I’m not lover of art. I don’t know how to react to a splurge of colours on canvas. Or appreciate fine brush strokes on paper. And yet, this evening, I chance upon your painting.
It has started to rain, and I don’t have an umbrella. So I step inside the nearest door. As I brush off the raindrops from my coat, I look around. I’ve walked into an art gallery, and you are there, beaming at me. Urging me to come and look at your art. I hesitate. I don’t want to move around and make appropriate noises. Nor make eye contact with you. I have things to do. But you seem so alone in this space. So needy of appreciation that I walk around the room.
You paint local scenes. The farmers’ market. The Dover crossing. The white cliffs seem to be your favourite subject. I cannot believe what I see. This painting: The study of a boy with an aeroplane. I look closer and my breath stops. I turn to look at you. Are you some kind of sorcerer who has drawn me in here?
Where did you do this painting? I ask.
By the Beachy Head lighthouse, you say.
I nod. I know that already. And this boy?
My son, you say. With his new toy plane. I paint his portrait every year, on his birthday.
The eighteenth of September, I say.
Your eyes widen. I shrug and point to the painting. You’ve painted me into your picture, I say. There in the distance, that’s us, Jim and I.
Your mouth drops open. Your eyes register shock. You smile at the incongruity. I look away. I remember every minute of that day.
Our last happy day together, I whisper. I’ll never forget it. We had a picnic. We drank champagne and ate blackberries we picked from the hedges. We swam in the sea. We laughed without thinking about the future. I look straight into your sea-grey eyes. There was no future and we knew that. He died soon after. At least we said our goodbyes.
An uneasy shuffle as we try to avoid each other’s gaze.
But thank you, I say at last. You’ve unknowingly captured a beautiful moment. You’ve made us immortal.
I touch the coarse brush strokes on the canvas. I feel the paint blobs that define the love of my life. He feels alive, ready to hit the icy cold water. I feel a shiver go down my spine. I hear the wind in my hair and the crash of the waves. The gulls screaming and circling overhead. I taste the champagne and blackberries and his kisses in my mouth. I follow him and jump into the water myself.
You touch my shoulder and I turn. How typical of Jim. I say. To appear in the most unexpected of places and surprise me. I smile and head out into the rain. To carry on with my day.