The apartment is on the topmost floor of an old brownstone. If I stand on the landing and look over the railing’s edge, I can see the banister march its way down the stairs — at each landing, it curves sharply back on itself and creates a vertical, oblong tunnel all the way to ground level far below.
Having accepted his invitation to visit, I find myself in a large, open room that takes up the majority of this space — it must be fifty feet in length and twenty feet wide; the ceiling flies away into shadow overhead. Large drop cloths almost entirely cover the chipped but shiny black-planked floor. One long wall is painted a pale gray, and the room’s smaller, far wall is candy-apple red and inset with huge cobalt blue-framed windows that look out over the street below. There is no need for curtains so high up. Sunlight streams unobstructed through the great, wide panes of open glass. The dark wood banister defines the room’s other length, its railing all but obscured by random shelves thrust up against it. Shelf after shelf, filled with art supplies — single sheets of watercolor papers and great, thick pads in various weights and sizes; pencils, pens, paints, pastels; brushes; clay, plaster, canvasses.
I could be very happy here but am a little uneasy about becoming involved. He tells me he wouldn’t have invited me if he were in another relationship — he wants to commit. Silently, I study him — his face is mostly hidden by sleek, straight, dark hair fringing his cheeks and brow; but he is trim and lithe with smooth, tan skin, and a chin and sweep of jawline that suggest sensitivity. As I consider, my gaze moving over him, over this living space, he busily preps a canvass, stretching and securing it to a sturdy frame. There is utterly no tension in his body as he bends over his work, his movements graceful, assured. Without glancing from his task, he tells me the decision is entirely mine — to accept his proposal or decline. Completing the frame, he says he’ll give me a moment to consider, and rises, descends the staircase. I hear his feet pad softly down the steps.
Again, I look at this great, open, airy room, with its abundance of natural light and opportunity. Behind me, there is another closed room to the right of the wide landing. I open this smaller door to peer inside — it is an unfinished, small, and cozy space that would make a perfect bedroom. Stepping out again, my hand still resting on the door handle, I see another apartment opens directly off the top of the landing, occupied by a quiet, scholarly type who keeps mostly to himself. I catch a glimpse of him, his back turned toward me. He has short red hair and neatly trimmed beard and mustache; wears dark-rimmed glasses, blue plaid shirt and khakis.
When the artist returns, my little dog rushes happily to greet him. I realize I’ve made my decision. I will stay. I’ll accept his offer. Though he receives this news placidly, he is elated. Together, we sit on the floor in the large room. When he takes up a handful of brushes, chooses paints, collects his canvass, I lie down on my side to watch, my arm crooked beneath my head. I tell him I don’t like my picture taken — I don’t like my crooked tooth, my round-tipped nose. Quietly, he sets all his tools in his lap and says, gently but with challenge: “You don’t see what I see. You don’t know what I’ll paint.” I’m a little embarrassed. He’s right.