She stood beside the window, a bundle of hostility and anger.
This was the first meeting between Nathan and his step granddaughter. Swathed in black, she cut a fearsome figure. Her face was deathly pale, black kohl plastered on thickly around her eyes. A chain was strung between one nostril and the lobe of her left ear. A line of studs punctuated the curve of an eyebrow.
“Mr Kennedy? I think the headmaster would like to have a word before you take Jade.”
“It’s my son that mannie should be talking to, not me, lass. Me? Just think of me as the delivery boy, if you will. I’m here to collect the young lady.” Nathan had a soft Scottish accent, musical and lilting.
Before the school secretary could object, Nathan had ushered Jade out of the room, his hand hovering, like a hesitant bird, beside her shoulder.
Until her parents finished work there was no where to take Jade, so Nathan opted for his studio. The journey was silent and stifling. He had removed the collection of supermarket carrier bags from the passenger seat, brushing away some crumbs with economical sweeps of his hand, before inviting her to make herself comfortable.
The studio was down a small alley that linked two of the main shopping streets of the town. A metal gate barred the casual explorer, and the name plate was a sheet of metal with his name gouged out and burnt black – “Nathan Kennedy – Art Restoration”. There appeared to be no windows to gaze into, just a heavy black door, spray painted with indecipherable graffiti. A yellow box was perched just above head height, with the name of a security firm making subtle threats.
The inside was impressive. The roof, made entirely of glass, spilled sunlight into a vast open space. The smell of varnish and turpentine mixed with the aroma of coffee twitched at the nostrils. A single bench ran alongside one of the walls, with jars and containers of brushes and knives jostling for space. A rainbow of coloured rags were attached to a rack with paint splashed wooden pegs. Picture frames in various states of decay lined up along a wall, some were filled with canvasses with pictures so dark that only isolated splashes of subdued colours could be identified
An easel held Nathan’s current project. He rustled about in one of the carrier bags and extracted a loaf of bread. He ripped away the outer crust, digging into the soft white dough in the centre.
He offered her the bread. “Something about this size will do. Now, very gently, rub the bread onto the corner of the canvas…like so.”
Nathan’s actions were slow and deliberate. As he rubbed, Jade could see that some of the bread was disintegrating into crumbs, some minute fragments stuck to the canvas, but the dust and the dirt were very carefully being lifted.
“If you start in that corner..” Jade watched and copied Nathan, gently rubbing the bread over the canvas.
They worked in a comfortable silence for a while. The muted sounds from the shopping street filtered into the studio, and a pigeon scrabbled around on the glass roof. Nathan hummed a disjointed series of notes puffing out his cheeks at the beginning of each refrain.
“Under all that grime…there is probably a real beauty waiting to surprise us.” He murmured.
“I like the way I look!” snapped Jade.
Nathan blinked his eyes in confusion.
“I meant the painting.” He tapped the frame, and a few white flecks of bread drifted to the floor. “This is years of neglect. This dust and grime had been allowed to build up for too long. No so hard, lass…just like a soiled rose petal…the lightest of touches. Just pass us the brush, lass.” Brushing over the part of the painting that Jade had rubbed with the bread, they could just see a brushstroke of deep yellow beneath the varnish.
“Most people just look at this and they can’t see beneath the layers. They can’t see the colours, or the texture of the brushstrokes. It’s all hidden under old varnish. Remove all that and we get to see what the artist sees.”
Nathan put the brush down, picked up one of the rags and began wiping his hands. His gaze resting on Jade’s face was quite intense.
“Yes, there is something lovely underneath the layers.” This time Nathan was not talking about the picture.
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