Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Art (01/18/07)
TITLE: In the South of France
By Carla Feagans
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We hadn’t been art collectors. I don’t think we’d visited an art museum together in all those years. And yet, this painting. It was absolutely mesmerizing.
I could hear the kids running up and down the hallway, revisiting their “old” bedrooms. I heard them calling excitedly to each other. “Look, it’s Andy’s room! Where’s his bed?” Julie called. At four, she still didn’t quite understand the concept of moving, or why our old house was still sitting empty.
I knew I should go check on them, but I couldn’t tear my gaze away. I never had been able to. Ever since we first saw it in that Hawaiian gallery.
We’d had an hour to kill between dinner and the show, so we’d meandered through the shops.
We’d never agreed on anything, not right away. Sometimes we’d come to an agreement quickly, but usually – like the sixteen hours spent shopping for a sofa – it took us a bit longer.
“We’re not looking for a painting,” I’d said.
“Oh, let’s just look around.” He’d walked in, leaving me to follow.
I’d followed my husband as he moved from piece to piece. I hadn’t expected to see anything of much interest. We’d turned a corner, and there it was. I was transported to another world. No longer in the tropical paradise of Maui, I was suddenly sitting at an outdoor café in the south of France.
“Did you see this?” He’d grabbed my arm, gaping, under the same spell.
“It’s amazing,” I’d agreed. “But we’re not looking for a painting.” I’d laughed wryly.
The gallery owner had noticed our gawking. “Oh, you must see it under the proper lighting,” he’d gushed. “You’ll be amazed.”
“We already are, it’s beautiful,” we’d told him. We’d allowed ourselves to be swept up in the fantasy, no longer the young couple on a discount vacation package. We were art aficionados, seriously contemplating the next find in our imagined collection.
The painting had glowed in all its gloriousness in those gallery lights. We couldn’t look away. The scene before us transcended space and time. “Wow.” One word, uttered in unison.
We hadn’t bought it that night. We’d gone on to the show, laughing at the absurdity of it. The next evening, we’d decided to come clean, let the owner know we weren’t serious. “We’re not, right?” Steve had asked. “Of course not!” I’d assured him.
We’d walked into the gallery, strong in our resolve. Moments later we were completing the transaction. We were so proud, and slightly stunned, the day we hung our new painting over the two-story fireplace in our brand new home.
I’d stared at that painting every night. I’d nursed my children while gazing upon the south of France. It had been there, silently beckoning us to another world, through it all. Presiding over the hopes and dreams of the home we’d built together. It had been there during our children’s first steps, first words, first days of school. Through our joys and sorrows, and when the arguing began to escalate. I’d sought its comfort and escape during my darkest moments of desperation and hopelessness, wishing myself away from the pain. Wishing I could catapult through that portal rather than staying to face my reality of struggling to find forgiveness in the depths of my heart. It was there unnoticed during that final day, when all hell broke loose. When Steve had chased me around the room, pulling the phone out from the wall when I’d tried frantically to call the police. When the children ran and hid, their cries and screams drowned by my own. When we’d packed up our belongings and gone our separate ways, leaving behind a sole reminder of our lives together. The painting was too large to fit into our now much smaller homes.
I’d tried to avoid looking at it, or returning to the house once we’d left it to the realtor to sell. I’d already said my final goodbyes, staying strong, not succumbing to my grief. But my lawyer had called, asking me to make sure Steve had removed the last of his things. I’d managed to keep my focus elsewhere before. Today, it was all I could see.
The kids were still playing upstairs. I should go up there, I thought again. But I was still in the south of France. I dropped to my knees, and the dam burst. Finally, I cried.
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