Short Stories

Story Series: Being with Georgette #7

“Interior With Ida in a White Chair”, 1900, by Vilhelm_Hammershøi

Being with Georgette #7

The letter sat on the kitchen counter for three days before Georgette opened it.

When I deboned the chicken, the letter was there. No return address.

When I trussed the chicken roll, the letter was there. Georgette’s name, with the last name from her first marriage, was scribbled in a sloppy hand; the rest of our address was precise enough.

But when I pulled the roasting pan with the ballotine and vegetables from the oven, the letter was not there.

Georgette had come in while I was cutting the vegetables and asked if I needed any help. I hadn’t. She had wrapped her arms around me and kissed the back of my neck as I sliced the carrots. She laid her head on my back and held it there for a moment, and then she must have taken the letter with her when she left the kitchen.

***

Georgette was not in the house. I had checked every room. I had checked the basement.

I put on my garden shoes and rain jacket and went out into the gloom of the rainy twilight.

The light was on in the potting shed at the bottom of the garden along the creek that forms the southern boundary of our property.

I never know where to step in her garden, especially in early spring before anything has sprouted. I don’t have a green thumb of any kind nor any awareness of what a mound or trench represents. They all look like paths to me.

I followed what looked like Georgette’s freshest set of footprints down to the potting shed.

***

The clear acrylic panel in the door showed Georgette sitting in the old wooden chair with her back to the door.

The back of her neck was bare. I wanted to kiss it.

I tapped on the window and said, “Dinner is ready.”

Georgette turned her head a quarter turn and nodded once. Then she resumed reading her letter.

***

I had finished eating and was doing the dishes when Georgette returned to the house.

“It smells so good in here,” she said.

“Your plate is in the oven.”

Georgette wrapped her arms around me and kissed the back of my neck as I scrubbed the roasting pan. She laid her head on my back and held it there for a moment.

Her hands bore the acrid smell of charred paper.

***

The next morning, on my walk around the property and along the creek, I found the remains of the potting shed still smoldering. The acrylic window was partially melted and entirely white, as white as a piece of paper waiting to bear a message of some import, or perhaps to record the recipe for Chicken Ballotine.

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Story Series: Being with Georgette #6

Being with Georgette #6

Georgette stood on the small bridge over the outlet of the lake. The fall wind rippled the water’s surface. It fluttered her skirt and wisped her long brown hair. She pulled my red and black checked flannel shirt tighter around her shoulders and leaned forward against the railing as I approached.

The wind at my back brought me closer to her with each stroke of the paddle.

Georgette smiled a smile full of teeth. She glowed like a reluctant angel unable to resist some unexpected charm.

I’ve been working on such spells since she returned to me this time, although her spells remain stronger.

***

Georgette helped me pull the canoe up on the sandy beach just down from the bridge.

As I stoked the fire, Georgette said, “This shirt is permeated with smoke.”

I said, “It’s part of the standard-issue uniform they give you when you move up here.”

“Maybe I’ll just keep this one.”

“It looks good on you.”

She poked at the fire with a stick and said, “Did you catch any fish?”

“No.”

“Did you try?”

“Only enough to remember being here with my grandpa.”

***

And like that, Georgette was going away from me again.

The canoe wobbled as she shifted her weight to turn around and smile at me. She grabbed the gunwale until her world steadied.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, and she blew me a kiss.

Georgette fumbled with the paddle at first but soon found a smooth rhythm, and she set off across the now entirely placid lake.

You couldn’t tell the difference between the jagged, abrupt mountains and their reflections in the mirrored water except where Georgette’s wake revealed the substance of their dreams.

***

Beauty takes many forms and is often in the eye of the beholder. But absolute beauty also exists, and this is exhibit A.

As I tended the fire, it took all the magic I could conjure–and I had to borrow some of hers–to hold that world together until Georgette returned with her smile.

