She didn’t respond.
“Have you had dinner yet? Where are the kids?”
“Yes, we ate. The kids went to play for a little while at Katie and André’s house,” Ana replied mechanically, staring blankly ahead.
“Have they finished their homework?”
“They’ll do it when they get back from their friends.” Ana stood up and headed to the bedroom to avoid further conversation.
As she was about to turn into the hallway, Rob asked her again: “Is anything wrong?”
Even that minimal show of concern transformed her state of shock into one of pain: “Tracy won’t be showing my art in her gallery anymore,” she turned to her husband, mortified by the bad news she had just delivered.
“What do you mean?”
“She said my paintings are too depressing. People want more cheerful art nowadays.”
“How many times did I tell you to stop painting those corpses?” her husband snapped at her.
Ana stared at him in silence.
“You’ve blown your only opportunity to sell your paintings. Now you’ll be spending your time down in the basement doodling only for yourself,” Rob summed up the situation. Then he went into his office.
Ana followed her husband’s receding figure with a gaze filled with contempt. This man has no heart, she thought to herself. Whenever I’m down, he only pushes me lower. As for pleasure, he doesn’t even know the meaning of the word. Recent memories of her romantic dates with Michael momentarily displaced Ana’s sense of defeat. She went into the bedroom, looked the door and quickly dialed her lover’s number. “Michael?”
“What’s wrong, Baby?” he immediately picked up on her anxious tone.
“Tracy threw me out of her gallery. She said my paintings are too depressing,” Ana told him in one breath.
“Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry… I wish I could be there right now to hold you in my arms and comfort you. Do you want to come by my place for a few minutes?
“Yes,” she replied without hesitation. “I’ll be right over.”
As soon as Ana stepped into his apartment, Michael wrapped his arms around her. He rocked her gently back and forth. “It will be alright, Baby. You’ll see. We’ll find you a much cooler gallery.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better,” Ana protested, though his tender demeanor instantly improved her disposition.
“You don’t believe me? Alright then, I’ll put my money where my mouth is,” Michael responded to her challenge. He led her by the hand to his computer. Ana sat on his lap. They began to look on the internet for local galleries. They narrowed down the search to ten places--seven in the Chicago area and three in downtown Detroit—all of which featured some artwork similar in style to Ana’s.
After they made a list of their contact information and submission requirements, she felt somewhat relieved. “Well, it’s a start,” she remarked. “What would I do without you?” she turned around to look gratefully into his eyes.
“You’d be just fine. You’re like a cat always landing on its paws. You’d find yourself another lover in no time. Probably one who owns a gallery,” Michael replied with a smile.
“You’re the only man I want,” Ana declared, sealing her words with a kiss. “Do you believe me?” she asked him afterwards, quizzing him with her dark eyes.
“Maybe…” he responded playfully. “And you’re the only woman for me,” he reciprocated.
Touched by her lover’s affection, Ana’s thoughts turned, by way of contrast, to her husband. Her resentment quickly resurfaced. “Not only did Rob not help me, but he also blamed me for the whole fiasco.”
“Don’t pay any attention to him. Rob doesn’t know anything about the art world. He’s in a regular profession, not this arbitrary zoo of taste,” Michael shrugged off the comment.
“You wouldn’t believe what he said! That I should paint cheerful stuff that sells. He doesn’t care at all about artistic creation. All he thinks about is material success,” Ana pursued.
“Well, doesn’t Tracy care about the same thing?”
“Yeah, but only after selling my work in her gallery for how many years now? At least she tried,” she exculpated her friend.
“But, ultimately, it boiled down to money for her as well,” Michael stuck to his point.
“I’m so tired of depending upon the taste of others,” Ana commented with a sigh. “I wish people respected real art rather than wanting to put up boring pictures of pretty flowers on their walls.”
Michael examined her face, which, it occurred to him, resembled a flower. His glance moved over the petal-softness of her cheeks and lingered upon the delicate stem of her neck, framed by the bloom of her luxurious dark hair. “I love you so much,” he declared. “And I believe in your talent.”
Ana’s smile was grateful yet skeptical, as if she were accepting an empty compliment.
“I mean it,” Michael insisted. “You have a rare ability to convey human suffering without making it unbearable. You’re a damn good artist. Don’t worry about what others say or about what they buy and don’t buy. Just keep on painting your way.”
For several years, ever since college, Ana hadn’t heard such compelling words of encouragement. “What if I fail despite my best efforts?” she asked him.
“I won’t respect you one bit less,” Michael assured her. “What matters most is creating something that has value for you. If others like it, that’s great. If not, just think of it as their loss, not yours.”
“Mine too, if I don’t make any money,” Ana responded more pragmatically. “You know, sometimes you really surprise me, Michael. I wouldn’t have pegged you as an anti-materialist.”
“If I ever have the fortune of marrying you, you won’t have to worry about how much money your artwork makes anymore. I’ll support you and the kids. Your only job would be to produce the best art you can create. I believe in you, Ana,” he gazed steadily into her eyes.
Her lover’s words were music to her ears. For as long as she could remember, Ana longed to be an artist. With or without the money. With or without the external recognition. Michael was the only person she had met who not only respected that dream, but was also willing to support it. There was only one little glitch in this perfect picture. “How would you be able to support me and the kids, when all you make is 12,000 dollars a year from your teaching assistantship?”
“You forget that I’m getting my degree this spring,” he reminded her. “Hopefully, I’ll get a teaching position in French at a decent prep. school. They generally pay about 50,000 bucks a year. Money would be tight, no doubt. But we’d have enough for a family of four. Especially since, I presume, Rob would chip in and help support his kids,” he calculated. “But there’s no way in hell that I’d ever be like him and discourage your goals,” he underscored his main point, which seemed to have left a deep impression upon his girlfriend. “I know how important painting is for you and I promise to do everything I can to make you happy.”
“… and, above all, to make yourself happy,” she added with a smile, recognizing a hedonist when she saw one.
“Hey, I look out for number one!” he unabashedly admitted.
Strangely enough, behind Michael’s every declaration of love, Ana sensed the ominous potential of its undoing. She couldn’t help but wonder if with the same fortuitous ease with which her lover became entirely devoted to her, he wouldn’t attach to some other object of affection and forget her in an instant.
Noticing the unsteadiness of her gaze, Michael thought that he had been too forward, forcing her hand once again on the divorce issue. “If you wish, I’ll wait ten years to marry you. Until Allen goes off to college,” he said, moved by a blend of spontaneous verbal generosity mixed with the cunning intuition that was exactly what Ana needed to hear at the moment.
She looked up, surprised by this concession: “Do you really mean it?”
“Absolutely. In fact, I’d wait for you my entire life,” he continued, encouraged by her grateful gaze. “That’s how sure I am that you’re the only woman for me.”
“That’s got to be the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me,” she responded, moved.
Michael proceeded to prove the depth of his feelings through his usual show of tenderness and sensuality.
But after only a few minutes, Ana jumped up from his lap. “Oh my Gosh! I’ve got to get home right away. I was so upset, I left without even telling Rob that I was leaving. He’s probably looking for me as we speak.”
“Don’t worry about it. He might just be enjoying a few minutes of peace and quiet at his computer.”
“Not likely, since the kids are back home from their friends’ house. They probably need my help with their homework,” she pulled away, picked up her coat and hastened towards the front door. “I love you!” she turned to blow her lover a kiss. “You’ve made me feel so much better, you know that? You’re absolutely wonderful.”
“We’ll finish up those gallery applications next week,” Michael poked his head out the door, following his girlfriend with avid eyes, his desire fanned by their interrupted caresses.