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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

THE LOVE PAINTER
by Larry Hamilton

 

On cold nights Winfred the writer often kept a teapot on his table in the Old Tavern - the only name I guess the rambling old three-story building ever had, even when it was new more than a century ago. The teapot was covered with a handmade cozy a special friend gave to him years ago. She admired him and his writing. He was known for his passion for trying to write words so alive they could slither off the pages when they wanted. She sadly understood that he had too much yet to do before he could wrestle more control of his life away from his so demanding mistress. In the rare moments when he was not entwined in the wanton, demanding, jealous limbs of his personal muse, Winfred missed the woman who made the cozy and loved her even more because she understood and forgave.
            Some might say he just had major mood swings. He might say it had to do with competing muses. A few years back a well-intentioned shrink suggested Winfred might have bipolar Disorder and started him on a carefully controlled medication regimen. It didn’t work out well. Winfred didn’t write anything for weeks and everyone of us who knew him rather well could tell he was sad and unhappy. He carried an aura with him of misery, pure misery. It tended to affect other people, too. Even people who understood what he was going through started to avoid him.
            A couple of local people who were Tavern regulars and who also knew the shrink persuaded him to visit the Tavern to meet with others who knew Winfred and how he worked. The Doctor understood after a while. Writers are sort of like that. Many are sort of manic when they’re writing. When they’re not writing they are sort of depressed or thinking about it so intensely, they may seem depressed.
            With the medication purged, Winfred resumed his habit of writing late at his special table where he started using a special kind of tea he had received recently. The leaves were grown somewhere in the far East - perhaps Burma.  He said they were another gift from the woman who made the cozy. When someone asked if it was different, he said, “I don’t know if it will be different for you, but you can try it and see. It gives me modest powers that I don’t otherwise seem to have.”
            With his habitual gentle smile in place, he said, “I don’t know if it’s the tea or not, but something is directing me to write a story that I don’t have much control over. I don’t know if
I’m conjuring a story out of the teapot, or the tea is conjuring me to get the story out. It may seem a little strange.”
            When he was writing, it sometimes looked like it was coming out in a foreign tongue - maybe it was just gibberish and he was hallucinating the whole thing. Maybe not. He revealed to some of us late one night what it was like to be possessed by the tea and the tale when he offered to tell some of the story.
 Trying not to seem too eager, eight of us gathered near the corner fireplace where we settled in enjoying the fire’s warmth and occasional crackle. He rarely read like this. But it was always a privilege because he pulled you in in and took you far away to a place far different than where you had expected you might end.
            “There was a man of mysterious origins born in a far land who had been given a special talent to draw and paint. Every drawing and painting he did focused on love in some respect. The story of the Love Painter traveled across the land and among the people in the tale like whispers on a summer breeze.” When Winfred read from his scribbled pages, his listeners could see the colors on the canvas and feel the tension among the characters watching the painter. “Some of the characters had come merely to mock. But the crowd who slowly gathered to watch quickly stifled them with their disapproval. And, as the mockers saw the colors and shapes emerge, they, too, soon were absorbed in the transformation. The scenes in the pictures varied from place to place as he traveled but there was something almost biblical about all of his simple paintings.
            Monsieur Blanc, the only name anyone ever knew him by, always painted looking at a local scene in the village square, or in some nearby area thick with wild flowers and spring time greenery. No matter where he painted, a crowd soon gathered. They stood or sat quietly behind him. Part of the magic he wielded over them was their inclusion in the painting. Although he seldom looked back at the crowd, they somehow emerged in the painting:  cobblers, carpenters, farmers and shepherds, bakers, mothers, shopkeepers and others. The villagers in the crowd eventually could see themselves in the paintings. They were part of the dynamic in the picture with their postures and expressions displaying their attitudes, defining their own transformation. In one village the crowd surrounded a scene of terrible anguish taking shape on a canvas seven feet in height and a little wider in width. A pack of wolves in deep winter surrounded a tinsmith traveling with his two daughters. Their donkey already had fallen victim to the starving wolves. Now, the pack leader and his mate stood between the father who was holding one daughter in both arms and the other daughter who had fallen.  The father’s dilemma was plain: flee with one daughter to safety, or try to save both daughters and risk losing all. His love for his daughters and his pain at the dilemma and the sense of his own fear grew in the gut of each of the observers with every brush stroke of the painter.
            As the painter’s brush flew, the wolves circled lower to the ground readying to leap and rip open vulnerable flesh. The father’s courage inspired the crowd. As the anguish among the crowd of observers grew, so did it grow in the painting, but no one noticed these magical brush strokes. Their anguish grew unabated for the fate of the man and his daughters. Their concern transformed into a love that slowly appeared first as a fine mist in the air on the canvas. The mist slowly thickened to be understood as a protective veil that was held in place only by the collective  power of the father and the crowd in the scene - the carpenters, the cobblers, the ordinary people. At some precious moment, the crowd watching Monsieur Blanc had merged into the scene focusing their capacity for love so that they each individually were now one with each other through their mutually shared focus.
            What had happened on the canvas somehow for a moment had transpired among the crowd like the blink from a lighthouse’s rotating eye. An uncanny experience for them all, not something they immediately grasp well enough to talk about” is how Winfred described the crowd from the village when he finished it off.
And too uncanny to talk about was the sudden blinking awareness shared among his listeners as the colors from the canvas faded from our minds and we collectively wondered anguishing ourselves about the fate of the man and his daughters. Winfred’s story was so oblique - but we knew he had taken us on a long fascinating voyage.
It took awhile for it to soak in. Janice, the late night manager, served me a warm ale. She was one of the friends who had persuaded the Shrink to visit Winfred here in his writing place. She had been one of the eight listeners tonight.  “Men” she said, “are so strange. Did you understand it?”
I was still dazed at the intensity of my reaction to the story. “I’m not really sure, but it certainly captured me, heart and soul. Tell me what you heard.”

“It was about our relationship - him, us, his friends. He was saying ‘Thanks.’ That wolf was the Shrink. Love held the wolf at bay. Get it?”

 

 

About the Author:

 

Larry L. Hamilton grew up as an Army Brat, traveling from school to school, state to state, 2 tours in Germany. He then spent a few years on active duty himself in Explosive Ordnance Disposal. He earned three degrees in Government and International Studies from the University of South Carolina many years ago and spent most of his career in SC state government while also running over 50 marathons and coaching his sons’ soccer and chess teams.  Now 76, Larry and his wife are living well with Alzheimer’s on the side of a mountain in Asheville, NC. 

 

 

 

 

     
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