 

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Story Series: Being with Georgette #5

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“Sunflowers” 1888, by Vincent van Gogh

Being with Georgette #5

The tempest had passed, and Georgette had finally gone outside to air her grievances to her sunflowers. She always says they listen better than I do.

The rain had not yet stopped, but it had slackened to a drizzle.

I hesitated before entering her studio, but someone had to face it sooner or later, so I went in.

Canvases were torn and strewn about the room. Paint brushes were broken into two and sometimes three pieces. Paint oozed from crushed tubes.

One painting remained intact. On the easel was my favorite so far, the one with the dog under the tree by the lake.

A palette with fresh globs of paint remained untouched on the table by the easel.

The rest of the room was in shambles.

***

You need to make her clean it herself. You need to hold her accountable for her actions.

But she is not a child. She is who she always has been, and you’ve always accepted every part of who she is. You believe in grace and mercy and compassion.

***

I began cleaning the room.

I started by scooping what paint I could into small plastic containers. I lined them up neatly and evenly on the table next to the palette, which I then cleaned so it would be ready for the next session.

I stacked up the broken frames and stretchers, and I rolled up the torn canvases. Georgette could decide what to do with them tomorrow.

***

When the studio was functional once more, I went to the kitchen to start dinner, but I stopped when I looked out the window and saw Georgette tending her flowers in her glistening rain jacket.

By now even the drizzle had stopped.

I went outside.

***

“I cleaned it all up,” I said.

Georgette froze. Then she turned and looked at my wet tennis shoes. I was sure she would tell me I should be wearing my garden shoes outside in the wet. She always does.

“You frightened me,” she said.

“I thought you would have heard the door slam.”

“No, I mean before.”

“I don’t handle those situations very well,” I said.

“You never have.”

“I’m sorry.”

Georgette looked at her sunflowers for reassurance. They had grown to her shoulders.

She said, “What about the one with the dog under the tree by the lake?”

“It survived.”

She said, “It’s my favorite.”

I nodded. I said, “I’m hungry. I’ll go make dinner.”

Georgette said, “You won’t forget?”

“Why would I forget? I’ll go in right now and get started.”

Georgette looked at me funny.

“I promise,” I said.

“I’ll be in shortly,” she said.

***

Just before I reached the back steps, a break in the clouds let the sunshine fall on my face. The joy of small comforts.

I closed my eyes and looked up and smiled back at the sun.

I could have stood there for hours, but I had work to do.

***

I took off my damp shoes and put on my slippers.

From the hallway, my eyes fell on the painting of the dog under the tree by the lake, and the leaves of the tree needed a little more green.

I entered my studio and found she had already cleaned it for me. She must have done it while I was outside blowing off steam. I decided to accept it as a gesture of her remorse.

Small plastic containers of spilled paint sat neatly and evenly next to the clean palette on the table beside the easel.

She always had a good heart. Just requires a little patience now and then.

I found a broken but functional paint brush and set about fixing the green in the foliage of the tree.

***

The back door slammed and I could hear Georgette in the mud room noisily shuffling off her rain jacket and garden shoes.

I hoped she would like the changes to the painting, but I didn’t want her to see it until I was finished.

When I could feel her standing in the doorway looking at my back–trying to look at the painting–I didn’t turn around. It’s a little game we always play.

Finally, she gave in and said, “I’ll make dinner.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m hungry.”

Then I quickly turned around and said, “Georgette.”

She looked at my feet and I was suddenly aware that I was wearing my garden shoes and not my slippers. I was sure she would tell me I should not be wearing my garden shoes in the house. She always does.

Georgette said, “What?”

I said, “I forgive you.”

***

At moments like these, I just can’t describe to you the kinds of looks Georgette can give me. A photo would never do justice to the array of emotions that flit and surge and rage across her face one after the other and all at once. If only I could paint quickly enough and with enough skill, you could see for yourself what a magical being has captured my heart.

 

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Story Series: Being with Georgette #4

banquet

“The Banquet”, by Rene Magritte

Being with Georgette #4

And on other days, Georgette sits in the chair opposite the west window and watches the sun set.

