Friday, January 3, 2014

Essay on Student Participation in Curriculum Review

Essay on Departmental Curriculum Review.

Even though most professors frequently revise and update their course or experiment with new approaches to make the teaching and learning process more effective and enjoyable, systematic curriculum review of a program falls outside the expertise of nearly all university faculty. Student participation is non-existent in the processes that review content of courses and structure of programs. The only extant example, at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, provides for the presence of a single student in a committee of 41 members total. The process of review there was wide-ranging and much broader than a single discipline, and in the event did not include a student enrolled in that discipline.

Therefore, the proposal of student participation in such a committee means that the questions and processes must be considered carefully to avoid the appearance or reality of conflict of interest, to address any concerns students may have over the possibility of their suggestions affecting how they are graded by the professors, and other concerns that may arise. It should also take care to avoid duplicating the existing mechanisms of undergraduate program review, teaching evaluations for particular courses, course descriptions as approved by university Senate, including the process of calendar changes, or Senate committees on undergraduate studies or teaching and learning. It should not put the students in the position of receiving confidential material of any nature. On the positive side, it should capitalize on its advantages over other forms of seeking student input in the undergraduate programs, such as holding annual town hall meetings. Whatever statements the committee develops would ultimately require the building of consensus within the department and would have to remain advisory and subject to all the university policies, including of course the protection of academic freedom.

There are a number of options for an advisory committee with student participation on curriculum review.

1. It can propose to the department a philosophy for its teaching. The committee would develop and propose statements on beliefs, assumptions, and values to the department for its consideration. It could propose principles of teaching, such as the need for challenges and for enjoyment, for breadth, coherence and relevance in the curriculum; such as the need to encourage innovation, and for the tolerance of diversity in pedagogy, for the encouragement of pedagogical experimentation, even if there are failures; for taking care in posing no constraints to change, structural, informal, or otherwise; for the testing of what has been taught. The committee could propose values such as learning; such as ongoing change to meet educational needs and to improve learning; such as encouraging access while maintaining quality; for encouraging diversity in order to broaden understanding and learning; for encouraging partnership with the community; for developing systematic approaches to decision-making.[1] One possible model is that propose by Paulo Freire in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed:[2] the teacher should work as a collaborating ally of the student, not as a supervisor; the subject of the study must be the lives of the students or the perceptions of their own lives; the goal is not changing the student but working with the student to change external, objective reality. Or it could consider Peter Elbows’ four principles: seeing students as smart and capable; showing students the instructors are on their side; explicitly trying to help students do better in testing and grading; revealing our own position, doubts, ambivalence, and biases.[3] It could consider whether control or independence strategies should be used, defined as the use of objective, highly structured courses versus learning contracts and problem-based learning, for example.[4] It could consider such questions as whether the department should focus on knowledge or intellectual skills, on intellectual skills or abilities, competencies, attitudes, and dispositions.[5]

2. The university believes that each program should teach students to be critical thinkers, to be socially and environmentally aware, and should develop student leadership. The faculty of social sciences encourages active pedagogies wherever possible: these include case-based learning, classroom simulations, community-based learning, practicum, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, learning through peer groups, learning communities, weekly forum, learning cells, debating controversial issues, and many others. The department committee could therefore consider such questions as whether the program should result in training for particular professions, and whether faculty members have a responsibility to encourage independent student learning. The department committee could also consider potential characteristics of a political science graduate, such as the demonstrated capacity for acquisition, application and integration of knowledge in politics; research skills, including the ability to define problems and access, retrieve and evaluate information; critical thinking and problem-solving skills; responsible behavior to self, others and society; literacy skills; interpersonal and communications skills; teamwork, and personal and group leadership skills; creativity; and the ability and desire for continuous learning. It could also considerable whether skills ought to be transferable, and what part those skills ought to have in the curriculum.

3. The department committee could also investigate whether the department enrolment has any characteristics, such as the participation of Aboriginal students, of first-generation immigrants, of speakers of English as a second language (as is the case for several faculty members), of proportion of men and women, of mature students, of politically active students, and any other characteristics. It could also consider the motivation of students, of whether they do or should consider themselves product for the job market, of whether it would be appropriate for the department to train good citizens, and what that would mean.

4. The department committee could explore what principles should guide student evaluation: should it be the sequence of unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious incompetence?[6] Or should it use the levels of ignorance, unistructural, multistructural, relational or extended abstract?[7]

5. The committee could explore what principles should guide interactions outside of the classroom, i.e. whether the instructor should show interest in the person who is speaking and the subject under discussion; should continue to listen when the subject becomes boring; should not allow prejudice to reduce attention; should not permit enthusiasm to carry them away; should not be critical of the other person’s speech or method of delivery; should regularly summarize what is heard; should check for understanding; should not allow emotional reactions to affect understanding; should concentrate when difficult ideas are being expressed; should create the right environment for listening; should allow sufficient time for full understanding before treating; and should make a final review of understanding of facts.[8]

6. The department committee could also propose what students ought to be able to do at the close of a program, such as critically review research articles in the discipline, create and implement some form of political change, or advise the community on such changes, analyze and compare theories on various issues, assess the performance of political actors, or reason out a position on political issues. Should they be able to apply already-learned concepts to the widest range possible of information? Should they have the ability to build new concepts?

7. The department committee could achieve the above by brainstorming, by consulting students and faculty members through surveys or town hall meetings, by inviting speakers or faculty members to discuss various issues, by sponsoring open forum or debate on their proposed statements, by investigating how issues are handled in other Canadian universities, or by developing a mission statement. The committee could also adopt or identify certain good practices, such as allowing for variation, requiring consultation and consensus, that overarching university policies and practices are not contradicted; that the committee require the department to work by consensus.

All this points to the student participation being a channel for a broader consultation of students enrolled in a particular program or taking an interest in a particular discipline. The work involved would be extensive, and points to a possible need for an honorarium to be paid to such students.

Proposed Course Outline Template[9]


courses, knowledge, skills, experience


Contact information for instructor and teaching assistants, office hours, office location


introduction to subject matter and how course fits with college or departmental curriculum; why course is important to students; consideration of student characteristics


what a student will gain as a result of taking the course; knowledge, skills, and attitudes or values that you expect students to have when they leave; alignment with faculty and university goals and objectives


explain why topics are organized in a certain way


required versus recommended work; estimate of student workload; how and why topics follow each other; contribution of that structure to learner outcomes or student needs; alignment with faculty and university goals and objectives


contribution to learner outcomes; materials used; details of pedagogy, format, activities used; alignment with faculty and university goals and objectives


list assignments, term papers and exams; nature (expected length), deadline dates; describe grading procedure; alignment with learner outcomes or student needs; alignment with faculty and university goals and objectives


one text or a series of readings; other resources; alignment with learner outcomes or student needs; alignment with faculty and university goals and objectives




attendance; late work; makeup work; make-up exams; academic fraud; alignment of each with learner outcomes or student needs, with faculty and university goals and objectives


beliefs, assumptions, and values related to course and teaching; alignment with faculty and university goals and objectives

Proposed Work Schedule

Meeting 1 Consideration of how the department committee should go about its work

Meeting 2 Consideration of department principles, values in teaching

Meeting 3 Consideration of existing characteristics of students and potential characteristics of graduates

Meeting 4 Consideration of principles guiding student evaluation

Meeting 5 Consideration of principles guiding one-on-one teacher student interactions

Meeting 6 Consideration of course outline template

Some Information on Selected Active Pedagogies

Inquiry-based learning is a form of self-directed learning and follows the four basic stages defining self-directed learning. Students take more responsibility for determining what they need to learn, identifying resources and how best to learn from them, using resources and reporting their learning, and assessing their progress in learning. A comprehensive senior inquiry course will have all four of these elements. Students will take the initiative and be largely responsible for seeing they successfully complete their learning in a given area. Generally, students draft a “learning contract” and then execute it – the instructor submits a grade on completion of the contract.

Problem based learning is a pathway to better learning, helping students to learn how to learn. This method challenges students to develop the ability to think critically, analyze problems, find and use appropriate learning resources. It is a learner-centered educational method. Learners are progressively given more and more responsibility for their own education and become increasingly independent of the teacher for their education. It is based on real world problems. Learning is based on the messy, complex problems encountered in the real world as a stimulus for learning and for integrating and organizing learned information in ways that will ensure its recall and application to future problems. It is a motivating way to learn. Learners are involved in active learning, working with real problems and what they have to learn in their study is seen as important and relevant to their own lives.

Community based learning is a method which promotes student learning and development through participation in thoughtfully organized service experiences. These experiences are defined, planned, implemented, and coordinated collaboratively by students, the university, and the community. They offer students an opportunity for an application of their education in service to the community which enhances their appreciation, understanding, and respect for others. Service Learning activities may be incorporated into courses or they may be stand-alone, co- or extra-curricular projects. Principles of community-based learning include: structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service experience; articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved; allows for those with needs to define those needs; clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved; matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances; expects genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment; includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals; insures that the time commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of all involved; is committed to program participation by and with diverse populations.

Case-based learning tells the story of an interest-arousing issue. It is set in the past five years, and creates empathy with the central political actors. It includes direct quotations and primary sources. It is relevant to the reader, and should be thought-provoking and require some decision-making. It must have some generalizable value and it must serve the pedagogy of the course. It also needs to be short.

Competence-based learning breaks up the role of the instructor into devising the competencies (specifying the knowledge and skills a student must have to get credit); validating the competencies (going to the outside world to determine whether these are the competencies people really need for certain jobs, studies, or tasks); designing the instruction (figuring out what subject matter, activities, and materials should be used to help students get these competencies); early diagnostic testing (finding out whether students are suited for the instruction or need special help); teaching; late diagnostic testing; and certifying.[10]

Learning through peer groups makes it possible for students to learn from each other. Students may see instructors as assessors and are reluctant to display their ignorance by making mistakes; students having problems with a concept can be helped by someone who has just overcome that difficulty; the competitive element within a peer group may motivate students; students can work at their own pace. The role of the teacher is to organize the groups, provide tasks for them and only intervene with support when requested.[11]

Classroom Role Play Simulations are extensively established in the literature.[12] In recent years, classroom role-play simulations have been used for Cabinet and budget processes in courses on Canadian Politics at University of Toronto, for processes determining foreign policy at Dalhousie University, for determination of future Canadian policy in Afghanistan by the Senlis Council, and in single class simulations in Comparative Politics at University of Delaware. For example, . A simulation like this is extremely effective in teaching students about the domestic politics of foreign countries. The theory and practice of comparative politics are often covered by a combination of lectures delivery and long form written work – essays, examinations, etc. A simulation exercise, on the other hand, presents all the advantages of active pedagogy, as well as covering some of the basic themes typically present in upper year courses in Comparative Politics.

Formalized Socratic Thinking The formalization of the Socratic method of structured open-ended questions for supporting analysis, i.e. the worksheet system, is similar to the structured open-ended question system advocated by Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton, in " What's New With The Grid?" Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 16, No. 4, 41-46 (1979). The method itself is broadly established in the university classroom in a variety of disciplines.[13]

[1] Graham Bradley, “Learning in Effect,” Ronald Barnett, Learning to Effect (London: Open University Press, 1992), 21-38, 26.

[2] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Cotinuum, 2000).

[3] Peter Elbow, Embracing Contraries/Explorations in Learning and Teaching (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 149-150.

[4] Graham Gibbs, Problems and Course Design Strategies (Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff Development, 1995, 17.

[5] A. Doherty, J. Chenevert, R.R. Miller, J.L. Roth, L.C. Truchan, “Developing Intellectual Skills,” in J.G. Gaff and L.LL. Ratcliff, Handbook of Undergraduate Curriculum (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992), 173.

[6] The attribution of which is contested.

[7] Graham Gibbs, “Improving the Quality of Student Learning through Course Design,” Ronald Barnett, Learning to Effect (London: Open University Press, 1992), 140- 168, 151-2.

[8]Diana Tribe and A.J. Tribe, “The Law Teachers’ Dilemma,” in Ronald Barnett, Learning to Effect (London: Open University Press, 1992), 87-97, 94.

[9] With some ideas from Graham Gibbs, Independent Learning with More Students (Oxford: Oxford Staff Development Centre, 1992), 32.

[10] Peter Elbow, Embracing Contraries/Explorations in Learning and Teaching (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 103.

[11] Malcolm Frazer, “Promoting Learning,” in Ronald Barnett, Learning to Effect (London: Open University Press, 1992), 55-68, 62.

[12] Camelot, A Role Playing Simulation For Political Decision Making, James R. Woodworth, W. Robert Gump; Homewood, Ill. : Dorsey Press, 1982; Simple Simulations : A Guide To The Design And Use Of Simulation/Games In Teaching Political Science / By Charles Walcott (Washington : American Political Science Association, C1976); Scenario, Canada And The United European Community : A Simulation Exercise, Lawrence V. Gould, Jr. (Halifax, N.S. : Centre For Foreign Policy Studies, Dept. Of Political Science, Dalhousie University, 1979).

[13] See Marshall DG, "Socratic Method And The Irreducible Core Of Legal Education," Minnesota Law Review 90 (1): 1-17 Nov 2005; Carey T and Mullan R, "What Is Socratic Questioning?" Psychotherapy 41 (3): 217-226 Fall 2004; Morrell K, "Socratic Dialogue As A Tool For Teaching Business Ethics," Journal Of Business Ethics 53 (4): 383-392 Sep 2004; Malacinski Gm, "Student-Oriented Learning: An Inquiry-Based Developmental Biology Lecture Course," International Journal Of Developmental Biology 47 (2-3): 135-140 Sp. Iss. Si 2003; Parkinson Mg, Ekachai D, "The Socratic Method In The Introductory PR Course: An Alternative Pedagogy,” Public Relations Review 28 (2): 167-174 Jun 2002; Holt C, "Teaching Economics With Classroom Experiments: A Symposium," Southern Economic Journal 65 (3): 603-610 Jan 1999; Siebert U, "Teaching Without Preaching - Leonard Nelson's Neo-Socratic Method," Zeitschrift Fur Padagogik 44 (3): 432-435 May-Jun 1998; Holme Ta, "Using The Socratic Method In Large Lecture Course - Increasing Student Interest And Involvement By Forming Instantaneous Groups," Journal Of Chemical Education 69 (12): 974-977 Dec 1992; Ponge D., "The Socratic Method Produces Enlightened Employees," Quality Progress 25 (1): 104-104 Jan 1992; Guliuzza F, "In-Class Debating In Public-Law Classes As A Complement To The Socratic Method," Political Science & Politics 24 (4): 703-705 Dec 1991.

