The Artist’s Heart by P.J. Kaiser
The young man, his bejeweled girlfriend draped over the arm of his cream-colored formal jacket, stared at me intently. He interrupted my description of how I mixed the colors for the painting before us. “But what inspired you to paint this winter scene from Central Park?”
I thought for a moment and shook my head. “Oh, I don’t know. Where does anybody get inspiration? A walk through the park on a winter’s day … the way the icicles form on the tree branches … the way the snow flutters to the ground when the breeze blows …”
“Beautiful. Just beautiful.”
I wasn’t sure whether he was referring to the painting or my description, but I didn’t get a chance to ask. Marco, the gallery owner, came up behind me and grabbed my elbow pulling me away from the young couple.
“If you have any more questions, just email me, the address is in the brochure.” The man nodded and turned back toward the painting.
“Marco, what are you doing? Those were potential customers.” I adjusted my velvet dress on my shoulders as we walked.
“Listen. I have big news for you.” He continued tugging on my elbow through a labyrinth of my colorful paintings. Finally, we were out of hearing range of the art show guests. “We have sold four of your paintings.”
“Four, that’s great! I..”
“But that’s not the best part. One of the customers wants to hire you for a commission piece. Eight thousand dollars for a painting of a human heart.”
I recoiled. “Eww. I’m not going to paint a human heart.”
His grey eyes grew gentle. “Just listen. It’s for Dr. Whittaker. He’s a famous heart surgeon. He wants an oversized linen canvas for his doctor’s office and you can take as long as you want.”
My pursed lips turned up into a smile. “A doctor’s office? Well, that could get me a lot of good exposure. Okay. I’ll do it.”
Marco hugged me and scurried off. Still nodding and smiling, I turned my head and met the gaze of a tuxedoed man leaning against a column. He returned my smile and walked toward me. He spoke in a smooth baritone. “You look like you’ve gotten some good news.”
“Yes, I’ve sold several paintings and I just received a commission.”
His eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled again. “That’s wonderful news. My name’s Richard. How about if I take you out for a drink to celebrate?”
“Well …” I was put off by his forwardness, but his smile was so warm and genuine, I found myself saying, “Maybe after the show. I can’t leave just yet.”
“Yes, of course. Take your time.”
Through the crowd, those brown eyes of his were never far away as I saw to my customers, potential customers and patrons. He looked like a blend of intellectual and beatnik with an intriguing smile.
As black tuxedoes and colorful taffeta dresses trickled out at the end of the evening, he stood in front of the picture window by the gallery door. The track light reflected off his glasses, but I could tell his eyes were focused only on me. I slipped my arm through his and we went to the wine bar across the street. Questions and conversation flowed as easily as the merlot on that April evening. And so began our romance.
The next day I bought the materials for my commissioned painting and began work in my loft studio in Soho. I studied pictures and drawings of human hearts and began framing the painting; measuring out the space on the giant canvas. In the next days, Richard and I became inexorably intertwined and the painting began to take shape. Ventricles and arteries came to life in vivid pyrrole orange, quinacridone red and cadmium red. The colors on the canvas echoed the passion screaming through my veins.
Summer came and Richard and I savored each other and the warm breezes. We left galleries and bars behind and moved on to biking and picnicking. We explored the city even as we explored each other. A laugh here, an embrace there. A soft kiss on our picnic blanket in Central Park. It all led to a depth of feeling that startled me in its intensity. It swept me away in its tight grasp. My painting took on new contours and patterns. Hansa yellow like the sunshine comprised sinew, providing a protective shell for the heart. Chromium oxide green like the leaves and grass provided soft shadows which gave the heart a depth that balanced its vibrancy.
Cooler autumn temperatures brought an inexplicable uneasiness. A pulling back, a shyness. Suddenly we found ourselves struggling to find our footing, searching for a toehold. The thread that had wound us so tightly during the summer began to fray and strain. The painting took on a surreal quality as powerful swathes of cobalt blue, primary cyan and cerulean blue came to swallow the vibrant reds.
The heart looked troubled when Richard dealt the final blow and left me as the first snow fell. Zinc white and titanium white intermingled among the blues looking like snowflakes and oxygen-starved cells.
Through my tears, I stared at the heart. There it lay on the canvas – the entire story of our love. Traces of all the colors could still be seen and they read themselves to me like a diary. Valves, atriums and veins spoke in a cacophony.
I called Marco and asked him if he could arrange for the painting to be picked up that afternoon. He eagerly agreed. Two hours later, workers arrived to dismantle the frame and roll the painting for transport. They carried the painting out and my heart sighed.
P.J. Kaiser stays at home in Hoboken, New Jersey with her two children and writes between loads of laundry. She writes mostly short fiction and hasn’t settled on a genre yet. She has been published various anthologies including “Best of Friday Flash Vol. 1,” “50 Stories for Pakistan,” “100 Stories for Queensland,” and the latest anthology from eMergent Publishing, “Nothing But Flowers.” She can be found at her blog Inspired by Real Life.