How Little the Painter Cares for the Girl

Submitted into Contest #167 in response to: Write a story about someone who thinks their life is a romcom and they’re the protagonist.... view prompt

16 comments

Romance Contemporary Fiction



‘It's on the house,’ I said, as I flashed The Painter my prettiest smile and handed him his espresso. He always gets free coffee when I’m on shift. I hope he appreciates that. 


Has he noticed the effort I’ve been putting into my appearance? I’ve been eating, sleeping, and exercising right. Today, I wore a pair of leggings that made my butt look great. I didn’t see him checking my shapely frame out, but it’s exactly that kind of artistic aloofness in him that I find irresistible. The fact that I can’t seem to build a rapport with him just seems to turn me on all the more. I must admit that when he left the bistro and said ‘Thank you, Gina’, his baritone sent quivers to places that good taste dictates I don’t mention. I was wiping down the counter after he’d left, and found a scrap of paper with his phone number scribbled on it. Sneaky. 


These feelings come from a deep, emotional place. Not just a girl-in-her-mid-twenties-wanting-to-get-her-rocks-off-with-an-older-man place. There is that, too—but I think this could be the beginning of something special. I’ve been a fan of his since I was fourteen; nearly a decade ago. I’ve re-read the limited number of articles on him dozens of times. I’ve been to all of his exhibitions. My mum says, ‘Gina, you're obsessed. It’s unhealthy’.


***


Splat. . .


Splat. . .


Splat


The Painter hurls balloons filled with paint at a large canvas laid on the floor. He distresses the navy splatters with a yard brush. He contemplates his next move like a chess player.


A raucous balloon hitting the canvas shocks Gina awake. She clings to the duvet and wriggles excitedly as she remembers the previous night. She and The Painter made love after meeting by chance at a 70s disco at club Destitute. Gina stands and faces the view of Williamsburg through the loft windows, allowing the ample morning light to warm her naked body. She checks over her shoulder to see if The Painter is looking. Did he notice the dimples in my back last night? He seems too busy to notice now. He’s painting like a mad man. He looks possessed.


The Painter ties a can of paint to a rope that dangles from the rafters, punctures its bottom with a sharp screwdriver, and swings it back and forth. The can arcs and drizzles navy paint onto the canvas.


Gina slips into her underwear, then her dungarees, which she finds a little way from the bed. She patters over to the kitchenette and opens the fridge. Empty. She opens a cupboard. Empty. Not wanting to disturb The Painter, she slips out of the apartment to find them both some breakfast. 


The Painter hauls his canvas upright and props it against the wall, next to a row of eleven others, all glistening in the morning light. He silently contemplates his work for a while, then walks to the kitchenette and checks the fridge. Empty. He reads a note pinned to the fridge door, then rushes out the door--forgetting to lock it.


Gina returns to the loft, laden with avocado toast and coffee from the bistro. Where is he? Maybe he’s just popped out for a minute. She sits at the formica table and tempers her hangover with healthy fats and caffeine, admiring The Painter’s latest creations. So brilliant. So playful, she thinks. Gina slips off her boots, and wanders the length of the loft snapping pictures of the fresh paintings with her phone. Did he paint ALL of these while I slept? I must be one heck of a muse! One night in my company is enough to get his creative juices flowing. He must've woken up so inspired, bursting to capture the essence of our tryst.


The loft door slams. The Painter sets a paper bag down on the table and takes out a sandwich. He frowns, as if struggling to recognise Gina, and lowers himself into a seat. ‘You’re still here?’


‘I brought you avocado toast,' Gina says.


‘Avocado toast?’


‘Too bourgeoisie?’


The Painter takes a bite of his deli sandwich. ‘Too hipster.’


‘We’re in Williamsburg, what do you expect?’ Gina says. ‘So, tell me, where have you been this morning?’


‘The Museum of Modern Art.’


I like to think I had something to do with that, Gina thinks.


Kinetic Abstractions. That's the title of my new show.’


‘Wow, I can’t wait to see the paintings in situ. Maybe we could go to the opening event together?'


