As is customary for me before publishing something new, last week you saw the cover of the new book. And this week it’s “Chapter 1” time! I hope you will enjoy the start of Clara’s Eyes.
Ron looked at the two big eyes in the incomplete, sketched face. They stared back at him without expression. In a whim he took a pencil and a minute later the not nearly finished face looked at him cross-eyed. “Much better,” the painter said to the image of someone’s sister, “it would suit you in real life.” Eyes were important, he knew that. The proverb ‘eyes are the portal to the soul’ could have been created solely for him, he sometimes thought. The crossed eyes unfortunately had to go. John’s sister wasn’t cross-eyed. Ron turned back to the canvas where he was working on the actual portrait of the woman. She wasn’t there, lived too far away, so he had to work from a number of photographs. Dangerous photographs too, as most of them were old, and the only two shots that showed her real, current face were blurry. John had told him to do what he could and he then would comment on the work for the adjustments. Ron wasn’t certain that the painting would come to bloom that way, though. It would more be an image of how John saw his sister., but he wanted it made for her fiftieth birthday, he paid for it, and so John was calling the shots.
A few hours, lots of glasses of water and some progress later, Ron put down the brushes. He had to get out, stretch and get some fresh air. Painting was wonderful, but this kind of work was only for the money, and that didn’t have his heart. He wanted to capture essences, things that lived inside people, and the way into those people’s souls was, indeed, through their eyes.
The afternoon sun hung over the area of Midlothian, Virginia. It had been there the previous days as well, but today the heat wasn’t beating down so much. Ron asked himself what he would do. He could go for a walk, he could head over to Salisbury Lake for a swim, or he could simply do nothing. He decided on two followed by three, and if he was still aware of the world after that he might continue working on John’s sister. As Ron reached the lake, he regretted his decision. It was crowded like crazy, and people with loud motorboats made swimming in most parts impossible. After a few attempts, the painter shook his head and went back home. This was not a way to relax, so he parked his modest Nissan behind the house, went inside for a beer and after emerging again he flung himself in the hammock that hung partly in his neighbour’s garden. Their tree was just the right distance from the one in his own garden and they didn’t mind as long as their kid could use the hammock as well. That was a pretty good deal for Ron.
As he swung between the trees, he thought of his life and the future. Somehow he had to do something, because this town where he was born, raised and had never left wasn’t going to give him the big break he was looking for. He’d have to go where the big people were, the big galleries. Places like Los Angeles or Miami. Or New York. New York would be super, but he knew there were far too many artists there already, and most of them as broke as a bad joke. Maybe, he mused, he should go to France where his idol Vincent van Gogh had lived. Working in the countryside, creating many fabulous paintings, and then making it big in Paris. Now that was an idea. He grinned at it, imagining how agents would then come running to him, begging him to come to New York for a major exhibition at a place like Hauser & Wirth, or the Gagosian Gallery. Such a change from the one exhibition he’d once had here in Midlothian’s local community centre. Somehow Ron had drifted off into a snooze, because when his sister Shelley woke him up he almost tumbled from the hammock. “Jesus, Shell, careful!”
Shelley laughed, her blue eyes sparkling. “Hey, you’re the one almost falling, not me.”
He scrambled from his resting place. “Lost your keys again?”
“Why?” Shelley looked hurt, even though she was famous for misplacing not only her keys.
“That was why you came over the last three times,” Ron reminded her with a wink. “Can I get you something cold?” He picked up his beer; the can was still half full and warm.
“Yes, please.” Shelley followed her brother into the small house. “Is that John’s sister?” she asked as she saw the canvas.
“You can actually tell?” Ron asked as he opened the fridge. That was a positive thing. “Beer? Lemonade?”
“Oh. None left,” he noticed as he pulled the cold, empty bottle from the machine. “Sorry. I do have some coke.”
Shelley settled for that. “I’m here to remind you of Mom’s birthday.”
“I know about that,” Ron pouted, “it’s next week Sunday.”
“It’s day after tomorrow,” Shelley corrected him. “See, that’s why I’m here.”
“You could have sent a text.”
“Since when do you read those?” Shelley snorted. “You have an artist’s mind, brother, not one for technology.” She was right. Ron and technical things were a lethal combination, usually devastating for the tech part. “Still looking for the big break?” his sister then asked, noticing the newspaper on the kitchen table. It was open on the page with ads. Ron had circled some of them and scratched out others.
“Always,” Ron commented as he opened another beer.
“You just lack in the finding department though, huh?”
“Always,” Ron admitted. “Day after tomorrow…” He found a calendar and wrote “Mum’s Birthday” on it.
