By Jamey M. Genna
My male friend of three years introduces me to his wife after we return from our long lunch and a discussion over carrot cake and chai. We talked about our children, our writing. I had never met his wife. The three of us tour the house.
She says to me, “Oh, you like that painting?” a slight frown on her part.
I regret noticing it.
He says to her, “What? Oh.” He sighs and says to her, “You’ve never really liked that painting.”
She explains to me that it was a gift from a friend of his.
He says, “I have a friend who’s an artist.”
“We have some other ones in the kitchen,” she says. “I like the ones in the kitchen.”
We go into the kitchen. It seems important that we look at the ones in the kitchen now. They are two long paintings, nearly covering the walls on both sides of the swinging door. I do love their tidy San Francisco apartment: The wood floors, the chunky-legged dining room table, the uncluttered space, the high rail that runs above the windows for art and pictures to rest on.
The two paintings in the kitchen are dark and abstract: Reds and greens and scary Crayola yellows, suggested interior landscapes.
“I like these,” she repeats. She is kind and pretty with long, straight, dry hair, a mix of slight copper and blond and some grayish white, the color my short hair might be if I didn’t color it. Still, she is older than me. A stay-at-home mom. A poet. I’d like to read her work.
We go back into the dining room and look at the painting on the rail.
“What don’t you like about it?” he asks her.
“I don’t like that shade of green,” she says. The colors in the painting are pukish pastel green and dark lavenders, with mountains in the background. The artist friend has chosen to spill the green of the landscape onto a perfectly good frame, the experimental way.
“What’s wrong with the colors?” my friend says. He turns to me. “Do you like the colors?” He’s my friend so I say that they’re okay. That, yes, I like them.
She says, “It reminds me of a painting my father painted.”
“Oh, your father,” he says. “We can take it down,” he says. Then he turns to me. “Would you like it?” he asks me abruptly.
“No,” she says to him, “You like it, let’s leave it.”
“Take it down,” he says to her, “Move it.” He asks me again. He says, “You like it. Would you like it?” I’m afraid of how that painting would look in my house. His wife and I both say at the same time how she/I can’t take that. It was a gift from a friend. She looks hopefully at me, though. She says, “You can’t take it?”
I say again, “No, I can’t take your painting. Don’t you have a storage area? Don’t you switch out your art? You don’t have to put everything up that your friend gives you, do you? Will the artist be offended?” I laugh. I’m thinking the paintings in the kitchen should go, too.
I look at the painting again and shrug. I wonder at their distinct differences in taste. I wonder whose will it was to decide to put the painting up there above the window in the first place. I wonder who’s in charge in this house, who wears the pants, at their loyalty to friendships, how strong or how tenuous that might be.
I wonder if the artist friend was a woman. Did they say?
Jamey M. Genna teaches in the East Bay area of California and is a graduate from the Masters in Writing program at the University of San Francisco. Her work recently has been published or is forthcoming in Shade, Phantasmagoria, Colere, Georgetown Review, and Carve. Jamey currently is trying to find a home for a collection of short stories entitled Nobody Has to Die for It to Tell You Something.
Painting courtesy of Image*After.
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