The painter frowned at his canvas in irritation, his brush hovering above his pallet in frustration. It hung there a moment longer, indecision writ large across his face, until finally, making up his mind, it and the pallet together were thrown down onto the work table in disgust. Scowling, he stomped his way around the easel and across the room to the pitcher of wildflowers that were busily wilting in the midday heat. Without breaking stride, he seized the small receptacle by the neck and continued his abuse of the floorboards to the corner of the room where an open window was attempting in vain to admit something resembling a breeze into the stuffy room.
The pitcher was violently upended and its sodden contents splashed onto the paving stones two stories below, narrowly avoiding a passing nurse pushing her charge before her in an expensive pram. The startled nurse turned toward the source of the missile and was just in time to see the window in question slam shut with a force that caused the expensive glass to rattle dangerously. The nurse shook her fist at the abused aperture and shouted a few words rather unfit for the ears of the child in her care. Then, shaking her head and muttering angrily under her breath, she turned back to the pram, leaving the offensive scene behind her. The glass still shivering in its frame, the artist turned abruptly to the room’s opposite corner where a bemused chuckle could be heard, casually leaning against the door frame.
“Thinks it’s funny, do you?” snapped the artist accusingly, glowering at his closest friend. Chuckles cocked an eyebrow, smiling at his friend’s frustration. “I’d say it's fairly amusing, yes,” he replied, shoving himself away from the door frame and reaching the center of the room in three lanky strides, where he settled himself on the edge of the table that had until quite recently housed the vase and its bedraggled contents.
The artist, who was called Francois, sighed, his shoulders drooping. His anger having dissipated, he replaced the vase on the table and sank heavily into his chair behind the easel, staring dejectedly at yet another half-finished masterpiece. “How far did you get this time?” inquired the friend, Jean-Paul, as he lazily folded both arms and legs.
“Far enough,” said Francois, as he began to aggressively clean his brushes. “Far enough to have essentially ruined the canvas, I’ll never be able to scrape it entirely clean. All it’s good for is testing colors and perhaps some dark, gothic scene, and Lord knows I’ve enough of those already.” Francois flicked the last of the water from his brushes and eyed the now ruined canvas. “I can’t keep doing this,” he continued. “The expense alone will be catching up with me soon. My lessons are enough to cover the rent, but with precious little left over after words. I know such is the lot of the starving, suffering artist. Wouldn’t it be nice though, to do more than simply scrape out a living? To actually be able to live once in a while?”
Jean-Paul gave his friend a bemused look, “Have you ever considered, I don’t know, not painting flowers?” he suggested. “People, for example, do tend to be a bit sturdier. Not to mention, they usually pay more too.” Francois sniffed delicately and turned his face away from Jean-Paul, as though he found his very presence distasteful.
“Such may be the case,” he answered carefully, “but it is also the case that people are odious and therefore not much use to me artistically.”
Jean-Paul laughed aloud at this. Francois turned his eyes heavenward, as though praying for patience, and prepared to pack away his supplies. He found it doubtful that he would be needing them again that day. Jean-Paul quieted himself quickly. “Odious they may be, but from what I can tell,” He paused here to glance around the sparse sitting room with its cheap wallpaper and spindly furniture, “what is useful to you and what is necessary are two different things. You need money, my friend.” Here he was interrupted by Francois.
“Don’t you think I know that?” he snapped angrily. Having finished his task, he drew himself up to his full height and glared rather defiantly up at Jean-Paul. The dramatic impact of this gesture was somewhat lessened by the fact that our errant artist was several inches shorter than his lanky companion. This, in effect left Francois staring up the well-groomed, aquiline nose of Jean Paul.
Far from being offended by Francois’ rudeness, Jean-Paul simply continued to smile in his aggravating way and removed an invisible piece of lint from his immaculate jacket sleeve. “What you know,” he began carefully, “and what you want appear to be at odds with each other. If you could swallow your pride for just a few weeks you could surely earn a commission that would pay your rent for no short amount of time. I thought the portrait of the guild-master’s wife turned out quite well, but if you enjoy subsisting on porridge and cabbage, by all means, don’t let me get in the way”
Francois had drooped visibly by this point, he never could stay angry for long. “The guild-master’s wife looked lovely in her portrait, it’s true. This is largely because I painted a lie. The woman is plain and we both know it. But for a bit of gold I was convinced to sacrifice my personal integrity. Flowers are beautiful in their own right, I’ve no need to embellish their appearance, and even if their was a need, they would never tempt me to betray my morals. People lie. They are odious and dishonest. Flowers though, are pure and ask only for truth.” He sighed, looking wistful, a longing for innocence.
Jean-Paul had been fighting to maintain his composure throughout Francois’ dramatics, but this last proved to much for him. With a world class eye-roll he came fully to his feet and said “come, I can’t do anything with you when you’re in this kind of mood, we’re going out.”
“Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?”
“Not really, I’ve the feeling that I’ve heard it all before. Now, where would you like to go? The theater? The river” his hand was already on the door knob.
“The botanical gardens.” Jean-Paul groaned in exasperation. “The gardens,” Francois repeated stubbornly. Knowing his was a lost cause, Jean-Paul relented.
“Fine, the gardens are on the way to the theater. We can pop in for a quick look ‘round and still catch the evening performance of ‘A Soft Science.’” Francois wasn’t sure whether to smirk or to scowl. He was still undecided when he snatched his hat off its peg near the door and followed Jean-Paul’s coat tails as they whisked down the stairs and out of sight.
Down at street level, the heart beat of the city could be clearly felt, and Francois found himself smiling despite his earlier bad temper. The day was a fair one, warm, but with a certain crispness to it that served as a warning for the coming change in season. Francois frowned as this thought struck him. The soon arriving frost would kill all of the wildflowers until the spring thaw. He shook himself and pushed the thought from his mind, he would have plenty of time in the future to dwell on that particular nugget of unpleasantness.
Jean-Paul wouldn’t risk a smile when Francois was in one of his moods. Jean-Paul had an uncanny knack for choosing the correct prescription for his friend’s woes. But our recalcitrant artist would be damned if he would admit it. And so they walked in companionable silence, taking a shortcut through the park and over the river to arrive at last at the botanical gardens, the pride and joy of her majesty the queen.
Francois stared for a moment at the bright, reflective surface of the largest hot house in the country. His face held an expression bordering on reverence and Jean-Paul waited patiently for the moment to pass, becoming suddenly very interested in the pattern tooled into the leather of his shoe. Eventually though, his patience wore thin and he cleared his throat loudly, they did have a show to catch after all. Francois started visibly and turned to his friend looking slightly sheepish. “Shall we go in then?” Jean-Paul only nodded and followed Francois through the door held open for him.
© Max, 2018. All rights reserved.