Why Richard Cannot Paint Caroline
Richard looked at his wife, Caroline, and noted her large dimples in her beaming face. Her complexion was flawless and glowed with the coming child. She was just in that stage of pregnancy where the beginning of a baby bump was prevalent. Always so thin and angular, she started to show early. She was not quite five months pregnant yet. Richard wanted to capture her beauty at this stage on canvas. Her entire body was becoming voluptuous in all the right places now. She was not quite a Botticelli yet, but she may be before the baby was born. No matter how beautiful Richard thought Caroline, he could not bring a brush to canvas no matter how hard he tried. Maybe the immediate problem was his two-year-old son, Stefano, distracting him as he painted his own paper on the floor next to Richard. Like father, like son….
"Stefano, honey, don't eat the paint!" Caroline said as she quickly rose from her reclined position to swiftly hold Stefano's hand away from his mouth. Although she did not give birth to him, since he was Richard's son by his first wife, Julia, she could not have loved him any more than the child she was carrying.
"Caroline, how can I start this if you are not going to stay still!" Richard exclaimed as he watched his wife take Stefano's little chubby hand and take Stefano away from his paints and to the studio kitchen sink to wash his hands.
"Richard, he was about to eat his paints. You cannot just let a two-year-old put that stuff in his mouth. Who knows what could happen?"
"Well, who knows, maybe that's why I turned out as soured as I did. I don't remember my parents being that protective."
"Richard," Caroline said slightly admonishing him for his attitude. Stefano had apparently been trying to paint on himself as well as he was covered from head to toe. She proceeded to wash the toddler from his little dark-haired head to his chubby little feet. Stefano protested loudly from his little bow mouth that he did not like what his mother was doing to him. Caroline took a moment to look at her son. He did not, unfortunately, resemble Richard at all. He was all Julia: olive skin, dark tight curly hair, and large brown eyes. Maybe Stefano had Richard's nose but that was it. Caroline thought sometimes that Stefano had picked up Richard's semi-bitter attitude since Julia basically dumped the baby on Richard when he went to Italy two years ago. Stefano had never been an entirely happy baby. He was stubborn and sometimes would not smile for days. That was definitely Richard's contribution. However, Richard had changed somewhat since then. Caroline liked to think that she had had a hand in that.
Picking up the baby and playing with him, Caroline told Richard that as soon as Stefano was asleep for his nap then she would be back so he could begin. Richard put down his paintbrush and walked over to Caroline as she held his son in her arms. For all intents and purposes, Stefano was theirs. Julia had allowed Caroline to become his "mother" as she knew she could never love the baby as well as they could. As Richard learned to take care of the baby, he could not believe how Julia could spend so much time away from the little guy. Even with the help of a full time nanny, why could she not love this little man. Richard had to give his mother credit. At least she had not abandoned him when he was an infant. It took a few years before he had become an inconvenience to his parents. Richard's parents gave him music and art lessons and material things. However, when Richard would seek their approval on an accomplishment, his mother or his father could not be found. They never applauded any accomplishments no matter how small after he worked faithfully at his piano lessons and especially his art lessons which he truly loved most of all. Richard's goal upon knowing he had a son was to let him know how much he was loved and wanted. Stefano was one of his best creations. The other was the one his wife carried in her belly. To create something permanent was his saving grace. To provide color to emotion was what led him to Caroline. That and the fact he had needed money to live.
"What's the matter, Richard?" Caroline asked as she swept a fallen blonde tress away from his forehead. What gorgeous hair he has, Caroline thought. I hope our baby has his hair.
"Nothing," he said quietly. Richard wrapped his arms around his wife and his son and bent to kiss Stefano on his newly washed cheek and then kissed Caroline.
"I was just thinking how lucky I am. Say, I'll help you put Stefano down and then we'll start this, ok?"
"Sure, honey, whatever you want".
"Oh, Caroline…," Annie said as she entered her and Richard's apartment unannounced.
"Oops, sorry. I'll just go," Annie said as she realized she was interrupting a moment between Caroline and her husband. In the last two years, Richard had insisted that Annie learn how to knock to which Annie summarily did not because she simply liked to see that pinched annoyed look that Richard assumed when Annie was interrupting. However, Annie thought to herself, that now she had better learn to knock since she really did not relish walking in on an intimate moment between husband and wife as she now just had.
"Annie!" Caroline exclaimed quickly covering herself in Richard's oversized robe and rising from the couch.
"Come in. We were due for a break anyway, right, Richard?"
"Well, if we have to, I'll just go and check on Stefano. Nice to see you still don't know how to knock, Annie." Richard harrumphed as he climbed the steps to check on the baby.
