THE HUNGRY OCEAN / Miteki Takeyama

Hey, how about a dinner tonight?”

When Ivy first met him, he was wearing a navy suit with thin grey stripes. She didn’t think it was a particularly tasteful choice, but he looked good in the tweed, which, while keeping his slender physique, made his chest look more puffed-up and his legs less skinny than they were. Spotting him in front of a classy – but not too fancy – Italian restaurant, she knew instantly that he was the owner of the voice from the earlier phone call, just like her instinct had led her to the right place. He smiled at the sight of her, exhaling a wisp of smoke from the crooked corner of his mouth and stubbing out a cigarette in an ashtray standing beside him, and escorted her inside.

As they passed a small bar and sat at the second table from the right in the back, he ordered two glasses of red wine, whose name she did not know of. The interior of the place was subtle yet sophisticated with a large mirror hung behind her, each table separated with mahogany partitions adorned with gold-plated animals, very similar to the one that appeared in an old Polish film she saw two nights before. A server brought a bottle and poured it into glassware on the table. The feel of the purple-grey velvet sofa was titillating against her stockings.

“Thought you wouldn’t come,” he said quietly, swirling his drink.

“Why?” asked Ivy.

He slowly turned his face away from his glass to look her straight in the eye and said, “Because I forgot to tell you where.”

“Or when,” she added and showed a mischievous smile.

He raised his glass, and she hers. The moment she heard the clinking sound of the glasses, though, Ivy was mercilessly pulled back to a twin bed in her cluttered little room, on whose floor were some thrown-off socks and an unfinished bag of tortilla tips.

Yet, when she opened her eyes in hazy blue light near dawn, she felt genuinely euphoric – yes, ‘euphoric’ was the closest word possible to describe the level of her sense of contentment at the time – because she felt like, during the last microsecond before waking up, she indulged in a whole, fulfilling conversation with him. It closed with a lip-smacking affogato, both of which she couldn’t have had in such a short amount of time. But she certainly knew every inch of his veins and could name every habit of his body. The absurd persistence to putting a used table napkin in an orderly rumpled manner – like such a thing was possible. The way he rubbed one side of his face from temple to chin while listening to her. It was as though all of those stray elements deep down in her head suddenly understood where they belonged. The only two things missing from her vivid recollection were, however, his name and face.

“That’s what they call a dream, you know,” Ivy heard Chloe saying slowly as if she were talking to a child, behind a shower curtain. A warm fragrance of Downy filled the small room.

“I do have dreams all the time, thank you. But it was simply different. More like a prophecy…or an image from the past,” Ivy tried to explain its significance, musing in the bathtub. “Like in 12 monkeys, where Bruce Willis’s character has this recurring vision from his childhood.”

“Yeah, yeah. But the apocalypse has yet to come, and you’re not a time traveler. Or are you?” Chloe’s cynical Chandler mode always made Ivy feel like she was Joey, though, in actuality, they had been roommates for seven years since they moved out of their hometown in Maine to attend university in the city. Among many promises in a notebook full of bucket lists, they made as little girls, such as learning tap dance and going to Mars, living in a shopping mall together was their top priority.

“You know what, I should’ve never talked to you about this,” Ivy sighed.

“Oh, c’mon. Don’t be a cranky puss. I’m folding your laundry, too, you know.”

“Why don’t you just leave ‘em inside?”

After a short pause, Chloe breathed in and said, “Can’t. I’m gonna have to wash another batch.”

“Why so many?” asked Ivy, looking at the creased tips of her fingers.

“It’s Troy’s stuff.”

Making a splashing sound on the surface of the water with her hands, Ivy groaned, “He’ll never get his own machine until you break up with him, you know that?”

“Uh-huh,” Chloe answered half-heartedly.

“Why doesn’t he come and do it by himself anyway?”

“Because he’s literally scared of you,” said Chloe, throwing a

rolled sock into the washer.

“That’s ridiculous. I’ve never said anything to him.”

