During the Art League’s plein air paint out on the boardwalk, Lyn saw Michael whose portrait she had painted the previous summer walking in her direction. Because she did not want him to see her with surgical dressing taped across her nose, she pulled down the brim of her straw hat and tried to hide behind her canvas and tripod. Last week she had had a basal cell incised from the tip of her nose and it was still swollen and pulpish looking. With or without a bulbous nose, she particularly did not want to meet the svelte thirty-something who was half his age clinging to his arm. Dressed in linen from her head to her toe with a mauve straw hat covering her shoulder length hair, she glided in the cool breeze by his side. “Damn it,” Lyn thought, they are veering right towards me.
With a wide grin of recognition, he said, “Well, if it isn’t my favorite portrait artist.”
He doesn’t even remember my name, Lyn thought, as once again she felt a tingle at the nape of her neck as he sidled up next to her canvas. In his presence she felt like a gawky adolescent.
“Well, if it isn’t my world traveler who didn’t even spring for a postcard from New Zealand,” she countered with forced aplomb.
“Your painting shouts summer, so full of light and color.” His companion agreed, “As colorful as a carousel.” He took his companion by the arm, “Bea, this is Jen. Jen, Bea.”
“My name is Lyn, not Jen,” Lyn said, aching to stab him with the tip of her brush.
“Mea culpa, my short term memory seems to be going the way of all flesh,” he said. Flesh would have been a perfect lead in to her nose but fortunately he either missed it or he was being kind by ignoring it.
“I met Lyn at a car show a few years ago with her husband,” he explained. “Last year we ran into each other again on the boardwalk; she asked to paint my portrait. I sat for it. Not too patiently, I might add.”
Because Lyn hadn’t known when he was supposed to return from New Zealand, she had weathered the two mile boardwalk trek everyday hoping to run into him, even on days when the north wind had cut through her like a whetted knife.
“Oh, I’d love to see it,” Bea said, in what sounded like an Australian accent.
“Could she, we, stop by some afternoon to see it?” he asked. Hell, no, Lyn wanted to say but instead she smiled and said, “Of course… sometime.”
“When?” he said, trying to nail her down.
“Don’t know, can’t really think about anything right now except my painting. I really hope to win a prize this year.”
“Sorry for breaking your concentration,” he said. “They should hang signs around your neck.” He gestured towards the line of artists entertaining tourists on the boardwalk as they studied their works in progress, “Do not disturb artists when working.”
“Yes,” Lyn said, “they should,” trying to keep the stiletto of sarcasm out of her voice. After they left her and headed north, she lost energy for her work but she continued to struggle with the shadow cast by “The Star of the Sea,” a stark structure, on the bathers and umbrellas on the beach. Although she considered the ten story building out of step with the architecture of the town, she loved its name, a title in the litany of Mary, “Star of the Sea, pray for us.” She toyed with the idea of making it the title of her watercolor. She had to admit she was delighted Michael was back in town but she also had to admit she was jealous of his young woman. “Stella Maris, ora pro nobis,” she whispered to herself.
The day the Art League announced her second place watercolor prize in the Coast Press, he left a message on her machine, “Congratulations, I’m not surprised. Will call again.”
Lyn walked over to his portrait still sitting on the mantle, “Did I ever tell you I adore the timbre of your voice?” Then she felt her husband’s eyes peering at her from the photo in the silver frame in her bookcase. Arms folded across his chest, he was leaning against his prized ‘53 Corvette. “Forgive my wayward heart, darling, you know you were the love of my life.” Taken from her so suddenly, she could hardly believe he had been dead three years.
Two weeks passed and Michael hadn’t called back. In the sunny alcove of her cottage, Lyn munched on croutons from the Caesar salad she had tossed together for her guest, her teacher who had taught classes at the Art League in the Spring. “Tell me more about Romania, Serge ” she said as she refilled his glass with Shiraz.
“My country is mountainous, mysterious. Everyone is well educated but there are few jobs so the young leave.” A certain wistfulness filled his plum colored eyes as he twisted the stem of his glass in his fingers.
“I guess that’s why we have so many Romanian students here in the summer time; they add an international flavor. How long are you staying?” Lyn offered him more salad.
“As long as I can, I love the ocean. I have a few shows coming up, one in Hagerstown and another in Frederick. Americans buy my paintings; they are very generous.”
“I really learned a lot about perspective from you, and mixing stunning greens.”
“Sometimes I think I am too harsh on my students.
“Not at all; without criticism nothing is learned.”
