Dacey was vacuuming the living room when Nathan entered the house as if burdened by Jupiter's gravity. Her bright green eyes noticed this sag for a full second before he realized she was present and staring at him. At that moment he brightened up, shrugged on a cheerful grin, and winked at her.
She wasn't fooled by his BS for one second. "What did the doctor say, Daddy?"
"He said I'm healthy as a horse. I could outlive you!"
This felt like the truth to her. What was there, anyway. But it felt like he was holding something back. Perhaps he knew she was on to him, because he hurriedly removed his jacket, hung it up, and headed for his office. "I have some work to do, Sweetie. No time like the present!"
"Don't forget, I'm making chicken fettuccine tonight." Dacey said, sounding a little worried.
Nathan smiled distractedly in her general direction.
There is nothing quite like scraping ice cold chicken fettuccine into a trash can at 1am to bring you straight back to your childhood. The only difference was that back then she had watched her mother do it.
"I don’t understand why you won’t go to the dentist." Dacey whined three days later.
She was standing in the doorway of his office. Nathan was at the other end of the room, the back of his easel facing her, an intent look on his face as his bright blue eyes focused entirely on his canvas and not a bit on her. He was running his hands over the painting he was currently working on, the oil smudged skin of his fingers just a baby’s breath above the linen canvas (no cheap cotton for her father, no sir!). She had watched him do this since she was an infant crawling around the floor of his office. It had taken her a long time to realize that being in the same room as her father meant nothing when his eyes and hands were focused on his work. The only time he was ever WITH you was when he was out of this office. And only then if he wasn’t currently working on something.
"This appointment has been on the books for six months, Daddy."
Still his eyes didn’t move from the surface of the canvas. How hard would it be to glance over at her for one freaking second? Did it really require that much effort to give her the respect any human being owes another … actual eye contact? She might as well be a dog or a bag of garbage.
There was one way to get his attention. She could walk over to look at what he was working on. The placement of his canvas … so that it faced his windowless corner and had its back to the doorway and the rest of his office … was no coincidence. No one was ever allowed to look at his work until he was completely finished with it. Not satisfied, for he was never satisfied with his work. Finished. Only then were the unwashed masses permitted to gaze upon the beauty of his creation.
But to do this would greatly upset him and it wasn’t healthy at his age for him to get too upset.
"They need to check on your bridge, Daddy. It’s important."
His brilliantly blue, beautiful eyes maintained their focus on his work. She could see several colors from his canvas reflected in those gorgeous eyes. Green and tan. What was he working on this time? The old curiosity peeked up from the mists of her childhood for a half second. But this was soon drowned by the old resentments and jealousies.
It was bad to feel as if you’re not very important to someone you love. Far worse to feel like cold inanimate oils and canvases were what got him out of bed in the morning and traveled with him into his dreams at night.
Dacey turned away, her hands curled up into futile fists, and stormed down the hallway. She passed "Faraway Mist," a landmark work that had been his first painting to place #1 at the Carnegie Art Award. It had been this piece that had made the name Nathan Cory an international brand. She stopped to look at this painting, fighting the urge to rip it from the wall and tear it to shreds. Her father could sell it tomorrow for over a million dollars and it was hanging on the wall in their hallway like a preschool watercolor. The hallway was so narrow that you couldn’t even get back enough to fully appreciate the genius of this work.
He had given his life to these pieces, but when they were finished they were even more worthless to him than she was.
A couple days later Dacey called Richard to break her date with him that night. "I’m just too busy here. Daddy has been working with an obsession I haven’t seen since before I went to college. I need to have an intervention with him and I’m afraid to put it off any longer."
"We’ve been planning this for months." Richard whined. "It’s too late to return the tickets."
Dacey had him on speaker and didn’t look over at the phone because she was gathering up the clothes Nathan had tossed everywhere last night before collapsing asleep on their sofa. "I know honey. I’m sorry. But there’ll be another play."
"Concert." Richard corrected. "And the point of this concert tonight is that they’re retiring. There won’t be any more after tonight."
Dacey took the clothes to the laundry basket. Laundry day was always a scavenger hunt since her father had never mastered the art of taking his clothes off in the same place two days in a row. When he was working on a piece, his mind was in his room in front of his canvas 24-7. You only really had his attention between works.
Her mouth twisted as the scent of oils and thinner hit her nose. She had been to a Waffle House bathroom and she still thought this right here was the worst smell on the planet.
"Dacey?" Richard asked.
She jumped. "Oh. Sorry. I-I stubbed my toe." She lied. "Sorry. Anyway, so we’ll see them the next time they’re in concert, okay? I’ll pay you back for the price of the tickets. And we can have lunch this Sunday."
There was a stony silence at the other end.