Follow-up to Detailed Analysis of Edward Snowden in the Context of Human Rights I recently published an article, entitled to be found at, regarding what what human rights advocates can do for people like Edward Snowden, in the International Journal Of Human Rights. This article argues in favour of lobbying governments to change laws regarding such individuals, in the US and elsewhere. It also suggests that such groups be judicious in their choice of action, and use crowd-sourcing for financial help. In order to make that argument, this article examines whether existing whistleblower protections apply to people such as Snowden, and what the significance is of Snowden's revelations. The article was premised on whether Snowden qualified as a whistleblower, and was behaving as an underdog. There was evidence in support of his using underdog strategy, but I concluded that he did not qualify legally as a whistleblower. Events since the writing of the article has borne out these conclusions. On the question of whether Snowden is using underdog strategy: Snowden had the presence of mind to retain files that have been released piecemeal since, and led to tensions among allied nations about spying, the US, Brazil and Germany being the most prominent. My article had concluded on early evidence that Snowden was seeking to create a bargaining chip. These developments, and his plain offer to Brazil of more files in exchange for asylum, confirm it. Happily for him, he retains his sense of accomplishment. “For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he told the Washington Post ( Although it is too early to tell, and it may be impossible to confirm, it is just possible that the ongoing leaks by Snowden are calculated to create pressure on the US by allies concerned about future revelations. The discussion of Snowden's possible amnesty, the comments of Buller, the outrage of Merkel and Rousseff all point in this direction, but any conclusions are premature. On the significance of his actions, despite not being a whistleblower: The furore over his actions continue to exercize various secret services, including the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham Buller ( This can also be concluded from the US's desire to have Snowden returned, as well as the government's efforts on providing media with stories favorable to its position ( The US government also rejected any possibility of an amnesty for Snowden. Eight firms, Yahoo, AOL, Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Apple, Microsoft and Twitter, haves formed an alliance asking for reform of surveillance laws ( The companies believe that it is time for the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information. The US President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies issued a number of recommendations ( The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution aimed at protecting the right to privacy of internet users ( The resolution was introduced by Brazil and Germany after allegations that the US had been eavesdropping on foreign leaders, including Brazil's Dilma Rousseff and Germany's Angela Merkel. The resolution, which can be read at was co-sponsored by 55 countries, is not binding but carries political and moral weight. A US Federal District judge declared the NSA's surveillance unconstitutional (, giving rise to several major editorials. There were calls for a shift in capitalism in the Financial Times,; calls on the NSA to justify its actions better in the Washington Post,; empahsizing the end of the 34-year old precedent, known as the mosaic theory, in surveillance in the US, in the Wall Street Journal,; noting the shake-up in Washington as a result of the judgment in the New York Times,; ) The recommendations for human rights advocates are still valid in the light of this latest information.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Muse, A Novel

The Muse

By Laure Paquette

August 3, 2012

What’s wrong, hon?” said Nino.

It was December 29, 2010, and Lucette has just leapt naked out of bed. Except Lucette didn’t answer Nino directly.

I don’t like this. What is this? Get away from me,” thought Lucette over and over again.

Hon, I’m getting worried. What’s wrong?” said Nino.

Nino was always the same, always concerned for her, always looking for ways to make her happy, always wanting to look after her. That was probably what was behind his questions now. But Lucette was so busy trying to figure out what was going on inside her own head that she still didn’t answer.

What Lucette felt was a third presence, right there in the bedroom, with the two of them. It was a presence like she had felt Anna’s own presence after she died. Anna was Lucette’s aunt – they had been very close, Lucette had been very attached to her – but this presence was the same and yet different. Lucette now felt the presence of a person, that much was familiar, but she didn’t know that person. And Lucette was not liking it, not one little bit.

“Lucette, what’s going on?” said Nino, this time more urgently.

This time, Lucette finally answered him.

It’s weird. You know how I felt my aunt’s presence after she died?” Anna had died about a year and a half ago, and Lucette had even talked to her, not out loud, but inside her head. Lucette did a lot of things like that. She meditated every day, and she talked to Nino about her meditations, and she often they were like short movies inside her head.

With you the star of course!” Nino had said.

Lucette had laughed. It was just how she lived her inner life, all in pictures, without too many words. Lucette had been like this ever since she could remember, and she had told Nino about it very early in their relationship.

“Is that why you jumped out of bed like that?” said Nino.

Yes, yes, Nino, that’s why, it’s weird and I don’t like it,” said Lucette. “Lord, get this thing away from me, I don’t know who it is. I don’t know what this is. Am I going crazy?”

So it was nothing I did?” said Nino.

No, no, tesorro mio, everything you did is fine. It’s just this bizarre feeling I have….” Said Lucette.

The presence faded from the room, or so Lucette thought, uncertain, and eventually Lucette climbed back into bed, brought the duvet up to her shoulders – she kept the house cool in winter – and laid down her head on the pillow, breathing out slowly.

It was just so strange, suddenly feeling somebody here,” said Lucette.

Nino put the light back out and settled down to sleep. Lucette, however lay awake for some time, trying to fathom what this presence was and how she felt about it. She did not manage to settle everything in her own mind, but she did manage to put up a barrier between herself and that…presence, so that she could feel safe and protected. That much she managed, and afterwards she couldn’t tell exactly the moment when she fell asleep.

Later, when she looked back on the whole thing, Lucette had to admit that Richard had known how to approach her without scaring her unnecessarily. It was inherently frightening to sense the presence of an unknown being, and so for the first few days, Lucette would feel that presence, but she refused to have anything to do with it, and so it was just that, a presence, without a face, without a body, and without a voice. At length, Lucette got used to the idea of it being there, and didn’t think about it every moment.

But the next step was for him to let himself be seen – and this handsome, fine-featured face with bright blue eyes appeared. First, it was behind a mist, but it hung like a moon in her thoughts just the same. It took a while for Lucette to place that face, but eventually she remembered. He had been in that ‘70s movie, Logan’s Run, that Nino had made her watch. He was the second lead. She had watched it with Nino one Saturday night – Nino loved old movies, and he was a Trekkie to boot – and she remembered the actor because he looked a little like a boy in school she had once had a crush on.

So slowly Lucette got used to his face floating before her mind’s eye. Eventually, she heard him say her name, very softly, and pronounced correctly too, which was unusual. Lucette was a French name, and it wasn’t that common. She heard the voice call her name over and over again. It would make Lucette tense up, at first, but then, slowly, she got used to it as well. It helped that she could shut it out by concentrating on something else. But without noticing it too much, Lucette relaxed, and then the next step in her learning curve came up.

Years before, she had seen a documentary on the English children who had been evacuated during World War II, and she remembered vividly a woman telling how she had survived for three days by clinging to an overturned lifeboat, after the ship was torpedoed. When she was found, the woman remembered, her tongue was so swollen from lack of water that she couldn’t speak. But the sailor who tried to take her in his arms saw that her hands still convulsively gripped the rigging.

You can let go,” said the sailor. ”You’re safe now.”

That is what Lucette started hearing in her own head: a voice saying to her, over and over again:

Let go.”

When Lucette heard that, she was also hearing that she was safe now. But those were the words which haunted her waking hours:

Let go.”

The voice kept repeating this softly, not in a way that drove her crazy, but gently, in a way that comforted Lucette.

Let go, let go.”

And it was Lucette who plucked from memory the other words:

I’m safe now, I’m safe now, I’m safe now.”

It took months for Lucette to realize that he was talking about her grief. Not about her grief for her aunt Anna, Lucette could live with that. It was the grief for David, her little David, her little boy. That grief she could scarcely bear to think about, even now.

As much as Lucette got used to that voice, she still thought she needed to talk this over with someone. She needed someone sane and practical, especially, after the voice introduced itself early one morning.

I am Richard Jordan,” said Richard.

Who?” said Lucette.

I am Richard Jordan, you know, the actor from Logan’s Run,” said Richard.

That movie was with Michael York,” said Lucette.

Yes, but I was in it too, I played that freak of nature called Francis Six,” said Richard.

Yes, yes, I’ve seen it,” said Lucette.

Yes, Lucette thought she needed to talk the over, someone sane and practical, but who still wouldn’t think she was crazy. That meant her best friend, Deb, and it worked out well because Deb was coming over anyway. So Lucette made breakfast and got dressed and put on the kettle as she waited for Deb. Deb arrived just as Lucette was finishing up steeping the tea. Lucette was a fussy tea-drinker, and she always timed her steeps.

How’s my blond Amazon this morning?” said Lucette.

Lucette stood on her toes to kiss her on the cheek. Deb was a good four inches taller than five-foot-seven Lucette.

I’m good,” said Deb, “how about you?”

Boy, do I have a story to tell you,” said Lucette.

Can I get my coat off first?” said Deb.

Lucette’s stories were always urgent.

Yeah, yeah, get your coat off,” said Lucette. “Do you want tea?”

Yes, please,” said Deb. “I can tell it’s that good, wood-smoked stuff.”

It is, your favourite,” said Lucette.

Lucette had steeped a fully smoked summer tea, Lapsong Souchong, and it was so strongly smoked that she had to keep it in its own airtight container. Lucette poured, and then settled down in front of her own cup of tea.

Do you remember two years ago, how I disturbed the spirit of an actor because I was having a fantasy about him?” said Lucette

Yeah, yeah, I remember,” said Deb.

This had been one of Lucette’s weirder moments.

Well, I thought, if I had a little fantasy like that about a dead actor, I’d be safe,” said Lucette.

Deb nodded.

Wrong!” said Lucette.

What are you saying?” said Deb.

I’m saying that I inadvertently disturbed the spirit of a dead actor,” said Lucette.

Again?” said Deb.

Lucette didn’t mention Richard by name. In fact, it would be months before Lucette could bring herself to tell anyone else Richard’s name.

What was this business in California again?” said Deb.

You remember, I went out to the Guggenheim on a fellowship, two years ago?” said Lucette.

Yes, it’s coming back to me now,” said Deb.

Well, I took a hotel by the ocean so that I could walk on the beach before working every day. And I didn’t have a TV at home an more, so that I didn’t even turn on the TV in the hotel room for a really long time. I mean, except for when the weather was bad,” said Lucette.

Yes, I remember you telling me all about that,” said Deb.

Well, on the last day, I couldn’t work and couldn’t paint and had walked a long time. So I went back to my room, and I turned on the TV,” said Lucette.

But you haven’t watched TV in a couple of years,” said Deb.

Exactly, that was what was so unusual about it. And there was this ridiculous Harlequin kind of movie on, A Touch of Color or something like that. The movie had started already when I turned the TV on,” said Lucette.

Right, so it was one of the actors in that movie you got a crush on?” said Deb.

Yes, Simon Baker, really handsome,” said Lucette.

I don’t think I’ve heard of him,” said Deb.

Oh, probably not, there’s so many of them,” said Lucette. “But I started to have a crush, and I had this sort of fantasy about him, you know. And it was intense, I mean I guess I use these fantasies to escape, once in a while. I hadn’t had a crush like that in a long time. So anyway…”

I remember now, it’s coming back to me,” said Deb. “It took you a long time to tell me about it because you were so embarrassed about having a crush at all.”

I never found it easy to say that I did,” said Lucette.

As if that wasn’t what Hollywood was all about, to make money off our dreams,” said Deb.

Yeah, yeah, I’m their demographic, one of the 50 million menstruating women wanting to have intercourse with him. Trust me, it felt ridiculous and childish. Anyway, all of a sudden I felt like Simon Baker’s spirit was in the room with me,” said Lucette.

Did he give you a ghost job?” said Deb.

Oh, come off it, Deb, I’m serious. It felt really weird, and I felt bad about disturbing him,” said Lucette.

You felt like you had actually disturbed him?” said Deb.

Yes. I was worried I’d disturb this unknown guy’s life. And I certainly didn’t want this to turn into The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” said Lucette.

Who?” said Deb.

A sixties TV show about a widow and a sea captain who is a ghost,” said Lucette. “I guess it was before your time.”

Deb was fifteen years younger.

I guess so,” said Deb.

So I cut myself off from the whole thing. It freaked me a bit,” said Lucette.

So you have control over this? You can say no?” said Deb.

I can say no. Sure, I can,” said Lucette.

So this is another actor?” said Deb.

Yes,” said Lucette.

You knew him as soon as he showed up?” said Deb.

Not exactly,” said Lucette, “First, I just heard his voice.”

You just heard his voice? With your ears or in your head?” said Deb.

Just in my head. But then he told me his name, and eventually I saw his face. It was then I recognized him from an old movie,” said Lucette.

An old movie?” said Deb.

Yes, Nino had one in his sci fi collection,” said Lucette.

Are you sure?” said Deb.

Well, I’m sure it’s him, because I saw some other of his movies,” said Lucette.

Lucette had watched another old picture with Nino on the DVD player a few weeks before. This one was a Cold War picture, The Hunt for Red October. Lucette had noticed him because he was good-looking, even though he was barrel-chested. The actor had a scene where he had an expression on his face that Lucette couldn’t understand. She had puzzled over it, but couldn’t make it out. Nino had laughed at her little eccentricity, and lost no sleep himself.

What have I got to worry about,” he said, “the guy’s dead!”

Wrong. Richard Jordan was so a problem.

You went out and rented several of his movies?” said Deb.

Actually, I watched some clips on Youtube, cheaper and easier,” said Lucette.

Well, who is it?” said Deb.

You wouldn’t know him either,” said Lucette.

But this time it’s for real?” said Deb.

This time, I set out to have a fantasy about this other actor, because he was so handsome, and like I said, I thought I was safe because he was dead,” said Lucette.

Brother,” said Deb. “Are you going to stick with this?”

You know what? This is too weird, even for me,” said Lucette. “I’m not at all comfortable.”

So what are you going to do about it?” said Deb.

I don’t know,” said Lucette, “I don’t know.”

Well, keep me posted,” said Deb.

They said nothing to each other for a while, but then Deb shifted a bit because a new thought had struck her.

So, how’s the painting going?” said Deb.

It’s not, as usual,” said Lucette.

Are you going to turn down that gallery show?” said Deb.

I’m going to have to,” said Lucette. “I haven’t a thing to show them.”

Not so fast,” said Richard in Lucette’s mind.

Lucette shrugged and made like she was swatting away a fly. But of course it was the voice she was swatting away. Deb’s eyes narrowed.

What did you just do?” said Deb.

Nothing, just thinking to myself,” said Lucette.

Deb didn’t believe her, but there wasn’t much she could do.

What do you want to talk about now, nail polish?” said Deb.

Lucette laughed and got Deb’s coat, because she knew that Deb had to get going when she started talking make-up.

After Deb left, Lucette went to her studio. Lucette had a studio in her home, a room on the top floor. It had sloping ceilings but the light was very good, because of the western exposure. From the windows she could see her own container garden. At first, she had grown tomatoes and onions and celery, but now she grew mostly her own herbs. She liked to look there in the summer to see her garden. In the winter, she looked at the undisturbed snow.

Lucette always felt lucky that she had a yard where there were no footsteps to disturb the winter snow. Not much fell here, compared to where she had grown up, in the snow belt outside Quebec City. Often there was snow only up to her knees, but sometimes hip-deep. In the small town where she was from, and to which she never returned now that Anna had died, it could be as deep as the main floor windowsills. One Christmas, she remembered climbing up onto the roof from a snow bank, and sliding into the street in her toboggan.

Her studio had winter white walls, and blue trim, and a hardwood floor that was now scratched and stained. She had thrown out the carpet several years before, and then had hung some shelves herself. Deb had had to come over to make them more secure, but Lucette still felt pride in having done that herself. Her oils, and acrylics, and pastels were handy on those shelves. She had two easels of different sizes always set up, and a whole blank wall where she could staple or tape her larger canvases if she wanted to. Lucette kept a work table she could move at will – it was under the windows at the moment, covered in art and architecture magazines. Her brushes she kept on a stool between the easels. She had primed canvases of various sizes stacked against a wall. Like Georgia O’Keefe before her, she called the blanks the hopefuls.

