It reminds me of my forest home in Málaga, the meadow was always thick with moisture and the trees were always well fed.
“Are you planning to run away, now?” he asked while a smile danced on his lips.
“Of course not, silly!” She giggled and pushed a thicket of hair behind her ear. “It’s for us. I wanted us to go on a picnic today.” Carmen always wanted to do something special on Saturdays. And it was perfect for today, fog always reminded Carmen of winter afternoon’s in Málaga.
“Sounds like a plan then, dear.” He wolfed down whatever was left on the plate and left it clean of food as Carmen stood up to collect the dishes. He had an idea of what he wanted to do besides a picnic, and though he knew Carmen would gladly join him, he was hesitant to ask. “But,” he began. Carmen put the dishes into the rusted sink and turned her attention to Frank. Suddenly the room felt much dimmer than a few seconds earlier, it was gray with winter and the crackle of the fire in the chimney grew louder by the second. Her expression didn’t change though, she remained with her wide smile while Frank felt like the walls were closing in on him. “Well, I thought we’d do something different today.”
She slinked over to Frank and played her long fingers on his shoulders, “but I wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower aujourd’hui.”
“Oh, we still can! but maybe we can stop by the artists’ shop on the way there.” He felt a pang of guilt when he mentioned the shop though he didn’t fully understand why it was embarrassing to ask.
“The artists’ shop? whatever for?”
“Well yester-day I had dropped in to avoid a wet downfall on the way home and the artist and his assistant offered great hospitality. I thought I could stop in to say thank you.”
“The assistant… I’ve seen her around many a-times. What was her name again?” his wife pondered.
“Alicia Simmons. Formerly Alicia Way,” was his swift answer as he looked to her with pleading eyes.
“Oh, oh that’s right! she was widowed by the artists’ brother. I’ve never actually talked to her before.”
Frank seized the perfect opportunity and took a fair advantage of it, “Oh you’d rather enjoy her acquaintance, she’s very charming. And she knits well; you don’t know many women who still knit in Paris.”
“True,” exclaimed the Spanish wench. “I’d love to meet her, then, as well as the artist. Should we take something to equate their hospitality? the tea scones, perhaps?”
Food seemed to be oblivious from his mind right now, but he agreed with her. All he knew was that soon he’d be back under the same roof as the man he’d only spoken to twice but had already destroyed and rebuilt his dream. The power shocked him, but he didn’t let it sink too deeply.
They left as soon as Frank was clean shaven and Carmen had gotten her scones in a nice bowl, ready to be taken with her. The streets they walked through were filled, shop doors were open and fruit stands and paper booths littered the paths. There weren’t too many cars in Paris, at least not in the part of town they lived in, so the dirt roads were filled with a disseminated litter of children. From a shop Frank could hear a radio broadcast of the war, a topic of little interest to him. Carmen stopped at a fruit stand where a man with a plump belly and a thick coat offered her a free mandarin to taste. She savored the juice and kept her smile warm and thick with love as she sincerely thanked him. He could see in the glimpse in her eye that she truly was in love with the moment, it radiated off of her faster than heat. Frank stopped at another booth owned by an anonymous man who treated him like a brother and gave a nickel for a paper and saw the headline was bolded with news of Hitler and the war. He flipped through and found nothing that really grabbed his interest. The couple walked hand in hand down the path, Carmen in her own coat, wearing her nicest stockings and her newest dress, her hair pinned up tightly and appropriately for a cold Saturday afternoon. Frank wore his old messenger hat and faded black breeches. Their faces were swollen with smiles and they walked closely to preserve the heat between them. There were kids in their own warm clothes, dancing through the fog.
They reached the artists’ shop and the door sang at their entrance. Carmen was astonished as she walked in, there was some better lighting than the previous day and the walls were still plastered with drawings and pictures that she openly admired like a child admired its parents. She was attracted to the painting of a bowl of plump fruits, but then got distracted by another painting of a woman in a rainy meadow. She let her fingers travel over the bumps of the dried oil paints, captivated by the warm feeling it radiated while still maintaining a gloomy aura.
“It reminds me of my forest home in Málaga, the meadow was always thick with moisture and the trees were always well fed. But the woman; her eyes are trapped like brutally cold locks while her smile is like a blooming rose,” she paused. She was a poet, though not published she admired the medium, just like Frank. “It’s beautiful,” she said aloud to no person in particular, but from the back of the shop came a hoarse voice.
