Paint

He doesn't want to go, but she does, and he doesn't want to anger her. He asks why she wants to go if she can't even participate and immediately knows he shouldn't have asked because she glares at him and says, "If you had a seven-month-old baby in your belly and spent all day playing Solitaire and inhaling Pine Sol while cleaning the house, you'd want to get out and socialise, too." He grabs her coat and says nothing and sighs, knowing that this late in the pregnancy he really should be more careful to keep his wife happy because her hormones and the weight of the baby straining on her spine was making her crazy, and he understood that if it were his spine, he'd be snippy, too.

The vineyard is filled with people not of his normal crowd, so he feels lonely and shy as she takes him from group to group, smiling charismatically and introducing him to the president of Windham-Ground and the external HR rep of Mary Grant and the CEO of Java International and his wife (a kindergarten teacher, which he knows but she doesn't like to mention). It's too much social interaction for him, and his saving grace is the wine. He sips one glass after swirling it with a flourish and, pretending it's such a glorious wine (he doesn't know the difference between a nineteen-forty-seven Cabernet Sauvignon and a two-buck-Chuck White Zinfandel anyway), asks for a glass and gulps it down when no one is looking his way and he's blending in very well, sinking into the wall with his white shirt and pale skin—he would only be given away by the dark pupils and the telltale freckles. He does this three or four times more, until he can feel the wine mixing with his blood and flushing in his cheeks. It loosens him up, and soon he finds his way back over toward the kindergarten teacher and grins widely.

She's similar to him; he knows this. They are the only two people who don't hold a title that would mean anything to anyone but them, nothing like an operations manager or a chief officer or an executive director. It isolates them; she speaks to no one, he speaks to no one. Perhaps they can speak to each other, the two wordless, powerless creatures in the room, chameleons blending into the walls.

"So you're a kindergarten teacher," he says, and he feels strangely comfortable with the words. He hadn't thought he would feel as comfortable as he did; he'd never really had a way with words. He leaned against the bar, which was wood covered in blue and red splattered paint. It was the paint that always let him let things out, a way of describing things without words—the medium was useful to him. He could splash a bit of blue here, a touch of white there, and suddenly the world made sense, ringing clearly with colours mixing in splatters across a canvas. His last painting had been bought, and though he could barely bear to hand over the canvas that had borne red paint that was his blood to him, his vitality, and the blue paint that was his arteries, carrying the red through, weaving through the ventricles and atriums of lines rushing across the canvas—he eventually did hand it over, though he was sure he lost much of his own blood doing so. He'd tugged onto it, but the canvas had been wrenched from his hands, the unsatisfying feel of the fabric of worn paper replacing it, as if that could make up for the devastation he had undergone to create the piece in the first place, and then to give it away. He had a connection to the paint like he had to the growing fetus inside his wife's womb, and the concept of selling either of them was impossible—the child's own blue and red had to remain inside itself, or it wouldn't survive, particularly not in a place like this, where blue and red were commodities that could be splattered on a bar and have wine splashed on top of that, then wiped off it, as if there was nothing to it, just a paper towel that probably cost somewhere around two cents.

"I am," says the kindergarten teacher, and his attention kicks back up, away from the bar and back to the wine glass that had allowed him to initiate his first conversation of the night.

"We're in this together, then," he says.

"Oh? What do you do?"

"I'm an artist. A painter."

"Ah, a painter."

Her words don't judge; they simply sit. They find their way across the canvas of silence between them, comfortable, now, as they lean together against the bar and watch the rest of the executives and chiefs and production managers do their charismatic dance. He watches his wife, bright smile that he never sees anymore flashing toward a man with a printed sticker on his shiny lapel declaring his name—Andrew Heathrow—that bright smile that had been flashed toward himself in the past, when she'd told him that he was going to be a father, when she'd glowed and brought him into an embrace that didn't involve a large ball between them, like it did now. He misses that smile; he still finds it captivating, and wonders if he could put that on a canvas and never give it away for small, rectangular pieces of paper that did him no good if it took his red and blue away.