Picture Credits: zalfa-imani

art, marriage, passion, relationships, Short story

My Very Own Blue Period

Marc Hess, November 20, 2023

My husband drops out of marriage counseling just when I think we are getting somewhere. I am looking for something with real passion while he has come to see our marriage as some kind of ‘deal’. His exact word. I am pissed.

It is six blocks back to my art gallery and I walk it. In heels. And for Christ’s sake, whatever possessed me to wear high heels to therapy? Still coming on to him, I guess. I’ve had my gallery almost as long as I’ve had my husband, and it has given me the greater satisfaction.

My gallery, The Doorway, is near the corner of Lake Street—which is peculiar because there is no lake near our town. Just outside the historic district, the building is skinny; squeezed in between an overstuffed boutique on the corner and a dusty hobby shop that sells model airplanes. My frontage is the width of the front door plus the two narrow windows on either side. It opens up like a deep breath into a long hallway with inset lighting running unbroken along the ceiling all the way the back of the space. No interior distractions. Just clean lines. Perfect. Just the way I like it. Maybe that is the problem with my marriage. No clean lines and not at all the way I like it.

The Doorway opened with a grand statement. One long wall was dedicated to mid-century-style pastorals, a few of them scenes of the local church yard. The opposite wall was hung with raving abstract paintings: cantankerous lines and dazzling colors. Right down the middle I had long tables set with brassy wine goblets, heaps cheeses and crusty breads, grapes, olives, all set out like a 17th century Dutch still life. I set painters’ easels with blank canvases at both ends for anyone who became inspired or inebriated enough to pick up a brush. And some did. I was intentionally forcing my guests to choose sides. It was dramatic. The out-of-town press was there. People I didn’t know came to see the show. And nothing sold.

Well, not exactly nothing. I grew up here and have a coterie of dear friends going back to my school days—the Ladies of the Town. They kept me in business through those first few years; buying pieces they could scant afford and definitely didn’t understand. I still see those paintings from time to time filling empty spaces in their guest bathrooms and tucked neatly behind bins in their garages.

Eventually, I learned to stock richly oiled exaggerations of local wildflowers, cute cat portraits, and cliché watercolors of the local church yard, images that appeal to memory seekers. And gift cards, for Christ’s sake! Somewhere along the way The Doorway became a souvenir shop.

I still have the wine-stained, ink-smudged guest registry from my opening. My husband had it framed for me and, to this day, it hangs over my desk in the cluttered back office. It warms me. When I sit to balance the books or sweat out my taxes I make a point to cherish the people who got me started. Dear friends. Many of whom I still see on a regular basis.

One of them, however, I don’t particularly care for. Malcolm. To this day I cannot put him out of my mind because he left his clown-like signature scrawled across several lines of that beautifully framed guest register. He remains the most repugnant man that I have ever met, not due to his gawky physical appearance—although he is quite difficult to look at—it is more about his penchant for insulting everyone, all the time. We have discussed this at length, the Ladies of the Town and I.

“He had some kind of life tragedy before he came out here.”

The Ladies of the Town ‘luncheons’ always start after work, and always involve a great deal of wine. 

“His wife got killed in a car wreck or something like that, right?”

“Thom said that wasn’t true.”

“Is that where his face got wrecked?”

“Noooo . . . he’s never been married, has he?”



“No. The other guy.”


“Well, Thom would know. He’s the reason Malcolm moved here in the first place. They’re cousins or something.”

“Oh, darling. I don’t think so.”

“He got transferred here by his company.”

“Which ‘he’?”

“He, Malcolm.”

“Smart company. Who could put up with him all day long?”

“Girl! That’s nasty.”

“But probably true.”

“They had a flat together over in The Commonwealth when he first moved down here.”

“Which ‘he’?”

“I don’t think they’re related.”

“To who?”

“To ‘whom’, darling. It’s ‘to whom’.”

“Who’s not related?”

“He, Malcolm, and he, Thom.”

“No. They just lived together after Thom and his wife broke up.”

“Well, I can tolerate him in a group, but I’d never want to find myself alone with him. He’s scary.”

“He is a complete, unadulterated asshole.”

“Well, I always got along with him.”

