Sunday morning found Tipsy in Miss Callie’s yard with a blank three-foot tall by five-foot wide canvas and an easel. She’d pulled her workbench out of Miss Callie’s shed. This pre-painting phase didn’t require many materials. She placed a few watercolor pencils in grays and browns beside the gray lump of a kneaded eraser. She’d felt this mixture of terror and excitement hundreds of times. The flat, blank canvas existed in stark contrast to the multi-layered, colorful picture in her mind. Unfeeling whiteness competed with the myriad emotions that had called the picture into being in the first place. She always began with the fear that she wouldn’t be able to do justice to any of it with her hands. Jane’s upturned face, hipshot stance and the set of her shoulders had a story to tell—a narrative that needed a million chattering pages but got only Tipsy’s single silent one.
Kids will be home in six hours, said Granna. She’s already spent an hour mixing a perfect shade of Charleston green, to match the house’s door and shutters. She poured it into a small jar and tightly sealed the lid. An important touch, but it was time to get down to the real business.
She closed her eyes, and Jane returned to her mind, as she had been on the porch on Friday evening. The minutiae of detail included the smell of Tipsy’s own first date perfume and the sound of some unseen neighborhood child’s motorized scooter. Tipsy rarely worked from a model. She could have sketched in her bedroom. She’d chosen to work in the garden because it relaxed her, not because she needed to look at the house in order to paint it accurately. Like the memory-movies that had sparked her first drawings and still rose, unbidden, to torment her with past emotions, Tipsy attributed her photographic artistic memory to her supernatural talent. Unlike those memories, however, she always welcomed the ethereal painting experience.
I’ve done this before. It’s been a while, but I can do this.
And then the living, effervescent Jane from the Old Cannon overlapped with the image of the subdued woman on the porch. The picture roared to life, a lion that demanded to be fed.
Tipsy fought her way to creativity’s shore four hours later. She stood back, heaving and gasping, on a beach that had seen the wreckage of many artistic endeavors these past few years. She found that this painting had survived those early, roughest tides. She’d filled the canvas with sketchy drawings. The house. The grounds: bushes, trees, and flowers. And the figure of Jane, small yet dominant, in the center of the porch.
“Thank you,” Tipsy said aloud. She wiped her face on her tee shirt and removed a layer of sweat and the final vestiges of last night’s mascara from her face. She smiled down at the smudges of gray and brown watercolor pencil that covered the shirt like badges of productivity. A clickety-clackety noise brought her attention back to her work. She panicked at the thought of raindrops splattering off her painting, before she remembered the cloudless July sky. Her watercolor pencils jittered and jiggled in their cup. The kneaded eraser bounced along the workbench, as if someone were dribbling a tiny gray basketball.
Henry materialized on the other side of the workbench. A playful smile tickled the edges of his mouth.
“That was a nice gradual entrance,” she said.
“I’ve learned it’s best if I don’t surprise you,” he said.
“Thanks for that consideration. I don’t have the money to dye my hair if it starts going gray.”
Henry tipped his head, like an earnest child asking for a well-earned treat. “Promise me you won’t ever change your hair? I’ve never seen anything like it. The color and the texture remind me of ripples on a lively creek. Just after a spring rain. When the soil is stirred up and the flow might burst the banks.”
Tipsy chuckled. Only Henry could work such a hopelessly romantic statement into a casual conversation. He spoke as if men said such things to women all the time, like how-do-you-do. Nothing smarmy about it. No hidden motives. Just the observations of a man whose thoughts manifested themselves in poetry.
Henry focused on the painting, just as he had gotten into a staring contest with Tipsy’s self-portrait upon the occasion of their first conversation. “Might I look on your work? I saw you out here, but I didn’t want to disturb you. I understand what it’s like to be bothered when you’re deep into a story.”
Tipsy picked up her kneaded eraser and squished it in her palms. An old habit that always relaxed her. “I don’t write. That’s your art.”
“But it’s the same, isn’t it? One form of art to another. They’re all stories.”
“You’re right. And it is difficult to get back in the right frame of mind once you’re distracted. Hence me working now before the kids get home.”
“I didn’t have any children to distract me. Just Jane,” he said, and Tipsy wasn’t sure if he sounded wistful or vengeful. He pointed at the figure in the painting. “That will be her, won’t it? My wife.”
Tipsy nodded. “Yes. I saw her standing there on the porch. She caught my eye.”
“She catches everyone’s eye. She caught mine, when I thought nothing could distract me from words on paper. Have you had any luck, with your inquiries into the circumstances of our lamentable demise?”
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