Gallery owners and critics could never believe how tidy she was – the floor was stained, and so was the work wall, but the rest was always orderly. Lucette always said she couldn’t work in a mess, but her critics wondered if she was even bohemian enough. Lucette never bothered to reply to those comments. She said she didn’t want to play the debutante artiste. If she had been successful in the past, it wasn’t just because of talent. It was also because she was disciplined. It took both, she knew, for an artist to be productive. Only once a month did Lucette let her housekeeper come in and clean off the dust and vacuum the floor, and every spring she washed the windows herself, and dried them with newspapers.

Lucette sat down on the stool in front of the easel. She hadn’t much hope. She had been blocked from painting for months now. She would pick a paintbrush out of her favourite glass jar, and then throw it back down. She would order her acrylics and her watercolours. She would leaf through her own portfolio or slides, or she would try and get newsprint out, and charcoal. She had even tried sitting in the garden the previous summer and just draw what she saw. Once, she had Nino pose for her, and had caressed him with her eyes. He was worth caressing, that handsome hunk of a man, masculine in the extreme, muscular, with a heavy beard, but with exquisite sensitivity and the best emotional judgment she had ever seen. He had agreed to pose naked a second time, but that hadn’t worked either. God, if sex didn’t get her creativity going, nothing would. And this is what Lucette now thought. Nothing worked. She had no inspiration. She might never have any inspiration ever again, that’s what Lucette was afraid even to think. She thought it was possible. She might never think of what she would like to paint, or draw, or collage, ever again.

In the old days, she had sat at the worktable or at her easel and picked up a brush and not even known what was coming next. She would choose yellow, and then orange, and then red, and then blue, and she wouldn’t know how the picture would continue, nor even how it would end. The shapes, the textures, the work in its several stages would be inside her and just pour out, she never had to thing about it. She had had spells where she didn’t work, but only because the ideas needed to mature inside her. Now, even the ideas were gone. She who had worked regularly every morning for several hours, and then spent the rest of the day getting ready to paint again the next day, and had maintained this routine for years, now just sat.

Sat and sighed and stewed. Not painting or drawing, that was like not eating for a day, it was something essential to her well-being. In the old days, when she still had to work to support herself, if the schedule was crazy and she didn’t have any studio time, she felt incomplete, unhappy. She would get up and paint instead of sleeping. Now it was the opposite. The blank paper, and the stretched, primed canvas, and the tubes of paint drying out slowly, were like so many accusations, guilty reminders of what she once had been, a thriving, productive artist who painted like she breathed.

Lucette had been stymied for longer than ever before. Well, this was the day she was going confront this head on. She decided that from now on she would sit in the studio for at least an hour a day, with brush and color ready, until something happened or the hour was up. That was it. That was what was going to happen from now on. If this could be solved by willpower, then by sheer will would Lucette jumpstart herself.

And so Lucette did what she said she would for the next several weeks. Sitting in the studio without the ability to paint or draw drove her crazy, and she was starting to hate even going in that place. But she grit her teeth, and went through the ritual of making tea and checking over the colors and reaching for a brush and holding it in her hand. It made her studio, her inner sanctum, into a boxing ring where she would think she was training, but actually was beating herself up. Somehow, she didn’t figure this was the right approach, but she couldn’t think of anything else to do.

One fine day, however, Richard the friendly ghost was back. He showed up when Lucette was in the bathroom getting ready for the day.

Get away from me, at least while I take my shower and go to the bathroom,” said Lucette.

The presence took a step back and she could at least brush her teeth without being too concerned. But a few minutes later, in the kitchen when she was making a cup of tea, she was bothered by it again.

Who are you?” Lucette said out loud. “What are you doing here?”

I’m Richard Jordan. I’m here to help,” said Richard.

Richard Jordan? The actor?” said Lucette.

Yes,” said Richard.

Lucette had continued to think it wasn’t a problem to have a fantasy about a dead actor, but she was wrong. Here he was, still seriously dead.

Great,” said Lucette, “no one will ever believe me.”

I’m here to help,” said Richard.

Help me with what?” said Lucette.

It was weird for Lucette to be talking out loud but to hear answers not with her ears, but inside her head. Richard did not answer her this particular time. Maybe Lucette would have more privacy than she thought. Maybe this spirit would not be around absolutely all the time. But what was he here to do?

When going to bed that night, Lucette turned her mind to Richard, and tried to summon up his presence. Just to see. The first few times she did this, she just saw his face in her mind, but nothing else. To try and get her head around all of this, the next day Lucette watched more of his old movies again. She wasn’t always enthralled. Some of the bits were corny, she thought.

Corny bits?” said Richard.

Well, yes, Richard, sometimes the stuff is dated,” said Lucette.

Well, I didn’t get to write it,” said Richard.

And some of the stuff is just corny, made to market you as a heartthrob,” said Lucette.

Did it work?” said Richard.

Of course it did, I couldn’t take my eyes off you. It’s how you found your way to me,” said Lucette.

It’s how fate chose to use what you had to learn,” said Richard.

Well, the important thing is it worked,” said Lucette.

The important thing, Lucette, is for you to realize that your womanhood and your spirituality were glowing and acted like beacons for spirits like me. I came to you because of your magnificent womanhood. Fate sent me to you for that reason,” said Richard.

But what about my art?”

You are a great artist,” said Richard.

Well, you can say that, but I’m not painting,” said Lucette.

For whom do you paint?” said Richard.

I told you, I’m not painting right now!” said Lucette.

When you paint, who are you painting for?” said Richard.

You mean before?” said Lucette

Yes, I mean before. Who did you used to paint for?” said Richard.

Well, I used to paint for my mother, especially when I was in school. She wanted to be an artist, and she couldn’t be, so I painted instead of her,” said Lucette.

Do you still paint for her?” said Richard.

No,” said Lucette.

Is there anyone you paint for now?” said Richard.

Well, yes, but this is hard for me to admit. I painted for the compliments of my teachers for a long time. Even after I left school, even after they disappeared from my life, I still would remember for a long time what they had said to me, and I would try and please them, or be worthy of them,” said Lucette.

And are you worthy of them now?” said Richard.

Yes. Yes, I think I am,” said Lucette.

And who do you want to paint for now?” said Richard.

Nobody, that’s just it. I can’t paint, so I can’t paint for anyone,” said Lucette.

But if you were to imagine painting right now, who would it be for?” said Richard.

Well, I have this fantasy that I am invisible and that I can walk around my own exhibitions, sometimes in the greatest museums, without anyone knowing who I am,” said Lucette.

And what do those people do?” said Richard.

They are changed by my paintings,” said Lucette.

What is changed about them?” said Richard.

Well, their lives. My painting changes their lives,” said Lucette

Oh, is that all?” said Richard.

Well, you asked, you know,” said Lucette. “That’s my honest answer.”

And who are these people?” said Richard.

Just people, I guess,” said Lucette.

No one you know?” said Richard.

No, I don’t think so,” said Lucette.

Do these same people watch you paint in your studio?” said Richard.

I’m a little embarrassed about this, but yes, it’s like I paint and they are all there, oohing and aahing,” said Lucette.

Have you ever tried being alone in your studio, without these people?” said Richard.

I sometimes think I live my whole life with the thought of what others will think or say,” said Lucette.

You’ve been pretty innovative and daring so far for that to be true,” said Richard.

It doesn’t hold me back, exactly, it’s more like an inner barrier I have to climb over every day,” said Lucette.

And are all these people around right now?” said Richard.

Yes,” said Lucette.

Why don’t you try ushering them out of your studio, just for fifteen minutes, and see what happens when you next pick up the brush,” said Richard.

Even you will be ushered out?” said Lucette.

Yes, even me. You can close the door, and work by yourself just for a little while,” said Richard.

Lucette smiled, but she did mentally usher all the spectators out, she pictured herself acting as an usher in a movie theatre or an opera house, and she pictured Richard closing the door behind him as he left. She set the timer for fifteen minutes, and picked up her charcoal. She made a few strokes on the paper, and then got her coloured chalks out.

There’s a lot more to go wrong with color,” she said aloud.

But she set about drawing very intently, and she didn’t hear the timer go off, and she didn’t stop when she got a cramp in her left hand. In fact, she didn’t stop until the chalks were crumbling in her fingers. Her tea had even gone cold while she worked. Lucette hated cold tea. But it was afterward when she straightened up, with a sigh, and picked up her cup and saucer, that she realized.

Lucette was elated. There was still something she could do.

But the next day, back in her studio, Lucette found she couldn’t work, nor the day after that, or even the day after that. The breakthrough was not followed by other good work sessions, it looked to Lucette like a one-off. Nonetheless, Lucette at least had reason to want to explore what Richard had to do with her.

It took her a while to get used to him. She was reticent about the whole thing, and she was reticent about talking about anything to do with her inner life at the best of times.

Now,” thought Lucette, “I’m really going gaga.”

Lucette thought that all the more because the quality or calibre or intensity of Richard’s presence had changed. Lucette could feel his presence in an almost physical way -- she saw his smooth chest, she almost felt him lying down next to her at night. Richard was persistent. Or always there. Or whatever. Lucette didn’t even have words for this experience.

She kept going to her studio every morning nonetheless. Lucette would set out her water colors and her acrylics and her brushes and she would staple paper to her easel, or she would stretch canvas onto frames, or prime them. But she had nothing in her mind, she had no impulse beyond doing as much as that. Her sketch pad was always with her, but she never had any impulse beyond that. She waited in her workshop, made tea, tidied up the rag basket under her shelving. She sighed over and over again, with increasing frustration, time after time, until she just had to get out of there.

She decided to go for a walk. Her back hurt her when she was painting, it wasn’t hurting now, but she would go for a walk and mobilize the muscles of her lower back anyway. It was an investment in her future.

You’re supposed to be doing something for me, Richard. What is a muse for?” Lucette said in her mind.

She walked through the almost oppressive quiet streets. Her feet were getting wet from the light snow on the ground.

Oh, I’m here, I’m working with you,” said Richard.

Well, that’s good, because I’m not working,” said Lucette.

My darling, I’m going to ask you to give up something that is so prominent, so obvious, so intrinsic to you that you don’t even know you’re doing it,” said Richard.

What is that? Why did you call me darling?” said Lucette.

Are you willing?” said Richard.

Are you going to answer me?” said Lucette.

Aren’t I doing just that?” said Richard.

No, I meant about why you called me darling,” said Lucette.

Oh that. It’s just a Hollywood thing,” said Richard.

A Hollywood thing?” said Lucette.

Yes,” said Richard.

I looked you up on Wikipedia and it said you were first an actor on Broadway,” said Lucette.

Everyone calls everyone darling on Broadway as well,” said Richard.

Are you being honest with me?” said Lucette.

No,” said Richard.

Why not?” said Lucette.

Because you are not ready to hear the truth,” said Richard.

Of course, I am. I’m more than willing. What is it?” said Lucette.

Richard replied, but Lucette could not make out his reply, and Richard’s presence then faded. This hadn’t happened before. Richard had spoken to her, but she wouldn’t necessarily understand. So Lucette kept walking, and kept going through her day, answering phone calls and emails, and going to work out, and asking herself over and over again what it was that Richard wanted her to give up.

Does it have something to do with David?” said Lucette.

She wondered whether it might. Lucette had accepted his death, she thought, and had done so for some time. She had found the new normal everyone talked about after the death of a child.

What does my failure to work have to do with that?” said Lucette.

Was it that she was afraid of her own talent? One of her art teachers had said once that it was scary to be talented. But Lucette accepted that she had a talent that was great and yet hard to recognize. She accepted that she had to work without thought of recognition, although she had received quite a bit of recognition for her work, enough anyway to get a Guggenheim fellowship.

Do I need to come off my high horse?” said Lucette.

Was it that she needed to curb her diva-like tendencies? No, she knew all about that. She hadn’t started writing into her gallery contracts that Cheetos had to be served at all her openings into the contract with galleries, at least not yet. ON the other hand, she knew how particular she was about the color of the walls and the lighting and the flooring where she showed her work.

Lucette got back into the house, changed her shoes and socks for dry ones, made more tea, and went upstairs. She sat in her studio for another thirty-four minutes, not that she was counting of course, and then she went downstairs to where the computer with Internet was.

She Googled artist’s block and started reading. The more she read, the more she laughed. There were more suggestions than she knew what to do with, including an inventive Australian artist photographer who gave the recipe for his block-breaking talisman dish, complete with accompanying wine; someone who suggested cruising bars and picking up strangers to see what happened, and another who went for a nap if she couldn’t work. Of course, some of the time she just wound up sleeping a lot… Lucette decided, though, not to take the chakra test, to see if her chakras were clear. She felt that her chakras were doing just fine without being particularly cleared.

Richard came to her as she sat by the screen and said:

Why don’t you just sit down for a bit, and let us be together,” said Richard.

Lucette couldn’t see the harm in that, and sat down by the picture window. Richard’s image rose before her mind’s eye. He was a tall man, and like Rochester in Jane Eyre he was unusually broad in the chest, almost barrel- chested, with long arms, and long, almost spindly legs. Lucette found these imperfections of his figure reassuring, almost like he couldn’t be a figment of her imagination because he was of a shape and size that she hadn’t seen before. Richard might have been an actor in his lifetime, and Lucette had seen films in which he acted, but she had never noticed him before the dazzling blue eyes flashing in Logan’s Run.

Let me hold your hand,” said Richard.

And in Lucette’s mind’s eye, she saw his hand, large, with blunt nails and palms a little rough, take hers. Lucette could almost feel the touch. That was how real the feeling of his company was to her. It was mind boggling to her. Nonetheless, she took some sort of reassurance, some comfort, maybe even a little energy, from it. Even so soon after Richard first appeared in her life, Lucette felt something like companionship. Her solitude was somehow less.

What is our relationship supposed to be like?” said Lucette.

Like whatever you need, Lucette,” said Richard. “Like whatever you are comfortable with.”

Lucette remembered this in later years, and realized that their relationship had been like that of a man and a woman because that was the model, the image, the metaphor used to, what she was most able to compare it to.

“Look, Richard, I’ve looked up artists’ block, and I had a good laugh, but I’m not sure this is what is going to help,” said Lucette.

“Well, what is going to help, Lucette?” said Richard.

“I think I need to find out how other artists have dealt with this, but not in real time, more what has proven over time to help the greater artists,” said Lucette.

How are you going to find that out?” said Richard.

Can you find me some ghosts of famous painters to work with?” said Lucette.

Richard laughed.

It doesn’t work that way,” said Richard. “These things are given or they are not given, I can’t control them.”

You mean, it’s on a need-to-know basis?” said Lucette.

You could say that,” said Richard.

Well, then, I’ll have to read some biographies of artists, that’s all,” said Lucette.

Great idea,” said Richard. “Don’t stop there.”

“What do you mean?” said Lucette.

“I mean, talk this over with some artist friends and see how they cope,” said Richard. “You might even ask to meet with people, buy them coffee or lunch, so that you can see how much they know about their artistic process.”

You mean, then, that I have an artistic process too, and that I can fuel it? That I should get to know it?” said Lucette.

Exactly! And you can get to know it as much by finding out what your process is not, as you can by finding out what your process is,” said Richard.

