“Why did you make me look so horrible?” asked Aline, scrunching her face at the painting.
“I didn’t make you look horrible.”
“Yes you did. You made me ugly.”
Pierre said nothing, only rolled an orange back and forth on the table.
“My eyes. They look…like lizard eyes.”
“Even if that’s the case, Aline, you’re still the most beautiful woman in the painting,” Pierre said. “Just look at Angèle. Look at her thick neck. She wears her hat like a drunkard.”
“She is trying too hard to seem interested in Maggiolo’s words. You can tell she only wants his money.”
“And Alphonsine, trying to charm Raoul with her youth. She’ll look like a tilled field in three years’ time. She wears that hat to hide her mossy hair.”
Aline let out a drop of laughter.
“And look at Ellen behind her drink. An actress cannot escape the cruel chains of the glass. Her career will be over. There will be no more stagelights; her beauty will sleep in the amber light that passes through the bottle in her Montmarte apartment.”
“And what about Jeanne? Will the same thing happen to her?”
“She spreads her love too easily. She will become taken by an oarsmen whom she’ll meet at one of the lesser guingettes.”
“And what about me?” asked Aline. “What about my place in the painting?”
Pierre remembered spending more time on the dog than he spent on Aline.
“I cannot possibly paint someone like you, Aline. I cannot possibly recreate you in paint, not oil on canvas.” Jean began to cry in the other room and this gave Pierre a brief respite from the defense of his painting against the one he loved the most.
Aline left the room to change Jean’s diaper and Pierre peeled the orange with his fingers. He enjoyed the smell of the juice as it misted through the air.
“And what about my place in the painting?” she asked again, louder than before.
“And what about it?” Pierre called back. “I put you at the front of the painting. I set you free from trite conversation.”
“But the dog is deserving of my conversation?” she asked, trying to hold back laughter. “Are you saying I’m only good enough for a dog?”
“A dog is different, Aline. A dog is…A dog is just a dog.”
“And why do I have two empty wine glasses in front of me?”
“One of them isn’t yours. Perhaps it’s mine. People drink wine and then walk around. Walking around is one of the best things to do after drinking a glass of wine.”
“Yes,” she antagonized, “but why is my glass not full?”
Pierre sighed, growing tired of this game.
“Your glass is empty because I made it empty. An empty glass is empty because it’s waiting to be filled again.”
The conversation subsided and Pierre returned to his Spanish orange. Aline worked on Jean’s diaper. The dog trotted into the room with water on its beard. He pawed Pierre’s shoes in hopes of receiving a piece of the orange.
“Stop that, Napoleon.”
The dog backed off and Aline entered the room again, bouncing Jean on her right hip.
“Do you wish you had put more effort into painting me?”
Pierre ate a sliver of the orange.
“I don’t know. I’ve painted you so many times since then. You were new to me. You were just a girl with a dog.” Napoleon barked at a child in the street. “I had no idea how to make someone like you into a figure in a painting. There was something beautiful about you that I didn’t want to lose or misinterpret on the canvas. That’s the risk of painting beautiful things: making them less beautiful.”
“I see,” she smiled.
He smiled back.
Napoleon danced and barked at the kid in the street.
The painting sat naked in the sun.
“I still think I look ugly in that painting.”
“I know, Aline. You do look ugly in that painting.”