Suddenly Michael careened onto her driveway on a bicycle; she was happy to see he was alone but unhappy that her nose still looked like a persimmon. She wished she had W.C. Fields’s humor to offset it. He parked his bike by the mailbox and strolled around her husband’s car, sliding his hand over the chrome, the fenders, the medallion on the trunk as if it was a woman’s back. He was smiling, obviously enjoying himself. What men saw in cars baffled her but because of her husband’s affection for the Corvette, she had been taking good care of it.
“You have a handsome visitor,” Serge said. “Or maybe he is visiting your stunning car.”
She opened the screen door, “Hey stranger, is it me or the Corvette you came to see? Michael, this is Serge, my teacher, visiting from Romania.”
“Welcome,” Michael said, extending his hand. “I haven’t been there yet but it’s on my list.” As always, he looked fit and his tanned skin emphasized his devilish smile.
“Perhaps I should leave,” Serge said.
“No, no, please. We haven’t finished eating. Join us,” she said, as she pulled out a chair for Michael.
“No, I can’t, just stopped by to ask when I might bring my friend to see the portrait.” To Lyn’s chagrin, it was still sitting prominently above the fireplace.
“Oh,” Lyn said, “Never, never, never...just kidding. Anytime, anytime at all, just give me a heads up.” Suddenly Lyn was glad her dark-haired teacher lounged at her table even though he was twenty years her junior. What’s good for the goose..., she thought to herself.
“I see you had the detail work done on your husband’s car,” Michael said.
“Yes,’ I used the guys you recommended.” Lyn folded her arms across her chest and began rubbing them as though she was consoling herself.
“They did exquisite work. Bet it cost a bundle.’
“More than I expected,” she said, and to herself, much more than she could afford.
“You should have it in a garage; the salt air will take its toll on the finish. Gotta go, promise I’ll call as soon as I ask Bea what time is good for her. She’ll probably fly in this weekend.”
“By the way, did I detect an Australian accent from her,” she asked, as he inched his way to the door.
“Yes she’s a stewardess on Quantas.”
“You met her on your trip, of course.”
“She wanted to see our town, so I invited her,” he said.
“Very generous of you,” Lyn responded, stone-faced. She needed to keep her tongue in check. He nodded to Serge and again he lingered outside by the Corvette inspecting every detail before he hopped on his bike. Lyn slumped back into her chair and chewed the crab cake she had made from an old recipe. She had been hoping he stopped off because he simply had to see her. It tasted like cotton. Serge continued to speak about Romania but his words drifted over her head like wind whistling over the dunes.
“You will pursue more studies?” he asked.
“Oh yes, definitely,” she said almost in a whisper as she refilled her wine glass up to the brim.
“I think you like this man very much,” he said, as he moved closer to the table.
“He’s just an acquaintance,” she blushed so that her cheeks were as red as her nose.
“An acquaintance, I am thinking , you’d like to know very much better.”
“Is it that obvious?” She slurped wine from her glass.
“Yes, I am sorry to say. Perhaps we should drink to that. In truth, I wouldn’t mind getting to know him better myself.” He lifted his glass towards hers and she responded reluctantly.
On Saturday Michael arrived with the young woman by his side, the two of them looking stylishly beachy, she in an embroidered peasant blouse and he in a royal blue tee. Before he entered the house, he gave her a tour of her husband’s car, even opening the door so she could stick her head inside. He was probably telling her to inhale the smell of leather, the smell of automobile history, the very words her husband used right before he told her he had already bought his dream car. “I hope we’re not intruding,” Bea said, in a smoky voice that added to her sensuality. “but I am dying to see the portrait.”
Since Michael had already seen it resting on the mantle and had probably guessed it had sat in that place of prominence all year, Lyn had resisted the urge to plant it in the empty bedroom and to pretend she had to search for it. “Oh, the likeness is startling,” Bea said. “But you’ve also captured something else. I’m not even sure what it is. His restlessness, maybe.”
“Well that wouldn’t have been too hard because I hardly sat still during those sessions. Lyn was a taskmaster.”
“No, it’s something much deeper than that. She turned, her blue eyes shining as though she had won a prize in a spelling bee, “ I’d like to buy it.” She is not only pretty and sophisticated; she is also sincere and she likes Michael very, very much, Lyn thought to herself. She was dying to ask how long they had known each other.
“Oh,” Lyn replied, taken aback. “Really? Well, I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about selling it.” Oh, you do know, she said to herself. Sell it or he’ll wonder why you are passing up an offer. Lyn didn’t realize she still had a dish towel in her hands.