I sit at my desk and watch Georgette.

Her face remains impassive, but her eyes betray her moods: now serene, now pensive, now contemplative, now vacuous.

I draw a breath to speak, but Georgette cuts me off.

“Don’t complicate things,” she says.

I let the remark pass in silence, and I return to my writing.

***

Sunset turns to dusk turns to twilight, and the room is too dim for writing.

I won’t turn on my lamp until she leaves the room.

The yellow, pink, orange, and red shades of sunset melt behind the western hills.

Georgette is transfixed.

I’ve also learned to let her choose when to close the curtains.

***

Darkness has fallen. My chair creaks.

The glow of a street light casts a pall across the furniture, the picture frames, and the tapestries–all rigid with breathless patience. Georgette wears the bluish cheeks and forehead of a newborn.

***

She rises.

Georgette rises and crosses the room.

She crosses the room and closes the curtains.

Georgette closes the curtains and approaches my desk.

She approaches my desk and turns on my lamp.

Georgette turns on my lamp and disappears into the darkness of the hallway, but I happen to know she will rise again at dawn.

 

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Story Series: Being with Georgette #3

apple_tree

“Flowering Apple Trees At Eragny”, 1895, by Camille Pissarro.

Being with Georgette #3

Georgette said, “This is the apple tree I fell out of when I was a child.”

I said, “It looks smaller than it did back then.”

She said, “We’ve grown. It’s been pruned.”

“Where is the large stone you fell on?”

“My father put it in the garden, but later you carried it down to the bridge and dropped it in the river.”

“I don’t remember doing that.”

Georgette said, “It was when you weren’t well.”

I said, “Oh.”

***

Georgette moved from the apple tree to the swing hanging under the long arm of the oak tree.

I said, “Don’t sit in it, the rope is as old as we are.”

Georgette sat in it. She began to swing.

She said, “Come join me.”

I said, “I weigh four times what I did the last time I sat in it.”

Georgette slowed the swing and made room for me on the double-sized board.

***

The rope had broken and we lay in a tangle in the shade of the oak tree. The grass against my face smelled of summer.

Georgette laughed.

I said, “We could have hurt your other leg.”

Georgette stood, brushed herself off, and walked across the yard to the picnic table.

I studied her limp, but it was no worse than usual, no worse than it had been since she recovered from her fall from the apple tree long ago.

***

Georgette said, “Why are you looking at me like that. Are you getting ideas?”

I said, “I’m lusting after your potato salad.”

“The chicken is still cold.”

“That’s the way I like it.”

I grabbed the frayed rope still dangling from the branch above and pulled myself up, half-expecting the limb to break off and brain me.

Georgette laughed again as I hadn’t heard her laugh in years.

She said, “Come eat.”

I went and ate, and I ate with the appetite of a growing boy.

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Story Series: Being with Georgette #2

The Young  Shepherdess

“The Young Shepherdess”, 1885, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Being with Georgette #2

Georgette said, “What’s this ribbon for?”

I said, “I once took seventh place in a sheep-judging contest.”

“Sheep-judging?”

“I was just along for the ride.”

“They gave ribbons for seventh place?”

“They gave ribbons down to thirteenth.”

“How many people were there?”

“Much more than thirteen.”

“How did you know so much about sheep?”

“I listened to what the grown-ups said to look for, and I looked for it. I didn’t know as much as six other kids, though.”

***

Georgette picked up my plate and took it to the kitchen.

When she returned she said, “You should smoke a leg of lamb more often.”

I said, “Once a year for your birthday is enough.”

“Today’s not my birthday.”

“I know.”

***

As she turned off the light, Georgette said, “You were much better at judging the quality of girls.”

“I didn’t need the grown-ups to tell me what to look for in you.”

“I was much younger then.”

“So was I.”

“Would you still make the same choice?”

“It was never a choice.”

***

Georgette started counting sheep and I fell asleep before she reached thirteen.

 

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