Jerome washed and scrubbed his hands with the lavender scented soap in an effort to remove the graphite and oil paint from the pores of his skin, remnant evidence of an afternoon's preliminary studies of Lucrezia.
She had suggested, after he had touched her hand to arrange her fingers as they were in the original painting, that he stay for dinner and the night, and continue his efforts on the morrow. Her husband, she had said, would like to meet him. Since there was nothing to draw him back to his lonely apartment, Jerome had accepted. She was pleased with his efforts and his skill, and had left him to clean his brushes while Thaddeus awaited to escort him to his room. He had led Jerome along a hallway and through a heavy door into what seemed a completely different house, a much older structure with a wide corridor, high ceilings, ornate moldings, old-fashioned hot-water radiators, and rich oak, or possibly mahogany woodwork; nineteenth century oil paintings and antique tapestries adorned the walls, and upon the ornately carved hall tables, bronzes, alabaster lamps, and porcelain urns; the old wood floors were laid with richly coloured oriental carpets which had made their passage a silent one. They had come to a large door with a sign above, The Tapestry Room. Thaddeus had opened the door to reveal a large room with a heavy-limbed four-poster, an elaborately carved stone fireplace and richly coloured tapestries on the walls, hunting scenes for the most part. Sleeping garments and a robe were laid upon the black and gold jacquard bed cloth.
Jerome looked into the mirror catching sight of the darkness beneath his eyes. He could use a good sleep in a sumptuous bed. The old-fashioned tub with porcelain fixtures reflected in the mirror, made him think a hot bath after dinner would be a warranted treat. As he dried his hands, he heard a loud distant noise, and then a tapping. He leaned his head into the bedroom to hear if it was the door, but saw a shadow at the triple arched window and noticed a dark bird pecking at the glass, wings flapping. It was gone by the time he reached the window sill, but it had left a black feather on the outside ledge, a feather enticingly out of reach, the lower sections of the windows having been sealed. As the fog descended like a veil, he looked upon the formal garden laid out before him, a fountain in the middle, and tall hedges in the distance in what appeared to be a maze structure. Classical and Gothic juxtaposed.
Fatigue from his concentrated exertion lured him to the bed where he lay down trying to suppress a brief memory of the movie The Shining, and hoping a light rest before supper would be restorative. Thaddeus said he would come to find him in an hour. There was a large dresser and a desk in the room but not a clock radio or timepiece in sight. He would have to rely on his internal sense of time, a sense though, he felt, had withered with modern conveniences and the scientific structures of time. Perhaps a bird would wake him. He closed his eyes and breathing deeply, fell into a light doze.
He stood holding a coffee in his left hand, his purple SUV beside him. It was a large room with enormous colourful abstract paintings on the wall. Seeing the crowd moving towards the shadows to his left, he joined them and soon found himself walking beside the yellow line on a Metro platform. Jostled, trying to keep his coffee from spilling, and trying to avoid falling onto the tracks, he managed to shoulder his way out of the stream and finding a green door, opened it and began to scale a staircase. The ceiling, however, seemed to descend as he ascended forcing him to crouch. Two workmen in jumpsuits murmured to each other as they sat on the stairs eating sandwiches oblivious to his rising concern, and his feelings of being lost. Large painted pipes and valves forced him to contort his body to make his way forward. Claustrophobia began to overtake him. He left the coffee behind and crawled forward on his belly towards what he felt to be a door. Pushing it open, he raised himself to find the same room, his purple SUV in the distance, the modern art, the crowds. A tall man who he felt to be his Father looked at him, then got in the SUV and drove away. He was running after it, helplessly running.
Jerome awoke, his head between the large pillows, the bedspread disturbed as if he had been thrashing. The dream lingered, for a brief moment, fragments of images, shards of reflections and senses falling away into that dark realm of the mind where memory and fantasy, the abstract and the real continue to create seemingly haphazard alternative narratives of life experience. Purple SUV, Metro platform, staircase, Father. And they were gone. The scenario as evanescent as the smoke from a cigarette.
He slid off the bed and went to the desk. He felt he couldn't have slept long. Ten minutes at the most. Looking into the drawers, he discovered pens, a pair of scissors, and three identical unused leather bound journals. Sitting at the desk, he opened one of the journals, the cream paper heavy and textured, fresh and demanding. To make the first mark on such a fine object filled him with a sense of responsibility, so he took up the fountain pen, turned to the last page of the journal and tested it with a few flourishes and strokes. Pleased with its weight and feel, he returned to the first page and decided to capture the moment.
Tuesday, October 23rd.
I feel I should write of my experiences. A record. A testament. Or, at least, mere evidence of this strange day. Something to leave behind or carry with me in case of . . the unforeseen.
It is now late afternoon and I feel that my initial doubts and concerns with this portrait commission have diminished. I was at first startled by my escorts, Tad and Barry, or Thaddeus and Bartholomew, twins of a certain physical size and outward demeanour, but Thaddeus seems to carry himself as a facade, his inner nature being rather soft and non threatening. His brother, however, is an unknown factor still.
