In the evenings I would go into the studio, tablet in hand, and sit there for hours, just sketching. My husband had bought me a full-wall screen for our last anniversary, finally giving in to the idea that without my art, we wouldn’t have had a marriage. After twenty-two years, it was an admirable concession to make. I would turn the lights down low and let the soft light of the screen illuminate my face as I sketched. I liked the way the color of the room changed as I painted, bathing me in whatever mood I wanted to create. The big screen was the best present anyone had ever given me, though I’m sure my husband regretted it more than once when I spent sleepless nights in the studio. He never complained, though, and I appreciated that.
My gallery was on 23rd and Spruce, in the New City, with some of the highest resolution displays in the business. Naturally it wasn’t an exclusive gallery, but since my pieces sold better than anyone else’s they tended to give me most of the showings. I sold some prints, but only on rare occasions; for the most part, I sold chips, compatible with any screen of appropriate quality and etched for uniqueness. My husband used to grumble that I made more in a day than he did in a week, but since I only sold pieces once or twice a fortnight I considered us even.
It was late January when I saw the painting. It was at a hanging in one of the offshoot galleries, one that I had stopped into on a whim on a cold, dirty-snow afternoon. The room was small and subtly lit. The first thing I noticed was that the screens the paintings were on hadn’t been coordinated to illuminate the works. I frowned and stepped closer, meaning to take a better look before going to the gallery manager to expose such an appalling lack of foresight, but gasped instead. The paintings weren’t displayed on screens. The texture on them was real, not a clever illusion. At first I was appalled. How dare someone hang paintings that were made with real paint? That didn’t take talent! It was like cheating. I opened my mouth to tell someone, anyone, of this terrible deception, but she spoke and my words went unvoiced.
“Would you like to touch it?”
I gaped at the woman behind me, open-mouthed. She was small, thinner than I was, with square glasses and a little button nose and a round face ringed by hair that was dyed a quiet silver. Her smile was as small as her frame. “Go ahead, Lily. That’s what it’s there for.”
My mind reeled at the fact that she knew my name, forgetting that everybody knew my name in the art scene, but I reached out all the same, running my fingertips over the canvas. I could feel every smoothness and every imperfection. I could feel the texture of the canvas where the color was thin and the thickness of the paint where she had gone over something more than once. It was dynamic, breathtaking; a three-dimensional world in a two-dimensional frame. I’m not sure when she left, but when I finally lifted my fingers, I was alone in the gallery.
That night I smashed my screen. I threw a vase into itsomething antique, I thinkand smiled with satisfaction. I’d changed my mind. The vase was the best present anyone had ever given me.
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