I sit at an angle, one arm draped over the back of a chair.
“Your gaze must be consistent,” Edwin tells me. “Try looking at the pot on the wall, like it is a handsome stranger.”
“Where did you learn to paint?” I ask, smiling at the pot.
“One never stops learning to paint, my dear. But I began at the Tenby School of Art, attended Slade in London and studied independently in Paris, but my greatest advances came during an unexpected convalescence. I suffered a fall from a horse at thirty-two and found the time I spent bound to the house invaluable.”
Edwin sits on a stool to paint, one thumb sticking through a hole in a wooden palette, holding both the oblong board and additional brushes. The rim of the palette is covered with a rainbow of hues, which he sparingly retrieves to mix at the center. I am fascinated, but my body has begun to ache.
“Is Luca your young man?” he asks.
The question makes me uncomfortable. “No. He is promised to another.”
“Would you like me to give you some lessons when we have finished? I sense an artistic interest and a visual sensitivity, perhaps one afternoon when the light is right, we could walk to the channel.”
I feel suddenly out of my depth. “No, thank you. I should be getting back.”
“Ah, be still my dear, one moment more and I will promise to stop prying into your life. I can only do so much from memory, so will need to have you sit again before the week is out.”
Only forty-five minutes has passed, but my body is tired. I try to be patient while wanting to bolt, both energies swirling within. My breathing deepens as my eyes well with tears. I must find my way back to myself, I reason, where ever that is. I can not live among strangers for the rest of my life. I must try harder. I must force something into memory. Surely something is there, if I concentrate, implore and push it to the surface.
The force of my feelings become explosive. “I really must go now. Please hand me my walking stick at once.”
Edwin puts down his brushes, wiping his hands on an already soiled cloth. He helps me up, placing his arm around my shoulder, then leads me to the canvas. “What do you think, my dear? Is it a good beginning?”
I am stunned at the image peering back at me. It is far from complete, but holds an essence of myself astonishing to witness. The likeness looks wise but calm, radiant, distressed and bewildered. His swift fluid strokes are unafraid of vibrant color, leaving me spellbound and absorbed.
This jolt of realism sends me stumbling out the door into a shade-less afternoon. I make my way to a remote corner of the beach, take off my clothes and bathe, floating belly up in salted water.