What are you doing up so early?”
I blinked a few times, then rubbed my eyes. I turned to her and saw her scrunched up exhausted expression. Early? What did she mean by early? I hadn’t gone to bed yet at all. I looked at my watch and saw the time – 6:15am. I opened my mouth to answer her but had nothing to say. I couldn’t believe how long I’d been staring at that painting…eight hours straight. But as far as time goes in the presence of that painting, it felt like only minutes had passed.
These kinds of events went on and on for the next two weeks of which I don’t remember much. All I can tell you is how much I grew to love that painting. It was first captivating, but now I felt the need to be with it and defend it to my grave. It was like the life partner I always dreamed of and would never find in Lauren. The painting understands me and I understand it. And when I lost my job and Lauren said she was going to stay at her mother’s, I found I couldn’t care less. “It’s me or the painting,” she cried. I’ve never heard of an easier decision in my life.
The painting wanted it this way anyways: more time for us to be together…alone. The other light in the second bedroom is out now, but I can still see the painting, dancing through the darkness. And even as I write this I hear it calling again. It wants to spend some relaxation time together – just a little longer now.