The Painter holds out a hand, nails covered in blue paint. ‘I don’t need a date, and I don't want a muse, if that’s what you’re getting at. I’m not interested in entering into a relationship of any sort.’


You don’t really mean that. You’re playing hard to get. I’m the one who ended your creative dry spell, aren’t I? I know you’ve struggled to find inspiration for almost a year. You haven't put on a single exhibition—nothing. Then I show up, and BAM! You paint like a madman. You go to MOMA and get a show.


The Painter stands up and scrunches up his sandwich bag. He slips his coat back on. Gina leans on the table with her hands, mooning over The Painter.


Okay, time for you to leave,' he says. 'I have to get back to the museum.'


If it were up to Gina, she would never leave. She’d be cast in plaster and glued to the wall if it meant serving as inspiration to The Painter. She reluctantly exits the loft and The Painter shuts the door on her.


***


Gina gazes up at The Painter’s third story loft from street level. Two hot cocoas warm her hands. 


Should I ring the buzzer or shout up to the open window? Oh, I know—I’ll scale the fire escape and slip into his bed. That’ll surprise him! Just like in the movies. How romantic.


As Gina climbs through the window, she almost knocks a group of paintings over. Their sparse streaks of navy blue look duller than yesterday and The Painter is nowhere to be seen. The loft feels cold, so Gina slips into bed and drinks her hot chocolate while she waits for The Painter to come home. Where is he? She absent-mindedly browses photos on her phone and opens up the Kinetic Abstraction canvases with a photo editor. She places all the canvases side by side and shuffles them around with deft flicks of her finger. The composite image begins to resemble a portrait; thick outer lines connect to form an oval shaped head. Sensual swishes of navy blue equate to Gina’s own symmetrical features; smoky eyes, delicate eyebrows, a ski-jump nose, and a small mouth. Gina's spine tingles. He’s painted ME. He's never painted anyone's portrait!


A key enters the lock. The Painter heaves bags of art supplies through the door and drops them on the floor. Gina ducks her head under the covers to conceal her squeal, but The Painter hears an intruder. ‘Who are you? What do you want?’


Gina hops out of the bed and pirouettes over to the kitchen table. She stretches her arms out in anticipation of a hug. ‘You painted me! You've never painted a portrait.’


The Painter staggers back and leans on the kitchen worktop. ‘I don’t paint portraits.’ His brow breaks into a sweat. ‘That was my father’s business.’


Gina holds her phone up to The Painter; he takes a brief look. He tears himself away and begins pacing the room. ‘So you thought you’d take the liberty of breaking into my apartment and bastardising my work?’


‘You painted these right after we were together,’ Gina says. ‘Can’t you see what that means?’ She inches toward The Painter with sorrowful eyes and puts her hand on his shoulder. ‘Haven’t I helped you in some way?


The Painter brushes Gina’s hand off. He walks over to the window. ‘You were a good lay, if that’s what you’re referring to. But I thought I’d made it clear that I’m not interested in a relationship.’


‘I’ve admired your work for so long. I’ve admired you for so long. I appreciate you more than anyone else ever will.’ 


The Painter, with his back to Gina, watches the street below.


'What are you thinking?' Gina asks.


‘Look, this is all very flattering, but you have to go now. I’ve got work to finish.’ 


Gina leaves the loft. She walks along the street and looks up to see The Painter standing in the window. His gaze is empty. He seems to be focusing on the far distance.


Gina stands for a while, hoping that he'll look down at her. I’m going to his show. On opening night. If he displays the paintings in the order that I showed him, I’ll know that we are meant to be together.


***


The night of the exhibition, Gina walks to the Museum Of Modern Art in her black bistro uniform. She didn’t have time to change after work. Her thoughts have been consumed by one thing all day--please let those paintings be arranged in the right way. I'm his muse. I'm sure of it.


