“That looks like a paint-by-number my grandmother did,” said a man in a hat. He wore a grey raincoat and could be cast as a subway flasher, Envy thought, as he seemed the tiniest bit shifty.
“I can see how you might get that impression,” she said. She looked around for the server with the tray of white wine. Exhibit openings always attracted fresh new art aficionados, or at least those who could tolerate modern art and who liked free wine, which was ok with Envy as long as she got her fair share.
“This one is $670 though,” said the man, not taking his eyes off the small painting, which was a representation of two doberman pinschers in front of a blue hydrangea shrub.
“Framed,” said Envy.
“Does the frame cost $665?” asked the man.
Envy wondered where the featured artist, Francesco Brown, had wandered off to. He was a thoughtful and precise man, and could likely engage the man in the hat in a startling and enlightening conversation.
The pianist had started playing ragtime, which Envy detested at that particular moment as it clashed with her mood and, she felt, with the paintings on display. She signalled to Meghan, her assistant, who didn’t notice, as she was swiping at a blob of cream cheese which had dropped from a canapé onto her blouse.
“Francesco Brown,” said Envy to the man, who had turned his head to stare at her when she hadn’t responded, “paints in a somewhat primitive, two-dimensional style as a way of connecting with past sensibilities and in response to the current trend of what he calls multi-media ‘meddling’.”
“He does, does he?” said the man. He took his hands out of his pockets and Envy, in momentary panic, feared he would suddenly expose himself.
“He can explain his aesthetic better than I can. Why don’t I find him for you?” She looked around again for the tray of wine.
“Not necessary,” the man said quickly. “I’ll take it.”
“I’ll buy it. This one. The dogs. It reminds me of my grandmother. She was the only one who never asked me why I collected sticks. Plus, it has a nice frame.”
Envy insisted the man in the hat meet the artist, who was charming and drew out from the man that his name was Edward, he lived in the neighbourhood, he had a dog named Cleo, he didn’t drink, and he preferred to pay by cash rather than a credit card, which made it awkward for Envy, who didn’t want to put the “sold” sticker on the picture until the money was safely in hand.
Edward didn’t seem to notice, or care, that there was no “sold” sticker on the painting of the Dobermans with Hydrangea. He said he would drop by the next morning with the cash and seemed confident the picture would be wrapped and ready to go.
But he did insist on a cup of coffee at the Starbucks next door after the event ended at nine pm. Envy agreed, and a coffee with a client was a good excuse to duck out and leave the closing up to Meghan, who hadn’t been much help at the exhibit otherwise.
They chatted briefly about the obvious topics: the exhibit (well-received), the artist (not as flaky as expected), the attendance (solid, including at least one arts writer from a small local paper), and the sales (satisfactory).
Then Edward said, sipping on his black coffee, “You are dying for a glass of wine.”
“Not drinking makes you an expert?” said Envy, a touch prickly.
“In a way, I guess so,” said Edward. “I always liked a drink after any kind of exhausting activity.”
“What kind of exhausting activity?”
“You know, like the end of a project, a speech, a big sale, lovemaking, anything emotional.”
“To be honest, I could murder one,” Envy admitted.
“I won’t keep you,” said Edward. “You just seemed interesting. Not like the women I usually meet.”
Envy stifled a yawn. That old line. She possibly got it more than most women, since she was, by any objective standard, not particularly attractive. She instinctively looked at her watch, then blushed at the inadvertent impoliteness.
“Sorry,” said Edward.
“No, I’m sorry,” said Envy. “I’m not bored, honest.” Not yet.
“Is that an engagement ring?” Edward asked, indicating the glittering tri-ruby ring on her left ring finger.
“It is,” said Envy with a sigh. “Though I don’t know if I am really engaged.”
“What’s the confusion?”
“I have the ring, but not sure if I want the marriage,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“Because I’m safe, anonymous? I have a kind, trusting face?” suggested Edward.
For a flasher, thought Envy. But she found herself continuing, “We love each other, we do, we should get married.”
“He thinks I’m not over my first marriage.”
“Oh. Are you?”
“Definitely, but not over the man,” Envy said. Yes, that was it. The worst combination of feelings for an engaged person ever: cynical about the institution of marriage and still clinging to the connection with the ex. Shit.
“Selfishly, I can’t help but think that puts me in third place at the very least.”
“Amazing, isn’t it, how someone who looks like me could have an interesting love life?” Envy said, much more harshly than she intended.
Edward gently set his coffee cup down and stood to his feet. “It’s been fun, Envy, but Cleo can’t walk herself, so I should run.”
Envy rigorously decided against being embarrassed or regretful, and held out her hand. “Thanks for the coffee, and see you tomorrow.”
“Right,” said Edward.
Whether he would show up at the gallery to pay for Dobermans with Hydrangea or hop the subway in his raincoat was anyone’s guess.