The Driver, the Woman in the Wheelchair, and the Artist Painting in the Street

The man who brought her downstairs and attended to her was not her husband.  Not her lover either.  It had been a long time since, you know, there had been someone like that in her life.  She had been worried that it would be cold – too cold to be sitting still in the wheelchair outside.   He had reassured her, let her know once again that withdrawing from the world wasn’t so healthy.  She remembered thinking, “What does he know?  How does he know what’s healthy for me?”  But she gave in and let him adjust her hat and gloves. Then he left her sitting in the walkway and went inside leaving her here, waiting.  At least, she thought, when I’m in my apartment I don’t feel like I’m waiting.  Out here in the street I always feel that I am waiting for something to happen.  And I’m never sure what that is.

Hoping to distract from the process of waiting, she began deliberately noting what was around her.  A woman, younger than she, stood leaning against the wrought iron fence in front of the house next door.Afternoon Sunlight on a Greenwich Village Street - New York City-MShe was tapping words into her phone, but Sara could read the signs.  This woman was clearly waiting – while pretending she wasn’t.  Why the pretense thought Sara.  She probably doesn’t want to appear to have been left, to be without purpose.  Wait until she ages a bit more thought Sara, she’ll have ample opportunity to explore purposelessness.

Across from the woman in the wheelchair is a car parked with the driver inside.  It’s a black limo but not a big one.  The driver too is waiting, not so much for something to happen, but for the man and woman to return from the cafe across the street.   He knew it would be a considerable time before they would be ready to leave, and then probably on to a club or two.  More sitting and waiting.  He got out of the car and opened the door on the other side, shifting and straightening what had been left there.  Then he grabbed a bottle of water from the trunk and got back into the car.  He wasn’t much interested in what was happening around him,  choosing to listen to music.  He would just settle in, maybe nod off a bit.

Sara noticed the car, but barely.  She didn’t see the driver – not because he was out of her line of vision, but because he was a chauffeur.  To her he was basically a non-person.  Even if she had taken notice of him, he would have been of no interest as a driver sitting in a car.  Only if he were her driver – then there might have been attention to giving him some direction.  Someone to notice only to the extent that he is useful.  And Sara didn’t even notice that she hadn’t noticed.

Jared was used to not being seen.  He’d been driving other people around for a few years now.  He knew it wouldn’t be forever; he knew he’d go back to school.  He just wasn’t sure when, or where for that matter.  He was gathering experiences in the meantime.  Amazing what you can gather when not being noticed.   People show themselves more easily when they feel no one is looking.  Especially in the back of his car.

But there was some restlessness in him this evening that made it difficult for him to settle.  Maybe he was really tired of sitting and waiting.  Maybe it was time to stand up and do something.  While chewing on this thought, he became aware of the agitated energy behind it.  That’s when he happened to glance in the rear view mirror.  And there, standing in the street, was a man painting with palette and easel.   What the hell, thought Jared.

Well, so much for not being interested in what was happening around him or his restless energy.  Jared’s whole focus landed on the artist in the street.  Had he just beamed in from Paris’s Left Bank?  Had he actually been there when Jared pulled into this parking spot?  Why does a guy set up his easel in the street?

The artist continued painting, oblivious to the questions being launched into the universe by the nearby driver.   He wasn’t exactly standing in the middle of the street but taking up his own parking space in between two cars.   His gaze shifted from his canvas to the restaurant he was facing.  He applied paint then looked back toward the cafe.  Why was he painting?  Who was it for?  Such an oddity even by New York City standards, especially in that the artist wasn’t part of a performance piece.  He was simply absorbed in the canvas in front of him.  Yet, typical of this city, passers by didn’t seem to notice him, his canvas and his easel there in the street.  Perhaps if he’d been naked…

So,was he there hoping to be discovered?  No, he was simply painting restaurant fronts in the hopes that tourists would want to purchase a souvenir of where they had a romantic dinner with someone special.  Set up in the alley entrance nearby was a display of several of his paintings, each of a different restaurant in the Village.  It didn’t seem that he’d been too successful selling his work unless he had a big store hidden elsewhere.  Stephen wasn’t really all that interested in the sale of his paintings as much as in the act of painting itself and, of course, the exotic image of himself as an artist.  He knew he would continue painting until he couldn’t lift a paintbrush anymore.  Sad, but true, he thought to himself.  If he’d been more concerned about earning money, perhaps his wife would still be with him.  She had been his muse when they were much younger, until it wasn’t enough.  It was several years since she had left with another artist – one who was younger than he and considerably more talented.  Yes, one who even earned a living selling his work in New York galleries.  It bothered  Stephen, and yet it didn’t bother him.  He missed having a muse – restaurant fronts were not that inspiring.  He didn’t mind being alone though, he kept himself good company.  He really did like himself.  He thought that most people he knew didn’t seem to like themselves very much.  They all wanted something different from what they had.  He didn’t – he really appreciated that he could spend his time painting.  Even without a muse, he was happy painting, no matter what.

Stephen didn’t see the driver in the black limo, nor was he aware of the woman in the wheelchair.  He was focused.  As was the woman who was tapping words into her cell phone.  She was absorbed in writing about the artist, the driver and the woman in the wheelchair.  She was creating a story, something she did quite often.  It was easy, especially in the city where the were so many people and situations to witness.  So, here she was again, waiting for her companion to show up for dinner at the nearby restaurant (the one in fact that Stephen was now painting).  She was waiting for him outside, there being not much room in the crowded cafe and the evening being rather warm for November.  And while she was there, noticing the three individuals around her, she had begun to make up a story about each one.  They were not unreasonable stories, but fabricated nonetheless.

Her attention was unexpectedly interrupted by the manager of the restaurant who had come outside to tell her that now there was room at the bar should she want to come inside and wait for her companion.  Nice of him, she thought.  So she left her storied threesome in the midst of their tales and went inside.  Sipping a glass of wine, she wondered if the artist could see her through the window and might she appear in his painting.  Of course, that might just lead to another story…

1 Comment

Filed under Prose and Poetry

One Response to The Driver, the Woman in the Wheelchair, and the Artist Painting in the Street

  1. Susan Sullivan

    Reading this story, I came to an awareness of how rich ordinary moments are. I hope that I never wait impatiently again. I would not want to be the woman tapping her foot, and looking at her watch. Thank you.

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