Gina enters the museum and takes a glass of champagne. The room is crowded. There aren’t any paintings hanging. She feels overwhelmed by the crowd, so she stays at the edge of the room and reads the exhibition description printed onto the walls:


Since childhood, The Painter has been plagued by an inability to recall the human face. His father, who made a living as a portraitist, became frustrated that his son couldn’t follow in his footsteps. The Painter became the black sheep of the family when he took up the discipline of abstract art (to the lament of his father). Kinetic Abstractions is The Painter’s comment on his own facial dyslexia. The twelve canvases are jumbled up panels that, if rearranged in the right way could resemble a face.


Gina can’t wait any longer. She has to know how the paintings are curated. She pushes her way to the centre of the room and stands on the edge of the exhibit, overlooking the twelve canvases on the floor. Lines intersect chaotically. None resemble her smoky eyes, ski-jump nose, and small mouth. The lines appear nonfigurative—obtuse and aloof. Cold. 


Gina looks up and locks eyes with The Painter, who stands on the other side of the twelve canvases. His eyes are vacant. He doesn't recognise Gina, so returns his attention to the flattery of the museum curator. 


Gina intuits that the canvases need to be rearranged in order to cure The Painter of facial dyslexia. He’ll see her the way that she really is—his muse and his lover—if she can unscramble this abstract mess. She ducks under the red rope and takes a canvas under one arm, placing it on the edge of the group because its thick lines resemble her cheekbones. The museum curator sees Gina interfering and tells The Painter that a woman is ‘assaulting his art’. Patrons of the museum, dilettantes, and art world poseurs are upset that someone is dismantling The Painter's work. They claw at Gina, but she dodges them with a steely focus, and continues to lay the canvases out as they should be. Then the artist himself enters the ring, lifting his leg over the red rope. All eyes are on him. All mouths are murmuring. 


‘Silence, everyone.’ He throws up his arms and the room goes silent.I for one, am curious to see this young lady's curation of my work.' He gestures to the canvases. ‘Go ahead. Let’s see what you have in mind.’


The patrons, dilettantes, and poseurs fix their collective gaze on Gina as she finishes rearranging. The outer canvases showing the outline of her face are in place. She positions her eyes and nose. She places the final canvas down and steps back. ‘There,’ she says. ‘This is how it's supposed to be.’ She looks at The Painter sheepishly. 


The Painter stands by Gina's side to get a better view of the new arrangement. He folds his arms, then raises one hand to his chin and pushes his lips out. The room is silent. He looks back and forth between the canvases and Gina. ‘Is that you?’ He whispers to her. 'It sort of looks like you.'


The museum curator claps. ‘What a splendid performance piece to end to an amazing night.’ She holds her hand out toward Gina and The Painter. ‘Thank you to the artist for providing us with his insightful work. And thank you to. . .’


‘Gina,’ Gina says. 


‘Thank you to Gina for providing the performance art that complimented The Painter's work so well.’ She holds out her hands to the patrons. ‘And thank you all for coming.’


The patrons slowly begin to file out of the exhibition room. The Painter looks discombobulated. He stands at Gina's side, switching his stare from the canvases, to her face. ‘I painted you?’ He asks.


Gina nods gently. 'Yes.'


The Painter puts his hands on Gina’s shoulders and turns her around to face in the same direction as the portrait. He stands back and squints, concentrating deeply, trying to recall the kinetic sense memory of painting the canvases—trying to link the woman stood before him with those memories of splashing and sloshing paint around in a fit of inspiration. Had she inspired all of this? In the quiet of the empty gallery, Gina stands and waits patiently while The Painter surveys her. When he has studied her form long enough, his eyes soften. A half-smile comes over his face. 


‘Do you recognise me?’ Gina asks.


‘I think I’m beginning to,’ he says. ‘Something familiar is emerging.’ 


Gina clasps her hands together and sways back on her heels. ‘Really?’


‘I'll have to work on it,' he says. 'No, we should work on it together. Can I give you my number?’


‘Sure,’ Gina says, knowing she already has it. ‘I’m at your disposal—day or night.’


The Painter gestures to the doorway. ‘Shall we?’ 



October 14, 2022 15:54

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16 comments

Graham Kinross
21:20 Oct 23, 2022

Great character descriptions here, we get a strong sense of them. Well done.