So I can be like Georgia O’Keefe, say, and have a studio on a ranch with a housekeeper, to free myself to paint prodigiously every day, or like Isak Dinesen, starting writing my stories as a kid, taking them to Copenhagen as an art student, then to Africa as a farmer, and then back to Denmark again,” said Lucette.

But you don’t have to be an anorexic like Dinesen, or have tuberculosis like Katherine Mansfield, or an absinthe addiction like Toulouse-Lautrec,” said Richard. “And especially you don’t have to keep repeating your father’s abandonment on your own children, like I did.”

What do you mean? Did you really?” said Lucette.

Yes,” said Richard. “My father left my mother when I was two years old. It was back in the forties, when these things didn’t happen much, and especially not in society. And then, in my lifetime, I had two children, with two different women, and each time I left the house first when my daughter, and then later when my son were about two years old. I’m telling you, Lucette, it’s much better to face your emotional issues as soon as possible.”

Richard was certainly honest with her, and that honesty had an effect on Lucette. From that moment, Lucette paid attention to her creative process, what helped it, what fed it, and what took away from it. She came to realize what worked and what did not. She listened to music in a different way, she read novels and magazines in a different way, she read the biographies of the dead white men, but she also read interviews with contemporary artists. She couldn’t help but notice in her reading that all the successful artists were very much aware of their own process, understood it and respected it.

The biggest surprise for Lucette was that her own fallow periods, periods where she did not work, were actually very important. The artists didn’t necessarily call it that, but there were always periods, sometimes years, where they did not work but where their art was maturing in some way. Lucette herself looked back on her career and see the times of absence of drawing or painting. She could see the role they played in the periods where she barely could sleep at night, because she was burgeoning with ideas. Lucette even realized that, at times, she had to do research, and at others she had to let go of intellectual stimulation. She learned that sometimes a painting was just finished, not because it was perfect, but because she had let it go, or because she wanted to get to another idea, or even because she knew it wasn’t working, but she couldn’t think what to do with it any more.

Sometimes a work was not about what she thought it was about. Sometimes Lucette could see so many options within a particular work that she was paralyzed by the all the possibilities, all the directions she could go in, and the onslaught of ideas in itself made her head spin. Those were the times where she needed to get up at night and sketch some of them out, not so much so she didn’t forget them, but to get them out of her mind. If it was daytime, she had to stop, and not just metaphorically, to take a deep breath. If it was night, she needed to get up and sketch so she could get to sleep. It was on one of those times that she got into the habit of drinking tea. It forced her to slow down, and it forced her to sit down for ten minutes in the middle of a day’s work.

But this awareness also showed Lucette all the more clearly how stymied she now actually was. This fallow period was different. She felt blocked. She felt that the juices weren’t flowing inside her. She felt there was a stopper where a tap should be, and she didn’t know how to pull it out. She felt like she was expecting her period, except it never came, she never got to relax, she never got to rest, she never got to feel better.

It took Lucette a few days to figure all of it out, and during this time Richard didn’t speak. But after about five days, Richard came to her.

Now do you see why you need me?” said Richard.

Because I’m really and truly stuck? I didn’t need you to figure that out,” said Lucette.

Well, whatever you are thinking, sticking it out willy-nilly in the studio, come what may, I don’t think is the way to do it,” said Richard. “For one thing, you are beginning to hate it.”

What the hell do you know about it?” said Lucette.

Well, I can help,” said Richard.

You’re an actor, not a painter,” said Lucette

To some extent, all creative people are the same. I understand the artistic process. They need to feed their process, and they need to work regularly. Even when they are not performing or producing anything specific, they still work regularly to keep themselves limber,” said Richard.

So a dancer has to dance every day. Well, that’s why I’m in the studio every day,” said Lucette.

Moira Shearer, the ballerina, once said that taking a month off from practice might set a dancer back five years. An actor isn’t like that, a writer isn’t like that. But I suppose a musician is,” said Richard.

And an artist?” said Lucette.

I would think an artist would need to work regularly, but for the sake of keeping your hand in, not because your skill will decrease,” said Richard. “And like an actor, a young artist is green. A young actor has to live and experience many things before he has access to all the emotions he needs. In a way, an artist is like an actor. You paint with colour, but I paint with emotion. I watch people to learn how they behave, and I listen to what people say, so that I have fuel for my imagination. So tell me, you’ve been looking into this. What is your fuel, for your own particular imagination?”

Oh, I don’t know,” said Lucette

Does looking at other people’s art interest you?” said Richard.

Of course,” said Lucette. “Well, that’s not quite true. I look at it to some extent. There are lots of fads out there, and I’m not too fond of those.”

You say that, but I wonder,” said Richard. “What if you’re just giving me the pat answers?”

What’s it to you?” said Lucette.

Does reading about other artists interest you?” said Richard.

Yes. Don’t you know? I just read a pile,” said Lucette.

I don’t know anything you don’t show me or tell me,” said Richard. “I can only go as far as you let me.”

Well, I’ve been reading about the lives of the great artists. And right now, it mostly makes me jealous,” said Lucette.

Jealous of what?” said Richard.

Jealous of the attention their work got, jealous of their shows, jealous of the work they produced,” said Lucette.

Is their work better than yours?” said Richard.

Than Leonardo or Matisse? Well, of course,” said Lucette.

OK, I asked for that, I guess,” said Richard. “I meant your colleagues, other artists of your own vintage.”

I don’t know. How can I?” said Lucette. “Time is the harsh winnower, so for all of us it’s just what we think of each other, and what the critics think of us, that matters.”

Well, you just learned a great deal, these last few days,” said Richard.

True, but is that enough?” said Lucette.

Can’t you judge?” said Richard.

It’s going to sound strange, but I dislike the judgment part of art. Why do you we need to qualify everything? By what criteria do we judge something to be good? And who decides what those criteria are?” said Lucette.

Those are all good points, but let’s get back to you. What does any of this mean for you? You’ve read about artists’ lives, now how about looking at their works in the context of their lives? After a while, you’ll educate yourself on the grand topic of life transmuted into art,” said Richard.

You mean I should study art history, not just artists’ biographies,” said Lucette.

That would be a start,” said Richard.

Where do I start?” said Lucette.

Where do you think?” said Richard

Well, I can think of two places: a library with lots of art books, or the Internet,” said Lucette.

Which do you think would be easier?” said Richard

Easier or quicker?” said Lucette

I see what you are doing, Lucette, you are deliberately playing dumb, to test my patience. Well, I’m very patient. I have all the time in the world,” said Richard.

Now that you’re dead,” said Lucette.

Right, now that I’m dead. So what would be quicker, Lucette?” said Richard.

I guess I’ll start with the Internet. But only after my hour here is up,” said Lucette.

Richard laughed.

Deal,” said Richard. “I wouldn’t want you to admit that I had an impact on your process, or thought for a moment that you took one of my suggestions. So go ahead, finish the hour, and only then jump on the Internet. And start taking notes, maybe keep a journal. You may need to look back and see what you were thinking and looking at, at a particular point. By the time you’ve considered that thousandth painting, you may find they are starting to run together.”

And so Lucette did. She started a journal and read it once a week, shocked at her own criticism of herself. And she made a collage that day that she actually liked, and then got an old tray that she covered with it, and then shellacked the whole thing. When Nino came home from work one day, Lucette showed it to him.

I can give Marg this collage tray for her birthday next week,” said Lucette.

Hon, that is wonderful. I actually really like the burgundy reds…it will look good with her china,” said Nino.

Oh, Nino, you’re wonderful,” said Lucette.

Oh, we try,” said Nino.

Nino was at heart a straightforward guy who was actually, truly humble. And another great thing about him was that he was sublimely untroubled by Lucette and her spirit guide. Nino himself was not an actively spiritual person, but he also knew and accepted that Lucette was many things that he was not. They would joke together about her wheels within wheels, whereas he, well, he was just an egg. He did not always understand what she said about Richard, but he accepted that there was a spirit in their lives now, and even made joking references to him. He was Italian, and he was comfortable with the non-rational part of life. To him, this was natural, as natural as his belief that fate was for or against him at times. Lucette laughed at the corny jokes Nino made about Richard. Nino was always ready to listen to Lucette, and all he hoped for was that Lucette would blossom into a fuller artist, and that he would be by her side to see it. It was all he asked for from life.

One cold afternoon in the late fall, Lucette was reading her journal over again. It had quickly turned into a long complaint about being stuck, and to have written this all down, in black and white, rankled Lucette enough to make her short-tempered. When Richard came to her again, the next morning, while Lucette sat in her studio, she was loaded for bear. All he had to do was appear to her and she burst.

Richard, there are days such as these where I cannot do a thing in front of my canvas. I sit there and I am at least disciplined enough to come to my studio every day. That much at least I do. But beyond that, I have no thoughts, no feelings, and no impulse. I am sitting here on my stool, well, half-sitting on my stool and I don’t know the beginning or the end of anything I feel like doing. I look at my paints and I look at my papers and I look at my chalk and I look at my pastels, and I am empty,” said Lucette.

Try just picking up a brush,” said Richard.

Oh, talk to me about artist’ block, why don’t you? What the hell do you know about it! I just have nothing inside me,” said Lucette.

Is it nothing, my dearest, or is it that all of your life force is bottled up inside of you?” said Richard.

I don’t know. I just feel flat, I just feel empty,” said Lucette.

Well, stay with that,” said Richard.

Richard left. Lucette threw her brush across the room. It bounced off the wall with the big canvas pinned to it, left a small mark that didn’t show given all the other scuffs and drools of paint already there, but the hairs were splayed, and it was her favourite brush.

The next time she sat in her studio, Richard came to her again.

OK, Lucette, you’ve had your little tantrum, are you better now?” said Richard.

Yes, yes, yes,” said Lucette.

Sure sounds like it. Now let’s see if you are willing to move forward,” said Richard.

Lucette was incensed. That morning it had been awful: she had been sitting in her studio in front a blank sheet of paper with the charcoal pencil in her hands for over an hour, and she hadn’t even been able put it to the paper.

Lucette, my dear, you cannot go on like this. For weeks and weeks, now, you’ve not been able to paint properly. You really do have to do something,” said Richard.

The charcoal stick snapped between Lucette’s fingers.

Well, what do you want me to do, Richard, God knows I’m stuck and I can’t think what to do anymore,” said Lucette.

You’re going to get Deb to drive you around on a country road, and you’re going to get her to drive really fast and then stop all of a sudden. And you are going to take a watermelon with you,” said Richard.

What?” said Lucette.

You heard me, call Deb and tell her all about this. Then go buy the watermelon,” said Richard. “But wipe the charcoal smear off your cheek before you go.”

Lucette stomped out of the studio. She was sceptical, but she also didn’t have an alternative to suggest. She was antsy as all hell already. When she picked up the phone, as usual, she couldn’t get Deb. Deb never answered her phone, she just returned phone calls because she ran her business out of her house and didn’t want her kids talking to customers. Lucette could only leave her a message, which in her state of mind made her even angrier. Lucette was so full of energy that couldn’t find a way out that she shovelled a wider driveway while she waited for her call back.

When Deb finally called back Lucette told her off, first, before telling her about the watermelon idea. Deb laughed at both her anger and her crazy idea.

Your spirit guide told you to ask me to drive you down a country road at top speed and then brake? While you’re holding a watermelon in your arms? Why me?” said Deb.

I guess he thinks you’re the only one crazy enough to do it,” said Lucette.

Well, it could be I’m the only one who knows about him, so he figures he can remote-control me. Like one of those radio-operated little boats that Lance has,” said Deb.

Lance was Deb’s oldest son.

Let’s hope you don’t crash the car like the kids do their boats,” said Lucette.

I suppose you can say that because you already know I’ll do it,” said Deb.

Yeah, Deb, I guess I do,” said Lucette.

OK. Let’s see, come on out to me during a weekday, that way there are no Sunday drivers’ to screw us up. I’m just looking at my schedule, the kids have so many appointments and PD days…OK, how about Wednesday morning?” said Deb.

That’s next week,” said Lucette.

Best I can do, Lucette,” said Deb. “take it or leave it.”

I’ll take it, I’ll take it. Thanks for being so gracious about it,” said Lucette.

Anytime,” said Deb.

Waiting for Wednesday to roll around, Lucette stayed on edge. She had trouble sitting down even for her favourite cup of tea, and she snapped at Nino for no particular reason. Nino was used to this sort of mood by now, he had seen her like this so many times before. When she yelled at him because he had forgotten to put the milk back in the fridge, he just shrugged and said to her:

I’m going out to get the paper and have a cup of coffee. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

Lucette was apologetic, of course, when he returned. She kissed him two or three times.

Forgive me,” said Lucette.

Meh,” said Nino.

But Lucette remained edgy.

Wednesday finally arrived. Lucette got up early, and changed her jeans and shirt three times, looking for the ‘right combination.’

Are you sure you want to do this?” said Nino.

Yeah, yeah,” said Lucette, distracted.

She was so jittery by now that she couldn’t keep her mind focused on anything. She absent-mindedly put on one brown sock and one black, and only noticed when she was putting on her boots.

A great start to a great day,” said Lucette.

Lucette drove first to the grocery store, and stood in front of the watermelons for several minutes. She had decided against the small ones, and now she was looking at the large ones. What would be better, a big long watermelon, or a big round one? Did it mean anything either way? Since when were there this many kinds of watermelon? How could people decide? The whole thing was so damn confusing. Lucette decided to pick a long one, because she figured it would be easier to hold on to in a speeding car. A speeding car? What would happen if she did lose hold of the melon? How would Deb ever get that stuff off her windshield? It was winter and once the juice and flesh and pits had gone splat, they would freeze. Lucette stood in line for a few moments more, then turned around and went back to the fruit and vegetable aisle. Lucette then picked up a second watermelon, just in case.

Deb lived in the country, beyond the city limits so that the building codes didn’t apply. Her family had a log house without a foundation. The land around the house was beautiful. It had two creeks running through the pastures slightly uphill from the house. Deb and her husband had been restoring the house for some months, but even now not all the walls were finished. They had had to shower outside until November the previous year, while they finished the indoor bathroom. It had been some months before Lucette realized that at least they had had hot water in that outdoor shower, but any early morning past September 30 was too cold for Lucette’s taste. They kept four horses in a field beyond the creek, behind the house. Now Deb’s favourite mare was pregnant.

Deb was right about the back roads. They were gravel, and at this time of year they were deserted. Lucette turned into the drive towards the house. By now they were a good 35 kilometres straight into the bush. Deb had seen the car turn in, because she walked out to meet her. Her breath was visible in the cold morning air.

Do you want me to drive your car, or shall I drive mine?” said Deb.

Use mine, in case we crash,” said Lucette

Well, I know my own car pretty well, you know, and it’s got a bigger engine,” said Deb. “It will pick up much more speed.”

What did Darren have to say about our little caper?” said Lucette.

Oh, I didn’t tell him, he’d only think we were nuts,” said Deb. “Do you want a cup of tea before we set out?”

No, let’s just get going,” said Lucette.

And Lucette reached over for her two watermelons and almost dropped one getting out of the car.

I just know this is going to go well,” said Deb. She laughed. But Lucette couldn’t laugh. “Why did you get two?”

