The Critic is a short story by a friend. Enjoy! It’s very good.
The Critic is a short story I begged from my friend who wrote some of the others on this blog. All of her stories read like they could turn into books.
He stood inside the doorway and looked at the watercolor paintings taped to the wall opposite.
It had been the boy`s room. She hadn`t the courage to put them where others might see them, he knew. Where they might invite criticism. She was terribly insecure.
He remembered when she first started painting. He`d been on a business trip for three days and when he returned, she showed him two of her efforts. She told him she had stayed up all night while he was gone and painted because she didn`t want to go to bed alone.
That`s what she said, anyway.
When she asked what he thought, he told her that she couldn`t be a painter overnight. He told her talent was something you have to be born with.
After that, he knew she painted but never when he was around. And she never asked his opinion again. He was glad. It was so unpleasant to have to tell her the truth. It wasn`t so much her amateurism that bothered him, though. It was her total lack of taste. Of class. It was the same with music.
Once she had Bartok on the radio – for background music while she was reading. He explained that Bartok was intellectual music. An experience. You didn`t call it background music. She didn`t understand. It was even worse with the guitar.
He played classical guitar. Once piece quite well. Everyone told him how good he was. He always played whenever friends came to visit because he knew how much they appreciated it. He could feel her envy when attention was centered on him. So, naturally, she wanted to learn how to play, too. She asked him to teach her. She said she wanted to learn so she`d have something to share with him. Well, he told her that to share you had to have an equal level of competence. But she insisted.
He tried. Taught her how to sit properly with her hand just so – stiff over the frets with no movement in the palm. And then he showed her different modes and explained about counterpoint. She didn`t understand and asked him to teach her the chords to Sounds of Silence instead of “all that stuff”. That`s what she called it.
He said the only way to learn guitar if you want to be good was to start with classical. Then he gave her some exercises. He heard her practice sometimes. It was awful. She always stopped when he came into the room. Finally she stopped altogether. Lack of perseverance is typical of people with no talent.
He walked over to the wall and peeled off the paintings. Then he took them into the living-room and piled them on the coffee table. He wondered about throwing them away. She`d taken the boy and left three months ago. He didn`t think it was his kid, anyway.
He picked up his guitar and positioned himself in a straight-backed chair, one foot perched on a small wooden block he`d designed especially for correct balance. Then he inspected his fingernails. He`d have to trim the left-hand nails soon but the right-hand nails were perfect – just the right length. He shook his head remembering the time she was fooling around – tickling him – and made him break a fingernail against a drawer. He couldn`t play for a month. No, he didn`t miss her.
He had been practicing the Concierto de Aranjeuz, trying to not squeak like John Williams, when the doorbell rang. Suzanne and Nigel. He`d been expecting them. They`d been around only once in the last three months. They used to come every week. He made a mental note to chide Suzanne about that.
Suzanne. She was a fantastic girl. Her colored pencil studies of mushrooms had been published in the Smithsonian Journal. And Nigel was a successful scriptwriter. You couldn`t have better friends.
He wished he could meet somebody like Suzanne. Someone who had her wide range of interests. She was always trying to learn something new. A few months ago it was riding. Before that, Scuba diving. Nigel wasn`t really her type. And only a second-rate writer, anyway.
He laid the well-polished Hoffman gently aside and unfolded his length from the chair as the bell sounded again.
“For me?” His face puckered as he reached for the flat white box Suzanne had produced from the folds of her elegant beaver wrap.
“A reward for your curry feast last month”, she said, almost smiling.
“You`re too much.” His brows peaked over squared eyes and he looked as though he might cry.
“It`s nothing, Merritt.” She concentrated on unhooking the wrap from her plump shoulders.
“Come on. I know you.” He turned the box upside down and inspected the edges. Then he shook it. “Sounds expensive. What is it?”
“Pizza, old man,” said a thin young man lounging in the open doorway, tamping tobacco into a pipe bowl. “Pepperoni.”
Suzanne turned and glowered at her grinning escort.
After Suzanne had put the pizza in the kitchen, he offered them a drink and began telling about the time he`d met Prince William of Gloucester years before in Nigeria. Nigel and Suzanne exchanged glances.
“I was teaching in Ibadan, you know. There was an accident. A small plane went down in the river and since they knew I could dive, they asked me to help on the salvage. I was a pretty good diver, even in those days.” He caressed his narrow, blond goatee while gazing at Suzanne perched on an ottoman at one end of the coffee table. “William was there on an expedition. He volunteered, too. He wasn`t a bad diver but I agreed to be his diving partner, just in case.”
Nigel coughed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. Suzanne moved to his vacated seat on the sofa and spotted the watercolors on the coffee table.
He wished he`d gotten rid of them. “Suzie?” He was the only one who called her that. Even Nigel didn`t.
“Hmm?” She had picked up the pile.
“You`ve been naughty,” he said. “staying away so long.”
“These yours?” She slowly thumbed through the sheets.
“Mine? What makes you think they`re mine?” he sipped his drink, watching her.
She`d selected one from the stack and was holding it at arm`s length, studying it through half-closed eyes. “Whose then?”
He wondered which one she was looking at. He half rose to see, then sat back down again. “Come on Suzie. Come on – give them back. They`re just garbage.”
She ignored him and continued to study the painting. Moving it back and forth in her focus.
“Trash, isn`t it,” he repeated.
She carefully placed the pictures back on the coffee table and picked up her drink. “You`re an amazing man, Merritt.”
He cocked his head and smiled. “You`re pretty amazing yourself – Suzie.”
She sipped from her glass and looked down at the stack on the table. “You really are.” She raised her eyes to him again. “Not only incredibly talented,” she tapped the stack, “but modest, too.”
She cocked her head and smiled.