As he was unpacking he found the old painting under a bunch of framed pictures and inherited prints. He took it out, looked it over, and decided that it was as ugly as ever. Blended colors of green and brown and blue scattered the page in no form or direction; in places he had stabbed the painting with the dipped-yellow paintbrush. Little trails of stabs etched the deep blue, trails leading to nowhere.
"How was it?"
"What?" Her eyes averted back to her book, then to the paintings on the wall, then to the floor--anywhere but his, anywhere but where they needed to be. She got up and looked at the string of sketches on the wall. One of them had a whale carried through clouds on balloons; it was her favorite.
They were friends for now. Just friends, waiting for their luck to change, waiting for themselves to change. Eye contact burned. Finally she turned from the whale and looked at him, and he looked up too and it burned.
"He said no."
"Because I'm not a Christian?"
"That and--everything else." And she started to cry. She cried a lot back then.
He took the painting and tried to figure out where to put it. He tried putting it on the bookshelf next to her copy of The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway. They had read it out loud to each other a long time ago, and he decided it was too much of her in the same place. He moved it to the desk and it didn't look right there either, so he found a nail and stabbed the painting, and then the wall, in the corner behind the door. He finished packing.