Page 13 of Doctor Next Door

“You interested?” asked the vendor. His voice was gruff from years of smoking. “Asking price is two-fifty.”

All the good sense in me kicked in. Two hundred and fifty dollars for that? Surely Daliah knew better than to pay full asking price for something so poorly made. The painting had no skill, made by some random artist. There was no way it was worth that much. I watched in dismay as Daliah tilted her head, as though in deep thought, and furrowed her brows.

“I’m afraid I can’t pay that much right now,” she said. “Is it possible for you to place it on hold?”

“On hold? For how long?”

“I have an art show this weekend,” she explained, her eyes lighting up like jewels on display. “I’m sure one of my pieces will sell. I can come back next Sunday and pay for it then.”

An art show? Was Daliah an artist? That would explain her determined stance on paying the guy in full. I found myself wondering about her, about what she did for a living. It was only then that I noticed the splatter of paint stained into the front of her jeans. I initially thought it had to do with her fashion sense, but now I understood it was the result of her work. I leaned forward, eager to learn more, thirsty for information. What medium did she like to use? What was her artistic style like? Where was her art show going to take place? What would she think if I decided to show up? Out of professional curiosity, of course, not because I was excited by the thought of seeing her in her element.

Daliah’s phone started to ring, chiming to the tune of Kissed From A Rose by the Seal. She answered quickly, turning away momentarily from the painting she’d so keenly been eyeing.

“Hello?” she greeted sweetly.

I felt a little guilty for eavesdropping. It was probably a good idea if I got on my way. The last thing I wanted was for Daliah to discover I’d been standing there the entire time listening in. An old man and a creep? Not on my watch.

“I don’t understand,” she mumbled, cheerful expression dropping almost instantly. “I’ve already invited guests.” She sounded distraught, voice thin and weak. My heart twisted in my chest when I saw her face, the rims of her eyes red with the threat of tears. “Outbid by another artist? By how much?”

I edged a little closer, drawn to Daliah in a way I couldn’t begin to understand. To see her this upset made me upset. A quiet anger stewed within me. I wanted to know who was on the other end of the call. I’d give them a piece of my mind if given the chance.

“What?” she shrieked. “I can’t afford to pay that much. You don’t understand. This is a catch twenty-two for me. I can’t afford to pay for the show space if I can’t sell my paintings. And if I can’t sell my paintings, I can’t afford the show space. This is totally unfair. Weren’t you supposed to give me two weeks’ notice if anything came up? Hello?”

Daliah hung up the phone and swallowed, shoving the phone back into her jean’s pocket. Her shoulders slumped as she wiped at her eyes, too stubborn to let any tears fall. Clearing her throat, she looked back to the vendor. “Never mind,” she sniffled. She wandered over to a nearby planter made of cement and took a seat on the ledge, breathing slowly as she stared at the ground in stunned silence.

My heart twisted in my chest. This wasn’t right at all. This was Daliah, my happy-go-lucky neighbor with an infuriatingly free spirit and positive outlook on life. This was the woman with a quick wit, the woman who was always on her toes and ready to throw a quip right back at you, no matter what. How was it possible that this single phone call, this singular setback, had brought her to a screeching halt? None of it sat right with me. My feet carried me forward without any prompting, spurred on by a sudden urge to comfort the poor woman.

I approached carefully, unsure what to say. Sure, I’d only heard the one side of the conversation, but I knew what it felt like to be this frustrated. I’d gone through something similar many years ago when I was trying to put myself through medical school. My grandfather was convinced I’d be forced to drop out because I couldn’t afford the education, but I swore I’d work as many jobs as necessary to achieve my dreams of becoming a surgeon.

I needed to work hard to earn the money for my education, and I needed a good education to get a good job that could earn me a lot of money. Without one or the other, becoming the doctor I was now would never have been a possibility. Those years were hard and stressful, but it was all behind me now. I understood to an extent where Daliah was coming from, and to see her so defeated only served to stir up bad memories of a time when I struggled to stay afloat. In more ways than one, I pitied her.