Tuesday, February 2, 2010
The rain finally stopped after three days of on and off drizzle. Nothing had been able to hold his interest since the company had closed and liquidated its inventory. It seems all the late nights and weekends over the years was riding the skim along the curb being washed down the gutter. Two months and he still had no prospects with new employment. The severance package allowed him to take his time to secure a new job as long as he used good judgment. It was kind of pleasant spending a few days in Charleston. No rush, no deadlines. Just doing whatever he wanted to do for a few days.
The houses turned trendy shops along the street held little interest as he strolled down the historic district. He was following his sense of smell toward the aroma of fresh, roasted coffee. An empty table with only one chair snapped his attention. The heavy wrought iron chair screech as it dragged against the rough sidewalk as he sat down.
“No, just plain regular roast coffee, no cream or sugar, please.”
The waiter was dressed in white slacks and white shirt. His black vest matched the stripped canvas awning covering the sidewalk. The stranger blended into the crowd that had begun to gather along the street since the sun started to peek through the clouds. Young children laughed and played as their parents toyed with the wares of the neighboring shops. Relaxing had never been on his list of daily routines. Today was no exception.
It was easy to expect the jolt of caffeine. The brew was that good. Holding the cup in both hands, leaning on his elbows, his gaze caught a glimpse of movement through the window across the street. The design was more of a studio than a storefront. There were no wares placed in the window to draw the attention of the holiday shoppers. Some sort of cloth drape was covering an artist easel that faced toward the street. Removing the covering, a young artist immediately started with her brushes. Random strokes, it seemed to him. The fluid movements and pastel colors had a hypnotic effect. Soon, he was captivated.
A burning sensation shot through his elbows and up his forearms. How long had he been sitting in that position? A quick glance at his wrist watch indicate over an hour had passed. Screeching his chair he stood up trying to shake off his disorientation. The cloth covering was place over the canvas and the lady obviously left the studio. A feeling of anxiety flooded over his mood as he crossed the street and placed a hand on the window of the studio. Peering inside, he could see the covering still swaying back and forth. He had apparently missed the artist’s exit.
Today might be the day. He was poised at what had become “his table”. This had been going on for two weeks. Some days there was no activity in the glassed studio, but he had to make sure he didn’t miss a day. The lure had become too great. With the painting, arms and body had taken on a life form, blending into the background, without giving away the identity of the ghostly figure. His white Kaki slacks and starched shirt had collected three days of wear and wrinkle. Frenzied anticipation replaced every day concerns and routine. Today might be the day. Maybe.
There was a movement behind the glass. The spilled coffee went unnoticed as he shifted to get a better look at the lady on canvas. The removed dust covering revealed a continuing kaleidoscope of colors. The facial features becoming apparent, while leaving the recognizable features as bland as an egg shell, ignited a mystery within the daily visitor. Maybe today. The coffee half finished, he jerked as if his foot has stepped off a bridge. His head was lying across his folded arms and numbness was felt along the right side of his face. The sun had dipped below the horizon and the street was once again alive with reveling merry makers. The clatter of the foot traffic had jostled him awake. The drape was covering the portrait. How had he missed the artist today? He had been determined to bask in every stroke, watching the woman on the canvas come alive. The disappointing grind of the steel chair signaled his departure for the day. Maybe tomorrow, just maybe.
The following night brought no rest for it was filled with reoccurring dreams of the olive skinned lady on the canvas. Long dark hair, pulled back and tied into a style often seen as the fashion of a ballerina, framed an elegant profile. Large gold hoop earrings accented the eyes and smile of contented mischief. This could not have been the lady on canvas. The features were yet to be brushed by the artist. Where had he seen this face? Tired and weary, but without ability to sleep, he turned to the brown bottle of spirits to relax his fidgetiness. A half bottle into self medication, weariness tipped the scales toward sleep. A more peaceful rest, he had never experience. The cool night air brought a chill into his quarters as he slept through a dream filled sleep. Stirring in the middle of the night, a chill had fallen upon his shoulders. A damp and lingering chill. Attempting to reach for the woolen blanket he knew to be at the foot of his bed, he rolled gently to reach for the blanket. It was as if he was somehow fastened flat of his back to the cot. The harder he attempted, the tighter he seemed to be fastened. At the point of exhaustion, the stranger collapsed once again on his mattress. The candle had burned through its tallow and the room was totally absent of light. The heavy beating of his heart and deep laboring breaths were the only sounds in the room.
“Dawn will arrive shortly.” He whispered softly.
He supposed he whispered. No one was there to hear his words or he would have yelled louder hoping that someone would come to his rescue. The thought of a stroke or some other health related catastrophe went through his mind. There was no idea of the time of night. The oddest ideas appear at times like this. He would get a striking clock on his next visit to the shops. Even in a pitch black night the counting of the chimes would tell the time of hour. He would be patient. Each attempt get up from the bed brought the bounds tighter and tighter. Imagination or actualization? Time passed. Finally, the night felt to be fading. Eye muscles ached as they were pushed beyond their limits, attempting to land upon a recognizable speck. There. It appeared as a slinder streak, no wider than a hatpin - a golden streak of light piercing through the window. His eyes could not easily adjust from the long hours of darkness. The light beam inched its way down the wall facing his left. The room was beginning to become illuminated. Just a few more minutes. Maybe. In the window?
“Is someone standing there?” Once again, words not verified for ears to hear.
Advancing sun rays projecting into the room focused a mirror imagine on the glass panes. The coffee shop was visible beyond the figure directly across the narrow street. The image at which he looking, was not a figure at all. It was the likeness of the lady in his dreams. The mischievous smile and large gold earrings were the key. Yes, it was definitely her. The painting was finished. How had he missed it? But, this wasn’t the painting in the window. Was he still dreaming? Instead of her arm resting, relaxed, on a bookcase, it was hooked through the arm of another figure. Why had the artist painted the lady so perfectly dressed and this other figure was crumpled and disheveled. It appeared to be his suit. The sun’s ray continued crawling down the wall giving greater contrast to the reflection. His heart skipped a beat and then raced unabated. Breathing was labored with the tightness holding him into place as if he were sewn into, - into a canvas. No sound could be heard for the scream was suspended in time. There was no mistaking the recognition of the gentleman suitor reflected in the pane of glass.