The painting is red. And other shades, too—corals, persimmons, rusty yellows, all layered against each other, ripples of colour that bloom out from a cool white vertical centre. But red—crimson—is its predominant mood. Something open and raw, bursting through a seam that reminds me of the sky, of clouds backlit in azure. I eye the print for some time before it occurs to me: it’s a flower.
The room is positively overflowing with them. Paintings, prints, and photographs, all in vibrant hues and thick black frames. They hurt my eyes. Small statues or figurines—I don’t know the word—inhabit the room as well, set haphazardly onto tables and little desks; they depict people stretching or dancing, no faces, just grasping limbs. I cross my legs and check the button on my collar; still closed. Could this room really be an office? Overly soft couches, neat little boxes of Kleenex, a plug-in kettle and modest selection of—I roll my eyes—loose-leaf teas. It feels more like a living room than a place of business. But of course, that’s probably the point.
Dr. Simons is late. True, I was late myself. I sat outside in the parking lot, looked at the high brick building; fingered my necklace, its golden cross. But now I’m sitting here, on this pillowy yellow couch that wants to swallow me whole, and I’m upset. No—not upset—indignant. Aren’t these places supposed to make you feel at ease? Everything about the office is determined to repel me: uncomfortable seating and incomprehensible art, throwing accusations at me from across the room. And now, a doctor with too little respect to show up on time.
God knows it was a challenge enough for me to make this appointment. But Connor insisted. I had to find the right words to Google, and nothing fit. Psychologist is vulgar, sterile, clinical--therapist seems to pathologize me--counsellor feels political, like a person with an agenda. I struggled through the stew of terms and sites, throwing random couplings of words at my tablet until I finally landed on her page: Dr. Stefania Simons, it said in a flowing script font, specializing in women’s individual therapy. Well I certainly didn’t want to talk to a man about this. I just hadn’t expected an office so vivid, so dramatic. I mean sure, I didn’t really expect much of anything—but therapy should be a greyer endeavour, should leave room for the patient to colour things in.
The print of the red flower painting, which is the largest in the room, hangs above the opposite couch, right in my line of vision. It reminds me of Connor, of our wedding, of the blush-pink lilies I carried as I stepped gingerly down the aisle, unsteady in my turquoise pumps. Those damn pumps. Mom insisted I needed something blue, that I needed enough height to reach Connor’s towering frame. That night he pulled them off me himself, gentle, and offered to rub my swollen feet, but it only tickled; when he removed my dress I instinctively covered my breasts. It’s okay, he said then. It will get easier. It’s new for us. That was in May, under pinpricks of sparkling starlight that shimmered across the bed in the honeymoon suite; but now, in September, with the sweat and fire of summer behind us, it has been long enough.
I touch the golden cross again. Connor gave it to me, two years before the wedding. He was the one who wanted to wait. He presented it to me in a little black box with a coat of arms on the front, shining like polished steel. I wear the necklace every day.
I tried to want him, once. It was a productive afternoon—we worked together to clean out the car, dancing to pop music, shrieking as we sprayed each other with the hose. Afterward we went for a drive and found ourselves at a beach, the sea bathed in copper from the low-hanging sun. He laughed as I ran at the waves, jumping them, skipping over a tide that pulled everything forward. It all felt so easy. He looked softer in the fading light—mysterious, vulnerable. I tucked a finger into his beltloops and led him back to the car. When I kissed him, he tasted like salt, a warm, earthy flavour that reached to the back of my neck. I remembered this feeling, remembered Jacob Sawyer in the ninth grade, remembered the shivery sweetness of parting his lips with my own—but then. Dad. The shock in him, the furious revulsion. The memory settled in behind my ears as I stared out the passenger window. Connor’s fingers turned spiderlike, spinning a web on my knee. We got home, knocked the sand from our flip-flops, and I was glass—afraid to shatter.
I tap my foot against the ground. The receptionist advised me when I got here that Dr. Simons would be late; she had called to apologize, on her way back from lunch. But that was twenty minutes ago, for goodness’ sake. My resolve is sinking into this couch. How do we even begin this conversation? Will I be expected to start it? Connor was the last one to bring it up—was always the one to bring it up. You just need to try, he keeps saying. Months ago, after the wedding, he wouldn’t say you—he would say I. I’m in no rush, I understand, I’ll be ready when you are. But then, somewhere along the way, it all became you. You aren’t trying enough. You should get over it. Here, do this.
I pick up my purse. This is ridiculous—I’ve waited long enough. I cross to the other side of the room and put my hand on the doorknob. But before I turn it, the print of the big red flower catches my eye again. It looks different from this angle. It’s not all vibrant, I realize; a charcoal border traces the edge of the petals, the suggestion of a shadow. In the corner I see the name and date of the original painting. Red Canna, 1924, Georgia O’Keeffe. The year surprises me. The roaring twenties, such a quiet flower. The artist’s name means nothing, but I try to picture her anyway: flapper shoes, a short dark bob, a glittery, shapeless dress. She stands before an easel in the dusty light of a speakeasy. People watch, and they drink. In her hand is a brush. She uses slow, careful strokes, red layered on orange layered on incandescent white. I think I can smell the ocean. I think I can feel the tide, pooling around my ankles, poised to run.
Nicole Chatelain lives with her husband and two children in Ottawa, Ontario, where she teaches in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. She is finishing her undergraduate English degree with Athabasca University. She writes about sex, relationships, motherhood, and rare-disease parenting, and anything and everything else she feels like writing about.
The Ekphrastic Review
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