Art is as intrinsic to modern life as it was to cultures thousands of years ago. Whether an evocative painting, a whimsical installation, stunning architecture, music that creates gooseflesh, a film that leads you to unabashedly roar with laughter or quietly weep in a theatre of strangers, a book that makes you miss your stop, or the performance that inspires both awe and connectedness, the soul value of art is priceless.
It is at the root of our curiosity and our creativity; one naturally feeds the other. Art enhances our ability to maintain delight in the everyday as well as the extraordinary. Art is not an esoteric kingdom where only the well-heeled can live; it is the essential joy of expression – the pride on a child’s face when revealing a masterpiece in crayon.
Art provides experiences that can change your perspective on life, history, nature, the universe (your pick) forever. That’s about as fundamental as it gets on this human journey. We value art because it is how we discover, define and celebrate life.
She found herself at the same corner again. Again, for the third time in a week. Perhaps it was fate…or, more likely, her own design; her own desire to go back.
Things were different then; then, when she felt anxious to move on. Or had she been anxious not to move on? Had she looked for reasons to remain unchanged, even while feeling desperate to change?
Then, she’d looked at the men her own age and simply couldn’t see the point. To her, they were young and beautiful and boring. She looked elsewhere. They weren’t her professors, after all. To them, she was young and beautiful and bored. She took their tuition. Methodically.
She wondered where they were now. They might be pushing up daisies. One even tried to marry her, woebegone his grand romantic gestures couldn’t melt her cynicism.
She climbed the ladder instead. All in for twenty years. And now, there was nowhere to go. Nowhere but back to this corner.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the voice said. “Do you need directions?”
She turned to find an earnest young face, stylishly bearded in the way they did that now, looking back at her. “I suppose I do,” she said, and smiled. Funny, she thought, he doesn’t look boring at all.
He seemed to Jane, through her covert glance across the train aisle, like a seasoned Willoughby, posing in a sharp blue suit and tan shoes, trench slung over his shoulder. She shifted her gaze higher, only to find wolfish eyes already locked upon her, lingering like a question mark. The blush immediately swept her skin and she turned away.
He was clearly no Mr. Darcy. Perhaps a Wickham? A Willoughwick? A Wickhamby? Everything about him was W, and she knew she should curb her curiosity. Though he’d given his seat to someone, she reckoned it was just for show. He looked better standing, and knew it.
He moved immediately in front of her; close enough she had to cross her ankles under the seat so their legs wouldn’t touch. She sighed emphatically, and he eased out of her personal space. Still, she wondered if he could somehow hear her thoughts; wondered how many virtual locks he’d collected in his comings and goings. He glanced down at her, slyly, exposing a dimpled half-smile as he left. Decidedly Wickhamby.
He twitched, pressure building, panic starting to surge. “It’s all right,” his mother whispered, gripping his arm firmly. “Just two more stops. It’s all right.”
He took deep breaths as he’d been taught. His eyes briefly met those of the woman across the aisle. They were green. Bright green like in a comic book. Unnatural.
He dropped his gaze to the floor, fixating on her feet. He couldn’t understand why she was wearing those things on her feet. They were like gloves, but for toes. No shoes. Just these feet gloves. It wasn’t right. He couldn’t bear it. “I need to get off now,” he whispered.
His mother nodded and quickly gathered their belongings, joining him at the door. As soon as the chime rang out, he bolted up the escalator to the street, rounded the edge of the station and leaned against the wall, eyes tightly shut.
“It’s…all right, Derek,” his mother said, panting. “Come, let’s go.”
He nodded, rubbing his face, and then his stomach, feeling nauseated again. His body still craved the poison they’d been giving him. He’d been pretending; shoving the pills into the pocket above his teeth so he could spit them out later. He couldn’t tell his mother. She believed the doctor. But he knew what the doctor was. Like that woman with the kryptonite eyes. One of them.
The dry summer wind swept grit into their skin as they walked past alley garages, spraypainted with noise. His mother unlatched the gate to their tiny backyard garden, sighing at the weeds. He knew how exhausted she was, dealing with him. Too exhausted to weed.
