He painted her a picture. He showed it to her one Tuesday, after she got off work. He had been working on it for a while and finally decided it was finished. He knew he was done with the painting, that he wasn’t going to add or subtract anything, but he still wasn’t a hundred percent sure he was ready for her to see it. But the day had come.
It was pretty, she thought. Very detailed. She could tell it must have taken him a very long time to paint it. It was a painting of her office, from a high angle so all the cubicles looked like an empty box of chocolates. It was disquietingly accurate. She could see Felix from accounting, headphones on, watching something on Netflix at his desk. Next to him was Amir, spreading hot Cheeto dust from his fingers onto his keyboard.
And then there was her cubicle. She could see herself, from above, unaware that she was being watched. And she looked so sad, in the painting. The light in her cubicle was different from the light elsewhere. It was the clear center of the picture, right where the eye was immediately drawn. At least that was his intention.
There she was, bathed in a blue light that didn’t shine down from above so much as rise from her space, a pillar of sapphire, continuing on past the top of the frame. In the light, her figure was hunched over some papers, the heel of her right hand dug into her right eye. She could practically hear her own sigh.
She stared at the painting for a long time. He watched as she took it in, nervous but proud, half smile on his face. Her expression was tougher to read. He couldn’t tell if she liked it or not, but assumed she was moved. She reached out and touched the canvas. The paint was dry — oil paint — and it felt largely like she’d expected it to. Her expression remained neutral.
Then she clawed at the painting, scratching at it with her nail extensions, vestiges of the party that weekend. One broke off. Her face still unreadable, she went on to kick it, a swift karate move by which she tore a hole in the canvas with the heel of her work shoe. The tearing sound cut through the room.
She lost her balance a little bit and he stepped over to steady her.
He was shocked and confused. His meticulous painting now had a random hole, up and to the left of where her cubicle was, right through the water cooler. She looked at him, tears in her eyes.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
She was fully in his arms then and he held her tighter, her face burying itself in the shoulder of his paint-stained Black Flag t-shirt. He managed a chuckle.
“It is now,” he said.
She laughed too — thank god she laughed too — and they turned so they were both facing the painting, tears still on her face, his arm around her back, hers around his waist. They smiled and looked at the painting they’d made.
“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes dry with her sleeve. “I just thought it needed something.”
“Eh,” he shrugged. “I didn’t think I’d quite nailed the water in the water cooler anyway. Tough to get that translucency with oils.”
“I thought you did all right. Though, I guess I’m not surprised that’s where my foot went. It’s the sloppiest brushwork in the piece.”
“Couldn’t’ve done it better had you aimed. I think it adds a nice 3D element.”
“Yeah, you handled the forced perspective stuff really well but the rip reminds you you’re looking at a flat canvas.”
“I think it works. Maybe that’ll be my thing now. My art world gimmick. Our meal ticket. Don’t go donating those shoes to Goodwill.”
“These are sensible heels I can wear to work that go with anything. I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of these even if they weren’t badass art kickers.”
He turned to her and smiled. She turned and met his gaze, her eyes still shimmering with leftover tears. “Happy birthday, you beautiful little badass art kicker.”
Michael Chapey lives in Los Angeles. He’s had stuff published in the Vestal Review and the Write Launch. As of the time of this writing, he has seen the band Bon Jovi perform live on three separate occasions.