Once the divorce goes through Chris starts attending Paint Nite at a chichi bar in the mall. He takes the whole thing more seriously than the other singles, stationing himself near a window with a good view of one of the mall benches, where, nursing a single malt, he whacks down a series of sketches, ten-minute true-to-life renditions of a man with a messy beard or a bowed old lady in Keds. Eventually the old lady gets up to continue her exercise routine or maybe grab some Chinese, and the bearded man, who is homeless, gets woken up by a security guard named Tim, who ask him to move on. It’s January in Toronto so it’s not like anybody’s going outside.
It’s his tenth Paint Nite when some leathery hookers gather on the bench to rest their feet, and Chris completes his best piece yet: the five hookers sitting together in their fishnets and down coats, two of them sprawled across the laps of the other three. Tim comes in to check on the painting and makes little approving grunts, but he also tells the hookers to move along. It’s his job.
“Wish I didn’t have to make your models get up all the time,” he says.
Chris isn’t bothered. “They were already here for an hour; they even let me take a photo to work from at home. You on break?”
“Kind of,” says Tim as he lights a cigarette. The bar’s non-smoking but who’s going to stop him? “My ex called to chew me out; I figured I’d just keep walking but you know how it is. Next thing I know I’m hiding in the alley behind Clarissa Jean screaming into the phone about how much she makes me pay for private school.”
“You talk to your ex?” Chris asks this with the genuine curiosity of a man whose ex-wife has said all of seven words to him since the day he came home to find his worldly possessions in a pile in the driveway, his best tie draped over the back of his easy chair.
“Have to, when there’s kids.”
“Sounds like torture.”
“We’re not always this touch and go. Sometimes she even does something nice, like she sent me a birthday card.”
“Still sounds like torture.”
Tim clasps his hand over Chris’s shoulder. “You never talk to anybody here. I thought it was supposed to be a dating thing.”
It’s true. Every Friday women poke at Chris’s elbows and tell him he’s a natural, but he hasn’t engaged any of them. He just says thanks and keeps going.
“I’m easing into it,” he says. “I’m task-oriented.”
“Mm,” says Tim, with his lips pursed. “Reorient yourself. I should probably finish this outside.” And then he lopes off.
Chris thinks a lot about closure these days, about whether or not Shana will call him up and ask him to come back the way she did in 2003. He’d like to see other women—why else does anybody go to these things—but he’s stuck in this place between. What if she gets in touch but it’s too late, and he’s already in bed with some Paint Nite fling? Better to freeze in time, pick away at his hobbies, and wait for her to clue him in, tell him if this is real, if it’s final.
Cady Vishniac is an English and Judaic studies PhD at the University of Michigan. Her stories have been published in Glimmer Train and New England Review, and collected in New Stories from the Midwest.