The water raced along, ignorant of the brilliant sunshine gleaming off its surface. As I watch its seemingly endless progression, I feel it mocking my own life, forging ahead with no end goal in sight. Unlike me, the water doesn’t seem to have a problem with its race to nowhere. Also, unlike me, nature’s ‘race to nowhere’ usually has a purpose. That’s the flow of life. The creek, filled with rainfall, nourishes all life it touches. That is where the water and I metaphorically part ways. The ‘flow of life’ clearly forgot to carry me along in its journey. I’ve become the poster child for the title starving artist. I haven’t sold a painting in months, and my bank account has hit bottom, along with any inspiration for the next art piece. Apparently, an empty bank account = an empty stomach, resulting in an empty mind. Along with the flow of income, the flow of ideas has been swept away, like this never-ending creek.
After three hours of idle staring, I packed up my still-blank canvas and supplies and headed back to the apartment. It’s still mine for another week, barring an unexpected windfall – a hail Mary, if you will.
Walking home, I pause to hike the easel strap further up on my shoulder. A little girl’s laughter catches my attention as she skips along, not a care in the world; her smiling parents close behind. They stop to spread out a blanket, setting down a picnic basket. Her father begins to remove an endless array of food, and my stomach rumbles, reminding me of its current status. I swipe at the tears that hadn’t alerted me of their pending arrival. I hang my head and continue my trek toward my awaiting empty cupboard. I can’t ask to borrow any more money. You can’t keep borrowing what you can’t return.
As I reached my apartment, I caught the attention of a scroungy, stray cat. I don’t see a collar. “Hey there, buddy. You are definitely my spirit animal. I don’t have food to give you or either of us.” Using the railing to stand, I hike on my supplies. “What’s that?” I ask the air around me. It looks like a full, fast food bag. Curiosity getting the better of me, I drop my stuff again and open the bag, hoping for a morsel for my new friend. I inhale sharply, roll close the bag, grab my things, and race into my apartment, voicing my apologies to the kitty as I run. My heart’s beating faster than my feet are flying up the stairs. “No way! No way! No way!”
I drop my things on the foyer floor and hurry to the front window, drawing the curtains. Sitting on my couch, I place the bag in my lap, hesitating to open it again – for fear of what I believe I saw being there or not there. I once again slowly open the bag while drawing in a breath. Holding in that breath as if it were holding me together, I empty the contents onto my couch. Packs of hundred-dollar bills tumble out. I feel around the bag for a note, something to explain a large amount of cash. There’s nothing.
I’ve always been a moral person –honest to a fault. Any other time, literally any other, I wouldn’t hesitate. I’d have taken that bag straight to the police station. Then, why aren’t I leaving? This is probably drug money. No one throws thousands of dollars into a fast food bag, then loses it or throws it away unless they’ve committed a crime. Yeah, but what would it hurt to take a twenty? I’d be able to make a better decision if I wasn’t so damn hungry. I pull free a twenty and convince myself that the money is a gift from the universe; at least this twenty is –for now.
I shove the money in my pocket and pick up my art supplies, my automatic reaction before I leave my house. I decide to head to the center square. There’s a great food truck with the best Cuban sandwiches. After I pay, I head over to the large fountain, place down my supplies, and begin devouring my meal. Not paying attention to my surroundings, I audibly moan. I hear a man chuckle to my right. I turn to see him looking at me. “Oh, sorry. I was starving, and this tastes like heaven on bread.”
“Don’t apologize. I could use the laugh,” the man said.
“Then I’m glad to oblige,” I said before shoveling in more of my sandwich.
The man adjusted the tie of his three-piece suit. I can’t help but notice his laugh never reached his eyes. Empathy has always been my strong suit –much to my chagrin. Of course, I can’t keep my mouth shut, and I’m not talking about the sandwich. “I’m sorry, being forward is my superhero weakness. Are you okay? You don’t seem happy.”
“It’s that obvious?” he asked.
I simply shrug.
“Your superhero weakness is correct. I am having a rough day. Am I guessing correctly that art is your superhero strength?”
I glance at my portfolio. “I like to tell myself that.”
“May I have a peek inside?”
“Sure. Be gentle with your critique.”
“Of course,” he says, some sparkle returning to his eyes.
I watch him intently and can’t help but notice him inspecting each sketch with what seems to be skilled eyes.
“These are breathtaking. Where have you been all my life?”
“I can honestly say that’s a unique pick-up line.”
“Oh, geez, no. That wasn’t a pick-up line. My name is Brett. I’m an agent for a high-end company that looks for budding talent in art, music, and literature. I meant it when I said your work is breathtaking.”
“Wow, thank you. I haven’t had much luck with my art.”
“I understand. I haven’t had much luck as of late myself.”
“Is that why I sensed sadness?” I asked.
“Partly. I haven’t found any exceptional talent in quite a while. I know this is personal, but you’re easy to talk to.”
“Great, now I’m blushing,” I respond.
“My ex-wife cleaned out one of my accounts. Someone told the police they saw her running from the police holding a fast-food bag. They haven’t caught her yet. I’m guessing my money was in that bag. That’s what I get for not changing my PIN fast enough.”
Standing, I run my hand along the back of my neck. How do I tell this guy I have his money? How do I tell him I took some? I turn to him, not sure how to begin.
“Are you okay? Um, I don’t know your name,” he says.
“I’m Chloe. I’m not completely okay. This is all so crazy.”
“What is?” he asks, curious.
Chloe sighed. “I’ve never put too much stock in fate and coincidences, but this is incredible.” I look at Brett, and his face shows utter confusion. I spend the next few minutes telling him that I have his money. I explained how I found it and why I didn’t immediately turn it in to the police, taking the twenty for food. “I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll pay you back as soon as I can. Let me take you to your money. My apartment is just over there.”
“I’ll tell you what, Chloe, let me get that money and notify the police that it’s been found. Then, why don’t I come back and pick you up? I’ll take you to my office. Bring along whatever sketches you have. If a ten-thousand-dollar advance sounds fair while we plan a gallery to introduce your work to the art community, I’ll forget all about that twenty dollars, but under one condition, you let me take you to dinner tonight.”
I can barely squeak out a thank you, a yes, and a nod to him returning to pick me up later. As I close the door behind him, my mind returns to the rapidly flowing creek this morning. Like that creek, life may rush by at an alarming rate, but it doesn’t always leave us in its wake. I’ve come to find that sometimes it meets us right on time, especially when we least expect it.