“Him, Malcolm, or him, Thom?”

Everyone said at the same time, “Malcolm.”


“Oh, cut that out.”

He, Malcolm, saw me in my nightgown once. My husband brought a few of the guys over after the World Cup. Very late and they were still on their binge. Our children were sleeping and I came stomping downstairs to run them off. One thing I have come to despise about my husband is how he always knows how to defuse me. 

“I’ll get you a bourbon, sweetheart. Ice?” he said in that cute way like he was asking me instead of manipulating me. 

Although completely taken in with the promise of bourbon, I, at least, had the presence of mind to throw on a house robe before joining them. The men were strewn about the living room in various chairs, while Malcolm had taken over our broad-winged couch. I accepted the promised drink— “with ice, thank you,”—from my husband and folded my legs up as I joined Malcolm on the couch.

Malcolm turned his bird-like glare to me. “I looked in on your new exhibit. I’ve never seen so many lousy watercolors in one place.” 

“Oh. Didn’t you like it?” 

“Were they local artists? I couldn’t really tell. Some of the canvases still seemed unfinished. Still wet.”

“Oh.” I remembered that I hated him.

“Looked like a lot of Churchill.”

Emboldened with my bourbon with ice, I re-engaged “I would have put out some Churchill if I could have laid my hands on some. Do you not like his work?”

“A man that smart should have known to stick with what he was good at . . . dropping bombs, but we would all be better off if he had kept his brushes in the box.” The depth of his sarcasm was disgusting. 

I could have tossed my drink on him for that but I would have stained my couch. And I just had it cleaned.

“Why do you even bother coming into my gallery at all, Malcolm? If you so despise what you see there?”

He gave me a smirk that implied the answer was obvious. “I keep hoping to see if you can put together another exhibition like your opening.”

That sounded something like a compliment and I felt a tingle of approval.

Then he spoke again. “That first show of yours was the second-best art exhibition that I have ever experienced.”

He went on to innumerate all the great exhibitions he had seen, and all the famous galleries that he had visited, and how worldly he was but he had already left me far behind.


The Doorway is my gallery. I can change it according to my whims and moods, something I am unable to do with my marriage. We raised our babies and packed them off to boarding school, as is the custom in our families. So young. But that, too, is something that won’t change on my whim.

Time, above all else, is a test of women’s mettle. Surely each of us has learned to ‘take care’ of ourselves as the years fly by. We go to the gym. We try to stay pretty, become glamorous even, or at least alluring. As a whole the Ladies of the Town have taken on an astringent air becoming more wise with their maturity. Several of us have learned to stand up for ourselves and have become single mothers for it—leaving many of us yearning for new relationships. Time’s cruel irony is that, by now, all of the decent men of the town have been scarfed up.

With this passing of time, Malcolm, the one-time thumb of the neighborhood, has become something of a last man standing. The gaunt and creepy bird-like features that used to keep us at bay have settled into trim and curiously intellectual angles. Time has not cured his fundamental ugliness, but traditional ‘prettiness’ is no longer a priority with us. Everyone knows—because he never fails to bring it up—that he has become the nation’s foremost expert on compression dynamics, speaking at conferences in London and publishing papers in German.

“That is integrated compression dynamics,” he says, making sure that we stand corrected.

“So, wait, what did she do once she got him home?”

“Oh, it was all veils and castanets and pasties with her, I’m sure.”

“Whaaaat? Who does pasties anymore?”

“She’s an aerobics instructor. Have you never seen her belly dance?”

“Her belly what?”

“Yeah. She’s very serious about it. Has the scarfs and bells—all the stuff.” 

“Like pasties?”

Over the years our ‘luncheons’ had evolved into late night affairs. We are independent ladies who no longer have babysitters to relieve. And pretty hammered are we.

“Belly dancer? I didn’t know.”

“Well, that is her gift.”

“To who?”
“To ‘whom,’ darling. Please.”

“Yeah, It’s like aerobics. But more of a lap dance.”

“With pasties?”

“Got him back to his flat . . .”


“Who’s flat?”

“His flat.”

“She’s flat?”

“That’s why the pasties.”

“Told me herself. She’s up there on his coffee table shimmying away, veils a’flyin’, flesh a’bouncin’, she turns around and ‘whoosh’ . . . he was gone.”  

