I stand by my front window, where the light is best this time of day, gazing at the white void, praying for inspiration. The blank canvas taunts me. Where to begin? It’s always like this when I start a new painting. It has to mean something. I need feeling and life. Right now, all I have is emptiness.
My roommate and best friend, Jackson, always teases me about my process—or in his words my “idiosyncrasies.” My last painting took me over a month to complete, but the first ten days was like this one, staring at the canvas before I pressed a brush filled with paint to its surface.
Out of the corner of my eye, through the window, I see one of my new neighbors walking up the sidewalk. Ava Stone is pregnant and is carrying a big box. In her current condition I wonder if she should be lifting heavy things.
She and her good-looking cowboy, Luke Wagner, are moving into the apartment next to Jackson’s and mine—Unit E. That leaves Oliver’s old apartment, Unit F, as the only vacancy at Mockingbird Place. I met the couple at the complex’s yard sale when they were taking a look at the apartment. They were living in a motel so that Ava could start her classes at the university on time until they could find a place to rent. Ava and Luke’s new home had been empty for quite some time. Until now. I’m glad it’s finally going to be occupied and hope the new couple will be good neighbors. And most of all I have to stop thinking about one of them.
I’ve never been attracted to cowboys before, but there is something about Luke that I can’t quite seem to shake. But I need to. He’s obviously taken and straight.
When Ava smiles at me as she turns to go into her apartment, I wave.
Glancing back at my canvas, I feel so frustrated. I’m no closer to an idea than before. Why do I do this to myself? No one will ever see this work when it’s completed. This painting is for my eyes only now that Malcolm is gone. He was the only one I was ever comfortable sharing my work with. He got it. He knew what I was trying to say with each piece.
Like everyone else at Mockingbird Place, I thought he would live forever, even though he was eighty-two when he died. In June, we had his memorial in the courtyard and planted a tree in his honor near the pool.
I see Ava heading back to the parking lot and wonder how many more boxes she and her boyfriend have to unload. I decide to finish my coffee before I put my brushes away and help them.
I step back from the blank canvas. Should I paint another portrait of Malcolm? No. I just can’t bring myself to paint him again. It hurts too much. I need more time. Right now, I could use an idea for this canvas, but I’m at a total loss. Damn it.
My art continues to be therapeutic for me. When I was twelve years old my counselor suggested art therapy and I found my passion. I can place myself inside my paintings, feeling the breeze on my skin or hearing the crashing of the waves on the shore. I’m there and I don’t feel the pain. Still, my paintings allow me to gaze into the darkness of my past. They also help me release the tension and anxiety.
Actually, I wish all of my paintings could remain private. Each is so personal and carries its own meaning. Whenever anyone looks at my paintings I feel exposed and vulnerable. Dirty. I wonder if people can see my younger self weeping from the despair in my brush strokes. I definitely can, no matter the composition I’ve created, whether beach or mountain scene, whether wild animal or newborn baby, whether impressionistic or realistic. Each painting carries drops of the pain from my past.
Two of my pieces were on display for my professors to judge. I wonder if it was worth the As I got on both, because it nearly wrecked me until I was able to take them back to my storage unit. That’s where I keep my completed paintings.
This semester is so much better than last. I have a fantastic schedule and only have to be on campus two days a week. The rest of the week is mine. All mine. And the classes that I am taking don’t require students to create and present a work of art, unlike last semester.
As I put my empty cup down, I see Ava collapse and the box she was carrying crash to the ground.
A blast of electricity shoots through my body, and I toss my brushes aside and rush out my door.
“Ava. Ava.” I lift her head off the ground and start shouting for her boyfriend. “Luke. Get out here. Ava has passed out.” Where the hell is he?
Her eyes open. “What happened?”
“You passed out and fell,” I tell her.
“Oh no.” Ava rubs her hands over her belly. “Thank God, I just felt a kick. I think the baby is fine.”
Kick or not, I know she needs to see a doctor. “Where’s Luke?”
Before she can answer, I see him running up the sidewalk.
He kneels down next to me and shoves a sack in my chest. “My God, Ava, what happened?” he asks in his thick West Texas accent. “Are you okay?”