“Yeah…I guess that’s probably why,” Chloe nodded with an awkward smile and prompted Ivy to go back to her story. “And?”

“And what?” Ivy’s annoyed voice echoed through the tiled walls.

“And what happened in the dream?”

“Nothing,” Ivy replied. “Another one after that was all vague and stupid involving some soccer games and an orgy and a global –”

With a swift clank above Ivy’s head, it got brighter around her. Chloe’s lean, serious face was showing from the edge of the curtain grasped in her hand. “Wait. What orgy?”

“I don’t know. It didn’t make any sense,” Ivy said, keeping a straight face.

“Who was there?” Chloe’s curious eyes peered into Ivy’s. “Aidan Turner, maybe?”

“No, please, Chloe. Cut that out,” Ivy couldn’t suppress her giggle and tried to shut the curtain, but Chloe wouldn’t let go. “Don’t make me part of your fantasy.”

“But it might be important. Those sexual things reflect your hidden desires in your subconscious. It’s like the basic thing for dream analysis,” Chloe claimed eloquently in her convincing tone, like pledging allegiance to a sorority.

“I know, but that’s not the point,” Ivy said, finally taking the curtain away from Chloe, who just gave up and went back to her boyfriend’s laundry. Stroking a faucet with her toes, Ivy pondered over something for a while and declared self-assuredly, “Besides, I don’t need to sleep with Aidan Turner. I’d be content just looking at him.”

“Ah, I know the feeling,” Chloe uttered a sympathetic groan and flicked a switch of the washing machine.

That night, Ivy picked up a paintbrush for the first time in half a year. Five days a week, she worked full-time in an independent bookstore down at the Bowery, in charge of the Modern Classics and Mythology sections. Around the New Year’s season, there was always a massive collection of calendars hanging at the windows – from Japanese Gardens to NYC Firefighters, from Peanuts to Pooping Dogs, and from Pin-up Girls to Nuns Having Fun. Before working there, she had been a great admirer of the selection. She would cozy up with a gingersnap cookie and a cup of cappuccino at the small coffee shop inside, looking at the varieties and deciding which to take home.

It was later in her junior year of college that she began to take painting seriously. It had always been her favorite activity since childhood, but it didn’t occur to her until then that it was the only passion she had and would throughout her life. While other seniors found solid employment, including Chloe, who got the social media marketing job at a home furnishing company, Ivy decided to save up enough money to go to art school after graduation, and the bookstore was one of the places with job openings. As her major in English literature looked good on résumé – or most likely because she and the store manager had a heated discussion on Babymetal in an interview – she got hired with ease. Checking stock and arranging books in alphabetical order, she would often hang around the Physics section, where no one would go near, and look at one of the art books they had or engage in sketching in her tiny memo pad.

These past couple of months, however, her life was a repetition of going to work by the J train, having lunch with Chloe, sketching her eating a burrito on a paper napkin, coming back from work, watching some movies, and reading Beautiful and Damned on and off, whose main characters’ inertia reminded of her own. She sometimes looked up from the book on a whim, gazed at each of her paintings surrounding the room, then at a canvas sitting on a dusty easel in the corner. It was pure ivory, a moonlight glimmer dancing on its linen weave, changing its complexion at every angle. It was supposed to be the field of grass, where, lying on her stomach, a girl in a yellow plaid dress was drawing the scenery – the green and rocky coast led to the ocean downhill–but the idea itself grew out of her mind and never came back. There were a ton of reasons. The number of trees was either too many or less. She couldn’t find the right colors. As the chilly wind hurried her ahead, it became even harder for her to replicate the fading image in her childhood memories of summer. Now that her fourth Black Friday sale at the bookshop was near at hand, a Christmas bonus would soon disappear as part of living costs without making a single contribution to her little savings. An accumulation of every day in which nothing happened. What had drained her creativity were an everlasting monotony and a feeling of guilt and rush for wasting her youth on something that might never pay off. Although she had thought she was convinced to sacrifice some aspects of her life, occasional rumors that her former schoolmates got married or promoted seriously shook her perseverance. Another four years or more, she didn’t know. It never seemed enough.

