Saturday, 19 April 2008
Window on a world
Artemis Leyton was once quite a well-known artist. Her paintings sold quickly and expensively during the 80s and 90s. But then, for some reason she seemed to drop out of sight, as if she had suddenly decided to stop creating art altogether. Not even the media could find her anywhere.
So, when Sandra De La Mare met the woman who came into her vineyard one evening and asked to buy six bottles of wine, she did not know who she was talking to. Not that she would have known if she'd been told her visitor was Artemis Leyton; Sandra was not knowledgeable about art.
The woman looked to be in her thirties, pretty in a worn out sort of way. She had a loose limbed, rangy look about her. Her eyes were dark and slightly wary, almost suspicious of what Sandra might know about her. Her hair was long, dark and a little wild, falling carelessly about her face and framing it rather well. The mouth was soft and full and altogether Sandra decided that she rather liked this woman. They talked about wine, from which Sandra discovered that her visitor had travelled about Europe and possibly lived for a while in France and certainly in California. The woman's voice was low and soft, yet sweet in tone reminding Sandra of the phrase 'well oaked'. She recommended three bottles of white and three of red to the woman and chose wines she was especially proud of.
"Do come back and tell me what you think of them, won't you?" she said.
The woman smiled a gentle, almost lost smile and said that she would. She lived on Hope Street, she said, near the large book shop, overlooking the bakery. Sandra knew that area of town well, she had grown up there and she recommended a few shops if they were still around.
"What do you do?" she asked the woman and was surprised to see the gaze shut down on her.
"I'm a painter decorator." the woman answered non-committally and with no sense of irony.
"Ohh, ok. So what would you do with this room? I've been thinking of changing it for a while. Don't know what to do with it though." Sandra said lightly.
She was still a little shocked at the woman's shutting down like that. Was there more to her, Sandra wondered?
The woman said that the room could probably do with a painting, maybe a landscape and perhaps putting glass panels in the roof to let more light in. Sandra looked around the room and agreed. It was a sensible idea and she saw it now that the woman had mentioned it. She packed up the six bottles of wine and carried them out to the woman's car.
"Do you know anyone who'd paint the landscape for me?" she asked the woman.
"I'll ask around," the woman said quietly staring at the ground and then back at Sandra's face.
"Yeah, would you? That'd be great. I think you're right about the glass panels in the roof. Could you do that?" Sandra asked.
The woman shrugged and said, "Sure. I'll check out prices and stuff then I'll come back and measure the area and give you a quote. Okay?"
"Okay that'd be good and if you come around lunchtime I'll make you lunch, how's about that?" Sandra answered with a smile.
The woman grinned and said, "Deal. Definitely."
Sandra didn't see the woman for a while after that and other matters took up her time. It appeared that the woman had come back at one point to measure the roof space and Lenny, her manager had let her in. She'd also bought another six bottles of the same wine, which Sandra was glad to hear. Then quite suddenly the woman showed up again with a van and the carefully packed glass panels. There was a knock on the heavy wooden door and Sandra's daughter Lisa had answered it. She heard the voices in the hallway and left her office to find the woman standing talking to Lisa. For a moment she stood quietly watching the two young women and smiled. The woman had the same loose limbed quality as her daughter and there was a moment when the woman reached out and touched Lisa's arm, when she seemed very tender. It was as if Sandra was looking at a mother and daughter. Then the woman saw Sandra and smiled,
"I made sure I got here for lunch, like you said. Is it okay?" she asked.
Sandra crossed the hall and took the woman's hand feeling the slight scented dampness of the woman's palm.
"Of course it is. It's lovely to see you again. You know I've missed you," she told the woman and realised that it was true; she had missed the woman.
Lisa said that she'd go and start lunch so Sandra could finish her work, but Sandra did not want to continue now the woman was here. She led the way through the house to the kitchen and found Lenny and Seb leaning against the table drinking coffee. In front of them was a sheet of paper with a rough sketch of the vineyard. The men sat up and drank down the rest of their coffee, greeting the women and showing due deference to Sandra as their boss. They didn't have to, Sandra was not that kind of boss and they knew it, but seeing the guest, they felt they ought to. Also, they both loved Sandra who had a down to earth easy way with them.