A volcano of laughter overturned a drink and drew the attention of the entire house. 

“Nooo. Where’d he go?”

“Scared him off.”

“Do people still do pasties?”

While my marriage remains doomed, my gallery is doing fine. I’m renovating The Doorway again for the fall, breaking it up into three sections. I’m adding a clever maze of horizontal spaces by the front door. They will allow for sculptures if I want. But I’m going with boxed puzzles, coffee mugs, and art-themed gifts that will appeal to my now-established clientele, the tourists.

The middle section I’m leaving much the same; local pastorals, wildflowers, and the town’s famous church yard. For Christ’s sake, how many ways are there to interpret that scene? With every one I sell, I can feel Malcolm’s admonishment.

In the far back gallery, where I keep the ladder and the vacuum cleaner I’m putting in a section just for me: experimental and expressive. An industrial-style installation full of art that stabs you right through your heart. It will be more a part of my workspace than the gallery. I am keeping the framed guest registry from my opening but I am moving it to another spot. I find myself staring at it and begging the question that has been haunting me all these years. If mine was Malcolm’s “second-best” what was the first?

I just happen to be there when the money comes out. It’s another late night for the Ladies of the Town. We’re in our night-worn outfits with smudged mascara, and our hair all out of place. We’ve lost track of the tab and who owes what when the drunkest among us slaps a twenty on the table.

“I’ll bet each and every one of you that I’m going be the first to get a piece of that Malcolm.”

That Malcom, darling?”



“Well, you don’t mean . . .” 

“I’m betting real money here.”

Eyes rolls. Giggles and guffaws.


“Okay, you’re on.” Another twenty goes into the pot.

“Are you kidding? Malcolm? Yuck.”

“Absolutely not. I’m a married woman.”


“Oh, darling. Please do shut up.”

Another twenty hits the table. 

And one more. Four of my dearest friends—all single and drunk—are lined up for the charge. It’s so sad because each of them will fail. I know it. I also know why I could take it all. It’s precisely because I’m married. To a friend of his no less. The others may have a lot going on for them but in the eyes of the target, I’m the one who poses no threat of an on-going relationship. The odds are just too good. And I’ve been drinking since eight o’clock. All of the blather comes to a dead stop when my twenty hits the table. I’m actually surprised that I still have one.

“You are kidding me.”

More determined than hungover, I get right to work. I call Malcolm and ask him to take a look at some new works I’m thinking of acquiring for the ‘private’ end of my gallery.

“You don’t need me. You can make mistakes all by yourself.”

Undaunted, I coo on. He acquiesces and after that it’s not too difficult to get him on my hook. 

I know Malcolm is a bourbon drinker from his bouts with my husband and when we get to his flat, I am ready for a strong one.

He refuses me. “No bourbon. I have an African Syrah I didn’t want to waste on someone who wouldn’t appreciate it.”

A compliment?

Malcolm’s space is remarkably clean and open. Cold. Almost reveling in its wasted spaces. There is no TV. There is a turntable, however, and tight rows of jazz albums—musicians I don’t know.

As he goes for the wine I drift to the large windows, thinking of how difficult they must be to keep clean. Squinting out across the park, I can see the gray granite walls of the town’s too-often-painted church yard. 

“I see now why you’ll never buy one of my best-selling paintings,” I call to him. “You have your own private view.”

“That. And the fact that they are dreadful to look at.”

A telescope is mounted on a fancy tripod at the window. It is not a decoration. A notebook sits on the window apron and I flip through the pages. Although the handwriting is tediously neat—all alchemy or astrology—I don’t recognize a single marking. I know that I could sell each of those pages if they were presented in a double-bevel stacked matte frame.

“Can you see my gallery from here?”

“No.” He comes up right behind me with two paper-thin burgundy glasses, a deep ruby color warming in his hands. “Not that I would want to spy on you but that bank blocks the view.”

I take a glass, swirl it a bit, and sniff. “Exquisite.”

“It’s young. If you have any taste for wine at all . . .”

