Window to the Soul: A Short Story
“Yes sir, I believe we can compete with that premium,” said Joseph. He typed away on his keyboard and occasionally clicked on the widows on the computer screen while listening to the caller on his headphones. As the caller continued to speak, he leaned back in his chair and peaked around his cubicle wall. Just a few feet away were glass doors that lead to the outside world. It was a world he wanted to be a part of…as soon as possible.
Suddenly, a man with grey thinning hair came through the doors and into his view. He wore a dark blue collared shirt with black suit pants and gold cufflinks. Joseph wasn’t nearly as formal, sporting an open collared short-sleeved shirt with tan khaki pants and black hair parted to the left side. He never violated any dress codes…although sometimes he wondered if Mr. Walker would have preferred for Joseph to have a more…sophisticated look.
He appeared to have a serious expression on his face, which to Joseph was nothing new.
Still, he thought to himself, better not be on his bad side today. He pulled himself back to the computer just in time to answer another question from the caller.
“Yes, you can pay annually if you like. However, we do offer monthly payment options as well in case that makes it easier for you to budget it out....Okay, I’ll have a look at my calendar then. Now I do have a conference call tomorrow morning, but I should be available to come meet you at…say 10:30am? Okay, very good, I’ll see you then Mr. Summers. We’ll go over the policy details we’ve agreed to and I’ll have the paperwork ready for your signature…..Of course, Mr. Summers, anything I can do to help. You have a pleasant day, sir, and I look forward to our meeting tomorrow.”
Joseph then raised his hand to push the button on his headphone and the phone went silent. At that moment, he heard a knock on the cubicle wall. He turned to find Mr. Walker.
“Afternoon, Joseph,” remarked Mr. Walker. “I trust you have your day set for tomorrow?”
“Yes, certainly, Mr. Walker,” replied Joseph. “I just got off the call with a potential...” Suddenly, he found himself stopping in mid sentence as Mr. Walker’s arms folded over each other and he gave hard stare. Joseph cleared his throat and continued, “Umm…new policyholder. We’re…just meeting tomorrow to get everything signed.”
“Good plan,” replied Mr. Walker with a dry tone. “And how about the rest of your week?”
“Well, I’m…we’re just starting the first week of the quarter, Mr. Walker. I’m very sure I’ll get some other prospects lined up soon, but….”
“Well, as long as I know you’re pushing for something, Joseph. I’ll check back on you after your meeting tomorrow then. In fact, I’d try to work on your attire a bit if I were you…we just want to make sure your new client knows we take our business practices very seriously. Good day.”
As Mr. Walker turned away and left the cubicle, Joseph leaned back in his chair and rubbed his forehead. His mind raced with thoughts of frustration:
Only the first damn week of the quarter! What, you want me to blow through my goals by tomorrow!? And of course, he cracks about my clothes! I knew he was going to do it! To hell with it all!!
Joseph grabbed his headphones and threw them on his desk. Sitting up quickly from his chair, he rushed out of his cubicle towards the glass doors. As he walked briskly by the rows of cubicles, a young, blonde haired woman turned her gaze from her computer. She had a look of worry as she watched Joseph walk through the doors. It was the first time she had seen him leave the office as early as three in the afternoon.
A white t-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers: Joseph had been looking forward to being in comfortable clothing the entire day. He breathed in the pure air as a gentle breeze moved through the blades of grass. He sat down and looked upon the sky as it was a darkened blue with a few clouds floating above him.
He reached over his side to grab a small painter's canvas. The canvas was bursting with vibrant colors. At the bottom was a floor of green grass blades that stretched on for miles. Beyond that was a golden hue floating just above the grass. Stretching outward the colors morphed from a gold to a crimson red as if the sky was lit with fire. It later blended into a gentle blue. The sky in the canvas was also partially covered by clouds with some of them in white shading against the blue and others with a much darker shade when set against the crimson glow.
Joseph then grabbed the small brush in his hand, slightly tapping the handle on the side of the canvas. He let out a gentle sigh as if unsure where he should go next with the portrait.
“Hey Leonardo,” came a sudden female voice from behind. Joseph jumped a little and turned to see his coworker standing behind him, wearing a yellow sunflower dress. He smiled as he watched her dress and hair blow in the wind. She sat down next to him and gave him a nudge before she spoke again: “So how long were you going to keep this secret from me?” she asked.
