I found a sort of skull in the garden.
You did? Let me see.
I didn’t bring it inside. It’s a skull.
Well, what kind of animal is it from?
I don’t know. Do I look like a zoologist? All I know is that it’s small and must be old because there’s no meat left on it.
That’s a relief, at least.
She dipped her brush into a glob of red paint.
I guess. Hopefully it’s from one of the raccoons. They keep digging through the trash. I wake up and find bits of food scattered about the yard.
He noticed that her colors were bolder than usual. Deep reds snaked their way across the black canvas.
At this rate, it’ll take me years to finish, she said as she dragged her brush at an odd angle.
It makes plenty of sense, she replied.
Dip-dip-dip into the red paint.
What are you painting, anyway?
He took his boots off and placed them beside the door. They sat like decaying relics next to her tiny shoes.
I’m not sure. It started off as something, I think. But I lost it. I forgot what it was supposed to be. It’ll turn into something eventually. I’ve been considering it for a while. What do you think it is?
I’m not one to say.
No, go ahead and say. I want to know.
He contemplated the various colored streaks. His eyes finally rested upon a solitary dab of blue in the upper-right of the canvas.
What? I don’t know then.
Painting is about expression, she said. You really think I’d want to express a galaxy? If there’s anything that doesn’t make sense, it’s that.
He sat on the sofa behind her and stared at the back of her head. He loved to watch her paint. It was the only thing that made sense to him, really. He thought back to when they’d first met. It was her work that he’d first fallen in love with. She came later. He didn’t think she was beautiful. She was nothing to marvel at. Her eyes were small crescent moons sunken into plump, red cheeks. She reminded him of his aunt. He shook the thought from his head. But, her paintings attracted him. The first time he saw one, he was struck with the painful realization that it was the first beautiful thing he’d seen in years.
They had come into his life when he’d wandered into a small gallery tucked away between an apartment building and a deli. It was just a place to escape the cold. He meandered about and it didn’t take long before he spotted it – a large canvas of mottled greens and browns. He had the impression that the twisted shades of brown were slowly contorting into faces. It made him feel calm if not a little sad. As people weaved in and out of the gallery, he merely stood frozen before the painting. After an hour a young woman in her twenties, smartly dressed with her chestnut hair pinned at the base of her neck, approached him. She introduced herself as the artist and made it known in no uncertain terms that he’d have to purchase the painting if he intended to stare at it all night. But, he’d only been in the city for a few months. His pockets held no more than fifty cents. He told her that he was also an artist. A writer. She seemed to perk up when he mentioned that he’d had a few stories published back home. Then, she rocked a bit on her heels when he stated that he hadn’t so much as written a word since before the war. She cleared her throat. That night, he ended up spending the last of his fifty cents on sandwiches at the deli next door. He learned that she hated the city just as much as he did. She’d been born on a small farm but came to the city with her parents in ’34. Her siblings had chosen to stay behind. He thought about that for a moment and then asked whether she’d heard from them. The war had ended, he told her.
She shook her head. By the end of that night, he’d come to the realization that he could indeed come to love her given enough time. He thought of the contorted faces. After two years, they married and rented a small house outside of the city with the help of her parents. It wasn’t much but it did have a yard. Originally he’d hoped to do his writing there. Nothing had come of it and instead he spent his time tending to the small garden he’d filled with aromatic herbs and flowers. His mind had dried up. It had been six years since that night in the gallery. They’d never spoken of her sisters again. He looked at her now and questioned whether he’d ever really come to love her.
Could you answer a question? he finally asked.
I don’t know. I guess I could.
Do you think I’d be able to work if it hadn’t been for the camps?
She placed her brush into a small cup of water and took a breath. He sunk back into the sofa.
I don’t know. I’d like to not talk about it.
Nobody knows for sure. I’m just asking your opinion.
Well, you haven’t written a damn thing in years. The typewriter hasn’t been touched. All you do is sit here and watch me paint. Sometimes, you putter in that garden of yours planting herbs we don’t need and flowers I don’t like. At night, you act like a stranger. Like a visitor in your own home. That’s my opinion.
I think I’ll go take another look at that skull.
He rose from the sofa and slipped his boots back on.
You do that.
Dip-dip-dip and a splatter of red paint.
Angel T. Dionne writes in Edmundston, New Brunswick. She is currently an English professor at the University of Moncton Edmundston Campus. Her areas of interest include Jewish literature, surrealism, and experimental prose. Her work has appeared in various publications including Crack the Spine, The Missing Slate, Sein Und Werden, and Good Morning Magazine.