“Thank you,” said the artist as he approached them. He was wearing all black clothes, black slacks with a black button up shirt, even with black suspenders. He looked intimidating, like the shadows would jump out at any second to protect him if any trouble or danger was presented, but his face was lit with a gentle smile and the he extended his hand. He shook the tailors hand firmly and lipped a ‘welcome back’, then turned to the beautiful Spanish woman. She extended her hand and the artist cupped it with his own, bringing it to his thin lips and pecking a dry and listless kiss on the fore of her hand. “Bienvenue,” he told them. “Please, take a seat; I’ll go grab Miss Simmons.”
They sat in the loveseat next to the warm fire in the room and Carmen held the glass bowl with pastries in her lap. The artist soon returned with his assistant at his side, but she quickly retreated when she saw they had guests. She hissed angry words at Gerard, telling him he should have told her there were guests over, but she seemed to have forgotten that the artist was deeply deprived of appropriate mannerism. She returned no more than five minutes later with a clean apron, a bright house dress and her hair pulled back. The couple stood up and she hugged the both of them, welcoming them. Carmen immediately handed the lanky assistant her bowl of goodies and Alicia lit up at the sight of scones. She thanked the woman and told her to join her in the kitchen where they could talk appropriately, leave the men alone and enjoy her delicacies with a fresh glass of milk. Frank was joined by Gerard who sat in a seat facing him.
“Hello Frank, I presume you’re back to discuss literature.”
The question was off-set to Frank. Literature? It seemed a bit random to begin with, but in all honesty he didn’t exactly know why he came back, all he knew was that he desperately wanted to and did. He took advantage of the artists’ suggestion. “Yes, thank you for returning my book.”
“Really, thank you,” Gerard began, “since I gave you something you wanted, you kindly returned the favor by giving me what I wanted.”
Frank was once again caught off-guard, “what did you want that I gave you?”
Gerard smiled coyly and leaned in to rest his elbows on his knees, “a visit from you.”
He pulled a metal fold from his pocket and extracted a neatly rolled cigarette, a luxury Frank longed for but often had to put off. He pursed the cigarette between his lips and pulled a match, striking it against the wood of the coffee table and lighting the tip of the tobacco cigarette. The artist was suddenly surrounded by an aura of his own smoke that added to the dangerous-yet-lovable attitude. He pushed his hand forward and revealed the small silver box tightly grasped in the artists’ hand. “Would you like one?”
Frank obliged and grabbed a cigarette, allowing Gerard to light it with his own. Frank inhaled the thick smoke and watched the artist stand up and walk over to his large bookcase. The artist spoke again, but with the interference of the cigarette, his voice sounded more arrogant and cheerful. “Now,” Gerard nearly exclaimed, “I have a book here that you must read! A friend of mine published it earlier in the year.” He pulled a thin book with a limp cover and tossed it to Frank. “His name is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, do you know him? Or maybe you don’t, he lives in Marseille.”
Frank turned over the thin book, which looked more like a pamphlet to him, and read the title ‘Le Petit Prince’. “No, I don’t believe I do,” said the tailor, not looking away from the book.
“Ah! he's an excellent author, that book that you hold in your hands was a privileged copy to me, it’s been a rather popular book recently.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s the tale of a man stranded in a desert who meets a prince. A prince not of the world he lives on. It’s rather cute, not very mature, but metaphoric and deep nonetheless.”
They were rejoined by the ladies soon after that conversation flowed with such a smooth undertone they hardly noticed the sky swell to a black swirl and a full moon. They chatted about the latest picture shows, the newest books and the best markets. They were like old friends, time unsurpassed of them. The artist threw many curious glances between the tailor and his wife, but he was so friendly and warm it felt hardly odd. Gerard stood up and walked over a heavy wooden chest and pushed the lid up. Alicia and Carmen kept talking about little bits of gossip but Frank was lost in watching what Gerard was doing. Finally, Gerard went back to the conversation, but didn’t sit down, and this time he proudly held a set of Matryoshka dolls. When the couple stood up, seeing that it was getting late, and were walked out of the door. On the step of the shop, while Carmen stood out near the road waiting for her husband, Gerard handed the tailor the dolls. Frank threw him a questioning look, but the artist walked back in and simply muttered a good night. The tailor and his wife walked back home in silence.
While Carmen was in the bath, Frank sat in front of the fire radiated in the living room. He looked at the set of dolls and opened them one by one. They were a glossy blue with pale white flawless skin, big blue eyes and golden white hair. Her lips were bright red and surreal, but they were beautiful on the Russian profile of the wooden doll. He had no idea what the artist intended with the gift, there was so much confusion clinging onto him right no he didn’t know which questions to ponder first. He arranged the eight dolls on the mantle of the fire place and sat back down, now ruffling through the other gift the artist had given him, a frail copy of a children’s book. He was later joined by his wife who was tightly wrapped in a wool blanket. She lay her head on his shoulder and dragged her legs up, making the blanket fold awkwardly over her ankles and drape down to the floor. He felt her hot cheeks on his shoulder.
