I rested the carriage on the table with the Thali and the ashtray. “This is really good, Val,” I said, but she waved a hand at my offering.
“I’m just messing around. That’s all I can do at my age. I don’t see as well as I used to. And my hands don’t stop shaking. Silly really.” She wasn’t upset or frustrated about it. Instead, she adapted to it. “I can hide it, you see. I just go bigger. Then the movements look deliberate!” She chuckled, clearly pleased with herself.
“Well, you wouldn’t know,” I said, taking a step forwards. “The impressionists were all just going a bit blind, right? You could evolve a whole new style of art.”
“The trouble is,” she said, as if I hadn’t just given her the best idea in the world, “I’m having such trouble making my edges clear. I touch them up and then I lose them again. It’s terribly frustrating.” She screwed up her face like she’d tasted something bitter, but the emotion was fleeting. “Sorry, can I get you a glass of wine?”
“I’m driving,” I said.
“So that’s a yes to one, then,” Val remarked, abandoning the oranges in their glass bowl, which winked at me from the painting as if it was generating its own light.
I had forgotten that in this house, ‘I’m driving’ was an invitation to have one. Then ‘I have work the next day’ was an invitation to sleep in the spare bedroom.
“I only have red, because I only drink red. I hope that’s alright,” Val called from her hiding place behind the kitchen counter. Despite having drunk wine on several occasions at Val’s, I had never noticed that the wine on offer had always been red.
Val was the type to flush almost as red as the wine when she’d had a few, though recently she had begun to take on the colour more permanently. I worried a lot about Val; her health, mostly. For someone so fond of company, I noticed her spending a lot of time alone. I was similar; as artists, both of us need a certain amount of time without distractions, and the discomfort of loneliness can be a driver itself.
But the way Val dismissed my earlier offer to start something new made it feel as though she knew something of herself that I didn’t. That she didn’t have time to start anything from the beginning. There was only time to edit. To leave the best of herself behind. Like the train carriage. Like the polished Thali. More of the same smoke – as pungent as it was, it was a signature of sorts. Whenever the house changed hands to new owners, it would take a decade of repeated efforts to eradicate the smell. Thinking this way made me appreciate the air differently.
I pulled up a chair next to Val and her table full of oddities, which now included the train carriage. A overfilled glass of red wine appeared in front of me. Val let out a phlegmatic smoker’s cough and sat. I withheld my look of concern. Val had dextrously batted me away with her indifference to her own health several times, and I had given up trying to stop her enjoying something which was a part of her as much as it was a part of the house.