Friday, 24 June 2011

The Supportive Wife

A story that came from a free-write 15 min. writing prompt at the Grind Writers Group – writing to a painting in an exhibit at the gallery. The paintings are on display until the end of June.

            Stella stood shocked, shaking, then slumped into a chair, setting her sherry down on a nearby table. For an instant she thought it might drop out of her trembling fingers and the last thing she wanted to do now was draw more attention to herself. She looked around her, as she reeled at the revelation that had just washed over her and she saw Terrence across the room, preening. He had not made eye contact with her when she came in. She had thought that strange, but now---now she understood.
            “He’s got such a bright open palette,” she heard a man saying to his companion.
            “Yes,” she heard the companion reply. “He’s a combination of Cézanne and Picasso.”
“And a little Matisse on the side,” the man said, pointing at No. 44 with his wineglass.
The comment swirled around her. Stella breathed in deeply, deliberately. Yes, Picasso—one infidelity after another… But this—
At that moment Terrence glanced in her direction. In a flash of a moment and even in her state of tremulousness, she saw him take her presence in and in such a brief flash that she could almost have believed she imagined it, she saw that gleam of malicious satisfaction—and then it was gone, papered over with a social smile to someone who had tapped his arm and asked him a question. Did he know she had caught it?
Stella finished her sherry and got up. She perambulated the room again. There it was up on the wall for everyone to see. In every painting featuring Stella, she had her back to the viewer and he had portrayed her as chunky, old and fat. Nos. 42 – 60 – 23 – 16 – 34 – 38. And, no mistaking it, in the rest of the paintings was the beautiful, younger woman who stood beside him now at the opening. Stella did not know her name but she knew enough from her wife’s instincts of twenty-three years.
Some knowing force caused her to look Terrence’s way just as the women, the naked subject in all his other paintings, was regarding her.
Stella felt a presence sidling up to her: her sister-in-law, Helen, Terrence’s brother’s wife.  “Stella—hiding here when you should be in the limelight with Ter?”
Was she being ironic? did she know? was she rubbing salt into the wounds? it was hard to tell; they’d never been the best of friends.
“I just heard someone compare Ter to the German Expressionists—how darling! I bet you know the difference between the French and the German Expressionists – and even between the Impressionists and the Expressionists, not like we Philistines, Stella!” Helen gave a champagne giggle.
Stella waited a beat. As always Helen was only asking rhetorically; she didn’t want any answers. “And who is that captivating European woman—I mean obviously she’s the model, but do you know her? Ter introduced me but I didn’t get the name—vaguely Czech-sounding or Eastern European. I think you are the most understanding spouse to let him spend all that time with someone twenty years younger…”
Helen’s words were getting lost in the packed room’s dialogue. “….dancing pastels maintain a precarious balance…”—A woman Stella recognized as an art critic.
Stella thought she might pass out. She was standing again in front of No. 60. He’d called it “Portrait of a Marriage.” It was she, back to the room, sitting naked and fat, fatter than she was in real life, with big bulges all over. It was such an unloving portrait. She recognized herself by the hairstyle. His model had cascading black hair in the paintings and here in real life, across this crowded hot room, long black hair she was sweeping back over her shoulder now as Stella regarded her. It was that gesture women with long hair make, where they sweep their hair off their face and shake it backwards, over and over when they are talking to a man, another kind of preening.
Stella’s grey hair in the painting was in a braided bun coiled around the nape of her neck like a serpent.
It was always the hair.
Her hand went to the nape of her neck and cupped the heavy bun. She had wanted to cut her hair years ago and had brought it up several times over the last ten years. He’d always said, “I like it that way. Why would you want to cut your hair, darling?”
She thought of her scissors back home.
(c)2011 Margo Lamont


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