“Won’t help,” Shelly commented, “you have too many calendars.”
“Yes. They all have great paintings on them!” Ron defended his choice.
Shelley chuckled. “I’ll come and pick you up in two days, or you’ll miss her birthday again.”
“Thanks.” Ron didn’t object. He had forgotten birthdays before. “I appreciate that.”
Shelley looked over the page with advertisements. “Oh, look at that! Sale at Wortings! I should head over there!”
“You’re good, Ron. That actually looks more like my sister than my sister does!” John was excited as he saw the painting. “I wonder what a talent like you is doing in a place like this.”
“I live and paint,” Ron shrugged. He did that and a lot of chores for people who paid him a bit, which actually was how he got by mainly. He gathered all the pictures John had given him and handed them back. “Some have paint splatters, sorry about that.” He then wrapped the painting in a piece of linen. “Here you go. I hope she likes it, John.”
His friend carefully stored the painting in his car and paid Ron what they had agreed on, plus an extra twenty. “You should charge more, man. You can’t survive on giving stuff away,” John warned the painter. “I’ll be seeing you!” Then John drove off, leaving Ron standing in a cloud of dust. It was time for some rain. Ron looked at the banknotes in his hand. Nice, very nice, but nicer still was that John was happy. Back inside he tossed the money in the tin box that had once contained cookies and now functioned as his vault. Then Ron went to his old computer, one of the few bits of technology that refused to succumb under his hands. He’d made a few photos of John’s painting, maybe he could put one of those on-line next to the other paintings he had there. It took him a while. His computer wasn’t the speediest, nor was he with all things internet, but in the end it was done.
“Oh, right. E-mail,” he then reminded himself. His sister had set him up with that and once every few weeks he remembered to actually look at it. Page after page with garbage passed by. Ron diligently deleted all the spam messages, as his mind pictured half open cans with e-mail messages pouring out of them. There might be a painting in that! As he scanned the next page, one e-mail seemed to beg for his attention. It was called “Invitation”. Ron clicked the message.
“Dear Mr Brooks,
I am writing to you on behalf of an organisation that is looking for promising talent. One of our executives discovered your painting ‘Solar Flare’ on the internet and we are interested in that particular kind of work. Could you please send us a reply e-mail if you are interested in meeting with us in New York?
Ron read the message a few more times. This was impossible. Solar Flares wasn’t even that good, and someone in New York liked it? He looked at the text beneath the e-mail. That had a New York address and phone number in it. New York. It sounded too good. Maybe it was, but maybe it was his ticket to fame. He clicked the reply button and composed a decent answer to Terrence Ostring, stating that he was certainly willing to come to New York to talk about options. After a few rereads and plenty of changes to the text he sent the thing off. They’d probably get a million of those mails, but it didn’t hurt to try. Then Ron went back to erasing more junk-mail until all that was cleared out and he could put his computer back to rest.
Ron had forgotten all about the invitation and Terrence Ostring by the time he was ready to put a few more paintings on-line. Several weeks had passed, he’d spent many nights outside to capture the night sky over the lake, and some of those paintings had come out surprisingly well. After battling the photo upload and coming out the victor, he remembered to erase his spam e-mail, and great was his surprise to find a reply to the message he’d sent to New York. Again it was from Terrence Ostring.
“Dear Mr Brooks,
Thank you for responding to my previous e-mail. We would gladly receive you in New York at a time that is convenient for you. If you could inform us about the time that you would be available. We can arrange transport for you and a few of your choice works. Of course we will also see to proper accommodation during your stay.
Kindly respond at your convenience.
The painter stared at the computer screen. This had to be a joke. He was invited to come to New York? The Big Apple? He was half tempted to pick up his phone and call the number, just to make certain he was in a prank, but something inside him decided against that. Instead he called his sister and told her what had happened.
“Ron, I’m at work now, I have no time for jokes,” Shelley whispered.
“This is not a joke, Shell. This is what I see on my screen now. I need someone sensible to tell me if I should go for it.” Ron had never seen himself as a person of reason, he always relied on the input from his sister. So far he had not regretted that.
“You’re serious, are you? Okay, forward the mail to me, I’ll have a look at it during my break and see if I can find out something about that place.” She had to talk him through the forwarding. “Okay. Got it here. I’ll call you back when I know something, Ron.”
“Thanks, Shell. I owe you one.”
“You owe me a warehouse full of them,” she grinned. Ron put down his phone and switched off the computer. Enough technology for one day, it was time for something serious. He found a clean sheet of paper, clipped that to his portable drawing board, and with a handful of pencils he sat himself outside, facing the forest on the other side of the road, and started drawing a few eyes.