“Oh come on, Amanda,” replied Joseph. “You know about my painting. We’ve talked about it before.”
“Telling me and showing me aren’t the same things, Joey. I’ve never seen your drawings.”
Joseph cringed at the sound of “Joey.” It was Amanda’s playful way of telling him one of two things: either she was irate with him or she was trying to find some way to make him feel better. He was pretty sure, in this case, it was the former.
“Seriously, I know we’ve only known each other for about a month since you started working there, but…well really??? Post your work on Facebook or email me or something! I mean, wow!” She grabbed the canvas from his hands and held it up.
“Hey, be careful with that!” Joseph shouted as he tried to reach for the canvas, but to no avail. She simply pushed him away with one hand while holding the canvas with the other, turning it from one angle to another. “Look, I’m not done with it alright? And what are you trying to do? Analyze it? It’s just clouds and grass for crying out loud! It’s not like I painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or anything!”
“Joseph, seriously, why don’t share this stuff around? I mean this is incredible work! And what else do you have to do with this? It looks finished to me.”
Without another word, Joseph just leaned back and turned his head to the front. He let out another sigh and his face became serious. Amanda slowly placed the painting back on the ground between the two of them and then put a hand on his shoulder.
“Joseph, I’m…really sorry,” Amanda said gently. “I didn’t mean to upset you. If you want me to leave…” She stopped talking as she noticed that Joseph made no sudden movements, but continued to stare in front of him. Curious to see what he was looking at, she turned her head and raised her eyebrows.
What she saw was an exact replica of Joseph’s painting to the last detail…save for a lonely tree in the middle of the field. There were no leaves or plants or any birds perched on it. In fact, it appeared lifeless and barren. It was as if the tree was placed there to die alone and forgotten.
“Maybe…” Amanda began, “I need to give you some time alone. I’m sorry I bothered you, Joey. I just saw you rush out of the office pretty upset and I followed you here with my car...you know what, never mind. I'll see you tomor...”
“Did I ever tell you about my late grandfather, Amanda?” Asked Joseph. Amanda was just getting up, but stopped as she heard the question. As he turned to face her, she sat back down and shook her head.
“He was a pretty good artist. He’s the one that taught me how to paint. I used to watch him paint all kinds of images…trains, coast lines, palm trees, large scale cities. He traveled a lot and sometimes he would paint on his trips if he wasn't doing it at home. I remember when I turned 9 I asked him to take me along one of his trips so I could see where he got his ideas. Then one day, he drove me to this house that was in the middle of nowhere. I don’t remember where it was exactly, but I remember the house looked like it was abandoned for years: broken windows, chipped painting on the boards, overgrown lawn grass, and the front door hanging off its hinges. Once we got there, he asked me to reach for a canvas he had laying on the back seat for me to look at it. I did and couldn’t believe what I saw: a perfectly built house with white painted boards, a small porch with a swinging bench on it, a wooden door with a stain glass window , and a perfectly cut lawn with shrubs and sunflowers planted around the front of the porch!”
“Wow! That’s some great skill. But where did he find that house? Why didn’t he show you the one he painted?”
“That’s exactly what I asked him. You know what he told me?” Amanda shook her head and leaned closer to Joseph with interest. “He laughed and told me I must need glasses because we were already there. I figured out eventually that he was talking about that old empty house, but I just stared at him totally confused.”
Joseph leaned forward, propped up his knees, and gave another heavy sigh. For a few moments he said nothing. Amanda shifted a little, trying to figure out if he was expecting her to say something or if he was just lost in thought with something else. Finally, he spoke, but with a far more serious tone.
“You know the old saying that a persons’ eyes are the windows to their souls? To an extent, my grandfather believed that, but not so much by looking into someones' eyes. It was through whatever they used to express themselves to the outside world of who they were and what they felt: writing, singing, painting. Whatever it was, that’s how you could view the person’s true soul and feelings, and naturally painting was that way for him. I don’t know if all the paintings he did during his travels were actually things that he saw, but I do know that he painted based on how he viewed the world around him…and how he felt about his life at that moment.”
“I see,” Amanda said with a quiet tone. She turned her gaze away from him and stared at the tree. “And that tree? Do you feel like that’s telling me what you’re feeling about your life right now?”
