I thought she was beautiful. She walked down the street as if the rain was indiscernible to her; a mere sheet which caressed her limbs and brought more comfort than hindrance. She was in her mid-30s, with high cheekbones and mousy hair which fell to her shoulders. Her woolly cardigan appeared to be more cotton than wool and I wondered whether she had purposely adopted the unspoken uniform of middle-age. I bounded after her on a whim.
She ordered tea, made mellow by copious amounts of milk.
“It’s my marriage anniversary today.”
Dates were as fleeting to me as the sudden moods of my grandfather; a veteran of the Second Gulf war. I found it a hindrance to remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries and the like for I believed them to be nothing but a show of excessive narcissism.
“You don’t celebrate your birthday?”
Her tone revealed what she thought of me, a young woman in her early twenties who fell outside the bounds of social convention. I ignored the slight and focused on conversation.
“Any plans for tonight?” I asked, attempting to be socially palatable.
“He’s dead,” she replied bluntly. “My husband, that is.”
Her jarring tone caused me to blush and mumble, and the warm lights of the coffee shop suddenly transformed into glaring beacons. As always, I felt ill-equipped to deal with such situations and fumbled to extract appropriate condolences.
“He must have been a great man,” I said awkwardly; hedging an attempt at remediation.
“Oh he was,” she replied with a thin-lipped smile. “Left behind a legacy of immense debt and creditors barking at my heels.”
The atmosphere turned sour.
She asked what I did for a living so I told her I was a writer.
“Anything else would be unexpected,” she remarked, smugly casting me into the cubicle reserved for her bourgeois expectations.
I wondered what her idea of success was.
Success was fleeting, like the temporary high from a drug. Success was a gallery where works were elevated onto pedestals and halls filled with chatter, like a brooding storm cloud which threatened to burst into a silent museum where tattered paintings drifted idly in the whispers of past achievement.
She spoke of everyday struggles to pay off her loans, and I lamented my lack of foresight in choosing a candidate whose life was governed by the meanderings of a bland life. The brief glimpses of vibrancy I had observed had drowned under her subservient adherence to routine. I wrote down her email on an unused napkin in an attempt to affirm the pompous flair associated with artists, and by the time dusk fell I was glad to call it a day.
Two weeks later, I sent her a story. She replied with an email.
‘Thief!’ she said.
I replied unemotionally that I was merely the curator of a museum whose artefacts consisted of stories. A collector of tales.
This explanation no doubt only reaffirmed the sheer arrogance and eccentricity typical to the artist, so I was unfazed when she replied in a show of cold anger.
‘Forever taking the back-seat to the showman. You’re a real class act,’ she mocked.
I shrugged off the insult when it suddenly struck me that I hadn’t felt the need to apologize, for her insults rang home.
In essence, that was what I was.
The stealer of ideas. The capturer of moments.