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One day, your favorite piece of art — a famous painting or sculpture, the graffiti next door — comes to life. What happens next?

Room in New York by Edward Hopper, 1932

Room in New York by Edward Hopper, 1932

Isabel plucked an ivory piano key. The note hung in the air. She played the first few notes of “It’s Only a Shanty in Old Shanty Town”, the space between the soft notes making it sound melancholic. Neil looked up from his newspaper.

“Isabel, either play or don’t play, but what you’re doing is just irritating,” he said. He shook his newspaper out as he turned the page and refocused his attention.

Isabel sighed. “Neil, I just want to get out of this tiny apartment for a while. I’ve been inside all day except for the shopping, and teaching uncoordinated little children to play Hot Cross Buns, and I need to get out for a while. Let’s just go out somewhere for a while.”

“Look, Isabel. I’ve been working all day long, not playing with children, with time to myself between lessons. I’m tired when I get home. The city streets are clogged with people all day long. I have no desire to go back out,” Neil responded with impatience.

“What do you expect me to do; I don’t see another adult all day except at Reubens Market, then you come home and bury your head in the paper or listen to news on the radio. I’m bored,” Isabel threw back.

“Isabel, I’ve only worked at the bank for a few months, and wouldn’t even have a job if it weren’t for the Washington making funds available for home loans,” Neil replied. “I know it seems like I’m not spending enough time with you, but I’m lucky to have a job, and I feel like I’ve got to know what’s going on the world to keep ahead. I’m sorry it that bothers you, but it’s our future I’m thinking about.”

“But what about the present, Neil. We’re young. We’ve been married for over four years, and life has been nothing but difficult. Surely things are better than they were. Isn’t there any time to enjoy ourselves?” pleaded Isabel.

“When we got married in 1928, I was on top of the world. A job was waiting for me at J.P. Morgan’s Bank because of my good Economics degree from New York University. Our wedding was just a glorious beginning to a charmed life. Then, before my chair got warm, I was out of a job. The Depression stole precious time from us, and I don’t want to lose any more time by not being the best, the least expendable. I am not losing this job, Izzie,” Neil said with fire in his eyes, and a touch of sadness.

“You’re right, we have seen the worst — and even though the stock market perked up for a while, it’s bad again, Izzie.” I just don’t know when things will be stable again, if ever. It’s like there’s no end to money problems. I just know I must have a job. I have to feel useful, and we have to have money — and that’s not coming from the few students who come here for piano lessons.” said Neil, with a change in his tone of voice.

Though she felt a bit stung, she had heard the desperation in his voice. He had changed from the professional banker who’d walked in the door an hour and half ago. His veneer had cracked, his assurance shaken. Maybe he knew more than she did about the financial problems in the world. He was right: they’d finally been able to afford an apartment in New York near his office, and no matter how small it was — 2 rooms and a kitchenette — at least it was theirs, after years of living with their families. Isabel saw the pain in his face and the frustration, but she couldn’t live her life waiting, feeling caged. She couldn’t bear worrying all the time.

Isabel crossed the small space between them, and pulled his paper away gently. “I’ve got an idea,” Izzie said to Neil kissing his forehead, “let’s just go down to the corner and get a cup of coffee. I’ll get my fresh air, and you can give me a half an hour, then get back to your reading. A break will be good for you.”

Neil looked at Isabel. She was lovely, his complete opposite in temperament and talents. Perhaps opposites did attract. He got up and stretched. “It’s pretty cold out there, you’d better get your coat on,” he said smiling. “Maybe you’re right, Izzie. A stroll with my favorite girl would be nice. Maybe we should really celebrate and have a piece of pie.”

They left their apartment off Union Square arm-in-arm, and once on the street, Isabel started singing “It’s Only a Shanty in Old Shanty Town”, and Neil started singing with her, and they laughed, holding hands, as they walked in the chilly night air.

 

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