Suggested by: Cheryl Fasset
Name: Jane Austen
Place: Central Park, New York City
Time: Stone Age
"The Artist's Wife"
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man who spends all his time in the garret inhaling paint fumes instead of eating must be in want of his wife!"
I saw the sharpish, lanky head of dark hair emerge from behind the canvas, and two green eyes fixed on me in some mild confusion.
"Oh Paul!" I ran around behind him and threw my arms over his shoulders, nearly grazing the painting as I did so.
That earned me a chuckle. Say what they like, but I could still make him laugh. "Paraphrasing Jane Austen, are we?" He grabbed my hands and tenderly kissed my wrist.
"Yes," I said, pulling back to massage his shoulders. Two good rubs and they dropped like counterweights. "I can do Shakespeare next time, if you like."
"You did last time, remember?" Paul murmured. "You came in barefoot with your hair all down, and you said, 'O Paul, Paul! Wherefore art thou an artist? Deny thy paints and refuse thy canvas!'"
I laughed and grabbed his arm, pulling him off that tiny stool he insisted on using, though it brought his knees up to his elbows.
"Or if thou wilt not," I continued, "be but sworn my love, and I'll be no longer a bother!"
Paul gave a hearty laugh at this, and reached for my other hand. Humming softly, he began leading me in a simple waltz step. I followed him. We danced among those canvases—some finished, some not. He had been working himself silly lately, but in that kaleidoscope of color swirling around us, I saw the unfolding of a master. The broad scenes that at first appeared to be nebulous swaths of color took their shapes and became tender blossoms swaying in the wind, or a captive moment of unbridled joy as half-naked boys staved off summer heat and washed away the taints of formal education with a leap into the lake.
Paul spun me away and back again, holding me close and swaying gently. His long, strong, weathered fingers threaded between my short, soft ones. He smelled of turpentine and talc, and I could barely detect traces of the lavender he tried to use for air freshener.
I suppose if he wanted fresher air, he could paint less, I thought, but I knew the idea was ridiculous even as it crossed my mind. Paul? Paint less? He wouldn't be much like my Paul, then, would he? I giggled.
Paul's long nose stroked my cheek. "What?" He whispered, bending down to kiss my neck.
I reached up and buried my fingers in his hair. It left a sheen of grease and paint on my hand. Gracious! How long had it been since the man showered?
"Nothing," I said, resting in his embrace. "I miss you, is all."
He sighed. "Betty, I'm sorry—"
"Don't be." I turned to face him. "You listen to me, Paul Robert Williamson! Don't think for one minute I didn't know what I was getting into when I married you! Other people might have passed you off as 'just another starving artist', but I saw a young man who was noble, and honest, and kind, and gentle, and brave, and very motivated, and just the sort of man for my husband!”
We wandered over to the single floor-length window that gave a spectacular view of Central Park—Paul’s source of inspiration, whether he actually painted what he saw, or the different perspective conjured imaginary images.
The shadows of the afternoon superimposed our reflections over the view of the park.
“Look at us, Betty,” Paul muttered. “You’re working while I’m home painting, we’re living by our shoestrings—and you tell me this is the life you want?”
“I do!” I held his hands as I had on our wedding day, saying those same words and firmly placing my whole heart behind them. “You’re an amazing artist, Paul, and that isn’t just because I love you!”
The smile dropped a little on one side, into a smirk. “Yes, but it does help, to be known.” He rubbed the back of his neck, leaving a little streak of blue by his ear. “I just don’t know, Betty; the show is next week and lately I’ve been wondering if all this is good enough.” He waved a hand at the canvas garden surrounding us.
“Good enough?” I squealed back. “Paul, how could you? You’ve been working so hard this whole time. Nobody else can know the hours you’ve slaved, the sleep you’ve given up, the wife you’ve forgotten—“ I said it with a smile to let him know that I wasn’t holding any grudges—“To make this your crowning achievement! You have always made sure that everything you have ever produced is the absolute best you could possibly do.”
He shrugged one thin shoulder. “I don’t know; I mean, ‘art’ is such a fluid concept these days… Don’t you think representational pantings like mine are a little archaic?”
I shook my head. “Archaic means nothing; art is the expression of the artist’s soul; theirs might look like so many random blotches and dashes, but this—“ I pointed to a nearby painting, one of an angel looking down upon the first days of Adam. That one had taken a whole weekend of us together, getting the details, the proportions, and the faces just right. We were newlyweds, very confident about one another, but still learning about each other. It certainly showed, as the angel gazed down, unseen, in tender, devoted love, while naïve and innocent Adam peered around him in boyish wonder. It was my favorite of all Paul’s expressions, a sign that his imagination was alive and well, even in adulthood. "This is yours."
I stared right into his eyes as I said quietly. “I firmly believe that next week’s exhibit will be the single greatest display of art since the Stone Age exhibit at the Museum of Natural History!” I poked him in the chest with one of his paintbrushes.
Paul took the paintbrush out of my hand. His grin made his whole face glow at the prospect. Winking at me, he tickled my nose with the paintbrush.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked. “The Starving Artist is famished.”