"Well, I gotta say, maybe next time," Annie said as she examined her best friend.
"So, what is going on here…if you don't mind me asking?"
"Richard is painting me. My blooming pregnancy has given him new inspiration," Caroline said with a flourish and a pat to her little protruberance.
Annie walked over the other side of the room where the canvas stood on its easel.
"You think, Lerch, will mind if I sneak a peek?" Annie stated mischievously as she started to lift the sheet from the canvas.
"Uh, Annie, Richard, doesn't like it if I look at his work before it's finished. Annie, don't…please.." Caroline protested as she joined Annie at the canvas.
"Uh, come on. What's a little preview." Annie lifted the sheet from the canvas.
Both Caroline and Annie looked at the empty canvas and then at each other.
"What are you two doing?" Richard said as he came down the steps with the baby in his arms.
Richard swiftly came over and while clutching Stefano to his chest wrenched the sheet out of Annie's hands and brought it back over the empty canvas.
"I never like anyone to see what I am painting until it's complete," Richard stated rocking Stefano and staring at Caroline.
Caroline stood looking at her husband with an amazed hangdog expression. There was nothing on that canvas but a couple of brown brushstrokes. After the baby had been put down for his nap, she had lain on the couch in just the position that Richard had placed her for the last two hours. It was not that her position was uncomfortable, but she did have other things to do. Like her comic strip which was due on Monday. It being Sunday afternoon there was not much time to complete all the panels and have Richard color them before tomorrow morning when they both had to report to the office downtown.
"Sorry, Richie, I just wanted to peek. I think I've worn out my welcome. I'll be across the hall if you need me, Caroline," Annie said hugging her pregnant friend as she left.
"I'm sorry about that, Richard. I tried to stop her, but you know, Annie," Caroline said trying to erase that annoyed look from her husband's face.
"Here let me take Stefano and give him his dinner."
Taking the baby from Richard and turning to look into Stefano's big brown eyes said, "You must be a hungry baby. You slept so long, little guy." Caroline kissed his little head before she put him in the high chair. She began to busy herself with cutting up pasta and vegetables into bite size pieces for Stefano.
Richard had not moved from the spot where he handed the baby to Caroline. He put his head down and waited for his wife's questions as to why there was nothing more on the canvas than a couple of brown brushstrokes.
Wiping away a tear which escaped from her eye, Caroline inquired in a quiet voice, "Honey,… Richard, why is there nothing on that canvas? Did you suddenly lose your interest?"
"No, Caroline. Please do not blow this out of proportion…."
"You were so adamant about my position, my condition, that nothing was going to stop you. What happened?" Caroline's tears were uncontrollably falling now.
Richard happened to raise his head and saw how Caroline was now crying. He took off his glasses and placed them carefully on the old desk and came over to her at the kitchen counter. Gently taking the knife from her hand and placing it on the countertop, he turned Caroline to face him and lifted her tear stained face with one finger under her chin. She needed to be looking in his eyes as he said the next words. A tear escaped from her big blue eyes and he gently thumbed it away. I want to wipe away your tears… remembering the letter he wrote so long ago to her.
"Caroline, I love you so much. I wanted to paint you for so long now, but I just don't not know where to start. I wanted to especially paint you in this condition as you carry our child, but I am having such trouble beginning the painting…."
"Well, I guess I am just not as beautiful or worthy a subject as Julia. I know she had a body that wouldn't quit. You were inspired and didn't have painter's block then." Caroline wrenched her face away from Richard's touch. She remained with her back to him as he continued to try to rectify the situation.
"Caroline, you are not Julia. Thank God…"
Stefano at that moment decided he was too hungry to wait any longer for his dinner. Caroline broke the moment and decided to feed the baby.
We will talk about this later, Richard thought.
Richard just stood there staring at his beautiful wife and wondered how he was going to explain to her the problem when he was not sure himself.
The strip is done thought Richard as he lay beside Caroline in their bed upstairs. Stefano had been difficult to get to sleep because he had been overstimulated…whatever that means. Richard turned over on his side facing his wife. In the whole time they had been together they had never gone to bed angry. Sometimes Richard fumed a little bit, but he could never remain upset for too long. He would take count of how his life had changed within the last few years and know that anything could be surmounted if he and Caroline still loved each other. Oh my word, Richard thought. I'm starting to think like Caroline. Next I will insist that it's ok that Annie pop in unannounced!
"Caroline, are you awake?" Richard asked quietly as he looked at Caroline in the dark. Without the light and his glasses he could not tell if she were awake or not.