For that very reason, on coming across a long-awaited source of inspiration, she lost herself in her artistic expression. While it was still bright out, she worked on some rough sketches, deciding on the composition, and spread colors on a palette. Tremors of agitation were transmitted from her hand to the tip of the paintbrush, which left her no choice but to steady one hand with the other. Night after night, she devoted all her energy and courage to it, terrified of going back to the accustomed state of feeling numb.

Since Chloe went to her parents’ house with Troy, the apartment was empty throughout the Thanksgiving week. Exhausted from work and painting, Ivy ate frozen fried chicken and mac and cheese alternately. But on that weekend, after she dozed off on a kitchen table, she found herself eating oysters in a chic bistro. Recognizing a man sitting across from her at the table, she suddenly felt her heart filled with champagne bubbles. It was him in a black tuxedo.

Sitting up to check if she finished her plate, he asked with a grin, “Ready to go?”

Ivy nodded, and they both stood up. Though she didn’t notice until then in the dim lighting, she was in a beautiful dusty blue satin gown. As they stepped outside, a lit-up monumental arch came into her sight – they were in Paris. Arm in arm, they strolled down the Champs-Élysées lined with the illuminated trees, turned left somewhere between a chocolatier and a boutique, and walked on the back street. When it became quiet with the noise of car honks far behind, he halted his steps. It was in front of a closed barber supply store, definitely not somewhere he had in mind. He leaped toward the end of the block, away from her arm, looked around at the signs of the neighboring stores, then came plodding his way back. Putting his jacket over her bare shoulders with an apologetic smile, he took her arm again to follow the path they had come from, and they wandered around the cobblestone streets for a while. Although it turned out that he had a sense of direction as hopeless as that of a raven in the dark, his pride got in the way of opening Google Maps on his phone, which she thought was rather charming.

By the time they arrived at the front of a small cabaret theater, the first half of the performances were already over. A clerk reminded him about his jacket by a soft stare and let them in after an ongoing song had finished. The stage looked flamboyant with all the neon frames and the sparkling beads curtains. As they sat at the back of the full audience, a remixed version of an Edith Piaf song started, and two gorgeous ladies appeared – with only silk hats and bow ties on their naked bodies – and danced under colorful spotlights. Their movements were so smooth and elegant that divinity radiated from their curves. It was art. Simply mesmerized, Ivy thought it was quite a striking experience for a second date. And looking at his profile, she swore to herself to remember it.

Outside, the theater was deserted, signaling how far into the night they were there. A line of motorcycles with the club logo was parked in front, and people coming out of the place began to ride them home. Accompanied by him, who just got on one of them, Ivy sat behind his back, spreading her legs as far as her tight dress allowed. Having struggled to keep the balance, she ultimately ripped one side of its hem to the height of her thigh and wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Are you sure which way to go?” she whispered half-jokingly. Though she couldn’t see his face, she was sure he was smiling.

After putting it into gear, the bike started with the rumble of the engine and joined a natural formation. The mob of formally dressed bikers flew through the space between the thin air and scattered over the night at every crossroad they stumbled upon. But he and Ivy went on the road straight under dead traffic lights without making a turn until they became completely alone. With her head rested against the nape of his neck, she watched the alternating scenery aslant as they passed by the creme-colored Ottoman architectures, metro entrances covered in green rust, bleak streets with unintelligible graffiti – all of them for countless times – and crossed some masonry bridges built a couple of centuries before.

When the field of vision became clearer at a grassland far from the city, a giant hill thick with tall trees loomed out of the gray sky. What was waiting ahead of them beneath it was a pitch-black semicircle, whose inner shadows seemed to swallow up every flick of light nearby. At the sight of it, Ivy tightened her grip on him. The moment they entered the tunnel, however, she squinted her eyes at the unexpected brightness. The infinitely layered veils of the sheer tangerine light were showing their way. As her eyes got used to the fluorescence, the warmth of the color felt somehow familiar, as if she had been cradled in it before being brought into the world.