The neighbours were blasting music. He wondered if they needed to block the noise as well; to keep it from getting in. He looked back at the weeds erupting from every crack in the patio, every possible point of entry. It reminded him of a film he saw in school about a Margaret Atwood poem, the lines rippling through his brain: “everything / is getting in… everything / is getting in… everything / is getting in…”
Steve shifted his toes as the wave took the sand beneath them. He knew he couldn’t do this much longer. He knew what the neighbours must think. But who were they to judge? Where were they that morning?
He remembered where he’d been, of course. Lingering under the summer duvet like a lazy bastard. She’d tried to get him to go with her; to join her daily ritual. But he’d groaned in response, throwing a t-shirt over his face to block out the dawn. She’d sighed and teased him about being a lazy bastard, and slipped out of the room. He’d mumbled a promise to make coffee, and promptly fell back asleep.
The pounding woke him. Like when his dad used to slam his fist on the wall to stop the noise. He rolled out of bed and went to the door, calling for Lexi along the way.
His neighbour Jill stood on the front porch, her face crumpling as her eyes met his, clothes dripping water in a circle around her. “I’m so sorry, Steve,” she whispered. “It’s…it’s Lexi. Sam is with her.”
“What?” he asked, confused.
“Lexi!” Steve bellowed, pushing past Jill and scrambling down the steep path to the lake. He rubbed his eyes, trying to erase the scene before him.
Sam knelt beside Lexi, holding her hand. Steve let go of his breath, thinking she must be all right…it was okay…she was all right. He staggered across the beach to them, deafened by his own heartbeat.
“She must’ve slipped and hit her head on the dock,” Sam said, wiping away tears. “Do you know how long she was down here? How long she might’ve been in the water? Oh, Christ, Steve! I am so sorry!”
Steve blew smoke into the damp November air, his feet now fully numb at the edge of the lake. When he stared long enough, he could see her skin sparking in the water, her smile merging with the waves. His mermaid.
Karen stared at the wall in the examination room, its sickly-sweet paint scuffed grey along the baseboard. A jolly tap tap on the door jolted her, and she straightened in the chair.
“Hello!” said the nurse cheerily as she entered, dimples aglow. “What brings you to the clinic today?”
Karen swallowed hard, her tongue thick, almost gagging her. She stared at her hands.
“Any particular symptoms?” the nurse continued, fingers hovering patiently over the keyboard. Karen noticed the nurse’s fingernail polish matched the walls perfectly. Bubble-gum pink.
“Any particular symptoms?” the nurse asked again, offering Karen an encouraging smile.
“I…um, I think I think I might be pregnant,” Karen whispered.
The nurse handed her a miniature box of tissues. “It’s all right,” she said gently. “The doctor will be in shortly.”
Karen nodded and the nurse left, pulling the door closed behind her. Alone, she forced herself to take deep, measured breaths. Breathe in, breathe out…Breathe in, breathe out…
The doctor entered a short time later, long years weighing down the worn lapels of his labcoat. “So, Karen, the nurse tells me you think you’re pregnant.”
“When was your last menstrual cycle?”
“Seven weeks ago.”
“And you’re…42? Still regular?”
“Yes. And yes, still regular.”
“Have you taken a pregnancy test?”
“Here,” he said, handing her a urine collection cup. “We’ll know in a minute.”
And she was, of course.
“Does your partner know?” he asked methodically.
“No. And he’s not my partner…not anymore.”
“I see,” he sighed. “Well, you have options.”
“I do want this baby,” she declared. “It’s just that I wanted it ten years ago. He’s the one who never wanted a baby.”
The doctor’s brow furrowed in confusion.
“My ex-husband,” Karen explained. “It’s his.”
She felt the heat grow in her face. “Look,” she said defensively, “I found a box of his things in the attic and he came over to get them. We had some wine. A lot of wine. One thing led to another.”
“Perhaps you should tell him.”
“No. I can’t.”
“May I ask why?”
“Because he’s married to someone else! I’m going to say I went to a sperm bank. He’ll believe that. I threatened to do so many times!”
The doctor scribbled on his prescription pad. “Here’s one for a good prenatal vitamin. And I’ll arrange a referral to an obstetrician.”
“Thank you,” Karen said, sniffling with gratitude.
“You have support?” he asked. “Family and friends?”
“Well, you know where we are if you need us.”
“Yes, thank you,” she replied, quickly gathering her things. She held all evidence of a smile until she stepped outside.