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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Local Colour

broody Izzy

Some days seem very long. I love daylight saving and the light in the evenings, and the fact that until the end of December our days will get longer. But today’s length is increased by sorrow. The death of a young man, suddenly last night, has us all in the shock that makes a dragging timelessness. Oddly, our chicken shares the malaise, but in her case it’s because we discovered the secret egg cache – she’s gone broody. So, just like us, she stands and stares, oblivious to her surroundings.

Farewell, 'Little Sam'. Cook up a feast in heaven.

Our story this week is a different matter, a quietly colourful contemporary piece.

Local Colour

It looked like rain, which was a pity because Shirley had set up the courtyard for her afternoon soiree. The garden was looking delightful right now, with azaleas and camellias competing to add the brightest hue. The sullen sky made a perfect backdrop for the gorgeous display but Shirley suspected her guests would not appreciate that artistic detail. With a sigh she returned to the house with the tea tray.
            On the face of it, this was simply an afternoon tea for her friends. But Shirley had a problem, and she hoped that by observing these particular people together, she might find a solution.
            The doorbell rang, and before she could answer it, her friend Anthea let herself in. She entered the kitchen by one door as Shirley walked through another towards the sunroom.
            'What can I do to help?' she asked.
            'Do you think the five of us will fit comfortably in here?' Shirley said. She explained her change of plans. 'At least we can see some of the colour from here.'
            'I love this room,' Anthea replied, with a rapt expression she often wore around Shirley. 'You make everything beautiful inside and out.'
            'Give me a hand with that chair, would you?' Shirley pointed to a dining chair like the one she was carrying. 'Put it on the other side of the table. Thanks.'
            They arranged the chairs around a glass-topped coffee table. Then the doorbell rang again.
            'I'll get it,' Anthea said.
            Shirley put the kettle on, removed her apron, and walked out to greet the next guest.
            'Darling, this is Felipe. You don't mind that I invited him to join us, do you?' Louise did not wait for the reply that Shirley could hardly make without rudeness, and turned to the moustached man just behind her. 'This is Shirley, who I told you all about. She painted that still life in the shop behind the counter.'
            Felipe bowed over Shirley's hand, which gave her the first inkling of why this stranger to Riverlea had suddenly gained Louise's favour. He was well-groomed, probably in his late fifties, with dark eyes, and long black hair tied in a neat pony tail. An arty type, she suspected, adding the second inkling to Louise's presumption. It was odd that people assumed all artists would relate well to each other, as if the act of creativity was a rare bond.
            'Welcome. Come in, come in. Is it raining yet?' Shirley showed them to the sunroom as the first drops darkened the paving stones beyond the window. She settled the three there and collected the kettle from the kitchen. She poured the hot water through the filter into the coffee pot on its portable element, and went to fill the kettle again.
            The doorbell rang. She opened it to find her two remaining guests huddling in the tiny porch in expectation of a deluge. She showed them into the sunroom. Ted was loud enough to fill the room on his own, a factor she had forgotten to take into account.
            Eventually the coffee and tea were brewed, the guests were filling their cups, and the cakes were doing the rounds. Denley had brought another dining chair through and the five guests were squeezed into the small room with Shirley's chair filling the doorway.
            Ted pushed his chair back the little it could move before bumping the wall. 'Here's to Shirley, and her spreading fame. May it bring prosperity to Riverlea.' He waved his orange teacup in the air. It looked like it belonged to a child's set in his meaty hand. So far, so good.
            'No, no, Ted. This isn't a civic function, so let's forget the speeches.' Shirley waved him into his seat before taking the remaining cup, a black one, and sitting down to drink her coffee.
            'Everything's a civic function to Ted,' Louise sniped. 'He's trying to turn Riverlea into the business district of Fairbanks. I think,' she said with emphasis, 'the charm of our town is its tasteful specialty stores and olde worlde charm.'
            'Your antique store is very tasteful, madame,' Felipe acknowledged with a smile, taking the red cup. Louise's face lost its tightness and she sat back, clearly pleased.
            'Shirley, your garden has the olde worlde charm Louise mentioned. Maybe the business council should commission you to design some public gardens where that vacant block is next to Turner's,' Denley suggested.
