Going to the Frick was Mabel’s idea. The purpose was for her and I to get to know one another—me, the new wife, her, the old friend. Or not that old, really. She and Daniel had become close in the last year, which was unusual, given his moratorium on new friendships. Friends were demanding. Friends required time. Friends were a threat to the next drawer-bound novel.
On the Q train he stood above me, feet apart, my knees between his. Daniel never sat on trains unless they were empty. How he considered the needs of others before his own, before mine, it made me feel inferior but I also respected it.
“I used to have a company pass to the Frick,” Daniel said. That was back when he worked at the hedge fund, before he saved enough money to quit. “Maybe it still works.”
I held the back of his knee and grinned up at him. “Either way,” I said.
The three of us met on 70th street on a lukewarm spring day. I wore a short skirt with a crochet scarf—I didn’t like the outfit but suspected Mabel would, based on pictures of jewelry she’d made that I’d seen on her website, crafty stuff. If Daniel was anxious I couldn’t tell—anxiousness was not one of the qualities he displayed visibly. Those were limited to anger, satisfaction, and resolve. Most days, lust wasn’t even on the list. He made love almost entirely with a straight face, buried the lede on orgasms.
As we milled about the galleries it was difficult for all three of us to stay together, so I drifted apart to the far wall or the next room. Whenever I looked for Daniel he seemed always to be with Mabel, their tolerance for each painting exactly matched. I sulked by pretending to be more independent than I felt, charting my own course through the wooden and white rooms.
Truthfully, I wasn’t all that interested in paintings. I was practical—I appreciated culture but I didn’t confuse art as passion and I think Daniel liked that about me. I left room for him to be the creative one.
Eventually Mabel came and brought me to stand in front of Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait” where Daniel was waiting. It was a brushy number with a lot of affectionate self-loathing in brown paint.
I thought I was standing next to Daniel but then somehow Mabel was between us. “Peter Schjeldhal says this is the best painting in all of New York,” she said.
I let her stay there. “And what does he say is the best pizza?”
Daniel intervened. “I think he posed it as a question—is Rembrandt’s ‘Self-Portrait’ the best painting in New York?”
“Well, I think it is,” Mabel said.
“Have you seen them all?” I couldn’t help it.
“At least the permanent collections.”
We sidestepped to the adjacent painting, which was also a Rembrandt, and I asked her to send me the article. At least I was trying. “The Polish Rider” had more hope to it, an out-of-sight sun that was either rising or setting and a white horse that caught the light.
“I will,” she said. “And I brought something to read about this one. But I’ll save it for dinner.”
“You’ve made quite a syllabus.” A comment that Daniel, poor guy, let me get away with.