Jacq hadn’t forgotten that her sister was coming that day but there was somewhere more important that she’d had to go. Arriving only moments earlier, she now stood in the centre of the atelier, drowned in the fragrance of magnolia from the tree just beyond the open window. At her feet were dozens of small paint tubes, their colours squashed and squeezed from them until only their silver shells remained. Against the far wall, next to stacks of CDs and paintbrushes were an easel and canvas, concealed by a sheet. Strangely, the paintings that normally covered the walls were missing, and the web-like cracks in the plaster were now revealed in all their intricate glory.
Jacq kicked and stepped, and kicked and stepped repeatedly, creating a small path for herself through the tubes on the floor towards the hidden art. Without hesitation she reached, pulled the sheet to the ground, and gasped.
Directly before her was a goddess ready to take flight. On a rock outcrop above a turquoise sea, with indigo satin wrapped between her legs, an angel-woman had extended her bountiful wings and was waiting for the wind to free her. Her naked body was full and curvaceous with hips and breasts that had clearly lived and enjoyed life.
“Do you like it?”
Startled, Jacq spun around. She met Marc’s gaze but said nothing.
“Do you like it?” He repeated.
“You know I do.”
“Do you recognize her?”
Jacq looked again at the painting, and what she hadn’t seen the first time, she saw now. The strong chin, and slightly less strong Roman nose, seated above sad but determined thin lips. “I am no beauty.”
“I disagree.” Marc smiled. “And you know my father would disagree.”
Like a sneeze that won’t come out, Jacq’s tears were there, behind a dam that she didn’t have the energy to destroy. She sighed loudly and then spoke, “You asked me not to go to the hospital, and I didn’t. But Marc, I cannot agree to your last request. I must go to the funeral. I need to go to the funeral.”
Marc crossed his arms over his chest and slowly walked to the other side of the studio before replying, “I’m asking again, please don’t go. Do you want me to beg? My father loved you. You know that. I know that. And unfortunately, my mother knows that. The woman has just lost her husband of thirty years, let her mourn him and move on. With happy memories. Your presence will only remind her that the last couple of years were a fraud.”
Although her eyes were dry, Jacq knew that her grief, and anger, were still clearly evident. “Marc, look at me. Really look at me. What about me? What about what I need?”
“What about you? You had him in life. Let my mother have him in death.” Marc wiped his hands over his face – trying to wipe away the tears and frustration that were starting to form. “Jacq, I know you’re hurting. I know my father was important to you. I don’t doubt that you love him as much as he loved you,” Marc took a deep breath and then exhaled loudly. “I never really understood your relationship. Watching you together, it often seemed that you were as much his daughter as his lover. I know that I will never completely understand. But I do know that you need to find another way to let go of your grief.”
Jacq’s knees began to feel weak and she let her body collapse into a nearby chair. She wanted to fight, not just with words, but to punch and kick and hit Marc until he was pleading for mercy. But she didn’t have the strength for any of it. She sat back and rested her head against the wall. “Sometimes, when I was with your father, I felt suffocated. But it was also that very suffocation that made me feel happy, and in a strange way free. Philippe gave me the safety, the normalcy that I needed to live… we talked about it a lot, he said that I felt like that because I had grown up without a father… Marc, I need to honour him and what we had. I need to see him one last time.” Her desperation was palpable.
“Then do it. You don’t need my permission.” Marc reached over to the CD player and turned it on.
Jacq immediately knew the voice. Pavarotti. And the song. La Boheme - Che Gelida Manina. It was the sound of hope, and happiness. And as Philippe often used to say, also of utter beauty. Like father. Like son. Jacq closed her eyes. She could see Philippe next to her on the bed. His voice booming, his hands gesturing, drowning out the opera star. Pavarotti and Philippe had always sung to her after they’d made love.
She felt like her body was completely turning to jelly. Her arms slid down and dangled at her sides, and very calmly and very quietly, to the sound of Pavarotti, her tears finally flowed. It hadn’t taken force but peace to knock down the dam.
It seemed like two hours to her but it was really only twenty minutes when she opened her eyes to see Marc seated on the floor at her feet, pencil and sketchbook in hand. “Don’t worry, I’m not capturing your grief. I’m capturing your love.”
She smiled softly.
“This probably won’t make you feel any better, but Ted’s not going either.”
“Why not? That doesn’t make any sense. I’ve been so focused on myself, but I know that you need support too.” Her voice trailed off and she leaned forward and caressed Marc’s cheek with the back of her hand, and then tucked his dark shoulder length hair behind his ears.
“Jacq, my mother doesn’t know. Only my father knew.”
“What? How can that be? You and Ted have been together for years.”
“Five years. My mother can’t handle the truth. My dad and I decided a long time ago. It’s better that she doesn’t know. And especially not now. It would kill her.”
Jacq shook her head. “What mother would not want to hear that her son is loved, and in love? Does it really matter what she thinks? Why do you care?”
Marc closed his sketchpad, and placed it and his pencil on the floor before slowly getting to his feet. Towering above her, he spoke, “The answer is simple Jacq… it matters because she’s my mother.”
Jacqueline gingerly rose from her chair and upon moving very close to Marc, wrapped her arms around him and pulled his body into hers. His heart was thumping rapidly, and his smell reminded her of Philippe. She stepped back slightly, and gently took his face between her hands. His broad nose and dark eyes were nothing like his father’s but she thought that he was still handsome in his own way. After pressing her lips against each of his cheeks, she whispered in his ear, “Blood is not thicker than love.”
And then, with the agony and ecstasy of La Traviata in the background, Jacq left the atelier.
The story continues in 2010.... Stay tuned!