"Yes." That was all she said. She did not turn to look at him or touch him as she usually did when she wanted to resolve an issue between them. That was one of things that Richard loved about Caroline. She was so different from him. She was not afraid to a person physically or feel their pain deeply. He never had been touchy feely. The probable cause was that he had never been shown much affection as a child. However, since he had known and loved Caroline she somehow compensated for all those little touches and encouragements never uttered from his parents. Sure he had girlfriends and they were pleasant little affectionate encounters. His first wife was affectionate but selfish, and he could not help that they had once been in love. That marriage was nothing like he had now with his sincere amore - his Caroline.
"Caroline, look at me."
She slowly turned herself to look at her husband. The moonlight coming in from their bedroom window showed up his bush of blonde hair and the lines on his forehead which always came out when he was upset. She put a hand to the cheek which she could see then in response to his wife's hand Richard's hand rose from its safe haven on the quilt and closed over Caroline's hand as it lay upon his cheek. He turned his head slightly to kiss the palm.
"I'm sorry, Richard. I should not have gotten so upset."
"No, Caroline. I don't blame you. I just wanted you to know that the canvas is practically bare not because you don't inspire me or that I don't love you. It's just a little block. I know something will appear soon. Don't give up on me."
Richard bent down and taking Caroline in his arms kissed her deeply.
"I love you, Richard."
"Love you, Caroline."
Caroline scooted over to Richard's waiting arms and then they both went to sleep.
Richard stared at the two brown brushstrokes on the still empty canvas which stood in front of him. It was one week later, a Sunday, and with the harried flux of coloring on Caroline's daily comic strip and other associated Caroline in the City items Richard had had no time for starting his work. In the last couple of years, since he and Caroline had been together again, Richard had been fortunate enough to sell a few paintings. However, Caroline's strip was their bread and butter.
Richard looked out the window to see if he could see Caroline coming home. It was a beautiful Sunday. The early spring sunlight shone through the large casement windows and too brightly outlined Richard's empty canvas escalating Richard's feelings of hopelessness. He turned back to the window.
Caroline was out grocery shopping and Stefano was once again down for a nap. He should be waking up soon Richard thought as he stole a look at his watch. Caroline should be home soon as well. He hoped everything was all right. Caroline was much too enthusiastic and was enjoying her pregnancy to the extent that she would ignore that there may not be some duties she should do herself right now. Richard had offered to go with her and Annie said she and Del would be more than happy to stay with the baby, but she loudly protested that she was fine by herself and that Annie and Del should spend some quality time together while they could since their relationship was hitting a rough spot.
"Hi, honey," Caroline breezed through the door carrying four tote bags worth of groceries. She plopped the bags on the kitchen counter gratefully and quickly walked the few short steps to the easel where Richard stood looking like he was in shock at her entrance. Caroline kissed Richard on his lips where he clung a little longer than she expected.
"Hi, honey. Why didn't you call me from the lobby? I would have helped you with those. You should not carry those heavy things in your condition. Anything could happen," Richard admonished gently as cupped the side of his wife's face with his hand.
"I appreciate the concern, sweetie. I'm fine." Caroline kissed him again.
"Stefano still sleeping?" Caroline asked.
"Yes, I was just going to check on him. He certainly likes to sleep once he is down. It's just getting him to that point."
"Soon, he won't be taking a nap at all," Caroline said. "Then we won't have any quiet time together except at night." Caroline kissed him again and placed his hand which had cupped her face on her belly.
"Is that the baby moving?" Richard asked almost in a whisper. He had missed Julia's pregnancy, so when Caroline became pregnant he had wanted to share every experience with her.
Caroline looked shyly up at Richard's amazed expression and stated that yes that was their child kicking inside her. She had first noticed it for the first time in the grocery store. Richard embraced her tenderly with his other arm while keeping his hand placed on her burgeoning belly. As they both moved from behind the easel and walked toward the couch, Stefano's awakening sounds could be heard from the baby monitor.
"Shh," Caroline admonished placing two fingers over Richard's mouth preventing him from speaking.
"He usually fusses for a minute before he is really ready to get up", Caroline whispered. They made it to the couch where they kissed as if they were newlyweds and not able to get enough of each other.
Richard stood for the second time that day in front of the bare canvas. After the kissing interlude, Stefano finally protested and cried that he wanted "UP!" Stefano was an amazing child. When he was happy he would chatter and talk about all sorts of things that only he knew. Once in a while he and Caroline would pick up a sentence usually when he needed to be changed or he was hungry or wanted something that someone else had. Richard thought how like Julia he was in that respect. Richard had been the only parent for a very long time and he had done his best not to spoil him. He definitely did not need a spoiled brat to return to his once staunch attitude of "no children". Too late for that Caroline was so happy once she found she was pregnant that Richard never wanted to break her heart with those old attitudes.
