When I See Your Face, Part 19
That was not what caught her attention though. Everywhere, standing and lying on the floor, hanging on the walls and leaning against them, were paintings. Almost all of them were brightly colored, big close-ups of flowers and plants with vivid details that made the artwork come to life. Here and there, pencil drawings in smaller sizes were interspersed with the more vibrant art, begging for her to step closer and inspect. Where there were no paintings, there were painting tools of all sorts or newspaper and rags splashed with paint. Close to the French doors leading to the balcony stood an easel with a canvas on it that looked blank from where she was rooted to the spot in the doorway.
Dimly, she remembered that Aunt Grindle had mentioned that Michael was an artist as well as a gardener. Without realizing it, she gave his hand a squeeze before she let go and wandered from picture to picture. Completely oblivious to his presence, she took her time with each work of art, every flower and leaf and tree pulling her in with its unashamed display of color and its depth of detail. The drawings were totally different but just as elaborate, depicting landscapes and the odd house in clear, precise lines.
When she finally turned to face him, he was leaning against the door frame, watching her every step, arms folded across his naked chest. It made the muscles stand out beautifully yet also seemed defensive. The look on his face said he cared for her opinion on his art at least as much as she cared for his opinion on her cakes. If what she felt inside was anything to go by, her face must be showing surprise and admiration.
“You’re an artist!” she blurted out, no better words to sum up her feelings to be found.
He gave an unwilling chuckle.
“Guilty as charged. Now tell me whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Good, of course!”
She found herself gesturing wildly at the paintings in the room.
“This is wonderful! They’re all so beautiful, so full of life and energy! I would never have thought you’d be so talented.”
He was beaming, clearly happy about her judgment. Finally entering the room himself and walking toward her, he asked in that joking tone of his that she adored so much, “Why wouldn’t you have thought so? Don’t I look like an artist? “
Caught off guard, she answered, “No, you don’t.”
“Then what do I look like? A gardener?”
There was real curiosity in his voice now.
She wanted to hit herself for her answer. Did he seriously want to know what he looked like to her? There were quite some words she could tell him—tempting, masculine, confident, handsome, charming, younger than he probably was, energetic—but none would do. Before she could prevent the words from stumbling out, a thought from the back of her mind pushed itself to the fore. “You look like someone I know.”
All the expectation and underlying humor went out of his face as though someone had struck him. Although he couldn’t possibly know what being compared to Mark actually meant, he clearly took it as an offense. She wanted to bite her tongue for saying such a stupid thing, for in truth she didn’t think of her husband so much now when she looked at Michael.
After an awkward moment of silence, he drew himself up with a strange kind of determination.
“If you talk like that, you obviously haven’t got to know me enough yet. Go ahead, feel free to nag me with any kind of question coming to your mind. I’m all yours to discover.”
There was a huge temptation in him offering himself up to discovery. Her mind was full of ways in which she could discover him, mostly ways that sent shivers of desire through her, laced with shame and fear. When she shook those thoughts away, she saw that he had opened one of the huge windows and walked out onto the balcony, motioning for her to sit down on the one easy chair standing there among a clutter of blooming plants. He seemed to mean it, and some part of her wanted to jump at the opportunity to indeed get to know him better.
She joined him on the balcony, taking a moment to admire all the flowers there, not knowing a single one by name, and the view she had of the hills and fields stretching out, the house standing at the border of the village and being higher than the few buildings next to it. He was standing with his back leaning against the balcony’s balustrade, arms again folded across his chest, chin jutting out.
“Go ahead, ask. I want you to get to know the real me and stop associating me with somebody else’s image.”
She cringed. She had certainly offended or hurt him with her careless words. And here was her opportunity to find out more about this one man she had ever felt real interest in.
She sat down in the easy chair, drawing her legs up and folding them underneath her.
“Why don’t you introduce yourself to me like you asked me that day?”
“No, it’s not going to work like that. You have to ask me,” he insisted.
Finding all this slightly amusing and more than slightly confusing, she decided to play along.
“Have you always been an artist?”
He shook his head.
“No. I never knew I had it in me to paint and draw. I went through a difficult phase in my life and was striving hard to change or maybe to find myself. Killing time was impossible after I had spent the first 20 years of my life working from morning till evening and thinking of work at night.”
For a moment he stared off into the distance before continuing with his story.
“By chance, I noticed the beauty of the village and its surroundings and one day simply picked up paper and a pencil. I began to sketch and there came a time when I didn’t want to stop and I liked what I drew. And the plants begged for me to color them, to portray them. I had always felt close to plants although I never got a chance to live that side of me. So gardening and painting kind of happened on me at that time. I didn’t choose to be an artist or spend my life with gardening, art and garden work chose me.”
It was fascinating to listen to him, observing the subtle changes in his voice and face when he talked about sad and joyful things in his life. Mark’s face and voice never veered away much from the image he wanted to portray. It was only now while watching Michael that Cathy realized this about her soon to be ex-husband. And she vowed to herself to forget him for a while and focus on Michael.
“What did you do those days? And what do you do now, day in, day out?”
A shadow crossed his face and there was something evasive about him for a moment when he answered, “Oh, you know, one of these dreadful, dreary office jobs at the top of the business sector in one of the country’s many big cities. I’d bore you to hell with descriptions of my past life. And to be truthful, I don’t like to remember it. I prefer the here and now.”
Determination crept back into his voice.
“As for my life at present… As you know, I’m the village gardener. That’s a broad term, actually. I do garden work for anyone here who wants or needs it. I’m also responsible for maintenance work and repairs and stuff like that, for cleaning the roads from snow in winter and for generally making sure that the village looks nice and decent. I do all kinds of odd jobs for the villagers too. Sometimes I help the farmers with the harvest. There’s no high income from that, of course, but I don’t need and want tons of money. Here I am in a big house that I don’t use, without a car or expensive hobby.”
He shrugged, sounding too careless about his situation, maybe torn between not minding it and wondering whether she minded.
Indeed it seemed odd to her that he lived like that now, especially when he made it sound as if he had been as busy and well off as Mark. Again, she wondered what had made him change his life, why he hated his old life and old self. Feeling shy to actually ask about that, she wanted to know something else, something that she wondered about herself in the future if she followed through with her plans.
“Are you happy?”
(To be continued tomorrow.)
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