“What do you see?” he asked, as they stood before the painting in the center of the gallery’s white wall. She squinted at the glossy acrylic. The single light shining on the painting reflected the couple’s outline: his ungroomed hair and the tired wrinkles forming around his eyes, her dirty blonde wisps and the uneven bump of her high cheekbones. She stepped closer, staring at the formless black lines against thick strokes of light blue.
“Us,” she replied. “I see us.” He tilted his head and put his hands in the pockets of his corduroy jacket, concentrating.
“See that top line?” she asked, pointing her bony finger at the concave line in the upper right-hand corner. “Well that’s the top of your head and the line next to it is mine, and the dot is your eye and so you’re like leaning your head on my head.” It was a bit of a stretch and they both knew it, although he agreed with her depiction of the lines as an abstract portrait of the two.
Charmed by her naiveté, he walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders as she tried to make sense of the painting’s new meaning. He inhaled. Lavender. The smell of their first date. The time when they sat atop Moroccan pillows, sipping floral teas from small cups; when she smiled softly because his fingers were too big for the cup’s ceramic handle; when he watched her delicate lips as she talked about Picasso and van Gogh. She was his art.
With his arms around her, he rested his chin on her left shoulder and leaned his head to the right. Ear to ear they could hear the mind of one another.
“Now,” his baritone punctured the silence. “It’s us.”
She sat on the couch, holding a glass of cabernet between her unmanicured fingers. Staring at the painting hung on the exposed brick wall, she remembered when Tim first tried to hang it; how it sunk down to the left, threatening to fall off the hook and onto the tile. He propped it up with double-sided tape, but that was only temporary as it seemed slightly uneven from her vantage point across the living room. She knew the painting would be the last to go; he had lighter boxes and suitcases to carry down first. Down the steps they used to drunkenly stumble up, reciting poetry to each other before slipping into their third-floor apartment and out of their clothes.
“I’m just helping you undress,” he used to say, reaching between her thighs, gently pulling the lace before they made it to their bedroom.
She wondered at the fondness with which she remembered him. Them. Their first date, first kiss, first apartment, and all the other firsts adorned in irrevocable joy. Mr. Fur purred rhythmically at her feet, arching his back as he rubbed his chin on her big toe. Whose cat was he? His or hers. Nothing was theirs.
She brushed away her overgrown bangs and massaged her temples. Her head grew lighter, her mind quieter, despite the chaotic mess of their—her?—apartment. She heard the door creak, reminded her of empty promises. The click of his loafers announced his presence behind her.
“What do you see?” she remembered he had asked the first time they saw the painting.
“Lines,” she paused. “That’s all there’s ever been.”
Allison is recent graduate of Columbia University's MFA in nonfiction writing program and current doctoral student at the University of New Hampshire. Her research is concerned with scientific/mathematical rhetoric and making such genres more accessible (and interesting) to general readers. She lives and works in Durham, NH.