See last post for Part 1, or Sidney Says for brief synopsis-
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about” she said. “I don’t need it at all. I got the yen out of my blood a long time ago.”
“Did you?” he asked, making it sound more like a taunt than a question.
The man got more annoying with every minute. She looked forward to the after dinner debriefing with her husband when she’d tell him about her ordeal. Why had she been the one they’d seated next to the aging artist and why had he focused his ridicule on her? Who was he really and where had he come from in the first place? Her husband would have some answers.
“Too bad the rain didn’t hold off long enough for us to finish our coffee outside” her husband said, turning the intermittent switch on the car’s windshield wipers to high. Sheets of dark water poured down the glass while the wipers thrashed desperately to keep up. She leaned her forehead against the passenger side window and saw nothing but opaque phantoms floating in the steam rising from the hot summer pavement. A fluorescent glow from the dashboard lit her husband’s handsome, angular face.
“Couldn’t come soon enough for me,” she muttered.
“Cheery, aren’t we?” He sounded testy. Maybe he’d enjoyed being ignored by his dinner partners about as much as she’d appreciated her companion’s singular focus. He inched the car out of the restaurant parking space, checking side and rearview mirrors repeatedly as the visibility shut down to zero.
“They sat me next to that strange man who wouldn’t let me alone. He was relentless,” she moaned to secure sympathy; her husband offered none.
“He’s a really famous American artist. You’re just not used to creative people” he said, concentrating on pulling out onto the main street leading away from the restaurant.
“Don’t be ridiculous” she snapped back, surprised by her own anger. “I’m a creative person myself, so I appreciate artists.”
“Then what was annoying about him?” he asked. “You shouldn’t be so judgmental. He’s very successful. That probably made you feel inferior.”
“You don’t understand” she hissed to the wet window. “He was the one being judgmental without right or cause. He’s creepy. He made me very uncomfortable.” Her husband glanced over at her talking into the window. His look said she might be speaking a dead language.
“In what way uncomfortable?” he asked, snatching another glance at her sideways.
“Like…he knew me better than I know myself. We’ve never met before, for God’s sake, so the familiarity was …intrusive” she finished, struggling to explain.
“Why do you think people are always focused on you?” her husband asked. “He was probably just trying to be friendly. I’m sure he couldn’t have cared less.”
“You would think that,” she muttered back. “You don’t understand. You weren’t there; though I tried to get you to join in so you could help me. You were playing stupid games with the hussies next to you so my plea went ignored.”
Her husband pulled into their garage with a sigh of relief, possibly because the trip through the flooding streets was safely over to say nothing of their discussion. “Home at last,” he announced with a broad smile that exaggerated his jagged jaw and punctuated the end of their talk. “Nice evening in spite of the rain.” He turned off the car and got out. She stayed seated with her head pressed against the window. Pretending not to notice, he left her there and went inside.
“Lovely” the elderly gentleman buyer commented behind her, stepping back further to view the painting with more perspective. “This artist is so good with light it’s as if he’s found new material to paint with.”
She didn’t need to look around at him. His soft rounded voice described his age, manner and intention perfectly. The comment was clearly meant to be collaborative and nothing more.
“And what better way to demonstrate it than a plein air show built around beach and water” she responded. They both stood admiring the young Frenchman’s newest offering of sand, sky and sea in oil paint. It was a big picture and priced accordingly. She sighed wistfully and forced herself away from it to the next painting closer to the corner.
“What’s this?” she asked no one in particular. “It doesn’t look like his work. It can’t be.” She leaned in closer to read the label next to the dark, almost frightening canvas of an abandoned attic room filled with discarded things. The title on it was ‘Forgotten Life’.
“Whose is this?” she asked, squinting to read the signature. “Oh my lord, what’s he doing in this show?” Her aging hippy dinner partner was indeed the artist.
“I think the gallery is trying to help him gain some visibility” the elderly buyer next to her explained. “Nice of them to include his work in the show, even though it’s a little jarring next to the young Frenchman’s. It’s so sad,” he added.
“I thought he was famous” she said, mesmerized by the discovery on the wall. “Why would he need visibility? A dark, clever work like this is appreciated for some allegorical theme and because he’s popular now; though I can’t say which I like less, the art or the artist.”
“Why don’t you like this artist?” the gentleman asked in an aggravated whisper.
Aware she might be talking too loud, she straightened up and pulled herself away, moving on to look at a little sketch of the young French painter’s children dancing on the beach,.
“Oh, it’s silly really,” she admitted as lightly as possible and still talking to the wall. “He spent all of dinner a few weeks ago trying to convince me I hadn’t lived up to my dreams and would run out of time to make amends. I still don’t know why he felt he had the right to do that with a total stranger. Perhaps being famous and successful gives him a different license.”
“How odd” the elderly man replied, looking from the attic painting to her and back again. “His work hasn’t been in favor for a long time, actually, and hasn’t sold at all in this country. He was definitely a man who knew all about disappointment and lost opportunity.”
“Maybe I misunderstood,” she admitted. “But I’m sure his personality inflicts that kind of advice on everyone he meets. He seems uncomfortable with the status quo; an unhappy man who judges everyone by his own idiom.”
“I think not” said the gentleman, reeling back as if she’d pushed him. “I gather you haven’t heard. He died last month; a driving accident in a terrible rain storm. If you had dinner with him recently you may have been one of the last people to do so. I wonder if he had a premonition when he spoke to you of life.” Visibly shaken, he moved off to the bar, apparently seeking the anesthetic properties of alcohol.
She turned and stared after him, stunned by the blow his news delivered that the only man in the world who had ever known her was gone.
Short Story in two parts by Sidney S. Stark
Sidney S. Stark
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