I stopped on a corner of Lake Street to watch Paul paint. His easel stood on the sidewalk facing the city’s skyline: his usual spot. We knew each other casually. I’d always say hello as I walked past him on my way home.
This time I watched quietly.
When he finally noticed me, I remarked: “I don’t know why I like your paintings so much. I could jump right into one. Your cities seem alive. I don’t know why–it’s almost like they have an inner life.”
He smiled. “I appreciate your compliment but it really isn’t that difficult. All you have to do is paint light at the edges. One bright streak of color–” With his small brush he touched the palette. He lifted the brush and applied a thin line of light to the hard edge of one building. Suddenly the building assumed depth, a spiritual feeling, vitality.
I stepped into the gray city. I turned down several streets and came to the building where I lived.
I buzzed myself into the old building, rode the elevator to the second floor and turned two corners of the drab corridor until I reached my door. I flipped the light on in my studio apartment and dropped a bag of groceries in the kitchenette. I stashed canned things away. I microwaved and ate something from a box. I stared at the news until I was sleepy.
As I did every night, perhaps to see if stars were visible somewhere above the city, I crossed to my window and raised the blinds. No stars. A window that faced me from directly across the building’s courtyard was curtained and dark. It was always dark.
I cracked open my window for some night air, closed my blinds, switched off the apartment light and crept into bed.
. . .
On my way home the following day I paused and stood silently once more behind Paul. He didn’t notice me as he painted.
I buzzed myself into the building.
As I stepped out of the elevator and into the second floor corridor I noticed a person at the door of one apartment, bending over and struggling to reach something near their feet. It was a very old person I didn’t recognize. They had dropped their keys on the floor.
“Let me help you,” I offered.
The little wrinkled person threatened me with cold eyes. “No!” They turned their back to me and stood frozen by their door waiting for me to leave.
The old person appeared frightened. They were probably alone. They certainly didn’t know me. I was another stranger in a city full of strangers.
I stood for a minute, uncertain what to say. Suddenly the old person dropped to their knees, grabbed the keys, struggled back up, fumbled to unlock their door and dashed inside.
The door slammed.
The door was shut to a place that none could reach.
Finally I shook myself and resumed down the corridor, turned two corners and unlocked my own small apartment.
I didn’t feel like watching the news. I swallowed my reheated dinner and flipped off my light. I crossed my tiny room and raised the blinds to look out into the night, hopelessly wishing that stars might be visible.
The window across the courtyard was dark.
I realized it was the curtained, always dark window of the very old person.
. . .
Heading home the next day I secretly watched Paul. I carried some bright color in my hand. Like a paintbrush.
I stopped at the door of the very old person and knocked. I placed a bouquet of yellow roses on the floor directly in front of the person’s door, with the note: From a Friend.
Before creeping into bed, I raised my blinds and found no stars. But there was a new light.
It shined dimly from the curtained window across the courtyard.