The phone rang. She stopped what she was doing and, barely looking away, she reached for her phone and answered.
"Hello?" she said, pressing the phone between her ear and her shoulder, freeing up both hands again.
"What are you doing?" said a man's voice.
"I'm painting." she said.
"You're always painting." he said, sounding annoyed.
"So what?" she said, irritated, but attempting to hide it.
"Did you clean the house?" he demanded.
"Yes" she lied, glancing up briefly, looking around the living room, feeling guilty.
"Well it better be clean when I get home. I land at 11:30 and I'm not checking any bags, so you can pick me up curbside by 11:45."
"Okay." she said, sounding monotone.
"Well, I'm going out to dinner now. I'll see you tomorrow." he said.
"Okay, have fun." she said, sounding depressed.
"Bye." he said.
The next morning, she forced herself out of bed early after a late night of painting. She moved her finished painting from the living room to her room with all of her stuff. She looked at it for one brief moment, feeling a sense of completion. Then she ran around the house, putting things away, cleaning, dusting, scrubbing, wiping and vacuuming. She kept glancing nervously at the clock, working faster each time. She was hot and sweating when she jumped in the shower quickly before running out the door to drive to the airport.
She lived at her boyfriend's house in the redwoods. As she drove through the magnificent, ancient trees she admired the dappled sun patches they created on the road. They created peace, she could feel it. They made life bearable. Sometimes, she would even thank them, under her breath. She turned on the CD player in her car and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of Moon started playing. Her muscles relaxed.
"Breathe, breathe in the air
Don't be afraid to care
Leave but don't leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be"
She raced through the mountain roads, leaning into the turns with precision. This was her fun, driving this road. She knew every bump, turn, climb and descent. The road was clear and empty of other drivers and she could bustle down it undisturbed. As she descended into the flat, dry valley, she noticed, with dismay, the brown layer of smog that hovered. It seemed to disappear from sight once she was in it, speeding down highway.
After an hour's drive, she arrived at the entrance to the airport and navigated with experience to the curbside pickup area. He was already standing there waiting in his blue jeans, shiny loafers and over-priced shirt when she pulled up.
"Your late. I've been waiting almost ten minutes." he said sounding very annoyed.
"I got stuck behind a slow driver." she lied.
"Hmpf." he said.
She popped the trunk and he deposited in it his carry on bag and then climbed into the passenger side with his laptop. He buckled his seat belt and as she pulled away he turned off her CD and switched to the radio.
"Listening to Dark Side of the Moon again?" he said, sounding mildly disgusted.
"Yes." she said, sounding monotone. They had an agreement that she would not play Pink Floyd in the house while he was home. But they had never discussed what she was allowed to play in her own car when she came to drive him home from the airport.
"I'm so glad to be home." he said. "I've got a lot I want to do around the house. Did you start any of the laundry?"
"No." she said.
"Are you working this weekend?" he asked.
"Yes." she said.
"Will you be home by six o'clock on Sunday so you can drive me to the airport? My flight is at 8:10."
"Yes, I should be." she said slowly.
"You should be or you will?" he demanded.
"I'll be home." she said, sounding depressed. "Where are you going next week?" she asked.
"I'm going to Colorado Springs. I'm scheduled to be there for a month. I'm going for two weeks and then I'll come home for a weekend, then I'll go back for two more weeks." he said.
"Okay." she said. "So you won't be home next weekend?" she asked, secretly hopeful.
"That's what I just said." he said.
She was quiet.
"Okay. So check this out." his tone of voice suddenly changing to mild excitement, "I was at dinner last night and I swear the woman at the table next to me was Sharon Stone." he continued on with his story and she stopped listening.
They got to the house and he went immediately in to unpack. Then he walked quickly around the house inspecting the cleaning job she had done. She felt dread in her stomach.
"There's dust on top of the refrigerator." he said, with disgust. "If you aren't going to do a good job, then you are going to pay to have maids come."
She didn't say anything, but pulled out paper towels and cleaner and then climbed on a chair to dust the top of the refrigerator.
"These chairs aren't for standing on!" He said angrily as he watched her clean.
"Sorry." she said, trying to sound sorry. Then she put the chair away. "I have to get ready to go to work."
He continued to inspect the house as she changed for work and gathered her things. Then she heard him, from across the house say, "What the hell is this?"
She walked quickly, the voice was coming from her room, where she kept all of her stuff. When she got there he was looking at her newly completed painting, sitting on the easel.
"What is this?" he said again, sounding indignant.
"Its a painting!" she said, with some exasperation.
He was not one to say anything defensive, being offensive was his game. Other people might have replied with, "I know its a painting, but what is it a painting of?" But not him, instead he rolled his eyes with disgust.
"Why did you paint a picture of a YARD APE with its parents?" he said as he pointed his finger toward an area of the painting. She looked from him to her painting, feeling a little confused and defensive. She saw where his finger was pointing.
"Its not a yard ape!" she said angrily.
"You better not be thinking of wanting to have kids. You know they will wreck your life. Kids suck." he said.
"Just because I paint a picture of a little girl does not mean I want to have kids!" she said.
"Then why did you paint it?" he said, challenging her.
"I paint what I see in my mind! There isn't necessarily an explanation behind it!"
"I don't believe that." he said, shaking his head with disgust. "That little girl is supposed to be your daughter, she even looks like you!"
"Fine. Don't believe me." she said, bitterly. He left the room. She sighed a long sigh, her breath gently blowing from the room his lingering negativity.
She looked at her painting again, sadly. Moving closer to it, she examined the bare, early-winter trees, the two adults, the little girl with the pink winter coat. She focused on the girl, like searching a face for the emotions hidden behind it. "She doesn't just look like me, " she whispered to herself, "She was me."