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Clement's Corner: Nocturne

The central character in Owen R Clement’s tale gets much more than she expected when she goes to the annual art exhibition.

Emily Watson envied gifted artists who, in their imaginative world, expressed themselves using colour, form and line to captivate and enchant others. In her youth she had attended drawing and painting classes but regretfully came to conclusion she would never be an ‘artist’.

This was why she looked forward with great anticipation to attending the local Spring Art Show each year. If she could not create art, she would certainly enjoy viewing others’ efforts.

She dressed in her suit of jacaranda blue with white accessories. Both she and her husband Eric had always dressed up for occasions; be they public or private affairs.

Living in a country town, she had never fully comprehended the anger and rebelliousness of the people in cities nowadays who reject the more conservative dress codes. It is now the fashion to dress down in denim outfits and branded or slogan T and sweatshirts even when attending theatrical events such as the ballet and the opera. If that was the way they chose to dress these days, so be it. She could never make herself look like that Mrs. Falloon with her crows-foot eyes and dewlap chin topped by a spiky hair-do trying to ape the younger generation.

She set off on foot to walk the three blocks from her apartment to the exhibition at the church hall, enjoying the newly opened blooms and their perfume in the gardens on the way.

Although she admired the weavers’, potters’ and woodworkers’ craftsmanship, it was the painters, with their creative fervour presenting unique private visions of the world, that she found most rewarding.

This year the usual muddy landscapes, luminous fantasies, and detailed, almost photographic, nudes and portraits were well represented. However, amongst some poorly painted and confusing abstracts one titled “Nocturne” caught her eye. If anyone asked her why it appealed to her, she could honestly say that she found it visually exciting. Considering adding it to her modest collection was now not possible, as a car accident had taken her beloved husband Eric from her and she had to manage on a much reduced income. She convinced herself that she was not acquisitive and did not regret being unable to afford expensive items such as this painting.

“Nocturne” was a large blue composition with occasional white highlights and a few of small red brushstrokes in the bottom right hand corner. It reminded her of the night the car had broken down on a lonely country road; she and Eric had snuggled up on the back seat all night to keep off the chill. The feeling of complete safety in Eric’s arms was what she drew on now when she missed him on their special days. When she half closed her eyes she saw hills silhouetted against a starlit sky and near the bottom a small white brushstroke became the light from the farmhouse they had walked to the following morning to ring up for help. She remembered the kind elderly couple who insisted on feeding them a large breakfast, and how they refused any payment.

She broke the rule of the exhibition by gently brushing her fingers across the painting’s surface. Feeling guilty she turned around and was startled to find a young man standing beside her. “I saw that,” he said smiling in mock reproach. “Do you like it?” he asked.

“Oh! I’m no expert. I just find it very appealing.”

“What is it that appeals to you?”

Emily realized that the young man really wanted to know, rightly surmising that he was the creator of the work.

“:Well, “ she said and continued with many pauses,” I see it as a mood picture. Depending on your frame of mind, it could take you under the sea, or along a lonely country road. There could be the menace of a highwayman waiting to pounce on a hapless victim.’’ She paused, “I could possibly find other images…’’

“I see, ‘he said,” That’s most interesting”.

“It is your painting isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. I was merely experimenting with textures, tones and colours. It’s the first time I have tried abstract painting. You have convinced me to carry on experimenting.”

“I hope you do er -.” She leaned forward trying to make out his signature.

“Tom Farley,’’ he said.

“Tom, this one should have been one of the winners in my opinion; I think it’s both evocative and beautiful.”

“Thank you, ‘he said. “Enjoy the rest of the exhibition.” He smiled, turned and walked away.

While wandering through the other exhibits she continued to view “Nocturne” from various angles and distances. This was one painting she would certainly never forget.

Before leaving, she stood chatting to friends at the exit, her eyes on “Nocturne” across the hall. To her, it stood out like a brilliant jewel.

“You really do like it don’t you?” Tom said as he materialised beside her.

“Yes, I do. Very much.” Her tone was defensive.

“Would you accept it as a gift?”

“:Oh, I couldn’t possibly.”

“Alright then, How about taking it on loan? You see it’s been hanging in a gallery for some time without a buyer. To have it somewhere where it would be appreciated would be very gratifying for me.”

“Yes, but I don’t know you. How could I return it?”

He reached into his inside shirt pocket and withdrew a notebook where he jotted down his name and address and before handing it to her asked, “May I have your name and address?”

She hesitated and realized not to do so would be both rude and unfeeling. The young man’s earnestness touched her. She took the notebook and pen and wrote down the details.

“I’ll bring it around soon, “ he said.

“Make it next Saturday and you can stay for dinner.’’

“You may not realize it, but you given me great joy. You see, my painting is my creation. My child, if you will. By accepting it, you have accepted a secret part of me.”

To her surprise, he bent down and kissed her cheek turned and left.

Oh how she wished Eric had been standing beside her at that moment.


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