Okay, so I’m sitting here at a little café, with my spinach salad and a chilled stout, when this woman at the checkered-cloth table beside me pulls out a sketch pad. Well, maybe she’s just going to look over some stuff she’s already drawn, but no—she rifles through her bag and proceeds to unfold and assemble, right in front of her, a tiny field set of Windsor Newton watercolors—and not one of those plasticy new sets (like mine), but one of the old, out-of-production leather encased arrangements, with well-used pigments.
Oh, yeah, she’s serious—so serious about it that she’s oblivious to my eyes boring through the side of her head, down her neck and bare arm. The brush seems to slide between her fingers as if she held the wing of a butterfly, not cramped and controlled, like some unwieldy timber, not the way I grip mine.
She hasn’t glanced beyond her table and paints-at-hand since she sat. I want her to look at me, so that I can acknowledge what she’s doing, but at the same time, I don’t want her to see—to detect my envy. Now, she’s sipping her water glass down to half-full. She wets her brush between her pursed lips, drawing those fine sable hairs to a point. I wait, watching, knowing what comes next. She stares ahead for a moment, then plunges her brush into her sweating glass. That’s right, she means business.
All at once, I’m overcome with self-consciousness for her. I look around at the peripheral tables, at the others patrons whose eyes dart from their lunch to her and back to their main concern. She appears unaware of any of us as she dabs her brush, loading it with cadmium red and then dispersing it—with four loose strokes, flower petals spring to life from the vase onto her paper…