A frustrated painter takes refuge in an old cottage in hopes of inspiration.
A big, wet flop.
No concept, no passion or expression.
Quite ordinary, tad wasteful.
Inspiringly blends with rejects.
Alexander Tanning dropped the newspaper in frustration on his wooden kitchen floor. He worked on those paintings for a whole year. He knew it was an accompishment. But what do the critics know? Yet the gallery owners frowned at his work, some made it a joke. Haha. Not funny. His phone rang.
"Alex! It's Aunt Dora."
Aunt Dora... Aunt Dora... Alex finally remembered. His aunt who lived in the edge of the city, closer in the everglades, almost about ten hours away. "What do you need, Aunt Dora?" Alex asked. "I heard about what those terrible critics said about your work. What do you think?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You think you deserve their judgement? A big, wet flop? I haven't seen any of your paintings yet but I'm sure they're quite good."
"Well... I probably do deserve it."
"Tut, tut. What a shame." Aunt Dora sighed on the other line. "If that's what you think, what are you going to do about it?"
Alex winced. He could feel a scolding on its way. Before he could answer, Aunt Dora suggested. "Why don't you drop by for a visit? Just a few days."
"I'm not sure..."
"Well, you should. There's a lot of good air and sceneries around here, I think you'll find good subjects for your art. It's also a good time for you to take a break, isn't it?"
"Good. I'm expecting you here in three days. I live in..."
Alex rushed to find a piece of paper.
"...Cornflower cottage at number 14, Eskwill Woods. Got it?"
"Yes ma'am." Alex said.
"I'll be expecting you." Aunt Dora answered. She promptly hung up.
Aunt Dora. Quite an eccentric woman. She labeled the city as a disgusting place for skyscrapers and pollution. Alex wasn't sure if he should go. "Who was that?" someone piped. Alex grabbed the newspaper from the table and tossed it in the trash, sighing. "My aunt. She wants me stay in her place for a few days." His girlfriend, Thea, wrapped her arms around Alex. "Are you sure it's your aunt?" She smiled coyly. Alex kissed her on her cheek. "Yes," he answered. "We haven't seen each other for five years."
"Well, she shouldn't miss looking at a handsome man." Thea answered as she pressed her nose against Alex's. "I can last a few days without you, if that's what you're afraid of."
"Then I guess I better go then."
Alex considered himself a lucky man. His girlfriend was a regular model in a posh magazine publication called "Eve". She was often at work but he could see her face everywhere- billboards, ads, magazine cover... the shiny and sleek jet-balck hair that was often styled in unique and extravagant ways and the face was often covered with make-up that range from natural to almost clown-like. Yet he could still recognize her intense blue eyes that was always staring back at him. She was skinny, undoubtedly, but not anorexic. When she refused to eat before a shooting, he would force her to eat a few bites of this and that. And she would oblige.
"I'm sorry your exhibit didn't work out the way you expected." Thea replied as she rummaged around the fridge, "why don't you be a fashion designer instead?"
"You know I'm not a fan of fashion. It's so..."
Alex struggled to find words, "sophisticated?"
"And that's bad?"
"Well, let's say it's just not me."
Thea nibbled at her tangerine. "Are you sure? I could be your model. I'll gladly breech my "Eve" contract for you."
Alex wondered if Thea could be anymore beautiful.
"No thank you, babe." He sat down at the kitchen table. "Let's leave clothes to the professionals. By the way, that's the seventh tangerine you had at this hour. Don't you have a pictorial today?"
"It's tangerine, not cream cake." Thea pointed out. "Frankly, I'm worried." She answered. "Your bills will be coming in two weeks."
"I'll find a way." Alex assured her as she sat down across him. "Well, for the meantime, I will pay your bills." Thea answered. "But in exchange, you gotta give me lots of lovin'."
"That's a bonus."
Alex carefully knotted his tie and smoothed hair cream on his hazelnut locks. He was flawless and clean cut, taking tips from his girlfriend. No one would've mistaken him for a scruffy artist. He was taking her out tonight at the finest restaurant in the city- but this night was different. He was going to propose to her. He felt for the velvet-covered ring box at his coat pocket. Still there. He straightened his tie, exhaling. He hoped he wouldn't be a blabbering idiot in front of her. He spritzed on a cologne that Thea gave him on his birthday. He didn't like smelling flowery- but anything for a perfect night. He would make this night unforgettable. Before he left his room, he checked his breath. Minty and mild. He made sure there was no lint on his coat before he left his room.
"Wow," Alex breathed raspily as Thea glided down the stairs in a figure-hugging Versace gown. "I hope it's not too much." She answered, giving Alex's lips a quick peck. Alex knew that Lady Luck was on his side. And she looked stunning!
"Would the lady care for some salad?"
Alex's eyes were furrowed, trying not to give away any clues to tonight's event. He looked up at Thea who was looking down on her menu. "I'd like the Oriental Fruit Platter." She answered melodiously. "I'll have what she's having." Alex answered. Thea looked surprised. "It's not much for your appetite, Alex."
Alex knew that. But he was just too flustered to think. "I'm a bit full." He shrugged.
A platter of steaming lobster was suddenly served in front of them in a flash. "Compliments of the management, Madame Vandesse" the maitre'd answered. "Oh, wow." Thea said, giving a small applause. "Thank you."
When the maitre'd left, Thea leaned forward. "Alex, can you eat this for me?" she asked. "I have a conference tomorrow and I'm representing "Eve". I can't eat even a quarter of it!"