I turn away. There is a Chesterfield-style sofa that, in an odd way, is well paired with an armless leather chair. A low black coffee table sits between them—the spot where a friend of mine ran him off with a belly dance. As Malcolm puts a record on the turntable I take the chair forcing him onto the sofa. Lovely stone coasters are set out on the coffee table to prevent our glasses from staining the finish. He is a man who cherishes his stuff.

Malcolm can talk forever, whether or not anyone is listening. He mansplains the entire viticulture of African Syrah and then I get a mini-lecture on compression dynamics—excuse me, integrated compression dynamics—which ends with “. . . but you wouldn’t understand any of this.”


I finish two glasses of this excellent wine while waiting my turn. “You told me once that the opening exhibit at The Doorway was the second-best experience of your life.” 

“Exhibition. Art exhibition.” 


“I said it was the second-best art exhibition.”

“Oh.” I remind myself that I am on a campaign here, working a bet. I slide off of the chair and claim a spot next to him on the Chesterfield. “I was curious. What was the first?”

Malcolm’s eyes drift off to the far corner of the room. Some screechy saxophone fills the space until he comes back around. 

“Picasso. The Blue Period.”

“Oh.” That’s not at all what I was expecting. Go on, I imply with a tact nod. 

“It was summer. I remember it being quite hot. I was just passing by the National Gallery.” His eyes bore in on me in what could be misinterpreted as a threatening manner. “I was a teaching assistant at the Polytech, tutoring a bunch of morons, but that’s a different story. I didn’t even know there was an exhibit. So, I wasn’t expecting it.”


“I saw the poster from the street. Picasso. Blue Period. It seemed like a very off-hand exhibit. Like they were begrudging space to some lame local artist. The way that you do.”


“It was in the basement of all places as if the installation was an afterthought. Maybe it was because they had the space there. There were so many of his works there. They were all mounted on this white pipe-like tracking that, I think, was intended to make the individual pieces look as if they were floating. It didn’t work. That whole basement thing just made it look like some grade-school science fair. There must have been a dozen pieces.”

“Yes. It was one of the most prolific periods in his life. And he was so young.”

The Old Guitarist was there.” 


“And all his beggars and mothers and fishmongers, his very sad people. All of them so somber, bathed in such warm tones, and all that emerging from those hard angles of his.” He turned that image over in his head before looking up. “The show included two portraits of Casagemas.”

“His friend?”


“The one who died?”

“Suicide.” When he nods, I notice a strain in his eyes. “At L’Hippodrome, famously.”

All I could say was, “Wow.” He knows about Casagemas at L’Hippodrome.

Malcolm pauses and searches the corners of his mind. I don’t crowd him. 

“I thought of my father. I have no idea what triggered that. But I just couldn’t get him out of my mind.” 

He turns back to me with a desperately hopeless look in his eyes as if he, alone, knew that we were all about to die. 

“Then, right there, in the middle of this public gallery, I was seized by a fit of ungovernable crying. Blue like ghosts, those faces . . . so deeply alive. But at the same time so doomed. So . . . vital. It was like when you were a child and there was something that you were supposed to understand. But I didn’t.” He tries to laugh. “And there I was, thinking about my father.”

We were both quiet for a long moment.

“Were you and your father . . .?”

“We were good. He lectured on particle physics. He was eternally loyal to my mother, as far as I know. We were fairly close. No issues.” Malcolm becomes insistent. “So there was no logical reason for my . . . whatever it was. Except Picasso.”

He pauses. 

“Have you seen the Blue Period?”

“Some,” I say. “Individual pieces. And, of course I studied . . .”

“Each and every one of those works was individually powerful. But together, Margit . . .”

That was the first time I remember him speaking my name. Ever. 

“Together they were . . .” He is getting excited. “Everything.”

I heard myself whisper, “Everything.”

He sits up. “That’s where it came to me. The sum total of everything: compression dynamics.”

I blink, suddenly. I had been ready to cry. But compression dynamics?

We both know to stop, to let the electricity dissipate from the room. The record has finished. The wine is down to the dregs.

Malcolm snaps back to his familiar self. “So why don’t you do something dynamic like that? I saw you do it once at your opening.”

I swirl the Syrah around the bottom of my glass. “Nothing sold at my opening. And it cost me and my husband a lot of money to pull it off.”

