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Inner Wall

This is my entry in the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. I was provided with the theme, falling out of love; a character who had to play an important role, a construction worker; and drama was the assigned genre. The task was to write a 2,500-word story with all these elements in eight days.


Since falling out of love with a person was so overdone and sad, I decided on falling out of love with an object, a painting. I wrote this story the same week I fell in love with the painting below by Martine Fourcand. And one of questions I asked myself before I bought it was "Will I always love it?" I came to the conclusion that we don't fall out of love with objects, our circumstances and priorities change.



Inner Wall

Painting in acrylic by Martine Fourcand
From the street, a large section of the floor to ceiling painting hanging in Kara’s showroom was visible. Kara saw the painting, “Inner Wall,” as the embodiment of her success. The 38-year-old had been able to purchase it from sales commissions from painters and galleries after a mere 12 years in the business. The former owner had referred to it as “a stunner of red, gold and sienna.” It was both symmetrical and asymmetrical, an abstract painting by an artist who was a rising star. It was now worth a small fortune, and although she had countless offers to buy it, she refused to sell.


When she was in her showroom standing alongside it, Kara thought that it complemented her and gave her visitors a good idea of her taste and standing in artistic circles. The changing light of the day revealed a different cache of beauty depending on her visitors’ perspective as they wandered around her private showroom. “I don’t think that I’ll ever tire of it,” she had said more than once. But lately her own difficult moments, her mood swings or fury from stress and overwork left her feeling that the painting was too perfect, mere pigment on canvas that was inconsistent with the increasing darkness in her life. Her attraction to the painting had once been so strong that after looking at it for a long period of time she felt elated, even giddy. In her mind, a true connection to a work of art felt like being drawn into something and being unable to pull away, a concept she relied on in her sales pitch to prospective buyers.


It was a canvas she had fallen hard for before the cracks in her life had emerged. In addition to her moodiness, she had developed a drinking problem from all the first showings she had attended. She came to rely on a few glasses of white to take the edge off a dark spell, while other times it only made her feel worse. She could acknowledge that she had become a tippler, but only to herself.


She chose to hide her many outbursts by working alone. She made her own appointments, ordered her own catalogues, and wrote all the cheques, all the things that an assistant could easily do, but she was sure that an assistant would infuriate her by getting something wrong when she wasn’t feeling particularly well. The assistant would be exposed to her moods on a daily basis, and Kara could terrify anyone. “When you’re angry, you’re frightening,” her mother had told her a number of times when she was growing up. But fortunately, she wasn’t as “scary” as her father when he was drunk, as if that were some consolation. Unsurprisingly, her parents had divorced when Kara was a teen, and other than a few dinners a year, she rarely saw her father and usually avoided his calls.


The pick-up and delivery of paintings was about the only thing that she had to hire someone for. She had neither the build nor the strength to lift and carry heavy works. She employed a regular deliverer who had his own team, but all the traffic and parking problems and resulting late deliveries caused Kara considerable stress. There were so many other unforeseen events that she had no control over. Although the paintings to be delivered were insured, they were irreplaceable, so she needed someone she could trust. She had found the right person in Tomas, who had worked with her for a number of years. But in the heavy fog of a hangover after the unexpected death of her mother, she had exploded and called him, “a royal fuck-up” and “someone with shit for brains” for a mistake he had made, a mix-up that could have happened to anyone. Tomas left telling her “to find another doormat” and true to his word, he never returned her calls. Her loyal employee, not to mention his team and contacts, was now beyond her reach. The incident left Kara wringing her hands with guilt and shame, as all her outbursts did, but this time her pain felt heavier and more hopeless. To make matters worse, her father was now calling a few times a day, “just to check in.” Never had she felt less like painting a cheerful smile on her face than now.


But Kara could also be very good with people when she was in control of the situation. While still at college, she had worked at various galleries for extra cash, where she met painters, gallery owners and of course, buyers. She quickly developed her own client list and became known as someone with an eye for budding talent. One of her favourite things was to visit the studios of new painters who had just arrived in the city. She found the smell of oils, the texture of acrylics and the creative energy intoxicating. At times, she let an artist stay for free at her apartment or gave them large advances so that they could continue their work. But her generosity extended to her buyers as well. Going into homes of the well-heeled, she knew instantly of the type of work that would match their aspirations and tastes, whether the painting was for investment purposes or solely for its aesthetic qualities. But sales were never rushed, and Kara often brokered deals so that a buyer could keep the painting for a few months or so, to see if it was a “good fit” with their sensibilities. The extra time she spent was greatly appreciated and generated further business through word of mouth.


Her appointment book was now full, but without a delivery person, she would have to postpone some of her appointments until she found someone new. Although it merely involved contacting a placement agency and paying extra to have someone who was bonded, she knew that she would have trust issues. In addition, she noticed that the security camera at the front door was not working. Kara put her hand on her forehead. It was all so overwhelming. She found herself in the mini-kitchen of her gallery pulling out a bottle of pinot grigio from the fridge at 11 am. She would drink two bottles before passing out in front of her prized painting. It was the first blurry image she would see when her father and the doorman woke her up on her showroom floor late in the afternoon.


***


She struggled to sit up not quite sure what to make of her father and the doorman bursting in like that. But it hurt to think about the situation. Her tongue felt swollen and her lips were stuck together making even “hello” difficult. She quickly scanned the empty bottles in front of her and the late afternoon sun coming through the window and surmised that she had passed out. Her cheeks burned as she looked at her father, a tall thin man in his early sixties whose hair was now completely grey. “Thanks, for letting me in,” he said to the doorman who turned and left.


Her father swung into action by picking up the two empty wine bottles and glass from the floor. “Would you like a glass of water?” he asked making his way to the kitchen.


