Joanna sat in the undignified position that so many women found themselves in. Her jeans were around her ankles and her hand was reaching between her legs into the toilet with a pregnancy stick in her hand. This wasn’t the time to not be able to go. Usually, her bladder was the size of a thimble. Today, it was like she had a stadium full of people watching.
“Come on,” she encouraged herself realizing how long she had been in the bathroom.
It wasn’t like she was at home. She wasn’t even in Exuma, the Bahamian island where she lived with Devlin and Paulo. No, she was in the bathroom of an art gallery on Paradise Island, the tourist trap of an island she was visiting when she met the two loves of her life.
Exuma was too small of an island to buy a pregnancy test on. Even if a shop had one, it wouldn’t be long before everyone on the island knew you bought it. So, instead, she had chosen to go with Ms. Mable, their housekeeper, as she picked up supplies from the main island.
Who could wait to get home to do the test, however? The package said that it would only take 3 minutes. The company had clearly underestimated how long it would take to pee with the rest of your life on the line.
Doing her best not to think about what a positive result would mean, Joanna closed her eyes and thought about the last time she and her two boys were together. It had been before Paulo had left for his trip to Japan. That had been more than a month ago, and the sex that the three of them had together had been glorious.
Feeling her body unclench, she felt the pee working its way through her body. At last, she would know. She would know if her life, and the lives of the men she loved more than anyone on earth, would change forever. It was with that thought that her body clenched and all of the pee she was about to let free, retreated back into her body.
“Damn it!” she exclaimed frustrated as hell.
“Do you need any help in there?” a male voice said from outside the door.
Joanna slapped her hand on her mouth. The art gallery wasn’t very big. It wasn’t even the size of their living room back in Exuma, and the thin bathroom door opened onto the gallery space itself. That meant that, whether they were trying to or not, everyone in the gallery could hear her. That did not make it easier for her to pee.
“No. Thank you. I just dropped something. No problem here,” she said willing to say anything to escape the helpful man’s attention.
Deciding that this wasn’t going to happen right now, Joanna withdrew the stick from beneath her and sighed. Why did the most important things always have to be so hard?
Joanna was about to pull up her pants and quickly leave the gallery when she glanced down at the stick. There was something appearing on it.
How could that be? Was the pee startled out of her? It had to be. And just like that, the rest of her life was forming before her.
Was it a minus sign? It kind of looked like a minus sign. Oh no, it’s a minus sign.
No, wait, maybe not. There was more of the symbol forming. It had four points, not two. She wasn’t looking at a minus sign, she was looking at a plus.
That was it. It was a plus sign. She was pregnant. Oh my god, she was pregnant. She was going to have a baby, and Devlin and Paulo were the dads.
As if consumed by a tsunami of joy, Joanna’s mind floated away to a state of pure bliss. She was going to become a mom. The three of them were about to become a family. Her life was now complete.
It was with that sense of unrivaled happiness that Joanna finally pulled up her pants and exited the bathroom. Reentering the gallery, all of the colors seemed brighter. The colorful Bahamian-styled paintings practically leapt from the canvases. And the ones that leapt the furthest were from an artist Joanna knew well. Feeling more connected to them than she ever could before, she approached them and stared.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” the familiar male voice said from behind her.
Joanna turned to the man and stared. She had been to the gallery a few times since she had started visiting the island, but she didn’t recognize him.
“It’s incredible,” Joanna proclaimed.
“It’s by an artist named Paulo Lunn. He’s a genius.”
Joanna looked at the man fighting back her smile. “I think I’ve heard of him. He did that candy art, right?”
“Yes. It was amazing. Have you seen the pieces?”
Of course Joanna had seen the pieces. Paulo had created them using her candy. It was that work that had brought the three of them together.
“I’ve seen a few of them,” Joanna said not wanting to blow her anonymous cover. But, not able to completely resist, she added, “and, I own one.”
“You do?” the slightly older man said surprised. “If you are a collector of his work, then I would suggest adding this piece to your collection.”
The man looked around the empty gallery as if determining if anyone else was listening. “You didn’t hear it from me, but this might be one of the last pieces he ever creates.”
Joanna stared at the man confused. Was this some sort of sales technique? Was he trying to make Paulo’s work seem scarce and hence more appealing?
“Why do you say that?” Joanna asked confused.
The man smiled only too happy to share something that he thought only he knew. “Again, you didn’t hear it from me, but I spoke to him recently and it seems that he hasn’t painted in months. In fact, he’s in Japan right now desperately trying to recapture his creative spark. It’s not going well. He’s starting to think that he may never paint again.”
Joanna looked at this fair-skinned, mustached man shocked. What was this guy saying? Was this just something he was making up, or did he somehow know something that she did not?
“He told you this?” Joanna asked trying to piece it all together.
“From Tokyo?” Joanna tested.
“Actually, he’s on Taketomi Island. It’s a small island in the Okinawa chain. Do you know Japan?”
Joanna stared at him stunned. He was right. That was where Paulo was. The only way this guy could know that was if he had spoken to him. She had been barely able to find it on a map when Paulo had informed her and Devlin where he was going. And when she had asked Paulo why he was going there, his only response had been, “inspiration”.
“I don’t,” Joanna replied officially stripped of any baby bliss she had had.
“The island is actually a lot like the Bahamian outer islands. Paulo described it to be a lot like the Exumas, if you’ve been there.”
“I’ve been there,” she said suddenly feeling dazed.
“Anyway, as I was saying, if you are a collector of his work, you might want to snap this piece up because there might not be any more coming.”