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Jim Firth
09:47 Oct 24, 2022

Thanks, Graham!

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Graham Kinross
10:43 Oct 24, 2022

You're welcome.

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14:05 Oct 21, 2022

I really enjoyed this story! Thought The Painter was just a self-centered jerk and Gina was a clueless young woman, but I love the facial non-recognition twist and Gina unscrambling his "abstract mess" to the delight of the onlookers and curator. I'm also pleased that the ending is not defined (happily ever after).

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Jim Firth
15:20 Oct 21, 2022

Thanks, Stacey. I'm super glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading :)

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Kate Tobar
21:07 Oct 19, 2022

I thought this was a really interesting story! I liked the fact that it wasn’t just a normal she-likes-him-but-he’s-emotionally-unavailable. It’s a really nice twist on that, and it doesn’t leave us with the happy ending that you could have given us. More of an ambiguous, this relationship will be a struggle type ending. Really great - and the perfect amount of creative twists!

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Jim Firth
09:29 Oct 20, 2022

Thanks, Kate! I agree that without the facial recognition defect thing (and a few other bits and bobs) The Painter would be another two dimensional emotionally unavailable male. So I'm pleased he didn't come across totally like that. Cheers for the read and the nice comment :)

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Edward Latham
13:28 Oct 19, 2022

Good story Jim. I like the mirroring in how we are given little insights into the painter's background, and then the picture of his problem becomes clear, just before the Painter's portrait of Gina is puzzled out for all to see. The ending leaves us with lots of questions too.. will Gina have the patience to stick with the painter if he can never recognise her as she so obviously longs for his recognition? Has the Painter finally found someone who will love him despite his flaw?

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Jim Firth
09:26 Oct 20, 2022

Cheers, Edward! That's very kind of you. I'm glad the ending raises questions and had you pondering some possibilities :) It might be worth revisiting these characters at some point, although, I always say that and never get around to it!

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Aeris Walker
19:27 Oct 18, 2022

Sorry I’m just now getting around to reading the final version of this, but just wanted to say that it reads like a *completely* different story with just those few tweaks you made. Gina’s bubbly, obsessed personality comes out much stronger, and the painter seems more of a eccentric, passionate (but clueless) creator than a jerk haha. I loved the ending, how she gets all those hoity-toity art folk in a wad, but the painter’s curiosity in her process wins over and we get to see the arrangement through her eyes. Well done!

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Jim Firth
10:58 Oct 19, 2022

You've described the characters to a T, there. Bubbly obsessive and clueless creative. I'm really pleased that you like the ending. It definitely wouldn't've felt earned if The Painter was head over heels. And there's no need to apologise. I couldn't have made those tweaks without you! :)

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Michał Przywara
21:35 Oct 15, 2022

There is a simply awesome tension in this story :) Some great stalker vibes. Even though Gina got more or less what she wanted, I'm not convinced it's anything like a happy ending. She's in love with who she wants him to be, not who he is; and he has no idea who she is. But who knows, maybe it's the start of a wild and beautiful thing. Gina's actions and her (mis-) interpretation of the world, and his reactions, make this story, but there's also some good descriptions that really set the stage. For example, there's something about the way h...

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Jim Firth
08:51 Oct 17, 2022

Impeccably insightful, sir. You hit the nail on the head regarding the dynamic between the 2 MC's and how it ends. I also thought that it was far from a happy ending! I'm super pleased you found the scenes quite visual. I find writing in 3rd person, present tense is helpful in achieving that. Thanks for the very kind feedback :)

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Riel Rosehill
15:32 Oct 15, 2022

Aww I was here for the wholsome ending! It 100% took me by surprise - but I'm here for it nonetheless. Well done! Now The Painter will never get rid of that stalker girl x"D

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Jim Firth
08:53 Oct 17, 2022

Thanks, Riel. I think you're right, Gina is going to latch onto him now for as long as she can! i may have to write a followup of The Painter trying to paint her picture. That could be amusing :)

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