            Ted butted in before Denley had finished his words. 'Shirley's got enough to do already without that. We have plans, you know, for that spot, which I can't go into. Of course, Shirley would do a lovely job with it, for sure.' He stopped, reddening as Shirley gave him a stern look. 'I mean, um, you know, this garden and all her paintings and so on isn't that right?'
            Shirley smoothed over Ted's confusion by offering another round of coffee and tea.
            Denley said, 'So tell me, Felipe, where do you come from? How do you know Louise?' He leaned forward, his usual blue cup in hand. He was an excellent listener.
            Felipe told how his search for a particular piece of cello music had him scouring antique shops. He played cello in an orchestra in the city, and collected rare music.
            'He's a lucky man,' Louise added. She refilled her yellow cup with tea. She did love that colour, thought Shirley with an inner smile.
            Anthea looked puzzled. 'Because he found your shop? Did you have the music?'
            Shirley noticed Felipe's surprised look, quickly covered with an enigmatic smile.
            'No, unfortunately I've never heard of the music. What I meant was, as soon as Felipe walked into the shop, I knew he had an aura of good luck. Surely you can sense it.'
            Shirley wanted to laugh. Louise had a 'gift' which enabled her to identify special people. It was clear from the others' expressions that they had their share of stories, as she had, about Louise's 'special' people.
            Felipe was protesting as Ted boomed, 'If he's got friends with money to spend in Riverlea, we'll all agree with Louise.'
            Denley gave Shirley a sympathetic glance and said, 'I think we're the lucky ones to have a musical artist among us.'
            Shirley found Felipe's alternations of expression amusing. She caught his eye and winked. His smile twitched and he took advantage of the view from his position to change the topic.
            'You are the artist of note here,' he commented quietly in his hostess's direction. 'That still life is excellent. I could almost smell the roses. Were they from your beautiful garden?'
            Shirley nodded, but before she could say anything, Ted jumped in. 'Shirley is the face of our latest tourist campaign. She'll bring those big dollars here if anyone can. Wait till you see what she's working on now.' He sat tall and proud, knowing that he and Shirley were the only ones in the room who had any idea of what he was talking about. And Ted had not even seen her current work himself. All Shirley could do was distract them again. She fussed over the table, asking each visitor if they would like another cup of tea or coffee, proffering the remaining cupcakes as insistently as Ted with a potential customer, until in all the bustle, one of the fine china cups, the red one, fell onto the floor and broke with a shattering sharpness. Everyone jumped, and then talked at once.
            Anthea put her favourite mauve cup down with care and fetched the brush and pan, while Denley took the rest of the crockery to the kitchen. Shirley insisted on sweeping up the red shards herself, so Anthea went to help Denley with the washing up. Shirley took the contents of the pan to another room.
            When she returned, Louise commented, 'You can just put another cup and saucer in your collection and no one will be the wiser.'
            Shirley smiled. Her problem was rapidly solving itself. Louise began to describe in detail every item of crockery in her shop and its age and history, while Ted asked Felipe if he liked the horse races. Denley and Anthea did not return until some time later, and Shirley was pleased to notice the flush of colour in her friend's happy face.
            They all left as the clouds cleared and the last of the sun's rays cast a golden glow on the watered village. Shirley saw them to the gate before taking the garden route to her studio, which stood as a separate building just beyond the back door. She turned on the light, and studied the shattered cup, comparing its colour to a large board with an almost completed mosaic design.
            There they all were, in patterned portrait: Ted with an orange tie, Louise in a yellow dress, Denley wearing a blue shirt, Anthea with a mauve ribbon in her hair. All that was missing was the centrepiece, the image of what brought them together. She had had many ideas to represent the community, but until now the right one had evaded her. The best answers were often the simplest.
            'Felipe's red cup. Perfect. I wonder if they'll remember it when it's unveiled.' She fitted the shards of the broken crockery into the space, noting which would need to be cut to form the shape of a large cup in the centre of the scene. She could use the saucer to make more pieces.
            This mosaic was destined to become a permanent fixture on the wall of the civic offices in the centre of Riverlea, at the opening of Ted's latest endeavour to put the village on the tourist map. And one ordinary cup – the colour of the stranger in their midst – would be worked in to create something new and beautiful, celebrating in more ways than one the local colour of Riverlea.

Until next week…
Claire Belberg

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