I don't know where I was brought. The dark limo-like vehicle had tinted glass, and I fell asleep as well. Heated seats and plush leather so far away from my little hard vinyl seated Deux Chevaux. I do know we are in the country forty or so minutes from Montreal. Whether to the North, or to the Eastern Townships, I cannot tell. It is, however, a very wealthy estate. The subject of the portrait, who I am to call Lucrezia,is an attractive redhead a few years older than myself, intelligent and cultured. Her presentation to me was one of simplicity and openness. I fear I am drawn to her. Unintended pun—the pen avails itself of such linguistic devices, unlike the brush. When I touched her hand to model the fingers, there was a moment of intense feeling, but she overcame it quickly and talked of how her husband wanted to meet me, and that I should stay for dinner and overnight.
Though my worries over this commission have diminished, her husband is still an unknown shadow who now garnishes my remnant anxiety. I try to imagine what kind of man 'Lucrezia' is married to: Stereotypically older or avant-gardely younger? Self-manifested wealth or inherited? Overweight or fit? Tall or short? My expectations are open. I only hope he is not . . dangerous.
Lucrezia's eyes revealed much experience of life. I sensed she was mature, grounded, natural. She was barefoot. A white cotton robe her only adornment. Not even a ring. She shed everything for her pose. But we have many skins us humans. My sketches and preliminary daubs went well. Her face does suit the dress and the setting of the original. That can be a worry. Sometimes a modern face is out of place. That last line sounds like a lyric from a fifties song. 'Sometimes a modern face is out of place, but not in my heart tonight. . . .' I'm becoming silly with hunger.
My room is the Tapestry Room and feels much like an old-world stately home. The hunting scenes depicted in the tapestries seem historical or mythological in nature, the colours used are very warm and make the large room feel intimate. I imagine that a fire in the grate would add to the intimacy as its muted light flickers upon the colourful threads and weaves. I just looked more intensely at the one behind the bed. A tall ship in full sail, a lamp lit near its prow. A galleon of some kind, something like a ship from the time of Sir Walter Ralegh and his kith. It is quite different from the hunting scenes, in colouration—blues and greys—as well as subject. No figures, just a portion of the ship and in the foreground, the white crested waves and swampy land. Seems modern as well as old.
I just heard a knock on the door. Time must have flown. Thaddeus just called my name saying he'll be in the corridor waiting to show me down to dinner. I wish myself luck....
It was with a sense of relief that Amelia and Edward looked upon Hugh and George greeting each other for the first time. The dogs made a number of small circles around each other, tails wagging and mouths open with curiosity, sniffing, smiling, creating a familiarity of sorts. They were an odd pair. To Edward, Amelia's miniature dachshund and his Airedale brought to mind various odd couples, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Sidney James and Kenneth Williams, while for Amelia, she thought of Bouvard and Pécuchet, Holmes and Watson, and Vladimir and Estragon. But such frames of reference quickly evaporated when George spread his front arms down in a pose of what seemed to be an offer of play, and Hugh hopped about in the grass following him around in the backyard. A success. They retreated to the patio and its comfortable chairs.
Amelia had not revealed her reason for bringing Hugh up to the house, only saying she was out with him—which she was—and since she was so close, she thought she would pop in and say hi. Edward was pleased with the impromptu visit and the resulting vigour that George was exhibiting.
“It's good to see George being more lively,” Edward said. “I fear I don't stimulate or offer him much in the way of exercise these days.”
“I'll try and bring Hugh up more often now that I know they get along.”
They watched the dogs cavorting, and then laughed lightly as George rolled over in the grass before resting, while Hugh, now being eye to eye, nose to nose, stood before him as if in conversation.
“I say, this is quite a backyard,” Hugh said.
“Hmm, yes, but I don't use it much,” George said looking about. “I used to do the old run and fetch a stick or ball, but it's been a while. I sort of miss that.”
“Yes, yes, I do that from time to time.”
“Have you ever jumped for frisbees?” George asked looking at Hugh's short legs.
“Frisbees?” Hugh said. “No, no, I can't say I have.”
“Not my thing either Hugh. Hard on the teeth I bet.”
“And the nose too if you miss it,” Hugh offered. “I say, is there a cat about?” he said sniffing the air.
“Good nose Hugh. Yes, but I don't worry myself about it. A stray. They come and go.” George looked at the house and Edward and Amelia talking together. “It must be a hard life, without a home.”
“True enough. True enough.” Hugh was impressed with George's magnanimous comment. And yet, he wondered if George had ever been scratched by a cat. “I say, there is an abundance of scents around here. Fox, skunk, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, and even, yes,” he sniffed more profoundly, “yes, a hint of groundhog."
"Oh yeah, we have a full line of wildlife up here Hugh. A full line."
© ralph patrick mackay
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