“How much?” Bea asked. Then Lyn thought if I sell it he will surely come back for another sitting. When she asked him to sit for a second portrait last summer, he had said he couldn’t because he was leaving town. She told him the first had been mere practice.
“I’m not sure. Would 400 be fair?”
“How about five? I spent so much time on it.”
‘Five it is,” Bea said, and smiled triumphantly. And she has the man, too, Lyn thought. Just as they cinched the deal Serge bolted through the front door.
“Darling,” he said and grabbed Lyn about the waist. “I missed you.” Astonished, Lyn stepped back, “I just saw you yesterday. But yesterday seems years ago, Lyn. I have a surprise for you.” He dashed out the door and returned with a covered canvas easily five by six feet. Michael and Bea stood with amused looks on their faces. “Behold, my dearest.”Serge swept the cover off the canvas as if he were displaying a Rembrandt. Lyn almost gagged when she saw the painting of a woman lying under a diaphanous sheath on a divan, her arm resting beneath her head, her eyes hungry with lust. The face was unquestionably hers. “What do you have to say?” he asked.
“I’m I'm speechless,” she said. At least until Michael leaves, she thought to herself. What was Serge up to? “I never enjoyed painting anyone as much as I enjoyed you.”
“No doubt you enjoyed the modeling sessions, too,” Michael trilled.
“That, my friend, goes without saying. Pardon me for bursting in on you but I could not wait a minute longer to present it to her. What do you think, Michael?”
“Well, it’s a, well, it’s okay, I guess, a bit revealing.”
“I think it is breathtaking,” said Bea.
“I had to finish it quickly because Lyn and I are on our way to Romania to see my country, my family. I need to share these with her.”
“We are? I mean, we are,” Lyn said realizing now what Serge with his romantic heart was up to.
“Wow that was fast. I thought you just met in an art class a few weeks ago.”
“Sometimes it takes minutes when two people are attracted to each other, Lyn said.”
“Have a great time,” Mike said and whisked Bea out the door. He returned seconds later to take his portrait. “By the way, Lyn,” he said. “I will have time to sit for you this summer if you need me.”
“Well,” Lyn said, blushing, “I’ll...”
“She’ll let you know when she returns from Romania.”
“Yes, Lyn said, gazing cow-like at Serge, “If I return from Romania.”
Mike carried his portrait to the back seat of his car as Bea slid gracefully into the front. Before he slipped into the driver’s side, he gave the Corvette a tender pat on its fender.
The next day he called and left another message. “ I have something personal I’d like to talk to you about. I’ll stop by around six.” Lyn let her emotions carry her away. Could it be possible he was interested in her? But what about the girlfriend? Well, really she’s a stewardess, for gosh sake. Wasn’t he already assuming too much, that she’d be there waiting just because he called.
When he arrived, Lyn suggested they walk up to the beach, “Is your friend still here?”
“No, she had a flight. How ‘bout going for a spin in the Corvette?”
“I’d love to.” They drove south on Route One under the purpling sky over the Indian River Bridge sandwiched between ocean and bay, up through Bethany and Fenwick and back again. The whole time he never said a word but Lyn could tell by the ecstatic look on his face that he loved being behind the wheel and she loved being beside him, the first time she had sat next to a man in the Corvette since her husband died.
When they returned to her cottage, he caressed the wheel and said, “I really don’t know how to ask you this so I’ll just get right to it. I was wondering if you’d be interested in selling the Corvette to me.”
Lyn could feel the ire rise up from her toes. “Sell my husband’s most prized possession to you?”
“Well, I uh thought it was a financial burden you didn’t need at this stage of your life.”
“At this stage of my life? No,” she said, “I really don’t think so. I really, really do not think so.” She sucked in her breath. They got out of the car; she slammed the door. To add to her anger or was it to her humiliation, Lyn tripped over the huge stone at the end of her driveway as she left him standing next to what he coveted most; she walked up Chesapeake Street to the beach, kicked off her sandals and sunk her toes into the sand.
When she reached the ocean’s edge, she turned to see if he had followed her telling herself she really didn' t care if he did or not. She relished the chilly water icing her feet and the peppery whiff of dune pine. As always the wave shallows shoring and the flying spray of blown spume calmed her soul and gave her a sense of proportion, a sense of what was real. And what was most real right now was the yellow, orange, and pink showers the sun cast as it began to set.
Liz Dolan is a painter and writer living in Delaware.