Dacey got on her knees and looked under the easy chair. Yep, there was one of his socks. For heaven’s sake! He was a grown man. Twice a grown man, really, at the age of 72. How did you get to be 72 without figuring out how to throw your clothes in a hamper?
Okay, so that should be it. She’d do laundry and then make him his favorite meal. She would force him to come eat it and have a little talk with him. Enough was enough.
"Dacey," Richard finally said. "Why do you do this for him? He doesn’t appreciate it, you know. And God knows he can afford to hire a housekeeper."
Dacey snorted. She had already explained this to him several times. He didn’t listen very well, did he? "Daddy won’t have a stranger in this house. It disrupts his work. He kept firing everyone I hired." She finally faced the phone speaker for the first time since placing the call ten minutes ago. "And then Mrs. Norris stopped by to deliver his supplies and found him unconscious in the kitchen. The place was a pig sty and he had slipped on a milk spill and almost bashed his brains in. And yet he still refused to keep the next person I hired. The only person he’ll accept is me!"
"So your life gets put on hold indefinitely?"
She carried the clothes basket into the laundry room and started a load. When it was going, she returned to the living room to find Richard calling out her name.
"Dacey! Dacey! Are you still there?!"
"My life isn’t on hold!" Dacey retorted as if three minutes hadn’t passed. "This is an eight hour job like the one I had at the bank except he pays me twice as much. And I have no living expenses right now. I’m going to be bringing in the next housekeeper to work side by side with me to learn the ropes and get Daddy used to her. Once she knows what to do and not to do so his work is not disrupted, I’ll have enough money saved up to buy a house."
"What’s it been, a year already?" He demanded.
Dacey was looking into the kitchen, tapping one finger on her lips, trying to figure out which of his favorite meals might put him in the best mood. He liked meat loaf, but it made him sleepy. That wasn’t good. Chili was no longer good for him. What about -.
"Oh, yeah, to answer your question, I’ll probably bring in a new housekeeper after he finishes his current work. Doing anything new during one of his projects is pretty pointless."
Another stony silence greeted this.
She had it! She’d make him salmon patties with the lemon sprites and oregano dashes he liked so much. His mother used to make it for him in exactly that way. She had been so pleased when she discovered that old cookbook during the course of their move to this beachhouse five years ago.
"I need to go, Dacey." Richard said coldly. "I – I have a meeting in a minute."
"’K." Dacey replied. "We’ll do lunch Sunday afternoon. Let’s say 1pm."
"Yea-." He said, hanging up so swiftly that he cut off his own h.
Dacey went into the kitchen to wash up and take inventory. She had time to run to the store if necessary.
It wasn’t until the beeping started that Dacey remembered to hang her phone up.
"I’m not working too hard." Nathan protested that night over dinner when she broached the subject.
The conversation continued for another half hour, but it started with, could be summarized by, and finished with … that line. Everything else was white noise and might as well have been screamed into the business end of an in action jet engine for how much impact it made.
"I’m not working too hard." Nathan said, getting to his feet and heading back to his office.
Dacey sat there, drained. She was thirty freaking years old. How was it possible for anyone to make a grown woman like her feel like a child? That was insane.
Well, she had tried. Tried like hell. But he wasn’t going to budge. Sometimes he would, especially as he got on in years. But this particular project seemed to have sunk its teeth in him in a way none had since he dedicated a painting to her mother upon her death.
It was better to just ride it out and wait for this stupid painting to be finished. She’d have him back then and could talk some sense into him.
Sunday afternoon, at 1pm, Dacey stopped at Nathan’s doorway. "Hey Daddy."
His bright blue eyes never left the canvas. "Yes honey?"
"Let’s go out to lunch. You’ve been shut up in this office all weekend."
His size 3 brush was hovering over his painting, like an assassin sniper waiting for just the right opportunity. His eyes suddenly darted to hers, he met her gaze for a full ten seconds, before they slowly returned to his painting.
Then, moving from stillness to action as swiftly as a hunting tiger, Nathan turned away from his canvas, set the brush down, grabbed a house brush, opened a can of white paint, dipped the brush in, and returned to his canvas. "Time for an abortion." He eradicated the entire board with a savageness that scared her a little.
Then he faced to her. "Lunch sounds good."
It was a fun, enjoyable time. He talked about her childhood, her mother, and the dreams he’d had during her birth of her following his footsteps. "But art is not something that can be pushed on someone." He informed her seriously. "I never once tried to put a brush in your hand."
That was true. "I’m glad, because I suck at it."
They laughed, but then he got serious again. "I couldn’t be more proud of you if you were a painter. You’re a great person, Dase. So beautiful and intelligent. Just like your mother."
She beamed under his unusual praise.
He went back to work as soon as they returned home, but it was a fantastic lunch and she could appreciate it for what it was, a rare gift from him.
