I was in the middle of painting a vein when my husband came into my studio and announced that he was leaving me for another woman. Anyone who has painted flowers and leaves knows what a delicate operation painting a vein is and how it cannot be interrupted. You use an extremely fine brush, barely dipped in creamy white, you breathe in to avoid any trembling, and you draw the vein in a single faint line that you hope turns out right. So I finished my vein, rinsed my brush, dried it carefully while rotating it slightly so that the tip would retain its sharpness, placed it in its holder, and looked up. Of course my husband hadn't waited for me. He had left noiselessly, gently closing the door, as you do with the very ill. I sank down against the back of the armchair and started thinking.
I had met my husband at a Saint Patrick's Day party. We were flailing around across from each other as people do now when claiming to dance.
I had liked him right away, with his eyes of essential blue; I could never have lived with a dark gaze. He must have liked me too, and we decided to see each other again, and, very soon, we were married in a joyful chaos. We were very different, but we agreed on the important things: bullfighting, whales, baby seals, and all that. And that mysterious and inexplicable alchemy that happens between two beings and that we call love had worked. Our fights were as frequent as our uncontrollable laughter, and our reconciliations left us giddy with pleasure. We were very happy.
It must have been during one of these reconciliations that we conceived our son. We had experienced the miracle, the wild delight of having a child. Our love for him was unsurpassed, going beyond even what we felt for each other. And then one day this wonderful baby, so cheerful and so loving, suddenly slipped out of his life, slipped from our loving hands, leaving us crushed by grief.
What had we done or what had we forgotten to do? Nothing, the doctor said. It wasn't rare for a baby to simply stop living.
Happiness is shared, not sorrows. Ours increased, each of us seeing our own dreadful suffering in the other's eyes, and we no longer dared look at each other. We had stopped doing this anyway, each of us trying our best to find our own way out of unhappiness. My husband hadn't experienced as I did for nine months this unique feeling of being two and yet one with your baby; by losing him I had lost myself as well. My husband continued to see his friends more and more frequently; he needed constant company. I fled the world and chose solitude.
It was around this time that I started painting nasturtiums.
I set up a studio in the laundry room in our house. Sometimes my husband came in to give or ask for information. He cast a brief glance at my work and his raised eyebrows clearly said: "Nasturtiums again?" Yes, nasturtiums, now and always. Nothing else. Gradually, over the course of my brushes' little journeys, relief was coming.
Nasturtiums are astonishing plants. Their round leaves have a pale star slightly off-center toward the bottom where nine very slender veins, which are even paler and almost straight, gracefully begin, delicately radiating outwards. The stems are flexible, but the flowers stand up above the leaves in an abundance of colors. How can one describe the colors of nasturtiums without succumbing to clichés? Pale, bright, or saffron yellow; orange, red, and garnet-colored; all this means nothing if you don't mention nasturtiums pearlescent in the morning, blazing in the sun, lighting up the shadows, and their gentle shimmering in the declining daylight. No other flower can rival such a palette. And when the time comes to die, they hermetically close their five crumpled petals, keeping their heads up, the brave little things! In short, I admire nasturtiums.
So my husband loved someone else — he was still able to love, and, I suppose, was loved in return. This didn't surprise me. He still had his beautiful eyes like limpid water into which I once gazed rapturously and his warm smile that thrilled me before, in another life. His chestnut-colored hair was not thinning. He was smart and a good listener. He wasn't very tall, but everyone knows short men are the best lovers. He had enough attractive qualities to charm. He hadn't told me who the "other woman" was. It wasn't important — he had surely made a good choice. Perhaps the pretty redhead with the green eyes who had an impudent little nose and freckles, who was Irish like him and worked in the same office? She was lively and charming — she could bring joy back into his life. Or the beautiful brunette who was in charge of client relations? Or maybe…. No, I wasn't going to try to figure out who it was —there was no point. He deserved to start a new journey and make it work with the partner of his choosing.
I, too, could have started over again. I was still a possibility on the market. But while I knew the word "love," I no longer understood its meaning, its intoxication. The word had become empty; my heart was crippled. So what was the alternative? Wish him good luck or try to win him back? Stop being the ghost he occasionally encountered in the house? Learn again to look at him as the man I had loved so much who had enchanted my life, and give him once more the magic of love? Would I even be able to? This warranted reflection. I closed my eyes for a good while and then got up: my decision was made.
The next morning, he hadn't come back. I went to the hairdresser and faced the surprised look of the manicurist – "Yes, when you paint you get indelible stains, and I don't like pumice stones, but I won't do it anymore." Then I went up to my studio to put away all my painting materials. I started putting jars and brushes into a box, and while rolling up the canvas I was painting the day before, I saw that only one leaf was missing from the almost-complete bouquet. It was a shame not to finish it — it would only take a few minutes. So I slipped on my smock and picked up my brushes again. I heard the door opening downstairs and my husband going into our bedroom and opening the closets. He was probably packing his bag. Then I heard him approach the door — this time he was going to leave for good. What was I waiting for to rush downstairs, throw myself into his arms, hold him, and finally, finally feel the sobs rise up in my throat and find tears for my dry eyes.
But I was in the middle of painting a vein, and anyone who has painted flowers and leaves knows what this is like...
Translated by Kate Deimling