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the woman and the painting

published: 2011-09-20

A woman smokes on her balcony. I can see her and like to think she can’t see me. I hardly ever sit, and now that I am sitting – simply for the mere act of sitting – I look out the window at her. God do I wish I was smoking that cigarette. Short drags, defiant puffs of smoke. She flicks the butt over the balcony. She is skilled at it.
After that she steps inside. She takes a framed black and white photo down from her wall, replaces it with a painting. Both pieces are equally grey. She walks away from the wall, then suddenly turns, as if wanting to catch herself off guard, understanding her own immediate thought. She bobs her head to the right, then left.
Will she leave the painting there, I wonder? Which memory is more important? The one that reminds her of a summer in Cuba with the husband she no longer has? Or the one she has inherited from her parents? She had so wanted that painting. She had ached from desiring it so much.

“I never do this,” she had said to her brother, “you know that, don’t you? So I feel weird doing this. But I’m going to tell you I really want that painting.”
Her brother had put his hand on it, had brushed the dust off its frame.
“I remember looking at it,” she said, “every day.” Her voice had sounded whiny. “Or do you really want it?”

“Oh no,” her brother had said. See, he was the one who never did that, that thing she just did. He lifted his hand and stepped away from the painting to make coffee. Now, she no longer wanted it.
“Actually,” she said, “why don’t you take it?”
“But I don’t want it,” he said.
“No, please. Really, I want you to have it,” she pleaded. But he quickly picked up a different painting. “I like this one just as much,” he said, while smiling at it.
By now, she had come to detest the thing. And still, she hung it against her wall.

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