I drove the remaining distance to Eli’s loft in North Adams. The building, once a textile mill whose dyes drained into the Hoosic River, had been converted and divvied up into ten large artist studios. Eli’s was the corner unit in the back of the building with windows facing south and west.
I knocked, listened, then knocked even louder. It was silent on the other side of the door. I tried the handle. It was unlocked. I let myself in and locked the door behind me, an urban habit that was probably unnecessary out here.
A very clear impression of the last time I’d stepped foot in the studio suddenly caught up with me. It must’ve been in the fall leading up to the divorce, mid-Octoberish judging from the foliage that scattered in the mind’s winds, when we were still keeping up the charade that nothing had changed between us. Eli’s response to the awkward stretches of silence was to focus our attention on his new dog, a Maltese that responded to Romeo. He couldn’t get Romeo to sit, shake, beg, play dead, or any of the other tricks he’d claimed the dog knew, and all of a sudden, I realized things would never be the same again. The moment quickly lost all urgency as I started preparing what I would say to leave. “Bang,” he repeated again, and again Romeo cocked his head like Eli was crazy. In the end, I told him how sorry I was for them both and left it at that.
They both pretended not to have heard, but they heard, and in hearing, knew exactly what I meant.
The place looked more or less the way I remembered it, minus what Amber took with her to California. It was an absence made more acute by memory. Over by the large south-facing windows, I perused the surface of a few dusty canvases leaning against the wall, all portraits of Amber in what seemed to be exercises in abstract styles. I didn’t know how long I stood there staring into this one oversized canvas of her face. It was very true and realistic, but at the same time, my mind was reluctant to recognize her. As my gaze traveled over the sunken landscapes of her cheeks, the receding seas of her eyes, and that wilderness of hair, I became aware of how much he had really loved her.
“Hello?” I called out suddenly.
But no one was there.