I was getting the nasty bird-eyes again. “So, you quit.”

“I have a business to run.” I snap back.

“Unfortunately, the choice is yours. You have shown that you could make a real lasting impact. But it’s your life. You can keep it all as safe and passionless as you choose.”


I lost the bet. 

My husband is lost in the blue glow of his computer screen when I get home. He made dinner for himself, leaving the spoils stacked in the sink. He acknowledges me with a curt “Hey,” but without moving his eyes from his monitor.

“Did you know Malcolm has a telescope in his flat?” 

“Yeah.” He still doesn’t look up. “It’s a fancy catadioptric one. Programmable tracking and all.” Now he turns to me with that polite go away look of his. “He showed us Copernicus when it was in retrograde.”

I wasn’t shown Copernicus. I leave him, as he wants, and cross the house to our bedroom, suddenly deserving of a long steamy shower. I could have stood under that water until the hot water ran out, doting on the cruel complexities of men. To extend my time under the warm water I start shaving my legs and I keep thinking about Picasso’s ‘everything’. I take my time, shave away everything, not stepping out until the water goes cold. I dry off and wrap myself in my red silk robe before sauntering across the house for a last desperate shot at my husband. I stand quietly in the door of his office until my presence bugs him. When he looks at me, I just let my robe fall on the floor.

He smiles wolfishly. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

That is the ‘deal’, then—as well as the definition of passionless. I give him everything and he’ll be there in a minute.

“I won’t be.” I toss the words over my shoulder as I stamp away. He’s not listening.

Throwing my I-want-sex robe across the room I pull on my homely gardening coveralls. Hastily gathering up some gloves and tools from the garage I drive over to The Doorway. It’s late night and I leave my car right up on the sidewalk. The first thing I do is rip out the goddamn front counter. Oh, it is sheer passion when I swung the crowbar into the side panel—splintered wood flying everywhere. Changing tools, I go after those tacky wall mounts. It all has to go.

I am at it for hours, it seems, when my husband strolls in with his hands in his pockets making a point of being unimpressed. I am up on a ladder with a pair of vice-grips in my hand and plaster dust in my hair when I notice, for the first time, that I had left the front door wide open so that any late-night walkers could see the crazy woman having her meltdown.

He strolls about like an insurance adjuster surveying the damage after a storm. He picks up a broken coffee mug with a picture of the church yard and holds it up to me—as if I hadn’t noticed.

There is an irrepressible anger in my voice. “I might keep selling coffee cups but they are going to the back.”

He shrugs.

I lean over the ladder. “My stuff is going up front. First thing you’ll see in my gallery is real art. Things that will make ‘a real lasting impact’ as fucking Mr. Compression Dynamics says.”

I was hoping that would drive him off—the emotional coward that he is. But he just looks up at me with that temperate expression of his. “Well, is there anything I can do to help?”

No! My first though almost topples the ladder. An emphatic and absolute no! I didn’t want any piece of him in my gallery. But I don’t actually say “no”. I just sit up on my perch wondering why it is the wife that always caves.

“Yes.” I hate to hear my answer.

He gives his innocent boy shrug, raising his palms in a gesture that asked “what”?

“I’ll need about twenty grand to make this right. At least twenty. Probably more.”

His eyes drift down the long hall. He takes a step or two putting his hand to his chin the way he does when he’s conniving. I’m waiting for some condescending response that will be the final words of our marriage. He turns back to me, still up here on my catbird seat ready to pounce.

“We’ll have to take out a loan.” He says.

That catches me off guard and I take a step to the next lower rung of the ladder.

At the same time, I am watching his mouth move. “I can’t say that I understand all this, sweetheart. But I trust you know what you’re doing. Sure. I can get the money.” 

Damn him! He did it again. He just extended our marriage—at least for the term of the loan.

I stick my hand out to him. 

He takes it. We shake. 

And I have the last word.


Marc Hess

Marc Hess

In both his fiction and non-fiction Marc Hess works to distinguish the authentic from the contrived. And it always seems to come down to relationships between people. He usually writes from his home in Fredericksburg, TX. His debut novel, The Gillespie County Fair, was an Amazon Best Seller in Southern Fiction.

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