Melissa liked things that she didn’t understand; that was how she found herself in the gallery of modern art that day stood in solitude and silence, staring at canvases that held no appreciative feeling for her but nonetheless filled her with an unparalleled level of excitement.
Although she’d been staring at ‘Bathing Beauty’ by James Cullen, it seemed no more than flesh toned blobs of oil paint dropped onto a black canvas. There was some blue, which maybe represented bathing, and what could be construed as a breast and nipple to represent beauty.
Her mind and eyes squabbled over the canvas and the cold white-washed walls, undecided between using them for either stimulus or rest. She thought about her husband Rick and how she hadn’t understood him or what he did for a living when she’d married him.
The first time they met she’d been struck by his quirkiness, his elusiveness, his shyness, and his unyielding area of personal space. He winced every time she invaded the sanctity of that space, and became more flustered as she increasingly moved on him. For Melissa, not having a man positively respond to her was strange. That moment sealed Rick’s fate.
“Mr Cullen is a Master, yes?” came a whisper from behind. Slightly startled Melissa turned to her questioner.
“This is one of my favourites of his,” the man continued.
“It’s fascinating,” Melissa replied, quickly collecting herself. She had no idea what it represented other than the suggestion of the title. She searched for meaning but concluded that she didn’t understand the picture and therefore, she had to have it for her collection. She just had to find a way of being able to afford it.
The large man’s charcoal overcoat dripped like a broken tap creating small puddles on the tiles at his feet, his hand inadvertently washed his face as he wiped away the water seeping from the fringe of his long black hair; sticky and oily from the rain. He took a packet of camels from his pocket and removed the cellophane, he placed the open packet to his nose, took a deep breath, and savoured the moment.
“I don’t smoke,” Melissa said as he offered the packet to her.
“Nor do I,” he said placing a cigarette in his mouth. Oblivious to Melissa’s questioning gaze he lit it. He took a deep drag, held it, and then exhaled slowly, forcing the final wisps of smoke into rings. He snuffed out the cigarette with his fingers and threw it and the packet into the bin behind him.
“I gave up 15 years ago, but the new rain must always be met with nicotine,” he said answering Melissa’s unasked question.
“You’re wet,” said Melissa. Of course he’s wet, she thought, it’s obviously raining, his clothes weren’t chosen for sunbathing.
She had a Rocky Horror moment as she heard the man reply, “Yes, it’s raining.”
Melissa bowed her head in embarrassment. How could she make such a stupid schoolgirl statement? Her flustering reminded her of Rick; is this what it feels like to be on the other side?
The man moved and she caught her reflection in the puddles on the slate tiles. Was that it, she thought, was that the picture? The blue blob; water on tiles. The flesh tones; the reflection of a beautiful woman bathing under the shower. Any earlier excitement left her.
Looking at the now mundane painting, her thoughts of adding it to her collection diminished, but as she let go she remembered Rick and the realisation was complete. After 10 years she understood him and everything he did and moreover, she no longer cared about him if indeed she ever had. His time was spent creating a hole in her collection and a problem; she wanted to be without him but needed his money. Single and poor, she couldn’t continue her exhilarating expeditions for rare and collectable things, married and rich, she wouldn’t want to. He had to go, and there was only one way to achieve that satisfactorily.
“It started to rain suddenly,” said the man. “And that disturbed everything.”
She was struck by the man’s unusual take on the situation, but he was right, it certainly had. Regaining her confidence she looked straight into his deep blue eyes and smiled the smile of a woman with a new purpose. Excitement flooded back as she looked over the stranger who was about to find himself the object of her intentions.
She listened to the rain on the window and watched the reflection of the woman on the meaningless canvas. Disturbed everything it certainly had. Earlier she’d been looking for ways to purchase something for her collection, and now she was considering murdering her husband to remove him from it.
She extended her hand, “Hi, I’m Melissa.”