She told them she was going to make lunch and would they join her. Lenny asked her how long until the lunch was ready and hearing the half hour estimate said that they'd be back a bit before. They had a job to do and didn't want to get in the way of the women. Sandra felt a pang of sadness at this, as if her difference from them had been underlined, but she understood it too. The men washed up their coffee cups and left the kitchen through the back of the house, their boots clomping on the wood boards of the back terrace.
"God! Lenny is sooo hot!" Lisa exclaimed turning almost feverish eyes to the woman.
Sandra laughed for she had long thought the same and had even toyed with the idea of asking Lenny to marry her. But she realised that he'd feel awkward having his wife be the boss. Not because it was awkward or needed to be, but because he was that kind of man. He needed to feel that he had some authority in his work. She directed Lisa to the fridge and the woman sat at the table, hooking her sunglasses into the front of her tee shirt.
The meal when made was a light salad. Chicken with pesto and various salad vegetables. Simple but light and with a bottle of white wine to go with it. They ate out on the back terrace, Lisa going to call the two men to the table. The woman asked Sandra if she still wanted the painting and Sandra said she did. For a while, the woman asked her about art and only when she realised that none of her listeners knew about art much did she say that her name was Artemis Leyton and she had found a painter.
They talked about the landscape and Lenny pointed out the landscape beyond the vineyard. For a while they talked about the sunlight and the trees. Sandra could not remember afterwards how the conversation had shifted but somehow it moved to talking about metaphysical matters.
"There's an idea that every time you close your eyes, the world ceases to exist. Sometimes, I think that the world outside your head ceases to exist because it moves to inside your head instead. It's somehow changed again when your eyes open," she said.
Lenny objected, but said he liked the idea. Seb went quiet and sipped his wine. Sandra smiled at Seb. The younger man was too earth-bound to mix with such ideas. It was not that he didn't understand them, but that he did not see the point of thinking them. They weren't a part of his too solid existence.
"I like the worlds in my imagination." Lisa said stoutly.
"Yeah," Sandra agreed, "me too."
Lenny chuckled. "You would, you funny kid." he told Lisa, tenderly.
"At least I have an imagination." Lisa said, sticking her tongue out at him.
"Sometimes, I find that I'm not sure which world is the real one anyway." Artemis said quietly to Sandra.
"The one you wake up in, love." Lenny told her.
She smiled at him and waved his comment aside, "No, really. I don't mean a drug-induced world or anything like that. I mean... oh I don't know. Forget it," she said shaking her head as if she was sorry she had brought it up.
Sandra did not think greatly about the episode until later, when the painting arrived and was hung up on that wall. It did not seem like a painting at all. It seemed as if a window had been put in. Through it a landscape could be seen with dusty sand-coloured grass, trees that cast shadows. It looked like the landscape around the vineyard - any yet, though Sandra could not say quite why, it wasn't. There was something otherworldly about it. As if it was a world where none of the things that happened in Sandra's day to day world had ever happened in this landscape. There was something almost wild and strange about it. Seen at a glance, you would not notice this strangeness, but properly looked at it became evident - even stronger.
Still, Sandra paid Artemis and thanked her. For a while they met up and even at one point had a brief relationship. Artemis had moved in and had begun to paint again. She even told Sandra about her former glory as a celebrated painter, but somehow could not tell Sandra why she had stopped. The nearest she came to it was admitting that her eyes saw different landscapes and different worlds at times and it unsettled her. At one point, Sandra had found her lover curled up in the shower crying with her arms over her head and her eyes closed. She had taken Artemis in her arms to comfort her and felt the distance from her lover even then. Then, without warning Artemis disappeared. Sandra missed her badly and felt somehow betrayed - even broken hearted that Artemis had gone without explanation or even a goodbye.
One afternoon, Lisa had come into her office in the house and told her quietly to come to the wine shed.
"Why?" Sandra asked.
"God mum, don't argue, just do it will you!" Lisa told her.
Something about her daughter's tone made her get up and follow her. She stepped into the well-lit wine shed and Lisa pointed into the painting. Near the centre of the painting was a pair of blasted trees, pale grey in the brightness of the light in that landscape. Standing by it with her face to her lover was Artemis. She stood with her arms out as if to plead with some un-nameable deity to return her to the sanctuary of her lover's arms.