Jean brought the paintings into the office thinking she could put one above her desk, but when Sheila saw it she asked if they could bring it over to the client’s house. They had a meeting in forty-five minutes with an art dealer from Boston who was decorating a summer home.
Jean said yes. Sheila didn’t ask where it came from.
In the car on the way over they talked about their kids and Sheila talked about her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Sheila did most of the talking, because she was nervous. This client would be a big account. She was pretty sure she’d book them, but this was a final meeting, to secure the contract.
Jean’s paintings where mostly portraits, with abstract backgrounds. She sometimes painted at the beach. Early on a Sunday morning she’d drive down to the water and just watch. She’d watch until she had this feeling, almost like a ringing in the ear, or a word on the tip of her tongue, and then she’d do a quick sketch. Usually she’d try for three sketches before she committed to any of them. And then she’d look at the three before her and pick the one she wanted to sit with for a bit. That would be the start of the painting, but the painting would only come after a few days more sketching. She worked at her own pace, no rushing, no hesitating.
The one she’d brought into the office was strange to Jean, but she loved it. It was a chair by a window and outside the window was a woman in the garden, her face obscured by a low bush. She was on her hands and knees, her head right in the bush.
Jean was 42. 42, 42, 42. How did it happen? She still looked the way she thought she’d always looked. But then she’d see pictures and see the ways she changed.
Charlotte and Luisa. She’d thought she was old when she had them, she was 25 when she’d had Charlotte. Regret was far from the right word. What they gave her, what she took from herself in becoming their mother, it was a complicated math.
Maybe I should just worry about nothing. Just be happy.
Why can I see how younger people don’t know anything, not a thing, but when it’s me I think I should know something? What am I saying? I don’t know how to work hard, do I?
On the days she painted or sketched well, Jean felt her body like when she was a kid. She felt her body like there was nothing in between the her that lived inside it and the body itself. Sometimes life dropped a wall there. Or sometimes she built a wall with worry and thinking.
In the woods behind the house, the morning she’d sketched the woman on her hands and knees, she’d gone back to the house craving touch. When Daniel wasn’t there, she lay down on the couch in the living room and touched herself. Had she been that wet in her whole lifetime?