Richard looked at the picture that he had taken of Caroline in the reclining position that he thought would be most comfortable and what he thought was his original vision for painting her. Richard loved the abstract because through that you could express anything and not have to worry about someone else's interpretation. However, he had much experience working with live models. However, Caroline was not a professional model and could not sit for long periods of time with all her other commitments. She loved him, Stefano, and worked incessantly to make their life together as wonderful as possible. She felt somehow that she had to make up to him for all the horrible childhood memories that he carried. Richard told her that her just loving him was enough. He did not need anything else. Richard still lived in fear that one day she would have enough of his insecurities and leave him.
Suddenly, Richard smiled. He looked wistfully up toward the upper floor where he knew Caroline was playing with the baby. He could hear their voices through the baby monitor on the kitchen counter. Stefano's rather low toned baby voice and Caroline's "mommy" voice. Richard smiled. He suddenly knew what to paint and how to paint his beautiful pregnant wife. He quickly turned the picture over and started to paint again from his feelings and not from a photograph.
Richard picked up his palette and mixed some warm colors together: a little peach, a little brown, and a little red. These would make up her skin tone. She was fair complected being a red head so he may have to lighten it up plus she positively glowed with the coming baby. He could feel that glow and passion when he held her in his arms. Encompassed in that glow was her love and passion for him, for Stefano, for the child she carried, their friends and family and all the wonderful things she held dear in her life.
Sometime later, Richard placed the final stroke on Caroline's face and body. He decided that instead of reclining that he would paint her standing up looking at her newly developed baby bump in a full length mirror. He placed a calm happy expression on her face showing her large dimples. Richard had looked across at those dimples for almost seven years now and the newness never became old to him. Her smile was infectious; Richard painted it just that way so that he smiled when he put the final dab of paint on her perfect mouth.
In the background he painted a nondescript man lying on a four poster bed admiring her. The nondescript man had massive blonde waves and leaned back on his arms with a wistful expression and met the eyes of the woman looking in the mirror. He wore no shirt and was covered up to his hips in bedclothes. The bed in the painting had been unmade has if the couple had just been sleeping in it and had been awakened urging the woman's flight to the mirror to examine her burgeoning belly.
Richard had not realized that Caroline had been calling him for sometime. He came out of his trance when he felt Caroline patting his shoulder.
"Caroline. I'm sorry. How long have you been calling me?" Richard looked down at her and realized that the sun had finally set and that someone had lit the lamp behind Richard's back lighting the easel.
"You're sweating. Are you ok? Oh…" Caroline gasped as she looked at Richard's painting.
"Is that me? Is that you?" Caroline asked cautiously as she pointed to the figures in the painting.
"Yes. It's finished. I abandoned what I saw and I painted from my heart. What I feel when I hold you in my arms and the feelings I have when I see your beautiful body with child and what I feel when I hear you playing with Stefano. Once I painted with my emotion, I couldn't stop. Do you like it?" Richard asked examining Caroline's amazed expression and praying that she loved it as he did.
Caroline wiped a tear as it escaped from her eye. Apparently Richard had not realized he had been painting for six hours. It was now 11:00 pm. He did not have any dinner. She knew better than to disturb him when he was working, and now since she saw the end result of not bothering him she was absolutely amazed.
"It's magnificent, Richard. I can feel everything you painted into it. It feels full of love and warmth. I love it," Caroline finished and hugged her paint covered husband and kissed him on his paint covered lips.
"Uh, Caroline, you now have blue paint on you lips," Richard said as he dabbed it with his cloth. He wiped away a tear from her eye but it did no good because the floodgates were now open and Caroline wept with joy openly as she stared at the painting which she did not think would ever get completed.
"I hate to tell you so, Caroline, but I told you that it would get done. That it wasn't because you weren't perfect or that I didn't love you enough."
Caroline turned away from the painting and turned to face Richard as he continued his explanation.
"I painted what I felt. This came from within. I used to paint from pain. Now I can paint from joy. Joy that you gave me. I love you so much, Caroline. Thank you."
Richard finished his little speech and looked at his watch.
"Eleven o'clock! I totally lost track of time. Did the strip get finished? Have you eaten?" Richard asked.
"Yes, Stefano and I ate dinner watching you work in amazement. Also yes I colored the panels myself. However, I did leave you the new Christmas card panels. I did try to stop you so you could eat but after 20 minutes I gave up and figured once you were finished you would be famished. Would you like me to warm up the fettucine?"
"You made me fettucine and I didn't respond. That's one of my favorite dishes. I'm not hungry now, though. I'll have some tomorrow. I just want to take a shower and go to bed…with you."