Slowly, the view from the balcony stopped beckoning CT elsewhere and began to welcome her here.
Each morning, she looked for clouds. Sometimes, they were wispy remnants of fog. Other times, they preceded storms that rushed in from the ocean. Rarely was the sky without cloud, except perhaps on a chilly night. Through the months, the clouds became friends of a sort.
CT made slow friends, too, with Geeta, who lived next door with her grown son, Raj.
Sunday mornings, Geeta loved to casually drop by.
“Something smells wonderful!” She’d say. “Is that basil?”
The balcony garden provided plenty of herbs and spinach for CT’s dishes.
“It’s fresh from the garden,” CT would say. “I’ve got plenty. Take some!”
Geeta never would, though she’d always accept a plate of whichever dish CT had cooked that morning.
Atharv had stopped by to check the fuse box one Sunday when Geeta knocked at the door.
“Come in!” cried CT. “I’ve just made quiche! Grab a plate!”
“Mr. Kumar?” said Geeta. “Rent’s not due ’til next week. I hope there’s nothing wrong with the building.”
“Oh, my dear Ms. Rasoya,” Atharv said. “Something’s always wrong with this building. Fortunately,” he added under his breath.
“It’s not rats again, is it?” Geeta asked, aghast.
Relieved to hear that the rodent infestation hadn’t returned, Geeta finished her quiche and drank a cup of coffee before heading back to her apartment.
“The fuse box awaits,” Atharv said, as she was leaving. “Wish me luck!”
When he finished with the faulty wiring, he found CT at her easel. He stood behind her while she worked.
“Art assumes new meaning in the city, yes?” he asked. “When Mother Nature hides, the artist helps us see that, even here, surrounded by concrete, we find beauty.”
CT thought about his words. What was beauty?
What made some shapes and patterns of colors settle the mind into a sigh?
“Fibonacci,” she said.
Atharv stepped onto the balcony while CT continued painting. She was just squeezing a little more phthalo blue onto her palette, when he came back in.
“Tally-ho!” he said. “Until we meet again!”
By the time her attention emerged from the canvas, the front door was closing. Atharv had left.
When she reached a stopping point, she stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. In the corner of her balcony, stood her bonsai, freshly trimmed by Atharv into a windswept form.
She remembered rocky bluffs along the coast and a feeling of home rushed in on her.
Through the winter, she often took her canvas out to the balcony. She could always find something to paint: the windswept bonsai; the container garden; a corner of night sky; the city streets.
Across the avenue, the arched windows of the Queen Anne building spoke of warmth and faded opulence. Maybe human history could be as interesting as natural history, almost.
The apartment remained in tip-top shape for months on end: no rodents, no roaches, no sparking fuse boxes, no leaking pipes.
CT pursued her career as art critic, squeezing in plenty of time for her own painting, writing, and music.
One evening, when she was listening to a new violinist busking in the square, she heard someone call her name.
It took a moment to recognize her landlord without his tool belt and red baseball hat.
“So you really do exist!” she said.
He laughed. “Ah, yes! I am more than the apartment fix-it genii! I have a life outside the bottle of antiquity!”
They talked about music. Atharv’s father played sitar, and he grew up with music as part of the landscape of his life.
“The ears learn young,” he said. “This is strange for me, these tones.” They listened to the Irish folk songs the violinist played. “Bach, too. Or, your favorite, Brahms. It sounds funny to me. But I learn to listen new. I learn to hear that beauty doesn’t need a drone or raga. Beauty exists in Western harmony, too! And so, my understanding of beauty, it grows!”
The next afternoon, CT looked over the Queen Anne apartments towards the hills. She still felt a pull on her heart every time she saw a natural expanse. Could she, too, experience an expansion in her understanding of beauty?
Beauty, for her, was connected to expanse–to wide views of sky and cloud and sea. To hills that rolled back towards the horizon. To blues that belonged to nature. Was there a division between the natural and the constructed? Could beauty expand to such a degree that it integrated all? She wanted to ask Atharv how his ears managed to hear home in both the tala of the east and the meter of the west.