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THE ART CRITIC
by Peter Plagens
 
23.
Helen told Ben Greenleaf she wouldn’t be in to work that day. She went instead to Tom’s studio. The cab driver had a hell of a time finding it. Helen had never been there, and had obtained the address by calling the David Thornton Gallery and catching Mingue Jones coming in early. After two trips around the final block, Helen told the driver she could probably find it from the corner herself, thank you, tipped him nicely, and got out.

Tom hadn’t called her since returning from Europe, and had thought of her less than before he’d left. Self-pity consumed most of his waking moments. When he opened the studio door to the outside, he was astonished to see Helen standing there, beautiful and out of breath. Before Tom could say anything to her, she stepped inside.

"Big," she said. "And awfully empty."

"The piece at David’s used to fill it up," Tom said, still stunned.

"I’ve come to tell you something," she said.

Tom looked at her face, which was so lovely to him that tears welled in his eyes. He was suddenly in love with her again, and scared to death of her. He desired her immediately and yet wanted Sharon and his daughters to come back to him. He desperately required somebody to be with him, to love him, to reassure him. Tom’s hands, which wanted to pull Helen to him, remained shaking at his sides.

Helen waited a moment. She looked down at her shoes, another pair that Wanda Thiele coveted, then quickly up into Tom’s eyes, and spoke.

"Tom, I want to be with you. I love you and want to be with you."

He said nothing.

"I understand about your wife and children," Helen said. "If you don’t want to leave them, or if you feel that you just can’t leave them, I’ll understand. I won’t bother you anymore, and that will be that. But I’m here if you want me. Do you still want me?"

Tom embraced her hard. He kissed her forehead and ears and neck and hair, murmuring, "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god." Salt water from his eyes cascaded down one side of her face.

Helen pushed him back to arm’s length, her small white hands clutching the sleeves of his denim jacket. She was crying, too, but laughed, "I take it that’s a ‘yes’?"

Tom grasped her head with both hands and kissed her on the mouth, closed at first, then wildly open.

Helen pulled away and asked, "Where’s your assistant?"

"He’s coming in later this afternoon," Tom answered.

"Is there a place we can make love?" Helen said.

Tom didn’t use a condom. Helen asked him not to. "I want you to make me pregnant right away," she whispered.

*     *     *
Afterward, lying naked beside Helen atop an improvised futon hastily assembled foam rubber slabs from sculpture crates, and a couple of packing quilts, Tom felt that he was inside a tornado, his life launched into midair, soaring uncontrollably, destined to land somewhere in totally unknown territory. Grabbing at a tree branch, frantically trying to keep hold of some shred of gravitational sovereignty, he told Helen he’d heard that her father was buying the magazine Arthur wrote for.

"Where did you hear that?" she asked.

"Is it true?" Tom asked her in return.

"Yes."

"O.K.," Tom said, "I heard it from Arthur himself. David Thornton told me to call him and thank him for the article, so I did. He was polite. We didn’t talk about you. But he told me about your father and the magazine."

Helen puffed air out through her nose, as if to say, "I should have known."

"Daddy asked me not to tell Arthur," she said. -- as if that would keep it a secret from him -- until his company made it official. It shows what my father knows about a owning a news magazine, doesn’t it? Those people make their livings getting scoops. I hope Daddy knows what he’s getting into."

"Nobody ever really knows what he’s getting into," Tom said to the raftered ceiling.

Helen rolled closer to him, touched his cheek, and said, "I have something else to tell you, too."

Tom smiled wearily. "Something awful? I’ve been hearing a lot of awful news lately."

"If you’re talking about Howard Edelman, I’ve heard about it, too. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you."

"Something good, then?" Tom asked.

"Yes, very," Helen said. "Daddy’s going to buy your big sculpture from David Thornton."

Did Helen whisper "Our little nest egg" before they both drifted off into a short sleep, or did Tom imagine it? He couldn’t decide when he woke up half an hour later. He woke Helen, who agreed that they should play things close to the vest for a while. By the time Jimmy arrived to go back to work with Tom -- on preparing the studio for Tom’s next big project, whatever it turned out to be -- all traces of her presence at the studio had vanished. Jimmy and Tom shared a joint and talked about what Tom’s next big work of art sculpture project should be. Jimmy was so mellow, in fact, that he didn’t object when Tom lapsed into the Ol’ Sourdough dialect. Instead, he laughed.


PETER PLAGENS, longtime art critic for Newsweek magazine, exhibits his paintings at Nancy Hoffman Gallery. The archive for The Art Critic can be found here.