"Don't worry, Babe. I will." Alex whispered back. He wasn;t sure if he would. His stomach was doing acrobats, he was afraid he might ruin the night by throwing up. The grand piano started to play softly in the background...
When the Oriental salad arrived, Alex was about to make an additional order when he blurted out, "Will you marry me?"
The waiter quickly left the table.
Thea stared at him as if he was insane. "W-what?"
she stuttered. Alex quickly got down on one knee, beside Thea. "Thea," he panted, "I love with you with all my heart, with all my soul, with all... just everything about me loves you like crazy. Will you be Mrs. Tanning?"
"Oh my God," Thea anwered, trembling. She buried her eyes with her hands. "Oh my God," she wept. "Alex..."
"No, Thea. I'm okay with rejection. I mean, I could wait! I could..."
"No,no,no. Alex, that's not it." Thea sobbed. She looked up at Alex. "I'm pregnant."
"That's okay, Thea! I'm ready for a kid, I'll-"
"It's not your baby."
The phrase hit Alex like a slap. It was no wonder she had been having ravenous cravings for tangerine. It's no wonder why she was always at work until 1 a.m. No wonder...
"Jesus..." he muttered, as he crept back in his seat. "But... I thought..."
"I don't know what happened!" Thea said, using the table napkin to dry her tears. She smiled at an old couple staring at her,then she cried even harder. "It was an afterparty and I just had too much to drink... Alex, please..."
"Thea, forget it." Alex muttered. "Do you love me?"
"Oh, I do, Alex. Very, very much."
Alex rose. "Well, I'm afraid I don't." He swallowed, glaring at Thea. "I'll pay the tab on my way out."
After he grabbed his coat, he stomped out into the freezing night air. Jesus Christ! His girlfriend was pregnant- and he wasn't the father! Damn. Dammit! He gave out an outraged cry which made bystanders walk away in a faster pace. His art was a jinx! He needed to get away from this crazy world.
He crammed all his clothes in his duffel bag, irritated. Curse this life. Curse the sweater that didn't want to squeeze in the bag. With a grunt, he finally managed to zip his bag close. Without looking back, he threw his duffel bag in the car and drove off.
He arrived at a little town surrounded mostly by greenery. Cornfields and farms were mostly common. As he drove slowly through the dirt road, he finally found Aunt Dora's house. It was quite small. No second floor. Made of stone with its roof covered with flowering vines. Very beautiful. And mysterious. As he killed the engine, he noticed the small bamboo fence that seemed to be man-made, surrounded by cornflowers. Sighing, he stepped out of the car and took a deep breath. He wasn't suppose to be here. As he shuffled to the small porch, he wondered what Thea was doing. He hadn't left a note or anything. He should write to her somehow. He gave a few knocks on the unpolished, wooden door.
The door cautiously opened.
"Alex!" Came Aunt Dora's voice. "You didn't even give me time to fix the house! It would be quite civilized if you'd call first." She gave him a small peck on the cheek. "No matter," she answered. "Something wrong, dear?" she gestured for him to come in.
Alex stepped in the house, somehow feeling like he stepped in another world. What does Aunt Dora needed to fix up here? It was like stepping in a small castle. The ceiling was painted with angels and clouds. Very artistic. "Did you do that, Aunt Dora?" he asked, still looking up. "No, of course not." Aunt Dora answered, "I don't have that talent. It's customized. I hired someone. I thought of hiring you first but I figured you were too busy for your exhibit."
"I like it." Alex muttered. "I'm glad you do. now, what made you pop about in my humble abode?"
Aunt Dora said. Alex shrugged. "I couldn't wait, I guess."
"Oh, let's be honest here." Aunt Dora said, as she lead Alex to her kitchen. There was a teapot on the marble counter, "nothing like a good pot of tea to lift your soul. Now, what's wrong Alexander?"
Alex reluctantly sat down by the counter. "Um, it's about me and Thea."
"Oh, really?" a hint of interest in Aunt Dora's voice, "what happened?"
"Don't be afraid, boy. I won't judge you. You can tell everything to your Aunt Dora."
"Well... I just found out that Thea went through a delicate process?"
"And then? What were you so caught up about?"
"The problem is...I'm not the father."
"Oh, my Lord." Aunt Dora said with pure sympathy. "That's pretty harsh, isn't it? Isn't she a spokesmodel for "Eve"? I'm telling you, Alex. Celebrities these days are getting pregnant before they even reach the altar."
Alex thought about the ring in his pocket.
"Oh, deary." Aunt Dora smiled, rubbing his back for a moment. "What are you going to do next?"
"I just broke up with her." Alex clued her in, "what should I do next? Die?"
"Don't be stupid." Aunt Dora replied as she poured more tea in her teacup, "we go through a healing process."
"What do you do in that process?"
"I'm not really sure... people heal in different ways." Aunt Dora inquired. "We channel our hurt or our anger into something that will help us move on."
"Let's say," Alex answered, "that you found your boyfriend with another girl. What would you do?"
"What would I do..." Aunt Dora thought for a moment. "You know, that happened to me twice. First, I didn't bother asking what went wrong. It's a big waste of time, trust me. Then..." she tried to remember the rest, snapping her fingers, "I remove all the things that remind me of him. Just everything. Gifts, cards, or whatever. I burned them. It made me feel better. Then lastly, I walked up to the porch of his run-down house and I told him I forgive him."
"You forgave him?"
"Yes, I know it's crazy. But it benefits the forgiver and the forgiven."
Alex gave a heavy sigh. "I'm not asking you to forgive her. The healing process can be a bit long." Aunt Dora added.