Kaja throws a random disk from my collection into the player, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and cranks the volume. I start listening to Fifty-one Pieces as through Kaja's ears, for the first time ever. The song comes alive as it hasn't for years, and I nod with the music, smiling with the rush of adrenalin.
It's been too long.
The problem with perfection is that it takes so long to achieve. Cross Canadian Ragweed had achieved a perfection all their own. I'm still looking for mine.
Kaja pours some wine and sits next to me. I'm a little uncomfortable. I had a crush on her for years.
"Will you go back to school?" she asks.
I'd been majoring in art. "Maybe." Ironically, I haven't painted anything decent in months. In fact, I haven't even wanted to.
Nowadays, I struggle just to get out of bed.
She sips her wine, smiles at the next song, Blue Bonnet, then stands to admire a painting hanging over the couch. She says nothing, simply studying it. I let her, taking in her fine, thin frame, her Eastern European wavy black hair, her slightly-humped nose which conforms attractively to her face. She is studying my painting, the one I did my senior year in high school, the one that made me decide to major in art. She studies it intently with her brilliant green eyes, and I realize that I want her to look at me the same way.
"Did you paint this?" she asks.
I stop staring and stand to look at my painting, seeing it with her for the first time, once again.
"Yes, I did." It's a family farm, set anywhere, soon after the first world war. Chickens and barefoot children help capture the innocence of farm-life in the era, yet the sky above the distant cornfields appears ominous. Such a painting would have been considered too literal by my college professors.
"It's pure," she says. "It's perfect." Her intense green eyes glance at me.
"Thank you," I reply, but I know. It's not perfect. It's good, but not yet there. I've never painted anything perfectly and I'm tired of trying. That's why I left, to recapture the enthusiasm I'd lost sometime over the last three years. Or perhaps simply, to give up. "It's alright."
Staring at the painting, a gentle smile spreads across her face. "Yeah," she says. "It's alright." She gazes at me. "You're alright, too."
I don't know what to do with that.
I think to take her in my arms, but she gently touches my chest and moves on across the room to another painting. It was one I did last year, an abstract. She gazes at it and then asks, "What is it?"
I can't answer, though my professor had said I was getting closer to my relative truth, that my art had advanced to the next plateau.
Her green eyes are staring at me and I need to say something. "It's an abstract," I mumble.
"I can see that," she laughs, "but what's it an abstract of?"
I pause. "It's called, Time Travel." The name sounds pompous. She studies it a moment while Cross Canadian Ragweed plays their perfect music, then moves on to another painting, hanging in my hall.
The abstract in the hall has a nice balance of mood and color. I'd painted it the previous fall and had been reasonably happy with it at the time. My professor, the head of the undergraduate art department, said that it lacked depth. She may have been right, but how would I know?
"Do you feel something when you paint these?" she asks.
I pause again, then blurt out the truth. "Mostly just depressed."
Her green eyes smile. I shrug.
She wanders into my studio, glancing at my empty canvases and unused paints, as I follow. She pauses in front of an empty canvas.
I put my hand lightly on her back and she turns to face me. She's standing close.
"You know," she says, "you're talented. You can create anything. Anything at all."
I smile reflexively, but then her words sink in.
"Tell me a story," she says. "Paint it. Make it real. Make it pure. Make it true."
Cross Canadian Ragweed is playing perfectly in the background and her perfect green eyes are gazing at me intently.
Maybe some things are true.
"Paint it like you believe it," she says.
And for the first time in years, I actually want to try.
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