SEEING THE LIGHT
Eunice C English
The clever lighting of the Harley Gallery glowed softly as Carole bent closer to a huge ceramic pinecone. Not something she would want in her living room, but on closer inspection she was impressed by the amount of work that had gone into recreating something that was lying in its thousands only feet outside the door on the estate. She knew this was what the artist intended, for she had studied the brochure.
She was lost in deciphering the different colours that had gone into the glaze, for she had tried ceramics and found it didn’t ‘ding her bell’. However, she appreciated those who had the patience and skill to make something that people could collect and love for generations, breakages permitting.
Carole, straightened, slowly and carefully as you do when over fifty, and as her eye level rose, caught in her vision between the stands, was a pair of well-polished brown brogues, leading to well-pressed fawn trousers under a gabardine raincoat reminiscent of Dick Tracy, Ace Detective.
Moving up, the jersey was fine wool, but a little more modern in style, while the shirt was blue chambray with an open collar. The collar was a little rumpled. This man obviously was no slave to fashion. His throat was tanned, and his chin was firm, with a hint of a dimple. The stuff of romance novels.
Straightening fully, Carole was startled to meet laughing blue eyes, observing her in turn. She coloured with embarrassment, but a voice in the back of her mind said, ‘he’s familiar’. She gave him a half-smile, and turned away to the next exhibit.
The man said nothing, and she moved on around the gallery. The room that had been a proper ambient temperature for artworks seemed suddenly very hot. Carole was dressed for winter in layers of light wool three-quarter coat over an angora sweater, smart slacks and high-heeled winter boots (though she was already regretting these). Her blonde hair was smartly cut, though last time she lived in the area it had been a long honey-coloured wild mane. Of course that was forty years ago, and a lot of water had filled the local canal since then.
She was wearing a necklace, formed after hours of sorting gloriously coloured and patterned glass beads. She had found her own form of artistic expression in these necklaces, and some of them glowed in their own glass display case at the far end of the gallery. TShe had just brought in another consignment.
Her thoughts drifted back to her school days at Retford, many years ago now, before she met and married John and they emigrated to Australia. The marriage hadn’t survived the trials of starting a new life with a young family in a strange land.
She had married young, though 21 had seemed very grown-up at the time. After her divorce Carole started to make a new life, and this included art classes that led to making new and firm friends.
Carole’s thoughts drifted on as she moved along the exhibits, but her thoughts kept pulling back to school, and going to school on the top deck of the 85 bus, the windows steamed up as the rain pelted down outside.
‘Ding!’ a light went on in her head, and she whirled around. The man was still there, still smiling.
‘Derek Faulds’, she said, ‘Is that really you?’ Silly thing to say, but when confronted with your high school crush looking even more handsome, the brain goes into mash mode.
‘I wondered if you would remember!’ he said in a warm voice, deeper and more resonant.
“The school bus! Carole laughed. Although the trip as the crow flew was only eight miles, the bus wandered through all the villages for 45 minutes.
‘You were often catching up on your homework’. How did you ever manage to write on a moving bus?’ he chortled.
‘What brings you here today?’ Carole asked Derek.
‘Those were my daughter’s ceramics you were inspecting so closely. I came to see how they looked under the lights. These are her best yet, and they are selling well. Her Mum would be very proud.’ Carole’s heart had dropped when he mentioned a daughter, and then a wife.
Before she could form a question, Derek added, “Sheila died three years ago, while we were living in New Zealand. I have just returned here. Sarah, my daughter has been living in London since she came to Art College. What about you? Have you been here all this time?’
‘No, I married and went to live in Australia. My parents still live here though, and my father is unwell. I have come back to live near them and help out. My family is grown up and have their own families. We Skype all the time”.
‘What about your husband?’ Derek asked bluntly.
‘Oh he is fine. He has a new wife and family. Derek’s smile widened, and the creases around his blue eyes deepened. His hair was still wavy, but grey where it had been dark. It suited him.
Derek looked at his watch, and Carole’s spirits fell. Was she going to lose him yet again? She had so loved sitting next to him on the school bus all those years ago. They had laughed and talked, and got along really well, but Sheila had somehow got in the way.
He must have read her mind for he said, ‘Well it is lunchtime, would you like to have lunch in the café next to the gallery?’ Carole beamed and nodded, too overwhelmed to say anything.
As the gallery doors slid open silently on to the courtyard beyond, they moved out together, but never felt the blast of cold air hit them.
The winter sun broke through.
(Fiction, based on a visit to the Harley Gallery at Welbeck Manor, Worksop. I have permission from the Director to refer to the gallery and its work.)