“Unfortunately, yes, but I don’t want it to be that way.” Joseph grabbed the painting and held it in front of him. He continued, “I don’t want such a thing to be a window to my soul. I want to see something better than this! I just want to feel…better than this.” He let out another sigh, placed the painting down, and ran his fingers through his hair.
Amanda moved closer to Joseph and put her arm around his shoulders. She gave him a hug and spoke with a calm, reassuring voice.
“Joey, I know how things are with you trying to make Mr. Walker happy. Look, I’ve been in the business for 4 years and I still can never tell if he’s okay with my sales. Heck, if I sold our policies to every person in our area, I’d be lucky if I could get him to crack a smile.”
“It’s not just him…well, it’s mainly him, but there’s other stuff too. I don’t know, I mean, it’d be nice if he’d be happy with anything I do, like you said. I like my job somewhat, but for the most part it’s what I do to help pay the bills and put food on my plate. But the thing is with my job, I have to do my work by the book or I’m done. With my painting, I don’t get bound by rules or limitations. I can see what I want and feel what I want! That’s what makes life beautiful to me! That’s what really…makes me happy.”
“I know, Joey, I get it,” Amanda replied as she rubbed his shoulder. “And maybe one day you’ll put together a masterpiece, and sell it for a fortune. Then you can retire and do this all day. Just don’t leave me out of the cut.” Joseph gave a light chuckle and Amanda laughed a little with him. “But you’re here now with the job. It’s not fun, but at least it’s not getting in the way of what you love to do….not yet anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Joseph looked up with a puzzled look on his face.
“Isn’t a little obvious? Let me ask you this. What’s the next painting you’ll do once you finish this one? Better yet, how are you going to finish this painting?”
Joseph was silent for a few moments. He just looked at Amanda with a blank stare, trying to think hard of how to reply. His head swirled with suggestions of how to complete the unfinished work…birds, children playing, dogs running…anything to substitute the barren tree that bore no resemblance to the serene scene he created with a few brush strokes.
“I...really don’t know…”
“That’s exactly what I mean!” shot Amanda and it made Joseph jump a little. “You’re so focused on what you’re going to face each day at the office that it’s taking away from what you really love to do now. Sooner or later, you’re not going to have the will or the love to do this anymore. Then you’re going to be just like that tree over there: alone, barren and empty. It’s not just a representation of how you always feel. It’s also how you’re going to live your life. Don’t you want something better than that?”
Joseph's blank stare began to slowly transform into a warm smile. His focus was completely locked on Amanda: her long blonde hair, her green eyes, and her smile. Physically, she was a very attractive woman, but it was the smile most of all that struck at Joseph’s heart. It was the most genuine, gentle, and heartfelt expression he had ever seen.
Grabbing the painting and brush in his hand, he spoke again to Amanda with a tone of excitement she had not heard from him before.
“Amanda, I have a really big favor to ask of you.”
“Have you seen Joseph come in yet?” Mr. Walker asked Amanda. He was leaning over her cubicle as she sat in her office chair. She turned to face him.
“Morning Mr. Walker,” she said with a slight hint of sarcasm. “I’m pretty sure he’s at his appointment now.”
“Didn’t he have a conference call this morning?”
“Oh yeah, he did mention that to me. He just said he’d take it on his mobile on his way to the appointment.”
“I see,” he replied dryly. “I just figured he would have stopped by to see me with questions beforehand. Very well, I’ll just talk to him when he gets back.” He turned away and left.
“You’re welcome!” Amanda said out loud. Mr. Walker turned to look at her, gave a slight nod, and kept walking.
Jackass, she thought to herself. She gave out a heavy snort and turned to face her computer.
As she turned, her gaze locked on the painting hanging on wall just above her computer monitor. She leaned back and took in the familiar scene she saw from yesterday: the green grass, the fire-like sky, the soft clouds. She then focused her sights on a particular portion of the picture, which made her smile and blush.
In the middle of the portrait standing tall on the grass was a tree with its branches. Flowers with white petals bloomed along the branches. Some of the branches had blue jays and red cardinals perched on them and they appeared to be singing.
Below that leaning against the tree trunk was a woman wearing a yellow sunflower dress. Her blonde hair and dress appeared to wave as if a gentle breeze was blowing through the serene scene. The woman had a gentle, innocent smile while standing with her hands clasped behind her back.
Well, Joey, not only have you shown me your soul, but you also have touched my heart, Amanda thought to herself as a small tear rolled down her cheek.