I don’t know, in case we wanted to do it a second time,” said Lucette.

Right,” said Deb. “We want to go speeding down an unpaved road in the winter, gunning the engine, and then stop suddenly, and the best we can hope for is that neither of these watermelons go flying around in the car. And we are ready in case we want to do it more than once.”

We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” said Lucette.

No, no, Lucette. This might actually help you. Anything, by now, that might help,” said Deb.

I wish I thought this was going to work,” said Lucette.

That’s the spirit,” said Deb.

Great pun,” said Lucette.

They got into Deb’s car, turned left at the end of the driveway, and then Deb drove back into the bush for another five kilometres. They really were in the middle of no place. Deb stopped the car and turned to Lucette.

Now take out one of the watermelons, Lucette, and hold it as tight as you can in your arms. Leave that other one in the back seat there.”

Lucette grabbed the bag and hauled it to her lap with a grunt. Then she ripped the paper bag off the watermelon, but she was clumsy and it took her two or three tugs to get rid of it and throw it in the back.

I’m good,” said Lucette.

“OK, then, here we go,” said Deb.

Deb gunned the engine and they lurched forward. Lucette tightened her grip on her watermelon. Deb pressed down on the gas even more, and Lucette heard the wheels spin a bit before spitting gravel back. Deb accelerated well past 70 kilometres an hour, which was a lot of speed for an unpaved road. Lucette got nervous. She turned towards Deb to say something and right then Deb hit the brakes. The car swerved a little to the right and crunched to a halt. The watermelon in Lucette arms moved a little forward, but Lucette kept her grip.

Lucette just sat there, breathing quickly. Deb gave Lucette one side glance and sighed. Lucette looked grim and sad, and Deb sat for a moment. She could think of nothing to say for a few minutes, and Lucette had that look on her face that meant she couldn’t talk either. Finally Deb said:

We got to about 80 kilometres an hour there. But when the plane crashed, it was going at least 250 kilometres an hour. I’m going to try again, and this time we’re going to go faster. Hang on now.”

Now it was Deb who looked grim, but she knew this road well. They sped down a straight edge of the road, with Deb increasing her speed gradually. It seemed like a long time to Lucette, and eventually she glanced at the speedometer. It read 125.

Hey, Deb!” said Lucette.

Lucette looked forward and saw that the road was coming to an end in about 50 meters. At this speed, they’d overshoot it by a lot.

Deb! Slow down!” yelled Lucette.

Deb didn’t even blink, she just focused on the road ahead. Only suddenly they were almost out of road.

Hey!” screamed Lucette.

Deb hit the brakes. Lucette’s shoulder safety belt bit into her chest. Change and keys and paper clips scattered, and sand flew up from the floor. The watermelon slipped from her arms, hit the dashboard, broke into two and then splattered pink flesh over the windshield. The seeds and juice sprayed all over. Then there was a dull thud, powdered snow flew up all around them. The car lurched again, a little less this time, and they came to a halt.

Lucette sat there, breathing hard and watching the snow settle on the windows. It made the watermelon flesh look even redder. Lucette looked away.

It’s like…,” said Lucette.

Lucette covered her face with her hands.

Deb unlatched her own safety belt, then Lucette’s, and then had to push her own door open with both her feet.

It looks worse than it is, because of the powder, Lucette. Come on, it’s only about four feet of snow. Let’s get out,” said Deb.

Lucette didn’t say anything.

Come on, the fresh air will do you good,” said Deb.

It’s minus twenty today,” said Lucette.

Deb thought it was a good sign that Lucette had at least started to complain.

This watermelon smells fresh, doesn’t it?” said Deb.

I can’t look at it, Deb, I can’t. It’s too much like…” Again Lucette couldn’t say it.

It’s too much like the blood you saw that day? Lucette, you know you didn’t see your son’s blood, they didn’t find him until much later, and the whole front of the plane was gone. No blood could collect where you got out,” said Deb.

I know, I know, I know,” said Lucette. “It was my own blood, the blood I saw on other passengers.”

You didn’t manage to hang on to this watermelon, now, did you? So, you see, it wasn’t your fault you couldn’t hold on to David,” said Deb.

A watermelon is way more slippery than a baby,” said Lucette.

So you still think it’s your fault?” said Deb.

I hate you, Deb, for saying that,” said Lucette.

Well, isn’t it true? Isn’t this what it’s all about?” said Deb.

Lucette said nothing and looked away. After a while, Deb started to pull Lucette out of the car.

Come on.”

Lucette didn’t answer, but she didn’t fight Deb either. Deb pulled her door open wider using both hands, got Lucette out. Lucette then sank a good foot into the snow.

Don’t worry, there’s a hard base to stand on, you don’t sink three feet here,” said Deb.

Lucette still said nothing, and then slowly started to pull on her gloves and wrap her scarf around her neck. Then Lucette pushed at the car door closed, and turned around to look at the distance to the road. The cold put color back in her face.

Did you know there was this much snow here?” said Lucette.

Yeah, I know this field is pretty flat, and there’s always much more snow here than in town,” said Deb.

That makes one of us,” said Lucette.

They started trudging towards the road. When they got to the ditch, Deb climbed first and then held out her hand for Lucette. Lucette took it and heaved onto the road.

At least we don’t have to worry about hypothermia,” said Lucette, breathing hard.

Once on the road, the walking started to soothe her.

Do you think it worked?” said Deb.

I just don’t think it’s easy to hold on to a watermelon, “said Lucette.

Is that a no?” said Deb.

I guess,” said Lucette.

Well, what would work?” said Deb.

I’m not sure; I find it hard to think just now. But to convince me, I guess it would have to be something that is easy to hand on to, and heavier too,” said Lucette.

Her face started to crumple as she remembered the weight of her son in her arms.

Like a bag of rocks?” said Deb.

No, that would be too harsh, it would have to be smoother,” said Lucette.

Like a bag of potatoes, then,” said Deb.

That’s it, like a twenty pound bag of potatoes,” said Lucette.

Do you want to try it again tomorrow?” said Deb.

Lucette smiled. “Give me a chance to recover first.”

Deb didn’t like the look in Lucette’s eyes. Lucette looked like she had sunk deeper into despair, like she was more convinced than ever that she should have been able to save her child.

Well,” thought Deb, “I’m out of ideas. Everyone who knows Lucette is out of ideas. I wonder if she can ever get better now.” Deb shrugged. “I’ve been wrong before. Her strength of character has surprised me lots of times. Maybe there will be one more.”

Lucette’s eyes were dull, though, when she said goodbye and got back into her own car for the drive home.

Lucette was in no mood to talk to anyone, let alone Richard, when she sat in her studio the next morning, watching the minute hand go round and round. But Richard appeared in her mind’s eye, and he just stayed there, in Lucette’s presence, until she spoke to him first.

Richard, why don’t you have a body sometimes?” said Lucette. “Sometimes you are like a physical presence almost, sometimes you don’t.”

When I don’t have even the image of a body, Lucette, you are free to interact with me in a different way. Now it is impossible for you to hold me too close, to interact with me in the way that you interact with everyone else,” said Richard.

Right,” said Lucette.

Tell me what’s bothering you,” said Richard.

I just feel tired again today. I’ve got no creative juice, as usual,” said Lucette.

Why?” said Richard.

I don’t know why,” said Lucette.

Well, I do,” said Richard.

OK,” said Lucette. “Amaze me.”

Lucette, the death of your son devastated you,” said Richard.

Brilliant, Richard,” said Lucette. “It takes an all-seeing, all-knowing spirit to figure that out.”

I know how bitter you are,” said Richard. “But are you willing to listen to me?”

I guess,” said Lucette.

Since David’s death, you have not been able to constitute once again some sort of decent way to live. You haven’t found that new normal people talk about. You haven’t been able to let anybody really come close to you,” said Richard.

That’s not true,” said Lucette. “I met Nino after David died.”

Yes, but has he really come close to you? I think he’s been very good at letting you decide how to come close to you. I think he understands you very well. But being an artist is different. You need to have access to all of yourself in order to work. Have you really allowed yourself really to experience all the feelings since the plane crash?” said Richard.

I think I have,” said Lucette.

I think you only let anyone close when you can control everything,” said Richard. “That’s why you have had a struggle to accept me.”

And that is related to your not having a body how?” said Lucette.

When you are able to tolerate my presence, and ready to be close again to someone, then I come with the image of a body. I’m so much less threatening that others, and you can do that more easily with me,” said Richard.

Well, it’s not all for nothing. If what you say is true, then there’s something in my relationship with Nino that is moving forward again,” said Lucette.

Lucette had already noticed that she was more aroused by Nino that she used to be, even a few days ago. But she was realizing that in some ways she was aroused by Richard. That was what her question about his body had actually been about.

Why do you think Nino hasn’t ever come inside you?” said Richard.

How dare you spy on me!” said Lucette.

I don’t spy on you. I only see what you let me see, and you’ve been wondering about this lately,” said Richard.

It was true. When Lucette had first met Nino, she had fallen in love with him very quickly. She had also told him about David early on, and how much she felt she could not face a pregnancy. Not only had Nino and she used contraception, Nino had never, in three years, experienced an orgasm during intercourse. They used a great deal of variety in their life together – Lucette for her part had never experienced such intense orgasms before – but not Nino.

As long as she was in fear of pregnancy, and she had been since David’s death, that was fine with her. They just continued with a sex life that wasn’t focused on intercourse. But what if she ever did feel better, what then? What suited her now might dissatisfy her later. And Lucette wasn’t sure she was entirely satisfied now. She liked intercourse, and now she almost never had it. Lucette herself had had to face her dissatisfaction with Nino. She was lucky to have found him, but she wanted something more.

This was a delicate topic to discuss, but she remembered potlucks with women artists when, late in the evening after too much wine, the talk had turned to sex. The women there who weren’t lesbians argued that the better lovers were the ones who did not get erections quickly or easily or often. The lesbians, of course, hooted at that. Lucette stayed on the sidelines of that debate, but she couldn’t help realizing that she couldn’t ask for a better, more attentive spouse than Nino. And so, Lucette said to herself, “A for effort” and left it at that.

I see you are starting to understand what I mean, and why I am doing what I am doing. Just remember that I am still there for you in every way,” said Richard.

So without quite realizing why she was doing what she was doing, Lucette started thinking about Richard as a man, as well as a spirit. It was an odd business all around, she thought to herself. “What the devil am I thinking?” Lucette failed to realize that it wasn’t just Richard who was becoming more real. It was also that she was becoming closer to reconciling her own life as a woman as she got closer to reconciling with her experiences as a mother.

A few days later, sitting in her studio once again, Lucette waited for Richard. Without ever telling anyone about this, it was just too unbelievable, Lucette started to see Richard as he would have been, had he lived. She saw a man in his seventies, spitting tobacco juice.

Did you smoke?” said Lucette when he did.

Yes, I did. If brain cancer hadn’t gotten me, then lung cancer would have,” said Richard.

It would have been like kissing an ashtray, having you as a lover,” said Lucette.

Richard didn’t bother to hide his smile.

That is what happens when you fall in love with someone because of their looks. Sooner or later they lose them, and you are left with someone you may not care for,” said Richard.

I would never do that,” said Lucette.

No? You wouldn’t have wanted that really handsome, really tall guy, the brother of a friend of yours who works for the telephone company. He’s very handsome, you noticed him right away, but you would never go out with him,” said Richard.

Well, no, I can’t talk to him, I don’t have anything in common with him, he’s kind of a jerk when it comes to women, so there’s just nothing there,” said Lucette. Richard laughed but didn’t reply.

Well, then, trust me, with him, or me, there would be no there there,” said Lucette.

Like Gertrude Stein said,” said Richard. “So you’re going to Toronto again tomorrow.”

Yes,” said Lucette.

Are you going to see any art?” said Richard.

Yes, I’ve got the visit all planned out, it will be great,” said Lucette.

Maybe you want to give yourself a chance to be spontaneous,” said Richard. “A chance to be surprised.”

Lucette didn’t want to answer that. She sat and watched the blank canvas for a time. She gritted her teeth to do it, but she did it. Richard waited by her side. He said nothing more, and eventually Lucette left her studio.

The next day, she was at the airport when she got the email. Lucette had been rushed to get traveling that morning, and so she hadn’t checked it at home. Her cousin had called her a week ago, to tell her that her aunt, the last person in her family who had actually met David, had stopped taking her heart medication and so expected to die shortly. Lucette had no love or liking left for her aunt Pauline, who at her baby’s death had said that it was better this way, that he would have had no quality of life had he lived. Well, David hadn’t had a chance, but Pauline’s passing marked the end of an era. After her, there would be no one left to remember her baby son except herself.

Lucette was her usual kind and generous self. She couldn’t cross the country to see Pauline and she didn’t have time to get there before Pauline died anyway. And Pauline by now was too deaf to hear her voice on the phone, and too weak to lift the receiver. So Lucette had sent an email, carefully worded so that it was not revealing. Pauline had had a child before she was married, and had given it up for adoption. Lucette knew, but many did not, and so she had to be careful with her legitimate children all around her now. The email she sent was a prose poem, called “From what race have I sprung.”

From what race have I sprung, from a woman who worked in the Treasury of National Defence during world war II, and yet didn’t vote until 1940; from someone who taught in a one room school house for eight years, for someone who called Children’s Aid when kids were battered even though she lived in a town of 2000 people, who decides for herself and by herself to stop taking medication and only then informs her children…”

Lucette figured it was her cousins who would appreciate the email and not her aunt, who was probably past any of these cares, but her aunt had always been a proud woman, and now was not the time to expect a change in her character.

Just as she hit ‘Send,” the next email had arrived for her-- Lucette didn’t even have to go further than the subject line. There it was. “Auntie died peacefully this morning.” Lucette opened the email anyway, in case there were any details.

She had asked for something to soothe her, and had been given morphine.”

Morphine, to someone in heart failure,” thought Lucette. “Who said there wasn’t active euthanasia in this country.”

Lucette sighed, and then went back to the main lounge and made herself a strong cup of tea.

Presently, her flight was called. Lucette was taking a biplane to Toronto. It confused most people to learn that Lucette didn’t need tranquilizers to fly, or could fly at all. It was only the few who understood that the worst had already happened, and that she didn’t care if she died in a plane crash. What was death to her? How well she knew there were fates worse than death.

When she got to Toronto, then, she just calmly watched the sights of the city come closer, at first across the horizon and then vertically, and she felt the landing without so much as her heart rate increasing. She got her luggage, and took the ferry about a hundred yards – Toronto Island was that close to the mainland -- and then walked to her usual bed and breakfast. The owner, Vien, made her a cup of tea. Lucette dawdled over it: when she traveled, she usually didn’t rush as much as at home.

The next morning, she dawdled again over her breakfast, listening idly to the other guests who were comparing notes on the films they had seen or were about to see – the film festival was just wrapping up. Lucette set out about ten for the gallery district on the trams that Toronto still operated. Because she arrived at only just eleven o’clock, several galleries were closed, but she could spy some of the paintings through the front windows, and she sighed. She saw what her French art professor had called ‘de la camelote’, yard sale stuff. And then she stopped in front of the window at the Henrika Heisenberg Gallery. The paintings were large, most five by eight feet, and most of them were brilliantly coloured. Lucette walked in. She saw two women, one young, and one older, sitting at a desk at the far end of the room, but Lucette didn’t give them more than a passing glance. She walked towards the first of the paintings on the right wall, and looked. It was a semi-figurative painting of a highway overpass and assorted buildings, with long drools and drips of paint, much thicker and wider and longer than Jackson Pollock, in deep glistening jewel tones – yellow, red, blue, green. The background was in much less saturated colors. Lucette took a step back to look at the whole.