Then, they started to hear some music from the speakers above. A catchy guitar intro and with the thunder of drums, a full band joined in – Iggy Pop’s The Passenger – ricocheting through the far ends of the barrel. He suddenly slowed down the vehicle, pulled it over at the side, and strode to the center, beckoning to her. He bore an unpredictability Ivy could manage only in dreams. And they danced. Like two lunatics. In the middle of the tunnel. Hand in hand. With no certain style, letting their soul take its course. With her tousled hair flying, his tuxedo torn at the shoulder joint. She didn’t realize until then how much she liked the song. Before it hit the second “la la la” part, they became out of breath and diminished their movements to slow dancing. Every time Ivy swayed to the right, a small tuft of his hair drooping from the side of his forehead touched her temple and felt ticklish. The air, the lights, the tune, the fabric, the cuddle. It was all soothing.

“On the other side of these walls is the Atlantic Ocean,” he said, shifting his gaze to her eyes. “We’re dancing underwater. How cool is that?”

Tinted with the surrounding hue, her dress had turned pale green. And she buried her face in his shoulders, swinging like a mermaid in the womb of the ocean.

From then on, he often hijacked Ivy’s subliminal mind. She still couldn’t recall his face or name however hard she tried, yet she was drawn to him all the more irresistibly for that. Even at work, behind the counter calling out to the next customer in line for Hanukkah gifts, or upon the ladder adding some Dickens on the shelf, she was living in the rest of her sleep. When a French backpacker couple bought an NYC Subway map from her, their accent took her back to the recent trip in her dream. She got so caught up in the impulse to speak a few French phrases she could barely pronounce to please them, resulting in their forgotten eighty dollars in change. The only place where she was awake in the truest sense was in front of the canvas. She was finally grasping which direction to go and paving the way for its completion. But the amount of painting she could do in a day fluctuated considerably. On some days, the ideas flew into her head, and she could give life to them without effort, while on others, she couldn’t even carry the weight of the smallest paintbrush. The most frustrating thing was that there was no telling which day she was on until she held it in her hand.

One evening in mid-December, Ivy got off from work early and focused on her art—sweat all over her face and body in an oversized smock in her overheated room/atelier. The handle of a rhombus-shaped painting knife made a squeaky sound in her slippery fingers, snapping the thin string of her concentration—a bite of the lower lip and a deep breath. Putting the knife on the table and taking off her smock, she walked out of the room.

“Hey, you’re early,” Chloe said, emptying a shopping bag with her coat still on. She held up a bottle of hard cider on the counter and raised her eyebrows.

Jumping at the drink, Ivy opened the lid by force and gulped it down. “You’re a saint.”

“I just picked up some burgers, too, if you’re hungry.”

“I think I’ll heat it up later. Thanks.” Turning down the heating, Ivy went back to her room with the bottle in her hand.

“Actually, there is something I need to talk to you about,” Chloe said and followed her into the room. “I’m moving out.”

Dumbfounded, Ivy’s voice came out all screechy and hoarse. “Moving out?! To where?”

“It’s okay, it’s just three stops away from here,” Chloe answered comfortingly, sitting at the edge of the unmade bed.

“Then why do you –”

“I’m moving in with Troy.” Even though Chloe was looking down at her lap, Ivy could sense resolution in her gentle voice. It was one of the moments Ivy had dreaded. She was not as naive as to believe that their life together would be everlasting, but above all, she had hopelessly wished it would. For a moment, just the low boom of the heating filled the air between them. 

“When?” Ivy murmured.

“Before the lease gets renewed.”

Giving a glance at a desk calendar, Ivy exclaimed, “That’s two and a half weeks from now.”

“Yeah, I’ve already talked to the landlady, and she says it’s okay. Apparently, Bushwick’s been getting more popular than when we started living here.” Then with her forced smile faded, Chloe, added sincerely, “Sorry I haven’t told you sooner.”

