The first day of spring calls for color regardless of one’s mood. The shop was empty, she took her time choosing.
The flowers in her arms were orange and red and white with two little blue bells centered in the middle. Tan straw tendrils poked out creating stripes across the petals. Orange and red and tan and white and blue. She stared into them and got the full effect. They were an uncanny abstract version of the dreaded art she had fought for months to forget. She hadn’t seen it since December. And here she was in the flower shop buying a bouquet replica. The title of the painting echoed in her head in a big booming voice,
“Would you like to buy a vase today as well?”
The person waited as she stared at them. No, no vase. She wanted to throw the bouquet into the open trash can next to the counter. Run away screaming. Instead she said,
“I have a few vases at home, thanks.”
They asked her if the flowers were for a special occasion. No, the flowers were for spring, just spring.
The bundle of them balanced on the passenger seat of her car wrapped in cellophane. From the side they looked almost harmless. Though the color scheme was unmistakably Hazor. And the soulless painted eyes circled in blue appeared to her. The little orange king in the painting. He and his eyes were appearing in the reflection of her windshield. The colors were orange and red and tan and white and blue.
She put the flowers in a vase and the vase in a corner that was not in the main line of sight. Her husband was a great and proud noticer of minute details. Everyone knew this about him. He never left a detail out. He observed the addition of the bouquet as soon as he strolled from his office into the living room. He noted the qualities of each flower aloud to her while she half listened. Looking at how the petals bent forward. Looking at the way in which the the pistils poked out.
He voiced his pride over the fact she had made the arrangement herself. Orange and red and tan and white and blue. What a unique palette of color. He made a great show of sniffing the flowers. When she heard him doing that, she was so disturbed she shouted out without meaning to,
“Get away from my flowers!”
She jumped across to snatch the vase from him.
He could deal with her irrationality. He was a very reasonable person. But he still barked at her. Watching her husband’s big hairy nose invade the soft petals of her bouquet was more than she could stand. She didn’t know why. She should have let him have his way with them. It wasn’t as though she was enjoying the flowers for herself.
She clutched them to her, letting the pollen dust her shirt. She was hit with a flood of remembrance. The terrible night she first encountered Hazor.
A dull and quiet art walk in the fall. She was persuaded to come out on a Friday. She normally went to the gym on Friday nights.
The painting was ugly. And it made no sense. It was unclear whether the title Hazor referred to a place, a person, or a general mood. Whether it meant anything at all. Or it was something the artist thought of as being fun to say aloud. Maybe that was all.
It centered on a shriveled orange character. He looked like something from a late 70’s psychedelic children’s show. He sat atop a crumbling red brick wall. In his hand was a large instrument, presumably meant to be something like a violin. But he had no bow to play it. And no fingers to play it with. His hands were round blobs of nothing. On his head sat a lopsided crown with orange and tan jewels. His wrinkled body covered in a tan and white striped shirt. The background was lazy, a red and orange smear of oil blotted out with a sponge. As if the painter had given up after finishing the little man and decided to throw in the towel. It sold for twelve hundred dollars. A squat gray woman wearing a turquoise scarf and purple horn rimmed glasses.
“That must be Alex’s mother. Who else would buy one of these? As much as I love Alex.”
Geri remembered her friend Rebecca whispering this to her. They watched the gallery assistant smack a red sticker next to the title card. HAZOR (2023).
And try as she might to suppress it, Geri did find herself giggling at the absurdity. She has seen many an ugly painting sold before, but the sale of this one in particular felt illegal. She stood in front of it. The impractically large canvas. That is when she first noticed the little figure’s eyes. The eyes themselves were dull. But the painter had made the decision to circle the pebbly eyes with a thick blue lining. It made the character seem even more withered and exhausted. She couldn’t stop looking. She got a little closer. Then she turned away as a few more old people sidled up next to her. She recoiled again and took another spin around the gallery. She hoped that by the time she finished Rebecca would be ready to go.
