Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Yellow (11/12/09)
TITLE: Amber Afternoon
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Mottled sunshine danced through the bay window and across parlor walls as Madame Dubois sat on a horsehair-stuffed loveseat stroking Clarisse, her Persian cat. The pendulum clock struck ten. It was time for her mid-morning refreshments.
Her aging body rose stiffly, and she shuffled to the intercom and pressed the black button. “Doriane, bring me a tea – and two of those pate brisee tarts with lemon curd, s’il vous plait,” she called.
Within seconds a tinny voice replied, “Oui, Madame. I’ll be right there.”
Their working arrangement suited them both. Madame DuBois, an aristocrat from birth, had no idea how to scramble an egg. Doriane on the other hand, was raised to a life of service by parents who knew nothing but manual labor.
Despite age differences and opposite stations, they shared a common passion: painting “en plein air” (outdoors). As weather allowed, they sat side-by-side at easels amidst Madame’s walled gardens of yellow perennials. There they captured seasonal gold booty on canvases that brightened their walls throughout the winter. Subjects included yellow irises, violas, dahlias, poppies, daisies, black-eyed susans and mums.
When Doriane arrived with the tarts and teapot, Madame shooed Clarisse from her lap and clapped her hands delightedly. “Ah! Tres bien! Merci!” As she poured black tea into a delicate, floral-painted teacup, her voice took on an inquisitive tone. “Plein air this afternoon, Doriane, oui?”
“Naturellement, Madame,” Doriene replied, her face aglow.
Meanwhile, Clarisse snaked her fuzzy golden body between Doriene’s legs like a slinky mohair sweater come to life.
“Nous peindrons les pivots!” Doriene said, suggesting they take advantage of the summery poppies.
“Indeed – we will paint the yellow poppies today. They are in full bloom, n’est pas?”
Doriene paused before pushing exiting the atrium door. “Quelle heure?”
“Apres le dejeuner? Can you be ready after lunch?”
They found the garden dry and balmy with buttery faces of poppies bobbing gently in the breeze like silent yellow bells. Doriene helped Madame settle into her chair before preparing her own station for work.
The two were soon immersed in their separate pursuits, lost in the inspirational abandonment known to those blessed with creative genius. As Madame Dubois’ brushes translated the warm yellows onto her covered easel, she also created two fictional additions and inserted them into the scene: a very little girl and her companion, a long haired cat resembling Clarisse.
Madame depicted the child as a blonde wearing a smocked orange sundress and a floppy-brimmed, woven straw hat. The girl knelt amidst the waves of poppies, holding a single flower in her hand. She seemed captivated by the blossom’s yellow face with its single eye, as if nothing else in the world existed in that moment. Meanwhile, her cat rolled contentedly on its back in a stand of catnip.
If Madame could have expressed herself fluently in English, she might have shared her thoughts in this way:
Surely this is what it is like to know the Lord: to see Him face-to-face in everything He has created and enjoy His presence in the simplest moments. Today I’m fashioning a self-portrait of sorts, to capture my mindset - that of a child who relishes the golden days provided by the Father.
The two women continued to paint, oblivious to the passing of time. Eventually late afternoon shadows fell from the garden wall across the poppies, blanketing them for the evening.
“Alors! Doriene? Shall we go inside now? Etes-vous fini?”
With her brush still in hand, Doriene turned from her work. A single ray of sunlight streamed through the tree branches to illumine Madame, whose wrinkles and stooped frame seemed somehow transformed by an energetic glow from within. Had the poppies transfused her soul?
Doriene suppressed her awe and replied, “Ah oui. We should go.” And then she added, “Vous etes beau, Madame … you are truly beautiful today.”
Evening was near. As Madame clung to Doriene’s arm and scuffled her slipper-shod feet along the slate path, Doriene sensed they also dragged the essence of the garden’s optimistic glow back inside the house with them.
As usual, they both left the garden changed … for the better. Doriene felt uplifted by the fresh air and sunshine, creative diversion, and pleasurable companionship with this respected woman who shared a mutual passion. And Madame was encouraged by the One who created yellow poppies as visual couriers of His grace - flowers reminiscent of Eden’s joy and Easter’s hope.
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