She was an artist. A brilliant one. I loved her work but she never did. I worked in sales at a local insurance company just around the corner from my apartment and during the days I would go to work, and she would stay and paint. She was building a name as a good local artist. She had a regular supply of customers, and although she may have been her own biggest critic, she had a certain fire in her for art. She would be without critique while she painted, and that was what made her so good, she just flowed, without thought, and what she would produce was remarkable. The energy of the colours made it not at all seem as if someone had just brushed a load of paint over a page. It was so much more than that. It was like a direct transmission from her soul when she painted, like your were stepping into another realm that she was giving you access to. I had a picture of hers up on the wall, which she always looked at when she walked past, with an air of distaste.
“The colours are not rich enough,” she would say about one painting. “There is not enough detail here,” she would say about another. They both looked brilliant to me, and she would snap that it was because I knew nothing about art that I would say that, or that I was just trying to make her feel better. Thankfully, however, she didn’t allow her neurosis to interfere with her work. She wouldn’t fiddle and get involved with the work after she’d finished. She would just critique it herself.
“Do you think you would sell even more, at higher prices, if you never criticised your work?” I asked her one morning as I watched her sitting on a stool, white, paint-covered t-shirt and grey tracksuit bottoms which always showed her shape so nicely, as she was creating something new, almost furiously.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Probably not or maybe.” She never liked me talking to her while she was painting. Whenever I did I could feel a fury rising from out of her. So I just left, and went to work.
Work, for me, I had realised, was ridiculous. I would go to this place, sell insurance to people for a company I didn’t even particularly like, and then I would come home in the evenings, with most of my day gone. I was used to it, I had been at the same place since I was a teenager, and it had always been a nice safe job. But now it did just seem ridiculous. ‘What am I doing?’ was my thought as I left each morning, tired and wishing I could stay in bed or watch my wife create her wonderful things. What am I doing? It would haunt me as I would walk down the road, with the closed, tight pain behind my eyes, looking around at the grey street and the grey road and the grey suits and the grey mood. What was I doing?
We were in bed together one night, in each other’s arms. Her arms and body were always so smooth.
“I don’t know what I’m doing at my job, you know, Clara.” I said, looking up at the ceiling, and stroking her skin gently.
There was a silence.
“What do you mean?” she asked. Her voice vibrated my chest.
“I mean it’s ridiculous, what I do. I don’t know why I do it.”
“For money.” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “for money, but, isn’t there another way? Could I not earn money doing something creative? Something I enjoy? Like you?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, you could. Like what?”
“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “I have no idea. I’ve never been a very creative person. Did you always want to paint, I mean from a very young age?” I felt I should have known this already. I really didn’t know her very well, at all. I felt, at the time, that I knew her heart, her soul, and her history paled in comparison.
“Yes.” she said, “I always knew. I always loved to paint and always wanted to do it. You never liked to do anything like that? Draw? Write? Sing? Play an instrument? Dance? Anything?”
“No, not really,” I said.
I always remembered doing all those sorts of things as a kid, dancing, playing, drawing, writing stories, things like that. They were all pretty easy, but when I grew up I had to go and get a job, something that would be sure to pay regularly. I went to bed that night with her in my arms, wondering if I would even go to work the next day.