“Why tell me? You seem to have figured it all out by yourself,” Ivy stated with pretended nonchalance putting her smock back on in front of the canvas. She couldn’t wipe off the idea that Chloe chose Troy over her, which she knew was absurd. Chloe stared blankly at the floor for a while and stood up with a slap on the knees.

Walking towards the door, she looked back at Ivy and opened her mouth, “You know, you could at least pretend like you’re hap –”

“How can I pretend that I’m happy about living with strangers?” Ivy snapped, turning around. “I lived here because it was with you.”

“Well, we both knew one of us would have to leave first,” Chloe said calmly in response and shut the door behind her.

The next morning, Ivy woke up to the rattling roar of a garbage truck. After the argument, she was too annoyed and distressed to paint further, so she snuck into the kitchen and devoured the cold, leftover burger, and went to bed early taking some sleeping pills. Looking at the ceiling so low that it seemed like approaching her every second, she felt something in her stomach weighing her down deep into the sinking mattress. She rolled over on the side to change the scenery, which didn’t help. Although it could have passed as heartburn or cramps, she had already recognized the dull ache from the past experiences of her artistic resolution being disturbed and knew that it wouldn’t just vanish. All she could do was wait. People called it melancholy, but she had always thought that hers were somehow more severe and immeasurable than a word could describe with four syllables. Among many nameless feelings tangled up in her mind, what tormented her most was the faint sensation that she might lose him, too.

And unfortunately, she was right. The dreams she had of him afterward became shorter and blurrier, fragmented into pieces she could no longer pick up and reassemble. The more confused and distraught she was when awake, the slipperier his presence got in her sleep. Eventually, he entirely ceased making appearances in her dreams, and that deprived her of the motives to involve in life, leaving her in desperation and pure loneliness. She couldn’t even bear the sight of the painting in progress and roughly threw her smock over it. Since Chloe was mostly out either for work or shopping for her new apartment, no one stopped Ivy from neglecting herself. Calling in sick or making up poor excuses like train suspension due to snowfall, she kept on skipping work and laid on the bed all day long with the slight hope of running into him. Though the amount of time she waited for herself to fall asleep during each catnap seemed at first somewhat sensual, then instantly turned infinitely tedious, what she had started to feel – and dared not admit – was a relief for the utter incapacity for creation. The involuntary experience of losing all her sensibilities provided her with the emotional void so broad she could swim about freely until an ineradicable fear came over her that she might have lost them forever, even after she was given another chance to see him and touch him.

It was about when that dread struck her that Chloe seemed to notice something was wrong with Ivy. A week passed since their last conversation. Shortly after the front door was unlocked and banged shut, Chloe barged into Ivy’s lair and saw her huddled under a quilt. A thin blanket was crumpled at her feet, with most of it slipped off the bed.

“Ivy? Are you okay? Are you feeling sick?” Chloe asked facing Ivy’s back, patting her shoulder, “Ivy?” But Ivy couldn’t even bring herself to utter a consonant. Chloe strode on the bed and came to the other side, where soft moonlight leaking from drawn curtains lit up Ivy’s eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Chloe knelt and looked at Ivy urgently. As she stretched her arm to Ivy’s hair, however, Ivy languidly turned over to the other side and pulled up the quilt over her head as if trying to wipe out her own existence. Holding her breath, Ivy waited still for Chloe to leave, and heard her bumping against the leg of the wooden easel on which the hidden painting was leaning. It seemed that she stood there for some time, but on sensing her finally exiting the room, Ivy impatiently flipped over the bedding and breathed heavily.