But she didn’t have much time to admire the colours or think about the technique, because the older woman at the back of the room was now bearing down on her. The gallery owner, thought Lucette, and she looked like a woman on a mission.

Hello, I’m Henrika Heisenberg,” said the woman.

And I am Lucette Rivière,” said Lucette. The woman wasn’t listening, or she would have recognized the name. Like most people, Henrika was thinking about what she was going to say next, instead of paying attention to Lucette. Lucette smiled. That was what most people did.

This artist’s name is Amy Penrys-Smith,” said Henrika. “She’s only twenty-three years old and she’s progressed remarkably already. Come and sign our guest book,” said Lucette.

Lucette saw no reason to resist the hand already at her elbow, propelling her towards the desk. So she signed and then she turned back to the paintings and started studying them one by one.

Amy has just graduated from the OSAD, the Ontario…” said Henrika.

School of Art and Design, yes, I know. How long has she been an artist?” said Lucette.

She has been painting since she was two years old,” said Henrika.

Lucette nodded, not taking her eyes off the paintings. Lucette was beginning to suspect not much more than that would be required of her.

And when did she have her first show?” said Lucette.

February 2007,” said Henrika.

Only three years ago, the artist was just at the beginning of her career. Lucette moved closer to check out the technique. As she thought, there were no brush strokes.

Her technique is really wonderful, she doesn’t use brushes,” said Henrika.

Yes, I can see that,” said Lucette.

She pours paint on the canvas and lets it drip down,” said Henrika.

Yes, I can see that,” said Lucette.

This makes her like Jackson Pollock, an American artist who…” said Henrika.

Yes, I know who Jackson Pollock is,” said Lucette.

“This technique makes her work unique,” said Henrika.

I’m sure it does,” said Lucette.

What Lucette really thought was that what her technique really did was make it hard to control the results. Amy had yet to master her technique, because she had so far worked only vertically. If she ever mastered this technique, she would be able to produce much more varied shapes and not just vertical lines. Lucette thought she’d like to see the gallery of failed paintings that were guaranteed to exist as long as Amy didn’t become technically proficient. Choosing architectural subjects was also another sign of the artist’s limitations. They used a lot of vertical lines. Well, Amy was young, she had a lot of time to grow – but her early success might also make her climb into a cage and stay there.

Her work is held by collectors in the United States, Germany and Oman,” said Henrika.

She must be very proud,” said Lucette.

We’re having the opening day after tomorrow, if you’d like to come,” said Henrika.

I’m from out of town, I won’t be here then. I’m just here for a couple of days, so I thought I’d go through the galleries this afternoon,” said Lucette.

Lucette also wanted to go to the open air art show in Trinity Bellwood Arena, but she wasn’t about to say that to the barracuda.

Are you alone?” said Henrika.

Lucette wanted to laugh. Richard had told her he had collected paintings in his lifetime.

I’m with a friend, who buys quite a lot,” said Lucette.

Are you a collector?” said Henrika.

Lucette shook her head.

Amy has been selling out in all her shows, you know. She just bought a condo with the proceeds from all her sales,” said Henrika.

Lucette could see that there were no price tags on the paintings. If you had to ask, Nino always said, you couldn’t afford it. Henrika went on talking about the buyers in Germany and Saudi Arabia, pressing hard. Finally, Lucette said:

You know, I commissioned last year. It was very exciting, but I am completely out of money.”

Henrika either believed her and backed off, or took the hint and backed off. Meanwhile, Lucette felt like she was lucky to make it out of the gallery with her wallet still in her pocket. Actually, she felt like that time she taken the subway in Tokyo at rush hour, and the trains had stopped coming for 43 minutes. When the first three trains after that came by, Lucette couldn’t imagine how she could fit herself onto any of the packed cars. But then she realized that they were all going to be like that, and took the fourth to pull into the station. Lucette managed to wedge herself in, but when she tried to get out, she had to pull on her shirt to make it out of there. Lucette was as relieved to get out of the building as she had been to breathe freely again after leaving the subway.

Lucette toured the other galleries for the rest of the day, but saw nothing but camelote. She was more hopeful about the arena show the next day, because there the artists would be able to show work they couldn’t get into galleries.

She went to Trinity Bellwood Arena early, at about 10:30, and started walking around the stalls – there were about 150 artists showing that day. Lucette was early on purpose, so she could catch everyone still setting up. Walking the star pattern of the stalls, Lucette enjoyed herself. She collected business cards so she could recall some of the details of the artists she liked. There was plenty of camelote, some of it worse that what she saw in galleries. But there was also a new kind of varnish that was very popular, and a few photographers among the painters and sculptors. But then she saw something interesting. Here was a woman who painted horses much in the same way that Lucette herself painted cows.

Finally,” she thought. Worse luck, the artist was not there herself.

Lucette’s paintings had always been about cows. Oh, she had had a terrible time with the galleries at first, who didn’t understand why she painted cows five or six feet high, floating on brilliant intense saturated pastel backgrounds of a single saturated colour. The faces of her cows were painted like sublime portraits, with elegant brushstrokes modeling closely the eyes, the mouths, the ears, and the short hair. Lucette had studied bovine anatomy, even going to a veterinary college to watch some dissections, so that she understood the underlying structures she represented in oil and acrylic. The cows could be standing or kneeling, but it was the eyes that spoke to people, Lucette thought. The look in those eyes was the reason she sold out every show she had.

Everybody wanted to know why she painted cows. Lucette really didn’t think she had that deep a reason for it. She had lived on a farm until she was ten years old. He father had been a farmer, and her mother had worked as a clerk for the county, but when she was ten the farm became too much for her father, and her parents had sold up and moved into town. In so many ways, Lucette was painting that Eden that now lived only in memory. Even as an art student, she had applied and won a scholarship so she could travel to France and cycle through the country side, drawing Charolais. When she had told Nino, he had laughed and said:

Most people go to France to eat Charolais.”

But in her cows’ eyes, Lucette’s Eden beckoned. That Eden spoke to all those people searching for their own.

Lucette turned away from the picture of a foal, maybe two weeks old, with white socks and a beautiful white marking on its fine features. It had great big eyes, eyes that beckoned. When David was born, Lucette had found her Eden again, and lost it when he died. That was why she couldn’t bear to look at the picture of the foal. Richard was trying to help her find a way back to that Eden, or to create a new one. Lucette, though, despaired of it. She thought she had given up.

When Lucette flew back home, the plane crossed into what the pilot later said was the biggest storm system he had ever seen. About two hours into the flight, there was turbulence and a thunder storm, and the plane was hit by lighting. The electrical systems flickered for a moment, and before Lucette had a chance to prepare herself, she fell into a pit of anxiety unlike anything she had experienced since the crash. Her teeth chattered. She was trembling, more and more violently as the turbulence went on. She started hitting herself in the face with her own hands. The only coherent thought she had was that this is what most people thought she would be like, every time she flew, even in perfect weather. Lucette then became convinced that she was going to die in this plane. She became convinced that it would crash.

The purser had been working her section of the plane. He seized her arms and held her down so she couldn’t hit herself. And then the purser started talking to her. Lucette heard him from really far away, but couldn’t make out what he was saying. He was handsome, she could see that, in the slightly artificial way that flight attendants have. Lucette started hyperventilating, and then called out “Richard.” And suddenly, in the disorder of her thoughts, Richard was there, like an inner rock supporting her.

Don’t worry, Lucette, you won’t die for a very long time yet. You won’t die today. I am here. I have you, I have you,” said Richard.

Lucette hit the bottom of the pit, and then started slowly to bounce back out of it.

At length, she heard what the purser was saying. He was saying:

Breathe through your nose. Breathe through your nose.”

And when Lucette opened her eyes, he asked her:

Where did you travel to?”

Lucette, nodded.

Yes, yes,” said Lucette.

Lucette understood what he was saying, but couldn’t say anything yet. She could see that he was trying to give her another focus, and slowly reeled off the names of the galleries she had gone to, whose names she had to struggle to remember.

I went to the Heisenberg Gallery,” said Lucette, “then I went to the show at Trinity Bellwood arena.”

But inside her mind, Lucette could see Richard.

Richard, my dearest Richard, are you going to be with me? Are you going to leave me?” said Lucette.

Ma chère, of course I will be by your side. At some point, I’ll leave, but by then, you and I will become so intertwined that you won’t even notice it when something comes from me, or something comes from within yourself,” said Richard.

So when I paint, I will feel you when I pick up the brush, but nothing more? No more talks, no more sitting here with me when I need you?” said Lucette.

Something like that,” said Richard.

I don’t want to lose you, Richard,” said Lucette.

You won’t. I am here. You will not always be aware of me, because you will have become used to me and integrated with me, and me with you,” said Richard.

What will you get out of this?” said Lucette.

I get to live as long as you do, and then I get to be reunited with you. When the bodies die, when all passion is spent, that is when you know the greatest happiness of all,” said Richard.

By the time the plane landed, Lucette could walk again – she had not tried to go to the bathroom, even, just in case she catapulted herself onto the cabin floor. But when she got home to Nino’s arms, finally in private, she started crying. Nino held her fast, but Lucette sank deeply into her grief. This grief was so intense that she felt she was falling into darkness again. It as then Lucette realized that what she had experienced on the plane was grief.

After a time, she realized that Richard was there. Richard’s catching her in his arms prevented her from sinking any deeper into the grief, kept Lucette’s head above water, so she could let the grief out but still be in touch with her own strength, her own will to live, her own will to see the light again, to be let out of the darkness, to let go.

I am here, Lucette,” said Richard.

Ah, Richard, thank goodness you’re there,” said Lucette.

Richard was silent, and Lucette could feel her own grief inside of him, how he carried it so she would not be overwhelmed with it, until her sobs subsided. Nino held her body, and Richard held her soul. And then Lucette could tell Nino about her aunt, and about her anger and her sadness.

She is the last of those who knew my baby,” said Lucette.

Well, it was big of you to send her that email,” said Nino.

I couldn’t very well send her a painting, could I? That would have been a much truer expression of how I feel, but would she have understood it?” said Lucette.

Lucette’s sobs became quieter and further apart, but she stayed in both their arms.

After a time, Lucette blew her nose, and got up and ran a bath, and unpacked her suitcase. She had a long soak on the tub – Nino had gotten her bath salts while she was away. By the time she got to bed, she fell into a heavy, motionless sleep, as if like she had been drugged.

Lucette was still groggy when she got back to the studio the next morning. She hoped the intense feelings she had expressed would help her, but she was still drawing a blank. Lucette sat for her hour, ruminating, without inspiration. Disappointed, she went for a long walk, but the block remained for the next several days. Then, one morning later, she told Richard:

Richard, I’m devastated. I’ve failed again, I’ve got no inspiration.”

This doesn’t mean you’ve lost your artistic ability, Lucette. This is just a phase. You are afraid of something, and you need to get rid of that fear,” said Richard.

Easier said than done,” said Lucette.

Obviously. You are forcing yourself to come here, but you aren’t forcing yourself to painting. Try painting, even if it’s copying a painting,” said Richard.

No one inspires me,” said Lucette.

Then look for new artists on the internet,” said Richard.

I did that already. Anyway, I would like to further my technique,” said Lucette.

Then change media, try watercolours or oils for a while instead of acrylics,” said Richard.

I don’t want to try oils, that’s too expensive for now,” said Lucette.

Watercolours, then,” said Richard.

I think I’d rather draw,” said Lucette.

Then copy Da Vinci drawings,” said Richard.

I’m not sure about that,” said Lucette.

Then read Da Vinci’s notebooks,” said Richard.

Da Vinci’s notebooks are published?” said Lucette.

They must have been,” said Richard.

OK, OK, maybe,” said Lucette.

Keep your hand in, that’s the main point,” said Richard.

You talk in clichés,” said Lucette.

Richard laughed.

Lucette did get Da Vinci’s notebooks. They had been published in the 1930s, and were bound in leather, printed on expensive paper with rough edges. And they were extraordinary, of course, giving detailed instructions on how to drawn heads, torsos, hands, feet. But that wasn’t enough, that wasn’t nearly enough. In time, Lucette began to read the biographies of artists again, this time about Vermeer and Louise Bourgeois.

What are you looking for, Lucette, when you read about Vermeer or O’Keefe or Louise Bourgeois?” said Richard.

What do you mean, what am I looking for?” said Lucette.

You are searching for something, aren’t you? Why are you reading so many of them?” said Richard.

Lucette knew he was right. She had been borrowing many books from the library and ordering more, after searching for them online. She particularly wanted to read the lives of women artists, she found.

When you read O’Keefe’s story, what do you remember the most?” said Richard.

I remember the description of what her life was like out in New Mexico, after her husband died,” said Lucette.

What was her life like?” said Richard.

She had a house that was fitted out perfectly for her tastes, a really minimalist place so her mind could be uncluttered. She had money, so she hired a housekeeper to cook and clean. That’s how she freed herself up to paint. She gardened herself to relax, growing health food for herself. And she remodeled a garage into her studio, with particularly large floor to ceiling windows, so the light could come in unimpeded,” said Lucette.

So she kept her house in perfect order,” said Richard.

Yes, she lived her entire life so that she could be available to paint when she was inspired,” said Lucette.

Was she always inspired?” said Richard.

No,” said Lucette.

So what did she do then?” said Richard.

She had very exacting standards for the frames for her canvasses. So in her down time, when she couldn’t paint, she would make frames and stretch her own canvasses,” said Lucette.

What about her inner life?” said Richard.

Her inner life? I don’t think she thought much about that. I think that is one of the reasons why some of her paintings are so naïve,” said Lucette.

Do you know of another artist who is not naïve?” said Richard.

I know about Janet Frame, who wrote Angel at my Table,” said Lucette.

What is her work like?” said Richard.

She’s a writer and she wrote a very striking autobiography. In it, she describes how another writer put her up in his own house, so she could work,” said Lucette.

And could she?” said Richard.

Yes, that’s what’s so interesting. Both of the writers worked, one in his studio, and the other in the house. But when they met at breakfast, they barely talked.”

Why did they do that?” said Richard.

They spoke as little as possible, so as to preserve their inner atmosphere,” said Lucette.

What about this inner atmosphere?” said Richard.

It was their main resource. For both of them,” said Lucette.

Can you say that about yourself?” said Richard.

What do you mean?” said Lucette.

Is your inner atmosphere one of your resources?” said Richard.

Lucette thought about that for a moment.

It must be. Because if I’m upset, I can’t work. I mean, when I could paint, if I got upset over something, I couldn’t work. So that I had to keep my emotional house in perfect order,” said Lucette.

And is your emotional house in perfect order now?” said Richard.

Not since David died,” said Lucette.

Ah,” said Richard.

OK, out with it, what do you mean?” said Lucette.

Could there be something about your grief for David that is holding you back?” said Richard.

Of course it is. I will never be the same,” said Lucette.

