Daniel drove her to the store and she somehow found herself in an awkward, insistent conversation with a stranger, who carried a small dog in a mesh-sided bag. Why she relented and told the lady she was a painter, she did not know—over the years Helena had developed an entirely different vocabulary for small talk such as this. At parties or benefits, where inevitably someone would try to talk to her about Picasso or Monet or—God help her—some minimalist back in New York.
“Oh, I love art,” the lady said, throwing the bag over her shoulder, no doubt rattling the animal inside. ‘I love art,’ they always said. What could this mean?
The lady continued, “Thomas Kinkade is my favorite artist.”
Helena had heard this sort of thing a thousand times, and it no longer surprised her—or drove a spike into her heart. Kinkade democratized and thus destroyed painting. (Not on his own, of course, but he was the benchmark.) His world was supposed to be cheery, sentimental, easy. But Helena thought his houses looked demonic, transplanted from Amityville, ablaze with the urge toward invented perfection. She expected Virgil at the front door. Linda Blair drooling and vomiting on the sofa. His paintings were utterly false.
The lady began slowly wrapping up the inanities, and Daniel turned the corner, stepping into the aisle. “Mom?” he said, and surely at the sight of him, the lady shrank away and disappeared.