I don’t think in paint or colours. I can’t speak the language of art. Most to the pictures on the walls at home are prints of various landscapes marking the holidays my husband and I have enjoyed over the years.
I guess that I visited the art gallery simply because I passed it on the way back to the car after a flurry of shopping on a Saturday afternoon. So much money had been poured into refurbishing the gallery, that I felt obliged to show my appreciation by taking a tour around the exhibitions.
The name, Alex Major, rang no bells and the black and white photo on the poster showed a man half in shadow. It was the bigger picture on the poster that caught my attention. A sandy beach, grey wind licked waves and a sky streaked with wispy clouds, bold strokes of colour daubed on with a palette knife. A cluster of children poked in a rock pool in the foreground.
The gallery was almost empty. The few people that were there spoke in whispers and the wood flooring acted like an echo chamber, magnifying every sound. A small table beside the door was littered with sheets of printed paper stapled in the corner, detailing the titles, dates and short descriptions of each of the paintings.
There were four paintings in the beach series. There was the one from the poster, much bigger in real life, and then three others. The last one, entitled “First Love”, was a detailed picture of one of the children. She wasn’t the prettiest of girls, with dark brown hair cut short, her face dominated by a pair of pink plastic framed glasses. She was sitting on a rock, holding a twisted piece of driftwood. Her cheeks were flushed pink with a splattering of freckles.
I used to own a pair of glasses just like that. They were not my pride and joy, but worn resentfully, proclaiming to the whole village the message that our family was poor and existed on various state benefits. National Health frames were always hideous and plastic.
“Her name was Isobel. She was, as the title declares it, my first love.”
I hadn’t realised just how long I had been standing before the painting, or that someone had come to stand beside me. My first thought was that the photo really didn’t do him justice. Admittedly, Alex Major wasn’t a young man but he was attractive enough to warrant a closer look. I couldn’t see the colour of his eyes, but noticed long lashes. His chin bristled with untidy stubble and the hair at his temples was tinged with grey.
“I must have been twelve at the time. She was eleven. She was my cousin. Our families used to holiday together in Llandudno in North Wales every summer. Her mother was a large lady that laughed a lot.” He turned to face me, smiling.
I felt a warm blush seep up my face and took refuge in the words on the printed sheet I had been rolling up with my fingers. Alex had painted this particular picture in 1983 using acrylics.
“1967,” he continued, “I remember that there was little laughter. My Uncle Charles had died of cancer in early April. It was the last time our families holidayed together. We never kept in touch. I never saw Isobel after that.”
It wasn’t entirely true. There was that meeting in Coventry a few weeks later. Alex had persuaded his brother, Carl, that my sister, Frances, four years older than me, really liked him and that the two of them should take the train to Coventry and meet up with us. I remember Alex kissed me beneath the statue of the Archangel Michael outside the cathedral.
No wonder the pink plastic framed glasses had seemed so familiar!
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