An express letter from Richard arrived the next afternoon. Dacey was busy cleaning the bathrooms when it arrived so she set it aside and didn’t remember to open it until two days later.
When she finally did open it she discovered that Richard was ending their three year relationship. He had intentionally not called to remind her of her Sunday afternoon date promise and, as he expected, she had completely forgotten all about it. "Life is too short to spend it pining for a woman who will never be able to completely give me herself." He said at one point. "You should never feel like a second class citizen within a relationship. I get enough of that kind of disrespect at work." He said at another. It was a long, well written letter that was surprising devoid of anger. That was nice, because usually her relationships ended on an angry note.
The oven alarm went off. Dacey tossed aside the letter and went to it before the pot roast burned. The next morning the letter went into the trash along with Nathan’s empty bottles of water and the debris he created every time he mixed paint.
A week later, Nathan (ten pounds lighter and looking more exhausted than she had ever seen him) summoned her to his office. He was in presentation mode. Every speckle of paint had been removed from his skin, he was wearing his suit, and the canvas had been moved to the center of the room, turned around, and shrouded by his linen overlay. The spotlights had been aimed at the canvas and turned on. And one chair had been strategically placed exactly six feet back from the canvas. He had even placed an end table beside her hair and put a fresh bottle of water and a napkin on it for her.
"I’ll get changed and come right back." She promised, grinning at him.
She came back ten minutes later, wearing her party dress and high heels. She’d let her hair down and brushed it out but had not done much else with it. But this was a ritual, not a real viewing party, so it was okay.
Nathan had been pacing nervously, as he always did. As soon as she arrived he launched himself over to the right side of the canvas.
Dacey took her seat and politely opened her bottle of water. She couldn’t keep a smile off her face. He was so nervous and happy. She loved him like this.
Nathan cleared his throat and sobered. "The day I came back from the doctor, I wasn’t entirely honest with you. I’m sorry, Dase."
She sat up in alarm.
"No, no, sweetie. It’s nothing life threatening. He says I am very strong and in great health otherwise. I’ll live another 20 years unless I get hit by a car or something."
"Oh, you scared the crap out of me."
"No, what is happening is that I am going blind. Macular Degeneration. It’s already pretty far along, and there is nothing they can do about it. Within six months I won’t be able to walk across a room without assistance or a cane."
"Oh my god." Dacey cried. Then she thought of his work. "Oh my God! Daddy! Your paintings!"
He smiled sadly and ran his left hand just above the surface of the linen covering his painting. "This is my final work. I have been working so furiously because I wanted to get it right before I was too blind to finish it. But this is it. After I pull away this cover, I am officially retired. I will never paint again."
The enormity of this drove speech from her. She gasped and dabbed her eyes.
"Don’t cry sweetie." He whispered. "I’ve had a great life and a long career. It’s time I retired anyway before I got too old to travel and enjoy life for a change. And with my work complete I can get a housekeeper without worrying about her disrupting me. You’ll have your life back."
"I already have a life." She protested. "You gave us so much growing up, I haven’t resented a moment of taking care of you!" That was true. What she had resented was feeling like she wasn’t in the same room with him. And feeling like his work was more important to him than she was.
"You’ll never know how much I appreciate you moving in and helping me, giving me this last year. I finished several works I am quite proud of, and that would not have been possible if someone else had been here. Thank you, Dase."
"You’re welcome Daddy." She sighed.
He sighed as well, gathered himself with difficulty, and returned his attention to the canvas. "This work has been on my mind since you were born. I’ve always been afraid to attempt it because I didn’t think I could capture it. I’ve tried three times over the years and always abandoned it halfway through. But as soon as I realized I was running out of time, I knew what I wanted my final work to be. So I forced myself to finish it this time. It doesn’t do justice to the real thing, but it is my shout to the heavens and is the best I can do."
With that he pulled away the cover.
Twin swirls of bright green, each eternally orbiting a black moon while themselves being encapsulated by frozen white clouds, dominated the work. Beyond each white cloud was a narrow thicket of pale red trees, a small tan expanse, a fatter grove of red trees, and finally more silky tan fields extending all the way to the edges of the canvas. Between the two green nebulas and accompanying white clouds was a narrow tan ridge that extended down to the bottom of the painting.
But the tan and red items were mere window dressing. The main course was the green, white, and black. The swirls, the moons, and the clouds.
"This is beautiful." Dacey finally gasped.
Nathan grinned. "I’m going to call it the same thing I called you when I first saw you at the hospital. Bright eyes."
Dacey got up and they embraced.
It wasn’t until that night, as she lay in bed and was drifting happily to sleep, that the full implications hit her.
It would take a very acute awareness to paint something like that and get not the smallest detail wrong.
He had been paying a lot more attention to her than she had been aware of.
How was that possible?
"There is more than one kind of blindness." Dacey whispered in the darkness as she fought a chill.