It took him years to find his voice. Years ago, before the book deal, before graduate school, he remembers an art show of his. Tia stood by his side while he thanked the friends and community for coming by. She thoughtfully stared into one of his pieces, twisted a piece of hair between her thumb and forefinger.
“You’re not a painter.” The words seemed too ironic to be honest then. Yet, he’s working on his second book now, his first already well-received amongst the writing world. After closing his laptop up for the night, Steven pours himself a scotch two fingers high and steps out onto his front porch.
His porch is situated snuggly between neighboring brick houses on a street tucked away from the buzzing and hollering of Colfax Avenue. Denver is alive at night, yipping and howling into the western desert sky. Bar crawlers and rowdy street walkers call to one another, smoke drifts out from patios, clanging cans and horns stammer over the din, each one fighting for time in the spotlight. The wind is brisk at night; high deserts are still something of a wonder to Steven who remembers the sticky green West Virginia summer evenings like molasses. He sips a scotch in his favorite chair on the porch, leans back on it’s two back legs, and sighs. His pregnant wife has been asleep for hours, his daughter tucked safely into bed. His stomach rumbles from the drifting smell of carnitas roasting from a food truck nearby.
His neighbor, steps out onto the next porch over, fumbling with a pack of Camel Blues while cradling a half empty Modelo in the other arm. Steven gives him a nonchalant come on over nod. The two of them share these late night hours together often trading stories and swigs of Johnny Walker like cards. Steven rubs his neck as his neighbor walks up the steps of his porch.
“Woke up with the worst pain in my neck this morning. Can’t seem to shake it.” He cranes his head slowly to the left, stopping short, letting a low growl roll out.
“Been hunched over that computer of yours all day?” his cigarette smoke casts a thin haze between the two men.
“It’s been a little rough, yeah. Between working nights, writing this thesis, and Tia’s pregnancy. I don’t know how she stays so calm. She’s cool water, man.” Steven’s eyes scan the sky, remembering his time in the Navy, months that turned to years on the dark, expansive oceans. The nights when he felt most afraid he’d stare out on the vast waters ahead of him and let the briny mist prick his face, calm his nerves. The water was cooler, he thought, on nights after the big storms.
“Cool water? The hell does that mean?” Steven chews on his lip.
“She…She just has this presence; you know? I can have had a totally shit day, but when we get home it just... melts.” The scotch buzzes around in his head, smoky and warm on his lips. “Like the other day, I got out of class to a parking ticket on my hood. I had a parking pass but just forgot to put it up. Fifty dollars, right there.”
“Fifty bucks? Damn!” The neighbor cracks a fresh beer open with a hisssssss.
“Then I get home to a bill from Comcast for a hundred dollars, something about our contract expiring or rates going up. I was really steaming when Tia walked in from work. You know what she does?” The two men nod as some neighbors pass by, stumbling homeward. It must be bar close by now. “She tears the bill up. Shreds it into little pieces and threw it on the floor.” Steven shakes his head and grins, “she said, ‘It’s just a piece of paper, babe.’ It was unbelievable.” His neighbor whistles,
“I think you got a crush on her.”
“What gave that away?” His grin spreads like a river from ear to ear. His neighbor goes quiet for a moment,
“You really love that lady. It’s nice, I see you two walking together, smiling.” Steven notices the pain in his neighbor’s voice, “I never got along well in a relationship. I’m more of a lone wolf…” The neighbor trails off, looking out over the street.
“She’s remarkable. We’re a good team.” He thinks warmly of the woman who lay sleeping inside their house, the home they’ve built together, of the deliberate choices they had made to get here. “My life hasn’t always been this sunny, ya know. It takes works, man. It takes trust.” The neighbor takes a long pull off his beer,
“I guess that’s something I’ve never been able to do.”
“What’s that?” He shifts in his chair to face his neighbor.
“Trust.” Steven is taken back by this clarity from his neighbor.
“I haven’t always been able to either. It takes the right person. She’s made me a better man.”
“I’ll cheers to that, my friend.” They clink their drinks together and the neighbor bids Steven farewell. He sits alone for a moment before heading in, thinking again on the roads that brought him here.
“You’re not a painter, Steven.”
“Huh, that painting in front of you would disagree.” The two of them stood before the painting, a swirling blend of hard lines, earthy colors, layers of words mixed into texture. This gallery show had been hard work. He labored over his paintings for months, sweated the details, worked tirelessly over the stretched canvases, never feeling quite right about them.
“What’s the common theme in all these?” She gestured to the entire gallery, her words echoed brightly off the sterile floors. He looked at the tender blues, rough browns, deep, painful reds, youthful greens, his eyes searched for the thread connecting them. He saw West Virginia and his sisters, water everywhere and Tia in the midst of it all. She took his hand,
“Words, Steven. There are words bursting through each of your paintings.” A chilled shiver rushed down his spine. He felt dizzy, delirious. He squeezed her hand back, overwhelmed with gratitude for this moment, this relationship. The man he is, the epiphany that she saw so clearly turned his sails west, his brushes to pens.