By the time the bonsai outgrew its windswept form, CT had stopped indulging in the sweet yearnings of homesickness. She discovered she no longer wished to be anywhere else: she found plenty of inspiration exactly where she was.
Dozens of canvases lined the walls, waiting to be filled. She specialized in the flotsam of urban commercialism, finding perfection in the color and form of shapes that might otherwise be overlooked. Through her years in the city, she learned to discount nothing. Everything formed a worthwhile subject.
She showed each canvas to Atharv. He appreciated them all.
“One day,” he said, “you will create something that will stop the heart. Not for long! Just an instant.”
“And then when the heart starts to beat again, the viewer will feel that life has changed. Nothing will be the same again.”
“I’m not that kind of artist,” she said.
“I wouldn’t be so sure.”
“My paintings don’t mean much. They’re just pleasant to look at. Something to fill an empty corner! Maybe something that brings a smile.”
“It will happen,” Atharv said. “I have great faith in art and in the artist.”
In spring, she included natural forms in her subject matter. She loved the juxtaposition of brick and leaf, petals and metal, wood and steel.
Things kept breaking in the apartment. Every month or so the fuse box would spark or the pipes would leak.
“I’d think you’d find a different place, my friend!” Atharv told her. “I have properties all through the city, and many are not in need of repair.”
“But do they come with furry friends?” she asked. “And how could I get through a month without a visit from you?”
It was a joke, for Atharv was as likely to drop by on any Tuesday as he was to come in response to a repair call.
While CT painted, Atharv cooked a meal. He seldom ate it himself, but he would carefully pack up the leftovers and store them in the fridge.
“Artists must eat!” he said. “And if they are too busy painting to cook for themselves, then someone must cook for them!”
Winter again, and CT prepared for her first big show in the Art Center.
“So the critic will have to review her own work!” Atharv joked.
“Hardly!” she replied. “Will you come with me to the opening?” she asked. “I’m nervous. It’s silly. But I am. If I were there with someone I felt safe with, then I wouldn’t be so scared.”
“Do you feel safe with me?” Atharv asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
In the weeks leading up to the opening, Atharv dropped by daily.
“I’m feeling so unsure of my paintings,” CT confessed.
“But why?” asked Atharv. “They are you! They show how you see the world!”
“But they’re not relevant,” CT replied. “They don’t mean anything. They’re just pleasing to look at.”
“That is not such a bad thing,” Atharv said. “If you can show beauty where it might not be seen, that is not a waste.”
“I can hear the reviews already,” CT said. “‘Derivative mish-mash of style and form, CT’s work leaves one wondering about the future of two-dimensional art.’”
Atharv chuckled in spite of himself.
“Do you remember the night we spoke of the tiger?” he asked.
She did, of course.
“You told a story that night, too.”
CT thought back to the story she had told. She had been twelve. It was a few weeks after her cat had had to be put to sleep. That was her first experience with grief and betrayal. The cat’s illness came about because of additives in the pet food that caused liver failure. Her rage and sense of injustice threatened to overwhelm her. She lost trust in the world, trust in her parents, trust in the vet. How could shops sell something that caused harm? How could pet food companies produce it? How could her parents not know this and buy it? Why hadn’t the vet warned them? How could it be so senseless?
She took long walks in the hills around her house, sometimes following them deep into the woods. When her tears stopped, sometimes, her thoughts would stop, too, and she walked for hours in a silence that was deeper within than without.
One day, after hours of silence, the trees around her began to glow. She had no words for what she saw. It was light–but it wasn’t the sunshine. It was the light of life, in each growing thing. The world around her was vibrating in light.
She watched for an instant–an eternity–until the everyday forms returned.
When she got back home, she didn’t know how to express what she had seen to anyone. She kept the story a secret within her. Atharv was the first person she’d told, after he shared his story of the tiger.
A few days before the opening, Atharv stepped into the studio. There on the easel was a painting of the light of life.
When his heart began to beat again, Atharv wrapped her in his arms. “This is the painting that does it for me,” he said. “Now nothing is the same.”
He laughed while she fixed a pot of tea for them.
“Someday, they will say, ‘This is the apartment where ‘Light’ was painted!’ We will have to erect a plaque!”
“Nonsense,” she said. “That you like it. That’s enough.”
She had two more paintings to finish for the opening. After they finished their tea, she returned to the easel, and Atharv stepped out onto the balcony.
He left not long after, and CT painted through the night. Shortly before sunrise, she headed to the balcony to catch the changing colors of the sky.
Atharv had trimmed the bonsai, and her own heart stopped when she saw it, for an instant. And when it beat again, nothing was the same.