It’s the one thing I’ve got on my bucket list. I don’t care if it takes five years, ten years, forty years, I will get my art into that galley one day. If I ever paint again, that is.
“Anyway. I worked on this series of paintings last year that I was so proud of. Not because they were good pieces, but because I felt them in my soul. I valued them, and it’s weird, when you value something you’ve created so much, it almost doesn’t matter what other people think of it.”
“Oh, I get that babygirl. I get that so much.”
I pull away a little and look up at him, studying his face. I wonder if he felt the same thing starting this gym. The concept is pretty strange, but he just fits it so well. And he’s making it work. This place is always packed. “I believe you, daddy.”
He plants a slow, searing kiss on my mouth. “Go on.”
I take a deep breath. “The paintings were all about grief and loss. But angry grief. I lost my parents a few years ago in a car accident. My father had been drinking. I never forgave them because I was just so mad at them for leaving me in such a stupid, pointless way. Painting that series was the first time I really dealt with what I was feeling. There were lots of red and harsh lines, and it was the first time abstract art really clicked with me and felt authentic.”
I can see the paintings before my eyes. They’re still the best thing I’ve ever made with my own two hands, and yet now they feel… spoiled.
“I showed that series to a lot of gallery curators and got turned down, of course, but I expected that because I’m nobody. Finally, the series was accepted for just one night at this super tiny but lovely gallery in the south, and I was ecstatic. There’s this woman who’s older than me who’s kind of my hero. I invited her to the opening—well, the only night—and she said she would do her best to make it, but in the meantime, could I send her photographs of all the pieces? I mean, she replied to me, so I was already buzzing, and I sent the pics.”
I wipe the tears on my face with my fingers at the memory. So, so stupid.
“She didn’t come. But hey, that’s no big deal. She was still aware of my work and of me and that felt pretty special. Seven months later, I opened a marketing email from that inner east gallery. This woman had a new exhibition opening, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw the photos of her standing in front of her art. The colors were the same as mine. The style was the same. The subject was the same, too, except she said the paintings were about grief over the sister she’d lost when she was nine, nearly forty years ago.”
I remember reading what one journalist gushed about the pieces: “…grief so palpable, as if it was inflicted only yesterday.”
“There were a few differences. She’d gone bigger with the idea. Bigger canvases. Glossy brochures. Dozens of limited edition signed prints for sale. Invitations to journalists at all the big papers and magazines. But I knew what I was seeing.”
Dom tenses against me. “She’d copied you?”
I shrug miserably. “Define ‘copy.’ It’s not illegal to take someone’s idea and change it just enough to make it your own. I mean, she put in the hours painting those pictures. Grief and red aren’t astoundingly original.”
“Yeah, but the timing, peaches. You have to see that—”
I put a finger to his lips, and whisper. “I know. I’ve been over it a thousand times in my head. I know what she did, this famous woman who already had a big following, to someone who is new and struggling to be seen. Thank you for being angry for me. And thank you especially for not telling me that it doesn’t matter.”
“I would never say that. Of course it matters.”
“Some people have told me I should be flattered, or they’re confused that I’d even feel bad about something like this.”
“How do you feel? Deep down. All the way down here?” He puts his hand against my belly, as if he knows that’s exactly where the worst of it is.
“Powerless,” I whisper. “Like a child too weak and confused to be able to fight back against this giant presence who acknowledged my existence just long enough to snatch something precious from me. Now she’s dangling it above my head, just out of my reach. Everyone only sees her, praises her. None of them see me, because I’m as small and puny as an ant.”
There’s nothing I can do, because publicly accusing her of stealing my ideas will only make me seem petty and jealous.