“Yes, please,” Kara said clearing her throat and straightening her blouse that had come unbuttoned. He returned a few moments later with the glass of water and attempted to put his large palm on the back of her head, but Kara flinched and quickly got up and went to her desk.


“Do you remember our phone call?” he asked.


Her heart sunk. She must have been pretty drunk not to have sent his call directly to voice mail. She shook her head and looked for her phone. She picked it up, but it needed a charge. She felt a hot flash of panic when she realized that she may have spoken or called other people…but who? She felt queasy as she settled into her chair.


“You were crying, slurring something about a broken camera and an employee,” said her father.


She glanced up at her note pad. “AA” was scrawled at the top page with a messy phone number under it, clearly the writing of a drunk. She placed her fingertips on her forehead to shield her eyes from the light and the embarrassment of not recalling whom she had spoken to or who had given her the number. She closed her eyes to pray that it wasn’t a client.


“Believe it or not, I’ve been exactly where you are right now, and I can help you,” said her father standing in the door of the kitchen. “Have you taken any time off since your mother died?”


Oh Christ, here it comes, the recovered alcoholic’s sermon thought Kara, but she refused to let the conversation go any further. “Yes, a little, but I’m not sure that I can handle this conversation right now,” she said touching the corner of her eye with her index finger and drinking some water.


There was a lull in the conversation as Kara stared at a dark patch on the parquet floor. Her chest filled with anger when she thought of her father insinuating his way into her gallery and now asking her personal questions.


“You can’t just march in here and say that you know what I’m feeling, ask about my mother and generally take over,” she said, glaring at her father, but feeling nauseous because it took so much energy.


“Well you did ask for my help earlier today on the phone and that’s why I came over,” said her father. “You didn’t answer when we buzzed, so I explained the situation to the doorman, who kindly offered to escort me up here.”


This was too much information for Kara to process with her recent short-term memory in fragments. She pointed to the washroom and walked quickly, as her stomach lurched. In the bathroom, she vomited as soundlessly as she could, with her head still pounding. When she emerged from the bathroom with a blotchy face, her father was speaking with a large dark-haired man in his 30s wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. Her father immediately introduced him as Lou, the friend he had asked to come and fix her broken camera. Fortunately, it was nothing more than a loose wire, possibly disconnected when a canvas was taken out of storage.


Lou had a calm air about him, and unlike her father, he kept a respectful distance. While reaching up to fix the wire he casually suggested that Kara would be better off with an encrypted wireless camera system.


“I have one in the vault, but I haven’t found anyone to install it yet,” said Kara.


As he stepped down from the ladder, he said, “I can do it for you this weekend if you want. No worries,” he said looking her in the eyes. “Your father will vouch for me.”


She was of two minds about this. Allowing an acquaintance of her father into her gallery might give her prying father greater access to her life. But in light of the kindness of the gesture and her aching head, she agreed, “What a gracious offer. How about noon on Saturday?”


Kara’s father drove her home in silence. The smell of his aftershave mixed with the scent of the leather interior was pungent, but it was stained coffee cup in its dirty holder that made her stomach churn. A few blocks from her apartment, Kara’s father suggested that they get together for dinner in the coming days, “just to touch base.”


But dinner with her father was not to be. Kara needed to regroup and process her drunken meltdown before she saw her father again and so, refused to take his calls. His messages were predictable: “I’m concerned that you’re drinking too much because you’re grieving” and “you’re on a slippery slope.” Although annoying, his messages still made Kara fidget with uneasiness. Her irritation and moodiness could easily be attributed to both her grieving the loss of her mother, something she’d been blocking out as much as possible, and an increase in her regular alcohol consumption. Her blackout that afternoon still troubled her, and her hand quivered whenever she thought of it.


The best way to get over it was to get back to work. She arrived just before noon on Saturday at her showroom, and true to his word, Lou arrived shortly after with his toolbox to install the new wireless security cameras. He apologized for being covered in dust, but he’d just finished installing drywall and hadn’t had time to clean up. Lou was exactly as Kara had remembered him, polite and kind. When she asked him how much it would cost to remove the old cameras and install the new ones, he waved his hand at her. “Please Kara, never mind. I owe your father a lot,” he said, “and I really can’t take any money from you.”


“Well that’s so very generous of you,” said Kara taking a step back. “At least let me go and buy you some lunch.”


“Just one other thing,” she said just before going out the door. “I was just curious. You’re about 30 years younger than my father. How is it that you know him?”


“Well, if you must know,” said Lou turning to look at her. “He was my AA sponsor and he really helped me a lot when things weren’t going so well for me.”


Kara smiled nervously, “Well, I’m happy to hear that he was able to help you.”


***


After lunch, Kara was on her computer doing her accounting when she saw her security camera icon. She could finally satisfy her curiosity as to what happened when she had blacked out. It was just a matter of hitting the play button for the camera in the main showroom. But there was indeed trepidation that gave her a tightness in her chest. Few people were pleased with how they looked when they’d had too much to drink. But nothing could have prepared Kara for what she would see. Initially, it was uneventful. She was drinking a few glasses of wine and working, but she was frowning, definitely sad, shoulders hunched and her features were drawn. Kara fast-forwarded a few times and stopped at her crying and talking on the phone and scribbling a note. More tears. Her head was in her hands. Her mouth was gaping open, she was bawling out loud like a young child. She fast-forwarded again to her lying down on the floor still crying, kicking her feet, in front of her beloved painting, the symbol of her success, the source of her pride.


An hour later, Kara walked to the backdoor where Lou was installing the last camera. “I was wondering if I could go with you to an AA meeting sometime?”


 


 


 

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