I agree. But couldn’t there be something more specific?” said Richard.

Like what?” said Lucette.

You tell me,” said Richard.

Not again,” said Lucette.

What?” said Richard.

Another cliché,” said Lucette.

Richard laughed.

Can’t you do better than that?” said Richard.

I’m doing my best, Richard,” said Lucette. “Now you’re making me really angry.”
Lucette took a deep breath, and though she could hold her temper but then suddenly lost it.

I hurt. I hurt. I hurt,” she shouted.

Lucette hurled to the ground the easel nearest to her, and then the second one. She threw her glass jar of brushes across the room to the wall with a big canvas taped to it, and the glass shattered and the brushes flew in different directions. Lucette went to the window and ripped off the blinds. She kicked her stool down, and then with a broad motion of her arm, she razed the shelves of her paints. Then she slammed her left hand down on the desk, to raze the magazines and scissors and knives from that too, but it hurt very badly. Lucette looked at the outer palm of that hand to see a broken blood vessel and the beginning of a bruise. It was that sharp pain which broke the dam of her tears. Lucette collapsed on her knees on the floor, sobbing and breathing quickly through her mouth.

Fat lot of good that did me,” said Lucette.

At least you didn’t beat yourself,” said Richard.

Lucette had beaten her own face black and blue when the paramedic had first told her that her baby was dead.

How did you know that?” said Lucette.”It was before you met me. You told me you didn’t know everything.”

I don’t know everything. I told you already: if you think about something, I can see it, I can usually feel it,” said Richard.

You, you can feel things as well?” said Lucette, still panting.

Yes,” said Richard.

You felt what I just did?” said Lucette.

Yes,” said Richard.

This must be hard on you,” said Lucette.

It’s not so bad,” said Richard. “The first time you thought about David after I met you, I thought I couldn’t bear the pain.”

But you said you had lost your son at ten years of age,” said Lucette.

No, I said we had been separated by death when he was ten years old. I meant that he was ten years old when I died. At least I had the comfort of knowing that he would go on to have a good life. You don’t even have that much,” said Richard.

And has he?” said Lucette.

Yes,” said Richard.

He’s alive. At least your boy’s alive,” said Lucette.

Yes, but he will never know me or know how much I love him,” said Richard.

God, my hand hurts,” said Lucette.

Do you need to show a doctor?” said Richard.

I don’t think so. I’ll just wait a bit and see,” said Lucette.

Lucette looked around to see where her kettle was, but she couldn’t see it.
Must be somewhere under the mess,” said Lucette.

Go downstairs and make yourself a cup of tea there. It will take you a while to put those blinds back up,” said Richard.

Lucette smiled at last.

I bet it’ll take a while to clear up the mess,” said Lucette.

It did. It took four hours, even with Nino’s help, and there was more to do the next day.

That night, Lucette couldn’t sleep. Lucette had had trouble sleeping ever since she stopped taking pain killers after the plane crash. She would go to bed and read until she felt sleepy. But when the light went out, the memories would start playing back. After a while the memories of the crash faded, but the memories of her son pursued her. She would remember what it felt like to hold him in her arms. She could almost feel his weight again as she picked him up. She would remember how he sneezed four or five times in a row, when he was newborn. Other nights she would fall asleep for about twenty minutes, from sheer exhaustion, and then she couldn’t sleep again for two or three hours.

Nino was a night owl, and he was very understanding. But sometimes, he would be up baking bread, and Lucette would wake up at the noise of the oven door opening and closing, or hearing the water running in the kitchen when he did the dishes. Once she yelled at him:

You woke me up doing the dishes.”

And Nino came upstairs, kissed her, and said:

I’m only doing the dishes now because you hate it when there are dirty dishes around in the morning. Otherwise I’d wait. So tell me what you want me to do.”

His calmness and his understanding were sometimes hard to bear. They reminded Lucette she was sometimes a raging banshee.

Lucette went back to her studio the next day to start putting it back together. The physical labour did her good, she thought, and so she had refused Nino’s help except for putting the blinds back into place. She was too impatient to put those back up, but creating order again out of chaos soothed her. The repetitive motions of picking up and sorting out did her a world of good.

You need to uproot something so basic to your personality that everything will follow,” said Richard.

What do you mean,” said Lucette.

You need to work something out that is at the heart of who you are, and that is holding you back by now,” said Richard.

Isn’t that a contradiction?” said Lucette.

Not necessarily. If you adopted a defence mechanism a really long time ago, when you were a child, then you grow up with it. Your personality develops around it, and it feels like part of you,” said Richard.

Then what is so basic that it feels normal to me?” said Lucette.

You need to think it over, “ said Richard.

Great,” said Lucette. “You used to talk in clichés. Now you talk in riddles.”

As she worked the rest of the day and the next, Lucette still tried to think over what it was that was so basic to her personality that she couldn’t even see it.

Three days later, when she was at the gym, Lucette thought it over some more. She did her lat pulls, and her abdominal exercises, and she was struggling through her rotator cuff exercises. She was right handed and she was forever irritating the tendons and muscles of her right should and right arm. She was lying on an exercise mat on the floor on her right side, when she finally heard Richard speak to her distinctly enough for her to understand.

Let go,” said Richard.

What do you mean, ‘let go?’ Why do you keep bringing that up,” said Lucette.

Richard had first said that to her very early on, and at least once since then.
You mean, like that little girl who was on a torpedoed ship during World War II,” said Lucette.

Exactly,” said Richard.

Richard was infinitely close to her, and he had none of the teasing in his voice, and he was full of tenderness. And he said to her again:

Let go, Lucette. Let go. Let go,” said Richard.

And suddenly Lucette knew what he meant. He meant to stop struggling. He meant to stop treating existence itself as a struggle. He meant to stop treating each day as a series of problems to be sprinted through, each person to be conquered, each canvas to be mastered. Lucette understood, and from the depths of her being came her answer.

I don’t know how,” said Lucette.

Now you are speaking the truth,” said Richard.

So for the rest of the day, and the days that came after, Lucette would hear Richard whisper in her ear:

Let go. Let go.”

She would be having coffee, and she would hear:

Let go. Let go.”

She would go for a run, and she would hear:

Let go. Let go.”

She would be working on a grant application, and she would hear:

Let go. Let go.”

She would just be sitting in her studio, and she would hear:

Let go. Let go.”

Over time, Lucette came to see how much she took everything on as a struggle. Her days would be made up of lists of things to do that she would try and race through, and when she got down to one or two items, she would add more. She kept a calendar of things to do and would berate herself for falling behind. She would meet with a gallery owner or an art collector wanting to commission something, and everything was a struggle, always uphill, always difficult, always demanding. She would get dressed in the morning and she would be struggling to look as good as possible. Always a struggle, always a struggle, always a struggle. She would argue with herself about what to eat, to stay healthy. She would struggle to get to bed at the same hour every night. She would always be reading to try and better herself, she would listen to classical music in the car, she would borrow classic movies form the public library, she read magazines that she thought might be good for her.

But letting go did not take the shape she expected. Lucette expected that she would start to relax a little more each day. But it came about quite differently.

It had taken time for Lucette to tell Richard about the most traumatic part of her baby’s life and death. But when she did, instead of words or a conversation, suddenly she found herself watching herself like in a movie. She was in a hospital bedroom, circa 1980, and there was Richard. She was in the hospital bed, and Richard had just picked up newborn David in his arms. The light was soft, just like it is in the early morning, and there were no noises, no bustle coming from the rest of the hospital. David was maybe two days old, and even swaddled he looked very small.

Richard picked him up carefully, and cradled the baby’s head in the crook of his arm. Lucette started when Richard picked him up, but then she saw that Richard had handled babies before. David didn’t even cry. Of course, Lucette remembered, Richard had had two children. Then, just as she was breathing a little easier, Richard turned to her and said:

Oh, Lucette, he’s beautiful.”

Lucette’s heart started to thud. Richard could see David. It was a line right out of a clichéd movie, but Richard could see him. She was no longer the only person who remembered David. And she was somehow eased, she was comforted.

From now on, Lucette, he is as much my son as yours. If you’ll let me. I’ll help you bring him up,” said Richard.

It was one of Lucette’s greatest sorrows, that David had never grown up. But she still Lucette didn’t understand what Richard could possibly mean.

I trust you, Richard, but I don’t know what you can do. I mean, David died already a while back,” said Lucette.

And Richard said: “He is with me now, and you needn’t be afraid anymore. He and I will be together from now on.”

What will you do with him, he was so little when he died,” said Lucette.

Don’t worry, I think I can manage something,” said Richard.

That day, Lucette went into her studio to work, the stew-dio as she now thought of it, since all she did was sit and stew. But Lucette found that she could, for once, think clearly about a new work. She didn’t actually work, but Lucette could see the colours more clearly in her mind, she could combine shapes, and she could judge the lines much more clearly than before. She could think about work like she used to. And that night, when she went to be, at least she could rest. She slept better than she had in a while.

It was the next day that Lucette went into the studio to see if she could work again. It was when she sat down with her cup of tea that suddenly she saw Richard holding David in his arms. David looked much as he had in that last week of his life, with the slight curling of his hair at the neck. He was needing a haircut, but Lucette couldn’t bring herself to trim it.

Lucette started to cry softly. No sobbing, just the tears starting down her face. Richard turned to her and said again:

Oh, Lucette, he’s beautiful.”

Then Lucette looked at David again, and she now saw that her son had grown up a bit, old enough now to play ball. And that is exactly what Richard was doing with David, he was playing ball with him, very gently, very slowly.

Richard turned to Lucette and said:

Yes, you can see, David is growing up with me,” said Richard.

I can see that, Richard, and I find it very moving,” said Lucette.

Now I want to help you grow up, too,” said Richard.

And how are you going to do that?” said Lucette.

First of all, you need to eat properly in the mornings. Have at least some toast and peanut butter. You need the energy. Lots of people run on coffee and sugar when working, which is stupid. You need to feed yourself, not just your process,” said Richard.

That’s easy to do,” said Lucette.

Good,” said Richard. “Second of all, you need to stop criticizing yourself all the time. Everyone has fallow periods. I don't consider them really fallow, just the subconscious taking a breather and getting ready to take a different direction.”

What am I supposed to do about that?” said Lucette.

Start listening to what you are saying to yourself as you go through the day. Are you telling yourself you are doing great? Or are you berating yourself for not working yet, not being done with your grieving yet, not doing enough to help yourself yet?”

OK, I can do that,” said Lucette.

Do more than that. Keep a journal of what you catch yourself saying to yourself, and then read it over once a week,” said Richard. “I bet that will be an eye-opener.”

OK,” said Lucette.

As for today, get your art magazines out and start a collage for a change. Just cut out whatever you feel like and go from there. Enough of the drawing and the paint and the pastels,” said Richard.

I haven’t been doing anything with them anyway,” said Lucette.

Exactly,” said Richard.

You sound like my trainer,” said Lucette.

Well, maybe I am,” said Richard.

Lucette went to bed and slept well that night. The next morning, though, she saw that she had run out of milk and would have to go to the grocery store. She took Nino’s car and put on one of his salsa cd’s, one with a favorite song with great guitar licks. Lucette started to see herself as the lead guitarist of a salsa band as she bopped down the highway, swaying to the music. Then she stopped short and said to herself:

You’re being silly.”

Lucette, my dear, your imagination exists for you to have fun,” said Richard. “You should use it to have fun.”

But I’m not sure what fun is,” said Lucette.

That, at least, is honest, Lucette. Fun is about enjoyment, being carefree, letting your impulses govern you for a time. Never mind that iron self-discipline,” said Richard.

That self-discipline has got me far in this world,” said Lucette.

Yes, my dear Lucette, it has. But past a certain point, it can start to take the bloom off life. You were never one for tasting many of the small pleasures in life. Now, try,” said Richard.

I do so enjoy life: I enjoy writing with my favourite pen, I enjoy my favourite teas, I enjoy cycling,” said Lucette.

Yes, my darling, you enjoy those things, but when was the last time you had thoughtless, purposeless, enjoyable activity, where you stopped noticing time going by?” said Richard.

Oh,” said Lucette.

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” said Richard.

Maybe,” said Lucette.

Richard laughed.

Just try to take it easy on yourself, just try to enjoy the beat of this music, without thinking about what is right or wrong about what you are thinking and feeling? Do you think you’re the first person ever to pretend they’re a rock star? Why do you think there’s so much money in rock music?” said Richard. “If you want, I’ll listen to some of your favourite tracks with you, and I’ll help you enjoy them. You can have all the fun you want like that. And there was a time in your life, Lucette my dear, where those little fantasies were the most fun you had. Plus you started having them when you were a little girl, enjoying being the great heroine in Star Trek.”

How do you know about that?” said Lucette, blushing. “You’re right, with my difficult mother and hopeless father, escape was the best thing for me. I escaped in drawing and I escaped in fantasies. I remember spending hours alone in the park near my house, sometimes even in terrible weather, playing out my fantasies.”

Tell me again how you came to start drawing,” said Richard.

Well, it was one of those times when I got my report card, and there were the little comments by the teacher in that copperplate handwriting they all used to have. And the comment said: “Budding artist!” I was in grade three then, and I didn’t quite catch what it meant. But I used to go to the public library every day, and I’d go right for the stack of big picture books, and I’d look at all those paintings in the books, all the color pictures of all these heavy books. Once, a librarian even came over and showed me how to use a stand up table to hold one of the books, because it was so heavy. I had to stand on a little step stool to see it. And another time, the librarian showed me a book of women artists, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Carr. And that is when I realized that women could paint, not just men. So for Christmas, I asked my mother for a scrapbook and charcoal, and lo and behold I got them. I started drawing, and I’ve never stopped, ever since,” said Lucette.

What an actress you would have been, with all that passion locked up inside of you,” said Richard.

That’s just because you are used to working with actresses,” said Lucette.

Lucette and Richard laughed. Lucette got down to working on a collage.

It was later that month, in the early spring, that Nino and Lucette went away to a bed and breakfast in the country for a few days. Lucette took her digital camera with her, and she took some scenes of the sweet, sleepy little town with one gas station and some old signs. She printed them up and pinned them to the notice board of her studio when she got back. It had been ten days since her collage.

But when she sat down in her studio, hoping to work, nothing came. After the progress of the collage, she felt dry, dry, dry. She felt empty, she felt desiccated, she felt like she couldn’t remember how to paint. Richard came to her.

Come and see what David is doing,” said Richard.

What do you mean?” said Lucette.

I mean you can see what he has been doing with me,” said Richard.

And so Lucette let her mind’s eye wander over her own inner landscape, and soon she saw David, a little older than last time, and she saw Richard teaching him woodworking.

Woodworking?” said Lucette.

Yes, I loved it. I used to make the sets for all sorts of plays,” said Richard.

Yes, I know, I remember your obituary said: “Master carpenter,”” said Lucette.

It was on one of these nights when she lay awake for a couple of hours that she remembered her late aunt. Her aunt had had three miscarriages and eventually had decided to adopt. After Lucette lost David, Aunt Anna was the person who came closest to understanding her. She had come to see her in the hospital – Anna had been a nurse before her retirement – and she had tried to convince Lucette to come and stay with her when she came out of the hospital. Lucette had agreed, and had even let Anna go pack a bag for her. But when Lucette was sitting in the idling car while Anna when back into the hospital to pay for parking, she had decided she wanted to go home right away. Lucette wouldn’t admit it, but then, all she wanted was to be alone in her own plain little house, and be with her memories of David. When Lucette told Anna, Anna had given her one of her long looks. Anna understood perfectly well what Lucette was doing.

