“A palindrome,” I said the first time she told me. She looked at me, perplexed, and that’s when I knew I could never love her. What a waste of a palindrome she was, that Hannah.
But I can already tell that Auburn isn’t like Hannah. I can see the layers of depth in her eyes. I can see the way my art moves her by the way she focuses on it, ignoring everything else around her. I hope she isn’t like Hannah at all. She already looks better in Hannah’s clothes than Hannah did.
Did. Another palindrome.
I walk into the bathroom and look at her clothes, and I want to walk them back downstairs to her. I want to tell her never mind, that I want her to wear her own clothes tonight, not Hannah’s clothes. I want her to be herself, to be comfortable, but my customers are wealthy and elite and they expect black skirts and white shirts. Not blue jeans and this pink (is it pink or red?) top that makes me think of Mrs. Dennis, my high school art teacher.
Mrs. Dennis loved art. Mrs. Dennis also loved artists. And one day, after seeing how incredibly talented with a brush she thought I was, Mrs. Dennis loved me. Her shirt was pink or red, or maybe both, that day, and that’s what I remember as I look down at Auburn’s shirt, because Mrs. Dennis who?
She was not a palindrome, but her name spelled backwards was still very fitting, because Dennis = Sinned, and that’s precisely what we did.
We sinned for an entire hour. She more so than me.
And don’t think that hasn’t been a confession turned into a painting. It was one of the first I ever sold. I named it She Sinned with Me. Hallelujah.
But alas, I don’t want to think about high school or Mrs. Dennis or Palindrome Hannah because they are the past and this is the present, and Auburn is . . . somehow both. She would be shocked if she knew how much of her past has affected my present, which is why I won’t be sharing the truth with her. Some secrets should never turn into confessions. I know that better than anyone.
I’m not sure what to do with the fact that she just showed up at my doorstep, wide-eyed and quiet, because I don’t know what to believe anymore. Half an hour ago I believed in coincidences and happenstance. Now? The idea that her being here is simply a coincidence is laughable.
When I make it back downstairs, she’s standing statue-still, staring up at the painting I call You Don’t Exist, God. And If You Do, You Should Be Ashamed.
I wasn’t the one who named it, of course. I’m never the one who names the paintings. They are all titled by the anonymous confessions that inspire them. I don’t know why, but this confession inspired me to paint my mother. Not as I remember her, but how I imagined she looked when she was my age. And the confession didn’t remind me of her because of her religious views. The words just reminded me of how I felt in the months following her death.
I’m not sure if Auburn believes in God, but something about this painting got to her. A tear rolls down her cheek and slides slowly toward her jaw.
She hears me, or maybe she sees me stand beside her, because she brushes her cheek with the back of her hand and takes a breath. She seems embarrassed to have connected with this piece. Or maybe she’s just embarrassed that I saw her connect with it.
Instead of asking her what she thinks of the painting, or why she’s crying, I just stare at the painting with her. I’ve had this one for over a year and just yesterday decided to put it in today’s showing. I don’t usually keep them for this long, but for reasons I don’t understand, this one was harder to give up than the rest. They’re all hard to give up, but some more so than others.
Maybe I’m afraid that once they leave my hands, the paintings will be misunderstood. Unappreciated.
“That was a fast shower,” she says.
She’s trying to change the subject, even though we weren’t speaking out loud. We both know that even though we’ve been quiet, the subject for the last few minutes has been her tears and what prompted them and why do you love this piece so much, Auburn?
“I take fast showers,” I say, and realize my response is unimpressive and why am I even trying to be impressive? I turn and face her and she does the same, but not before looking down at her feet first, because she’s still embarrassed that I saw her connect with my art. I love that she looked at her feet first, because I love that she’s embarrassed. In order to be embarrassed, a person has to care about the opinions of others first.
That means she cares about my opinion, even if only a fraction. And I like that, because I obviously care about her opinion of me, or I wouldn’t be secretly hoping she doesn’t do or say anything that reminds me of Palindrome Hannah.
She spins around, slowly, and I try to think of something more impressive to say to her. It’s not enough time, though, because her eyes are back on mine and it looks like she’s hoping I’m the confident one and will be the first to speak.
I’ll speak first, although I don’t think confidence has anything to do with it.
I look down at my wrist to check the time—I’m not even wearing a watch—and I quickly scratch at a nonexistent itch so that I don’t look like I’m not confident. “We open in fifteen minutes, so I should explain how things work.”
She exhales, seeming more relieved and relaxed than she did before that sentence left my mouth. “Sounds good,” she says.
I walk to You Don’t Exist, God and I point to the confession taped to the wall. “The confessions are also the titles of the pieces. The prices are written on the back. All you do is ring up the purchase, have them fill out an information card for delivery of the painting, and attach the confession to the delivery card so I’ll know where to send it.”
She nods and stares at the confession. She wants to see it, so I take it off the wall and hand it to her. I watch as she reads the confession again before flipping the card over.
“Do you think people ever buy their own confessions?”
I know they do. I’ve had people admit to me that they’re the ones who wrote the confession. “Yes, but I prefer not to know.”
She looks at me like I’m insane, but also with fascination, so I accept it.
“Why wouldn’t you want to know?” she asks.
I shrug and her eyes drop to my shoulder and maybe linger on my neck. It makes me wonder what she’s thinking when she looks at me like this.
“You know when you hear a band on the radio and you have this vision of them in your head?” I ask her. “But then you see a picture or a video of them and it’s nothing like you assumed? Not necessarily better or worse than you imagined, just different?”