Joanna now hated this guy’s smug, know-it-all smile. Who did he think he was? Salesmanship or not, these were not things he should be saying about Paulo. Especially since he clearly didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Thank you,” Joanna said immediately turning and walking out.
Hurrying back to the slip to meet up with Ms. Mable, Joanna replayed all of the recent conversations she had had with Paulo. She hadn’t realized it before, but there did seem to be something off about him. Why hadn’t she noticed it before? Was it how wrapped up she was with getting the candy manufacturing set up on Exuma? It had to be.
And, when was the last time she had seen a new painting from Paulo? He had definitely created a few new pieces after the candy art, but that was almost a year ago. Or, was it more?
“Oh my god, he’s right,” Joanna said mad at herself for not seeing it before.
Every time she and Devlin had brought up the latest about their candy business, Paulo had just smiled. He had been nothing but encouraging, but there had always been a sadness behind his eyes that she had chosen to look past. The sexual connection they continued to share remained good. Perhaps that was what prevented her realization that Paulo could be going through something.
Now hurrying back to the boat slip, Joanna withdrew her phone. What time was it in Japan? Looking at the dual clocks on her phone, she saw it was just past 2 am. Ignoring the hour, Joanna called. The phone rang a god forsaken number of times and then went to voicemail.
“Are you asleep, Paulo? Since when do you go to sleep before 3? Give me a call when you get this. It’s important.”
Joanna hung up, stared at the phone and called again. If the first call hadn’t woken him, he should now be awake enough to answer the phone. It rang with no answer.
What was going on here? He had always answered the phone no matter the time. Was something wrong? Had there been something wrong for a long time and she hadn’t noticed? She had to find out.
Paulo sat motionless as he stared down at the blank canvas. The emptiness mocked him. It was as if the canvas was laughing at him. He could hear it. It was loud and maddening. With a brush in his hand, he sat perched to shut it up with paint, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. He wanted to but it was like his brain couldn’t get his arm to move.
What the hell was going on with him? Painting had been as easy as breathing to him. Filling a canvas was as relieving as sleep. Paulo had once read that without sleep, a person would go insane.
Was that what was happening to him? Was he going insane? Was the world laughing at him? Was the never ending pain in his chest from the weight of the world robbing him of breath?
“Stop laughing at me,” Paulo demanded.
The laughing didn’t stop.
“Stop laughing at me!” he shouted only causing the mocking to grow louder.
“Stop it. Stop it! STOP IT!” he protested before picking up tubs of red, black and blue paint and throwing them against the wall.
The tubs hit and exploded paint everywhere. Paulo let out a primal scream and directed it into the darkness. He couldn’t take anymore. He had reached the end of his rope and Paulo could feel the fibers snapping. He was on the verge of tearing off his clothes and running raving mad into the night when the endless silence broke.
With the noise, Paulo snapped out of it. His sanity resurfaced. What was the noise? Paulo could barely recognize it, but he did. It was ringing. It was his phone. What time was it?
Staring at the now paint covered clock, he noted the time. It was 2:13 am. Who was calling him this late? It was obviously someone from the other side of the world.
Was it an art dealer hounding him for the pieces he had promised months ago? Was it a gallery pressuring him for more of his work? He should have ignored the call, but it was the sadist in him that needed to find out.
Following the sound around the room, he found it under his clothes. It was then that he realized that he was already naked. When had that happened? Why hadn’t ne noticed that before? Had he already torn them off and run through the village like a mad man? He didn’t think so. But he was losing track of the order of things. He was clearly already losing his mind.
Fishing out the phone and staring at it, it stopped. Had he already answered it? No, he hadn’t. It had stopped ringing because he had missed it. That was it. The order of things was becoming clearer.
Allowing his mind to drift off in this new direction, it was whipped back when the phone beeped. He looked at it. It was telling him he had a voicemail. It was from Joanna, lovely Joanna, one of the loves of his life, Joanna. And before he could think of any other ways to describe her, the phone rang again.
Paulo stared at the phone with building panic. Seeing the screen blink, he swallowed. He wanted to answer it, but he couldn’t. Why couldn’t he? Was it the same reason he couldn’t paint?
With a new wave of panic, Paulo scrambled for the volume button. He needed it off. He needed the sound gone. It took everything in him not to throw the phone against the wall smashing it into a million pieces. He resisted, though. He had found the volume button and had turned it down. There was silence again. Beautiful silence. Maddening silence.
Remaining as still as he could, Paulo eventually caught his breath. Why was he breathing hard? That’s right, he had thrown a tantrum moments before. Looking up and scanning the room, he found the remnants of it. There was paint everywhere, on the walls, on the floor. But, the most ironic and telling thing was that even though there was paint dripping from the outside of the window sill, there wasn’t even a drop of it on the canvas.
How could that be? He couldn’t have done that on purpose if he had tried. It was like a miracle and the absurdity of it made him laugh. And, once he started laughing, he couldn’t stop.
This wasn’t working, he decided. After trying to paint in Exuma, he had again spent some time in Nassau. It had required him smoothing things over with his father, but he had done it. But living there didn’t work either.
He then tried painting in Paris, then in Italy. Nowhere had he been able to make even a stroke on a canvas. He was about to give up on it all when another artist had told him about Taketomi Island. It sounded so peaceful that Paulo was sure it would cure what ailed him. It hadn’t. Now here he was, all alone and going insane.
“This isn’t working,” he said to anyone who might be listening. “What am I supposed to do now?”