“Carmen, dear, are you feeling alright?”
He eyes snapped open and she hummed a confused “Hmm? no, no I’m fine.”
He set his hand on her forehead then let it stroke down her flawless smooth cheek. “You feel really hot.”
She muttered that he was talking nonsense and she stood up to go prepare some nice chocolates for them so they could enjoy the fire.
The soft crackling of the embers was inviting to Frank and he watched as the dangerous flame danced over and devoured the blocks of wood. Carmen came back with two tin mugs of frothy chocolate. They sipped it but once again the conversation was minimal between them. They soon undressed and went to bed, letting the fire die down on its own.
The artist sat perched in his work stool, dabbing the thick paper in front of him with heavy water-colours. Alicia dropped in and set the metal tray with a fresh pot of earl grey tea. She peeked over the artists shoulder but he blocked her, turning to face her. “Could you also fetch me a pot of fresh water, this one’s too tainted to work with.”
“Of course,” her curiosity vanished and she walked into the kitchen. She dumped the crimson-tainted water into the sink and set down the clay pot. She ducked under the sink and found a similar pot the size of her palm. She filled it with cool water from the tap then set the pot on the counter. She walked to the back of the shop and walked into the artists’ room. She picked up some lazily tossed clothes and put them in a hamper she had resting in the hall. She scurried to the other side where a study was littered with even more papers sat. There seemed to be a system of anarchy present; on the left sat an unfinished book and on the right sat millions of unfinished sketches. The artist usually never finished a sketch, he told her “it can’t be finished because time never finishes”. But the author never stopped, once he sat down to write, he could go a lifetime independent of daily necessities. The author had once gone three days straight without food or water, but stopped when the pads of his fingertips started peeling with blood; the author didn’t like blood. But the artist didn’t either, nor did the priest or the kleptomaniac, so she didn’t really understand his irrational fear of blood.
She pulled open a drawer and found a collection of graphite pencils and some fresh tubes of water-colours. She grabbed what her hands could hold and walked back into the kitchen, grabbing the pot, then out into the musty warm main room. She put down the pot and the paints next to it.
“I’m going to prepare a bath then start lunch,” she mumbled aloud as she picked up books and papers strewn about the room.
“Fair,” he told her, but with minimal interest as he was yet again deeply absorbed by the work in front of him. She tried to steal a view again, but now the artist huddle closer to it, preserving it with its life. She gave up after five minutes and heard the rusted grandfather clock chime midnight. The sound rung with a sting to her temples and she walked into the kitchen. After boiling four kettles of water and filling the rest with regular water, she wobbled the buckets into the washroom and poured them one by one into the bronze bath.
When she walked back to the living room, she could hear Gerard talking. It was too late for guests and she should’ve been in bed herself. But if her artist wasn’t sleeping, she wasn’t either. When she leaned her frail French frame against the doorway, she spotted that Gerard wasn’t talking to somebody who was there; he was talking to somebody who wasn’t there.
“I don’t like how that came out,” he mapped out flaws in the sketch. He slopped his head to the side a bit, listening with confusion what that other “person” was saying.
He ran a smooth finger over red blotches and said, “you’re right. Not dark enough. Blood isn’t a candy cane, it’s the Devil’s skin.” A silence then he seemed to have started discussing the piece with the voice again.
“But… I don’t want to change that.”
Vigorous nodding and a slight rock were added to his stance.
“Then make your own!” he exclaimed a bit too high, she wanted to shush him, but she saw that the artist was now having a heated discussion with the person who wasn’t there, then he started telling the voice to be quiet and let him work.
She couldn’t tell if he was seeing somebody or if he was talking to that person in his head. She most definitely couldn’t tell, though, if the artist knew he was talking to a voice only he could hear.
“Is the bath ready yet, Alicia?” he asked without looking up from his paper. She straightened up and wiped her apron straight.
“Yes, it is.”
He stood up and abandoned the station he had been guarding so intently, maybe without noticing, and disappeared to the back of the shop. As she heard the ruffle of wood scraping on wood as the artist rummaged through wardrobe drawers in his room, she approached the station. The sketch on top was complete, it was beautiful and intricate but in a sadistic way. It was a man and a woman sprawled on the floor, drenched in blood. She sighed at the sight and tossed it into the devouring flames in the chimney. She then walked casually to the kitchen and began to prepare her pot roast.