The glaring daylight reflecting off the white ground hurt Ivy’s eyes, which had gotten used to the darkness. The lower half of her face fully submerged in a wool scarf, she tramped on the squashy sidewalk in her snow boots, feeling a piercing wind against her dry forehead. It was not her idea that she went out that afternoon. If Chloe hadn’t stripped her of the bed and threatened to vacuum her room until she got dressed, she would have been curled up in a blanket, eating pop tarts and fruit roll-ups from the bedside table. Instead, Ivy was now sitting next to Chloe on the L train, across from the murky window ironically etched “Global warming is real!!” Every time the doors opened on both sides of the seats, the two-minute-old adjusting air got replaced with a freezing draft, which made four minutes under the East River rather pleasant. Momentarily finding refuge at the sultry underground passages, they transferred to the 4 train at Union Square and headed uptown. During the long ride, they didn’t speak a word – partly because Ivy was still mad at Chloe and Chloe knew Ivy enough not to irritate her more by some chitchat, but mostly because Ivy trusted Chloe and Chloe knew that Ivy would follow her even without knowing their destination.

As they stepped out of the 86th Street Station, the snow had been neatly cleared out on the roadside. Ivy rarely visited that area of Manhattan. Passing by a row of casual clothing stores and banks under steel piped archways, they turned the corner to 5th Avenue, where the bare branches of the trees in Central Park grew outside of the walls. And there it was. With its magnificent facade embellished with tall columns, the Metropolitan Museum of Art stood ahead of them. Their steps became lighter out of both coldness and excitement. Threading their way among groups of young people sitting on the icy stairs and taking pictures, Ivy and Chloe ran up and entered the palace-like museum.

The great hall was packed with people in down jackets and kids who seemed to have gotten tired on their way there, showing the same kind of heavy silhouettes at the corridors upstairs. The place was so enormous that Ivy still hadn’t seen all the rooms even after spending all day in her past eight visits, while it was also true that her personal favor to European art on mythological themes always interfered. Chloe presented their online tickets to the staff, and they went on to the room behind the central stairs, in which a Christmas tree full of angels, each of them wearing a ravishing robe with their wings spread, reminded Ivy that it was almost the day. Down the hallway of heroes and tragedies where the lattice windows cast long shadows, Ugolino and His Sons and Lucretia were waiting for their death. Alongside Chloe reading the commentaries, Ivy studied their faces distorted in agony for hours, sometimes tracing their gaze as if trying to empathize with the marbles. Her childish resentment toward Chloe had already melted away, but she was enjoying the power of silence.

After walking through the exhibits of African artifacts and Ancient Roman statues, they wandered around upstairs and went into a room with Auguste Rodin’s sculptures lined up in display cases. Halfway down the row, Ivy looked up from one of them, her eyes dazzled by the bronzes’ rugged texture, and saw a painting reflected in the glass. There hung Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Turning around, she gravitated toward it across the quiet room and fixed her stare on the kissing pair in the golden frame. Held tight by Pygmalion in a teal blue tunic, Galatea, a female sculpture created by the artist, was being brought to life, her seamless skin glowing with the joy of love. With her inanimate legs still trapped in an ivory pedestal, the upper half of her freed body was arching toward Pygmalion, who had lost himself in the moment. Though the atelier they were in was surrounded by dark green walls and two eerie masks, their blissful presence was illuminating the place, celebrated by Cupid hovering beside them. Ivy always liked the picture, but it now seemed to have a special resonance she had never felt before.

“I saw your painting.”

Ivy heard a soft voice and turned to her right. Chloe was standing next to her, looking at Pygmalion and Galatea musingly.

“I wish I could see him, too,” Chloe said. And Ivy knew instantly that by “him,” she meant him. Choking on her words, Ivy slipped her arm under Chloe’s and pulled her closer in silence. They lingered there for a while, appreciating the beauty of Gérôme’s work until they started to drift along the walls again, side by side.

Ten days later, Chloe moved out. While she and Ivy had some French toast for one last breakfast together, Troy came in a borrowed brown pickup and carried some cardboard boxes out of the living room. Saying goodbye to her old room, Chloe came out, with an outsized tote bag slung on each shoulder, singing Hey Soul Sister along to the ukulele she played, skipping some chords.

