Reflections on Art and Life
If you missed the first chapter, you can read it here: https://wp.me/p6Qr0-127
The first thing she noticed upon entering was the smell. It was the fragrance of aged wood and paper. Not the musty odor of an old person’s parlor or of fur coats, but an aura of legacy, tradition one might encounter in historic libraries, violin workshops, or leather furniture stores. But here was also a hint of coffee beans and floor wax, intermingled with nutmeg, juniper, and sage.
Claudia dropped her belongings by the ornamental wood paneling and proceeded to look around. She walked past a round hall table, whose glossy surface displayed only a miniature silver box and reflected light of a stained-glass lamp. Off to the right was an office with a stately honey colored desk, a matching wooden swivel chair, and a row of bookcases that lined the entire far wall. Down the hall, Claudia found an open room, a sunroom perhaps, but it was too late and too dark to appreciate the floor-to-ceiling windows. A small worktable and a couple of easels were gathered in the center, while an oversize leather sofa with velvet pillows was pushed to the side. A worn oriental rug and an armchair marked a sitting space in front. Wall sconces softly illuminated the room as the furniture cast shadows on the dark orange-and-brown walls. The dining room to the left featured an oblong formal table that could seat at least eight. A tall buffet and two curio cabinets, housing a display of patterned porcelain, completed the layout.
Finally, there was a spacious library, and Claudia gasped at the wealth of the collection. Thick art volumes filled with reproductions of Rothko, Pollock, Rivera, O’Keefe, and Picasso. Dictionaries, atlases, compendiums, fiction, poetry, philosophy. A cursory scan registered such names as Seneca, Flaubert, Du Bois, Hugo, Mann, Pushkin, Dickinson, and Plotinus, all organized neatly in custom-built shelving made of polished wood. Countless vinyl records, as many compact discs, and an entire alphabetized section of music scores were divided into the chamber and orchestral compositions. By the window, leather armchairs were gathered around a massive black Bösendorfer grand piano.
Claudia would gladly have sunk into one of the plush chairs and traveled to another world with the aid of one of the atlases. But even without opening any of them, she already felt she had entered a new reality. Accustomed to fluorescent lighting, industrial carpet, and particle-board furniture, here Claudia sensed a shift in her mood. She had an inkling that she had made the right decision in coming here. Maybe this place would offer her the change of scenery she so desperately needed.
“Oh, I see you found your way in,” a soft, feminine voice spoke behind her. Claudia turned and faced a frail elderly woman. Her light—but not quite gray—hair was clasped in a bun and framed her well-preserved features. Beneath a white kitchen apron, she wore a beige turtleneck and a pair of silky black trousers. Elegant house shoes and a pearl bracelet completed her stylish outfit.
“I’m Bertha. Welcome to Watershed.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Bertha. I’m Claudia.”
“I prefer Ms. Bertha, dear.”
Claudia instantly regretted her familiarity, but the woman didn’t seem to dwell on the gaffe. She motioned for Claudia to follow her into the kitchen.
“You must be very tired and hungry. I left some food for you in the fridge.” The woman moved confidently but shakily in front of Claudia. “After you settle in, feel free to reheat it.” She took from a cabinet a dinner plate and a glass, which she set on the small kitchen table. “I understand you will be staying for six weeks?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Claudia answered dutifully.
“Good. Let me quickly give you a few rules of the house.” She removed a blue fabric napkin from a drawer and added it to the place setting. “I serve breakfast at eight o’clock. Tomorrow, you can tell me more about your food preferences. You are on your own when it comes to lunch, but, of course, feel free to use whatever you find in the refrigerator or the pantry. I only ask that you clean up after yourself and don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink.”
Though her face had a soft glow, her eyes were penetrating, and she looked Claudia over from top to bottom.
“I serve dinner at five o’clock, but if you don’t show up, I will save you some for later. I don’t expect you to eat with me every day, dear.” She waved her arm and smiled. “God knows you artists follow your own schedule. I stay for the most part in the west wing of the house and won’t interfere with your activities. So, make yourself at home and don’t feel like you have to entertain me. I have plenty to keep me occupied.” She took off her apron and hung it up inside the pantry. “But if you need me for any reason, you can easily find me.”
She led Claudia back into the main hallway.
“Your bedroom is upstairs, and you will find fresh towels in the bathroom. I like to wash the sheets every Saturday. The laundry room is near the pantry. Feel free to use it as you need to. You may come and go as you please.” She straightened a decorative quilt depicting an emerald stream and tall grasses, which had been draped over the back of a bench near the stairwell. “Of course, you know there is no Internet here.”
Had Claudia known this? Had she overlooked this detail?
“But the cell phone reception is decent. I doubt you will be bored here. There is always something to do on the island. I know you will want to venture into the forest.” She adjusted a small abstract painting on the side table. “And don’t worry about locking the front door. We are perfectly safe here.” She turned back to Claudia. “Well, I suppose that’s all for now. I will let you freshen up and get some rest. Goodnight, dear.” And with that, she smiled, turned, and walked abruptly away.
Claudia was grateful Ms. Bertha hadn’t asked her to recite her life story and was glad to be finally left alone. She wasn’t sure she needed a full meal but would welcome a cup of tea or warm soup. But first, she wanted to inspect her room. She climbed the wooden staircase, sliding her hand on the cold iron railing, intricately wrought in the shape of branching vines. Upstairs she found a spacious bedroom with a four-poster bed, a simple ash table that functioned as a desk, a couple of chairs, and a deep armchair. She sat on the edge of the bed and was pleasantly surprised by the soft and comfortable mattress. She lifted the corner of the bedding to find pillow-top padding underneath. She couldn’t believe her luck.