**** Sorry for any confusion, but last week’s section is actually Part 4 and not Part 3. However, now that all four installments are complete, feel free to reread the story from beginning to end and let me know what you think. Also, for this installation, instead of art I included some clips of the music that is or has been mentioned throughout the story. Listen as you read to experience the emotion.*****
“Blue, more blue,” Stella muttered to herself. Up, down, up down, her paintbrush moved along the penciled outline on the canvas, keeping time with Bach’s Suite for Cello 1 in G Major. Out of all the suite songs, this one was her favorite. The back and forth of the notes, the rise and falls in both tempo and volume swept her along, transporting her into the perfect world for painting. Today, her world was filled with visions of faces, faces in shades of blues and dark violets. Each face would have a different expression, a different emotion – eventually. Right now though, she had to conquer these eyes.
The face Stella was working on belonged to a female, old enough to have felt pain, young enough to still have some hope left. The woman’s hair was loose and flowing, as if caught in the grasp of a breeze. The full lips were slightly parted making the girl look like she was breathing. They were dry and cracked in places. But the eyes. The eyes had to tell the story. Every dark lash had a part to play. Stella knew this woman. The woman on the canvas. Every facial line. Every tear. Every crack in the lip. She had the whole story in her head. Now she just had to tell it. If you thought about it, the face is such a small space to tell such a big story. But most of our lives are written on our face. And this face had such a story to tell. Or at least it would when it was finished.
In the background, the song ended, switching to Bach’s “Sarabande” in Suite 2. It was a darker piece, and in a way, it matched the blackened shade of indigo blue that Stella was using to outline the eyes. One stroke at a time.
Stepping back four steps Stella carefully eyed the face. The woman looked back at her from the left side of the canvas. Although she wasn’t centered, she certainly did demand attention. But would she still have a story to tell when the other faces were finished? Was her story strong enough? Stella couldn’t decide. However, before she could continue her evaluations her alarm went off, drowning out the Sarabande with Idina Menzel’s “Defying Gravity.”
“Oh well,” Stella muttered to herself as she turned off her computer’s alarm. “Although, maybe a green face would be a nice contrast to the purples and blues, but would it take the focus away from her?” Continuing to mutter to herself, she began clearing her station, placing her brushes in a jar of turpentine to soak and placing her paints in the mini fridge she kept in her studio. Although she had already been up and working for a few hours, now her day would truly begin.
“Hey, I’m here! I’m here!” Stella entered her office bearing gifts of grande coffees for her fellow colleagues. Grace and Myra greeted her with outstretched arms, obviously more excited to see the coffee than to see her.
“Girrrrrl,” Grace drawled. “I hope that coffee is HOT. I need a good pick-me-up right now.” Grabbing the coffee she took a sip then a full drink.
“Don’t worry. It’s hot, fresh, and Columbian. Just the way you like it.” Stella replied.
“Mmmmm….that’s just what I need.” She purred. “I tell you. This place doesn’t pay enough for me to work these long weekend hours. I didn’t get home from last night’s exhibit till one, and now I have to be at that auction at the old Macintosh estate by nine thirty. Anyone want to join me?”
“Sorry, we can’t this morning. Stella and I have the Gilberts coming in at ten, and you know how dramatic they can be if everything isn’t perfect.”
“The Gilberts? Ouch. Dramatic’s being kind. They’re not dramatic, their impossibly crazy.” At this Grace stopped short. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean …” Grace trailed off slapping her hand over her mouth in an attempt to backtrack.
“Hey, don’t worry about it.” Stella told her. “You don’t have to monitor every word you say. In fact, you’re right. The Gilberts ARE crazy.”
“Ok then. Well, I’m off, and I’ll catch you two later.” Grace picked up her stylish tote and quickly filled it with the essential camera, notepad, and ipad that made up her equipment.
“Bye,” Stella replied before turning to Myra. Together they walked to Stella’s office.
“Myra, were you able to go to the exhibit on Saturday?”
“Yes, and I have all information you wanted me to get. Names, prices, opinions, sales estimates. Don’t worry. I have you covered. You just focus on your big exhibit. I mean, how many new artists get a chance to debut their work at the Cheshire. You’re lucky that Grace was able to connect you. ”
“I know I’m lucky. Which is why I’m freaking out. At this rate, I don’t know if I’ll ever be finished.”
“What’s wrong? Is the new piece not cooperating?”
“Not so much right now. It’s her face. I can’t get it right. I think I’ve restarted her face at least four times.”
“Well, did you go see her this weekend?”
“Yes, but it didn’t help. There’s just something . . . missing. I see the face in my mind. And my hand paints the face, but it is either refusing, or unable, to capture that … that… that essence. Her essence.” Sitting down, Stella positioned a piece of paper in front of her and began to doodle.
“Well,” Myra began hesitantly, “have you, have you … decided which essence you’re trying to capture?”
“Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I see her in my head. The way she was. But after this weekend, I keep seeing the other her. And, it’s like I don’t know who she is. Or I don’t know which her she really is. When I went to her this weekend, I just sat and looked at her face. And, it’s still her face. But it’s not her. So, with this piece, I’m painting her face, but I’m not painting her because I don’t know who she is anymore. And I can’t paint the old her because it just doesn’t feel right.”
“Honey, she’s your mother. You do know her. Whether or not she’s acting like herself right now, deep down, inside, she’s still the woman who drilled every famous and not-so-famous musical composer into your head. She’s still the woman who wrote you your own lullabies when you were little.”
“She broke her fingers. Did I tell you that?” Stella asked, her voice a mixture of desperation and exasperation. “She slammed the piano on her own hand so she wouldn’t have to play anymore. How is that the woman who wrote me my own lullabies?” Stella’s head dropped onto her arms as she whispered this last question.
“Sweety,” Myra got up and pulled the crying woman into her arms. “Sweety, when you saw your mother this weekend, what was going on in her head?”
“I don’t know. I never know anymore. That’s the problem. She’s left me behind. I can’t reach her.”
“Hush now. Think, carefully. When she sat still, what did her eyes tell you? Her body?”
“I don’t know. She was always swaying. And most of the time, her eyes were closed, like she was sleeping”
“What else was she doing?”
“Hmmm…” Stella paused a minute, trying to recall. “Her hands, I saw her hands moving under the bandage. Her toes were tapping. Like she was … listening?”
“To what? Were you talking? Was there music playing?”
“No. It was just me and her, in her room.” Stella snapped her head up, “Wait. It was like she was listening to the music in her head.”
“There you go. That’s the mom you know. Even now, like this, she still has her music. Just because she doesn’t play it, just because she doesn’t share it anymore, doesn’t mean she’s not listening to it. She may try to run away from it, but it’s always there. Music is your mother’s essence. Just like art is yours. Just like her lullabies are yours and hers.
“Now, what were you listening to when you were with her?”
Stella looked at her best friend. “Her. I was listening to her. Like she was that night. All weekend, I kept going back and forth. I would hear her like I did when I was a girl. Vivaldi, Mozart, her originals. And I would hear her that night.
“I watched her sleep. Saturday afternoon she took a nap. And I just sat there and brushed her hair back.”