Instead Rebecca introduced her to the artist. Alex Kerry was nothing like her ugly paintings. Alex was beautiful and thin and tall and lively and sharp. She liked to wear puffy soft sweaters. Her laugh sounded like a clashing of piano keys. Her teeth were twisted in a most delicate dance. She was well read and well traveled. She was at times ill tempered and ill behaved. A masterpiece.
Alex Kerry didn’t paint Hazor, it was impossible. That is what Geri nearly said aloud but did not say. Geri didn’t say a word. She first saw Hazor in September. A doomed obsession swallowed Geri whole. It lasted through fall and winter both. She lived in a silence which was not only unbreakable but untenable. The few remaining friends she had dropped like flies. Her husband pestered and pretended. Eventually he shut himself in his office and stopped asking her what was the matter. She still met him in the bedroom on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday nights. So maybe her problem wasn't too bad.
Alex liked her new little married friend Geri alright. They saw each other often for a while. But she couldn’t quite figure Geri out. And Alex had enough friends. And a very demanding girlfriend. And Geri was bad at Sleuth 76, a card game Alex and Rebecca had invented years ago. It was a tradition that Alex and Rebecca had card parties every other Tuesday. Only the inner circle learned the rules to their game. Alex invited Geri a single time. Geri didn’t have the creativity to be a good player. Besides, only six could play at once. There weren’t enough chairs.
Alex’s mother donated Hazor to a coffee shop on twelfth avenue. The colors of the painting went nicely against the brick walls.
Orange and red and tan and white and blue. Beautiful and tall and thin and lively and sharp. Hazor.
No one told Geri the painting was being installed in the coffee shop she frequented. Why would they? In late December, two weeks after she had seen Alex for the last time, Geri went to get a chai. It all made her sick. She threw up in the shop’s rarely cleaned toilet.
It was the morning of the second day of spring. Geri collected the flowers purchased the day before and decided they had to go. She would give them to Ellen, her therapist. She had been seeing Ellen for six years and had not once given her a gift. She decided springtime was as good an occasion as any.
Ellen smelled a rat. When Geri handed her the flowers she took one look at them. Then she looked at the running notes she kept on her laptop about her Geri sessions.
Obsession. Orange, red, tan, white, and blue. Hazor=a painting. 9/27/2023
Ellen had stopped asking about Geri’s marriage in late October. There was no point to it anymore. They both knew what it was. The confined space in which Geri resided would never allow her to step outside it. Ellen was simply working on damage control.
Geri sat on the couch with her lips held together and big blue bags under her eyes. She looked exhausted, wrinkled. She was wearing a sweater the color of old bricks. Ellen watched Geri wipe her slightly runny nose on the sleeve of her striped shirt. It was disgusting, a little pathetic. Ellen would never say anything so rude to her client. Ellen asked her the classic blanket question.
“How are you feeling?”
Geri was distracted by the flowers. They had been placed on the desk to the right of Ellen’s head. Ellen observed Geri’s inattention. They had talked about Hazor many, many times. They had strategized ways to forget about the image, to let go of the trauma it brought with it. But they had never dared to confront what was beyond Hazor. Had never so much as tugged at the root even though Ellen had filled in the blanks for herself over the weeks. Ellen misinterpreted. Thought that the flowers could symbolize some sort of readiness. Some willingness to talk openly about the issue.
A few moments of silence passed. Then, after a deep belly breath, Ellen spoke.
“Why don’t you tell me about the person? The woman who painted Hazor? Could we talk about that?”
With a fried mind and a bleeding heart, Geri fled her therapist’s office. She drove straight to the twelfth avenue coffee shop and sat in front of Hazor. She stared out the glass windows thinking only of the artist.
Three days later she found out through the grapevine. Alex Kerry had moved to Pennsylvania with her girlfriend. They were getting married. Geri never saw Alex again. But she saw Hazor quite often. Her silence remained intact.