“You still have that?” Ivy chuckled, holding the last small package under her arm. It evoked the memory of a hot summer day Chloe bought it at Brooklyn Flea when they were touring the neighborhood, hunting for a place to live. As they harmonized the chorus, they went down the front stairs outside, where Troy was struggling to load a stainless-steel revolving chair onto the truck bed. The moment Ivy put down the box, a sudden screeching noise pierced her ears, and the chair bounced on the vehicle with a loud thud.

“Do you think they’ll notice?” Troy mumbled next to her. On the side of the truck’s body was a long black scrape, impossible to hide. Three of them stared blankly at it for a moment.

“What the heck!” Chloe broke the silence and turned to get in the car.

But Ivy said, “Wait,” and hurried into the apartment. When she came back, she had a paintbrush and a palette with some shades of brown, and kneeling down made the color almost the same as that of the car. With a soft stroke over the scratch, it got back to its shiny old self.

“I don’t think it’s gonna last, but,” Ivy said, standing up and shrugged her shoulders.

“Thanks,” Troy gave her a grateful smile.

“Good luck,” she answered, her voice low.

Chloe came and kissed her on the cheek, then mouthed, “Thank you,” walking backward to the front seat. And Ivy saw their car leave, its band-aid glimmering, Chloe’s white hand waving, and make a slow turn at the end of the block. The street on the New Year’s Day morning became empty and serene again.

With her gait rather light, she went up the stairs back to her place, and on the windowsill of her room, she found a polaroid she and Chloe took of themselves the night before – in whose margin it said, “Call me up when Aidan Turner comes looking for me (or maybe Riz Ahmed).”

The grass felt damp under Ivy’s bare feet. Or perhaps her feet were. She couldn’t be sure. On the hill, there was no moon in sight, and she could barely make out the border between the midnight sky and the ocean extended ahead of her. It was just like the place back home in Maine where she would often visit and draw during the day. Fanned by the wind, blades of grass around her swayed, changing their contours and hues like a series of still pictures, some of them integrated into one large leaf, then setting themselves apart as another gust of wind blew. When looked at closely, their surface was streaky and uneven, although their movements seemed somehow flat and two-dimensional. She was in the painting she never painted.

The next thing Ivy knew was that he was there, standing out in the surrounding landscape of oil colors, all of his complex natures folded tidily inside his skin like a pocket-handkerchief at his breast, with its red and pale blue edge peeping out, making her curious what kind of beautiful pattern it would make as a whole picture. She had never wanted to touch someone so badly. And as though he had seen through her mind, he walked toward her, his steps firm along the path a sea breeze made through the leaves and took her in his arms. It struck her as a genuine surprise how a sense of security she had yearned for so long could be attained by this one embrace. It was just as simple as that. His jacket she held on to was soaked yet warm with his body heat; its shoulders speckled dark with drops of water from his hair every three seconds. A little birthmark behind his right ear, resembling the shape of a baby seahorse. She didn’t notice it before. Hesitantly, she ran her finger over it and let her cheeks wet with dripping sadness. It all came to her now with an inexplicable conviction that she wouldn’t be allowed to live in this substitute for life any longer. As much as she wanted to stay, she had to let go. Ivy breathed in shallowly to tell him how much he meant to her, how he turned her life around. But instead, she heard him whisper over the faint sounds of the waves. It was so tender that it lulled her to sleep, guiding her to a dream within a dream.

Where the dream led her was another usual morning, with a USPS delivery vehicle making stops at each house outside. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Ivy sat up in bed and looked at the corner of the room, where the canvas – which used to be abandoned – was now sitting without a trace of blankness in the past, emanating its presence hauntingly.

It was the turbulent ocean at night. In the right middle was a monstrous cyclone of water rumbling like a coiled white dragon and sucking up a woman into its black hollow at the core, who seemed to show no resistance to the violent forces of nature. And there was an old wooden boat rowed by a man, coming toward the woman or just being drawn to the overpowering whirlpool which would easily crush it and gulp it down. The man’s face couldn’t be seen, obscured by the contrasting light of a lantern he was holding in front of him.

“It’s all up to you,” his last voice rang in Ivy’s head. “It’s all up to you. It has been and always will be.” 

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