Lucette,” said Anna, “I’ll take you to your house if that’s what you want, and the VON can come and check your burns there. But whatever you do, don’t let David’s death be the only thing in your life. Don’t think that you have lost him any less because you eventually do something more than remember him. Oh, and by the way, I worked up north once, and we had to fly in really small planes. Once, when we landed hard in a snowstorm, the woman next to me nearly lost hold of her baby – I knew we were going to land hard the minute we started the approach, and I grabbed that kid by his clothes. He was a lot smaller than David, and the plane was going much slower. I know there’s nothing you could have done.”

Lucette had grieved for her, but Anna was in her eighties and her death was like a ripe fruit falling from the tree. But this night, Anna’s words came back to her. And Lucette repeated to herself:

There’s nothing I could have done. Whoever died in the plan crash couldn’t have been saved, not be me, not by anyone,” said Lucette.

And Lucette finally allowed herself to fell that it had never been her fault, that of course everyone knew she would have saved David if she could, that she had done what she was supposed to but that a plane crash is a terrible, unpredictable thing. Lucette started to cry.

Richard came to her and told her:

Come and see David now.”

Let me be, for once, just let me be,” said Lucette.

Come on, we’ve been here before,” said Richard.

Richard was right. On several occasions, when he had tried to prod Lucette into painting by asking her to just throw paint onto a canvas and release her own feelings, or going to a live concert to see if that could help, Lucette had fought him. But he had on occasion taken her on some inner landscape walk, walking through gardens and eventually through woodlands, with streams and even ponds. One particular pond Lucette had found particularly beautiful, with wetland grasses growing at one end, and endless mossy green bottom throughout. When she had to go to the dentist or the airport, and she was tense, she would give in to his urging and thinking herself back at that pond.

That day, however, Lucette approached the pond and saw her little David swimming there, in about three feet of water.

What is this?” said Lucette.

This is where David comes when he wants to swim and cool off and feel good,” said Richard.

Yes, but what does it mean?” said Lucette.

What do you think it means, Lucette?” said Richard.

What is this pond?” said Lucette.

Why don’t you ask yourself that,” said Richard.

Lucette thought for a moment.

It’s the pond of my motherhood, Richard,” said Lucette.

Ah,” said Richard.

What’s that supposed to mean?” said Lucette.

Oh, we are articulate today, aren’t we?” laughed Richard.

I’m doing my best here, and I don’t get it,” said Lucette.

Well, you’re going to figure it out for yourself,” said Richard.

And so Lucette went on a walk with Richard, to the pond where David had, or was it he was about to swim? And she saw her very own island, which had on it not just a beautiful beach, but also a large field of wildflowers -- the lake was fed by so many streams that the flowers never wilted and could only grow. The island was just for her, and one just for herself and David, and another was just for herself and Nino. But Lucette couldn’t fathom more than that what this archipelago was supposed to mean.

The next day, she went into the studio, and Richard started telling her something about her own art work.

What you have never understood, Lucette, is that your art is completely original. You have always tried to fit in with this fashion or that, like a chameleon changing its color to go with the fad, but you never paid attention to the heart of your message, the heart of you as an artist,” said Richard.

You have always thought that, because you had faith and no one else had it, that all your work had to be about redemption. So you painted your cows as the lost Eden, and hoped that they would draw people to the possibility of redemption.

But you are not only that. You are also the woman who knows the way out of pain, now. “

I don’t believe you,” said Lucette.

What you mean is that you cannot yet accept what I say. It does not mean that it isn’t true or that you don’t actually believe me. It only means that you cannot accept it for the time being,” said Richard.

Fat lot of good it’s doing me,” said Lucette. “Are you going to explain to me about all these islands that I saw yesterday?”

You need to figure that out for yourself,” said Richard.

Great. I’m on my own. Well, if you won’t talk about that, then tell me more about myself,” said Lucette.

You are a great artist, and you have known it for a long time. You have known it since you were fourteen,” said Richard.

You mean the time my art teacher asked me if I knew that I had more talent than anyone else?” said Lucette.

Yes,” said Richard. “And what did you answer?”

I said ‘Yes’,” said Lucette.

So, Lucette, this is not about not knowing that. It is about how willing you are to be that great artist,” said Richard. “It is about accepting who you are and what life has made you.”

Including a bereaved mother?” said Lucette.

Including even that,” said Richard.

Lucette turned towards the sunlight coming into her studio now. She picked up the journal she had been keeping and looked over her own writing, and some of the quick drawings she sometimes left in the margins, sometimes as an afterthought. She was looking for something she could paint. Then she picked up her charcoals and started drawing David while he was woodworking. Only she didn’t just draw him, she wrote words, she wrote impressions, and she remembered as she doodled how he had once melted a lollipop over the pilot light of the furnace.

And then she couldn’t bear it anymore.

I’m really at a loss here, Richard. I feel like I’m just circling and circling and I’m just going down the drain. I’m going to leave my studio now, and I’m not coming back. There’s no point in trying to blindly bump into a solution, because my son is dead, my son is dead, my son is dead, and my art died with him! I cannot stand to produce anything when my baby that I made so slowly and so lovingly, for whom I gave up everything, is dead. So stop talking to me about sketching in the park or reading a book or being a great artist. All of that is in the past. I’m so angry I’m going to have to use brute force here…I can’t get any of this out of my mind, not even for a second. So stop using these clichéd solutions on me. They don’t work, because I’m different. I’m a bereaved mother, no one can understand what I go through,” said Lucette.

Except me,” said Richard.

Oh, go to hell,” said Lucette.

No, Lucette, really. I can see your soul, I can see your heart. I can feel everything you feel. Why do you think I’m here?” said Richard.

I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know the way out!” said Lucette. “How does one go on, Richard? Tell me that much.”

My son didn’t die, I died. I died after leaving both him and my daughter when they were about two, and after that however strongly I felt, I couldn’t do more for them or with them. So when I realized I was dying, how could I go on, knowing that I had screwed it up, and never could make it up to them now? I guess I just breathed. Breathing is a reflex. I just went on breathing, until I breathed my last,” said Richard.

Oh, that really helps,” said Lucette.

It’s the truth, Lucette. Think it over and you’ll see it’s the plain, unvarnished truth. Isn’t that what you wanted?” said Richard.

I don’t know, I told you, I don’t. I’m trapped. I’m in this cage and I can’t get out. No one gets it. Everybody talks like I can just turn the key and move on, but I can’t,” said Lucette.

Maybe if you…” said Richard.

Leave me be! Leave me be!” said Lucette. She kicked away her stool and ran out of the studio, slamming the door.

It was several weeks before Lucette could bear to go back into the studio. But when she did, one fine late spring morning, her foot stubbed the bag of potatoes she had bought after the watermelon caper with Deb. During those weeks, Lucette had refused to speak to Richard, but she also had realized that she needed to try again to get the pain of David’s death out of her system. This time, though, she was going to make sure it was as realistic as possible. Over time, Lucette figured out how she was going to do it. Richard didn’t have to tell her, not this time. She would go bungee-jumping with that bag of potatoes. She had thought about it, and looked up on the Internet whether it was possible to do in her area. It was, so than Lucette had had to wait until she could face it. Lucette did what she usually did, which was to say nothing about it until she was good and ready.

At this time of year, there would probably still be snow in the Leduc Canyon. But the bungee jumping had already started, and Lucette was feeling like she would never work again, so there was nothing to lose. She had been irritable for weeks, like she always was when she felt a burst of anger at her fate. Nino had brought her a second twenty-pound bag of potatoes that week, and had put it on the counter, and said:

I’ll go with you.”

Lucette was so desperate she agreed.

So they drove out the forty-five minutes it took to get to the canyon on the highway, and then drove more slowly on the wet, potholed gravel road. Lucette saw the sign and when Nino had parked the car, she got out, cradling her bag of potatoes. Nino said:

I brought a reusable cloth bag for the potatoes, Lucette.”

Good idea, I don’t need to look any crazier than I have to,” said Lucette.

They walked down a footpath through the woods for about five minutes, and then they got to the office. Lucette handed Nino the potatoes and walked in. The owner was a burly, jolly young man who greeted her with:

Another thrill seeker!”

Lucette said nothing and handed over her debit card. Joe the owner started fitting her with a harness right and helmet right away. She said so little he stopped chatting and just asked her questions:

Can you get more than a finger between your helmet and your head?”

Is this strap too tight?”

It took only a few minutes to fit the harness onto Lucette, it was a week day at the start of the season, and there weren’t many tourists yet. Then Lucette walked out of the office by the back door, right onto the path that led to the bridge over the canyon. Nino followed with his bag. Lucette was so distraught and trying so hard to focus that she barely registered when the owner said to Nino:

You too?”

Nino shook his head.

This one’s all hers,” he said.

The owner made Lucette stand at the edge of the bridge while he hooked her up to the bungee cords. It took less than two minutes and he said:

Whenever you’re ready.”

Lucette stared into the space, with the sky high above her and the gray rocks below, in the bottom of the canyon. She had been afraid of heights since she could remember, but this time, she felt like the space was almost drawing her over the edge.

Give me the bag,” said Lucette.

Nino gave her the bag of potatoes. The owner glanced at Nino, then at Lucette, then at the bag.

Well, it’s good for another thirty kilos, so you should be OK,” he shrugged.

Lucette staggered a little and Nino put out a hand to steady her.

I’m OK,” said Lucette. “I’m OK.”

Are you sure?” said Nino.

Lucette shifted the bag in her arms so she wasn’t cradling it. She suddenly couldn’t stand to cradle that weight in her arms. And then, suddenly, she couldn’t bear to stand there another minute, with her fears and her guilt crowding her, and the weight of her dead son weighing her down, and the damn bag of potatoes was too much of a reminder. Lucette let herself be drawn into the void. Slowly, then more quickly, and she jumped. She was holding tight to the bag, and with the weightlessness of the fall, she felt the bag press a little back against her chest, and then suddenly she felt her feet tug as the bungee tightened and just as she was about to snap back, gravity interfered again, and she felt the bag sliding up past her chest.

No!” said Lucette.

Lucette grabbed at the bag, but then she began to snap back and rise and the bag slipped past her face, scraping the skin of her chin, and then she lost her grip on it. She didn’t hear it hit the rocks, but as she looked down she could see the wrapping burst and the potatoes bounded upwards, and then she was falling again, and she closed her eyes against the dizziness, and she snapped back, and she fell again, and she snapped back, and she fell again one last time, and then she was just swinging and she noticed the breeze at last, and she heard the shouting of the owner, and the blood rushed to her face and she knew little, except when someone grabbed her, and helped her stand, and started to unhook her. She didn’t know she had extended her arms horizontally, not at all like a cross, until Nino told her about it afterwards. She only knew that she stepped back out of the sunlight because it dazzled her, and she preferred the shade, suddenly, despite the coolness.

You are free, now,” said Richard.

Lucette nodded to no one in particular.

I know,” said Lucette. “But I don’t know what it means.”

I’ll show you,” said Richard.

Lucette was exhausted, suddenly, and Nino, seeing the lines in her face, took her home and put her to bed. Lucette, who always had a bath at the end of the day, and cleaned her teeth meticulously with three types of brushes and two kinds of floss, collapsed into bed and fell asleep, not stirring for a couple of hours.

When Lucette woke up, thought, she knew something was wrong. Her face and chest were severely flushed, but she was cold nonetheless. She stayed in bed and when Nino came in at dinner time, she heard him. As soon as she realized she was no longer alone in the house, Lucette started shivering violently, despite the warmth of the room in the afternoon sun, and the thick comforter. Before she could even call to Nino, Lucette’s teeth started chattering so loudly that Nino heard it. He ran up the stairs.

Are you OK?” said Nino.

I don’t think so, look at me,” said Lucette. 

Do you want to go to emerg?” said Nino.

I don’t want to sit there when I’m like this,” said Lucette. Lucette could hear her own speech starting to slur with the effort of keeping her teeth from chattering. 

Nino stepped forward and put his hand on her forehead.

What’s your temperature, your forehead feels normal,” said Nino.

We only have that contraception thermometer, Nino, and I don’t want to put that in my mouth,” said Lucette.

I’ll go get one,” said Nino. “I won’t be ten minutes.”

OK.  I’ll take a hot bath to warm myself up while I wait,” said Lucette.

Nino actually started the bath for her, and Lucette only had to turn off the tap when the bath filled with hot water. She managed to undress, and then felt herself buoyed up a bit: Nino had put Epsom salts in the water. The hot water felt really good, and stopped her teeth from chattering at last. But Lucette was still lying there, shivering even in the tub, when Nino returned. He walked right into the bathroom without taking his backpack off and stuck a neon green thermometer in her mouth.  It stayed green instead of turning bright orange if the termperature was normal.

Normal,” said Nino.

Let’s take my blood pressure,” said Lucette.

Nino had high blood pressure and checked it periodically, so they had the meter in the house.

Let’s get you into bed and resting first,” said Nino. He got her robe from the back of the bathroom door. Lucette shrugged into it but moved away when Nino tried to take her arm.

I can do it,” said Lucette.

Lucette practically crawled up the stairs then flopped back into bed, exhausted.  Nino fit the cuff over her arm.

128 over 67,” said Nino.  “It’s normal too. So this must be psychological.”

Yeah, “said Lucette, “I’m just so exhausted. I’m still shaking.” 

And then she saw it in her mind’s eye. Ever since the plane crash, Lucette had had this deep dark place inside of her. She called it the dungeon to herself, and she suffered there alone, in the dark, in that dank airless place. She would fall into it seemingly for no reason, and then she had to claw her way out, over and over and over again. Sooner or later she would always slide back in. No one could reach her, no one could hear her call, no one could comfort her. She was alone in there, trying to breathe, trying to claw herself out of the pit. And Lucette knew that she was shaking so hard from the effort of clawing herself out of the pit so many times.

Except now, as she felt herself slipping towards that place, the dungeon was gone. It was no airless, dank place any longer. It was filling in with sand, with hot, beautiful, very fine, golden sand.  It was as fine as the finely milled pasta flour Nino got from an import shop. And this sand didn’t just fill up the dungeon.  It kept pouring in until where the dungeon had became a magnificent, perfect beach. Before she had David, Lucette had canoed a great deal, and this beach was like all those secret island beaches she used to find when she went camping, on her long, solitary expeditions through the wilderness. She hadn’t thought of those beaches in years, but now that she saw them in her mind’s eye, she recognized them.

It was over. There was no dungeon anymore. There was no need to keep up her strength to claw her way out. The trembling was not just from the effort of all the years of struggling out, it was also the relief of having made a superhuman effort to get out, and having to do it no longer. Lucette had trembled like that after David was born.

Lucette tried to tell Nino what was happening, but it was hard to find the words. But Lucette must have communicated at least some of what she was feeling and seeing.

Why golden sand?” said Nino. “Why not flowers or trees or willow bushes?” 

Because when I was little, I once overheard my mother talking to her sister about me. We had been camping at a magnificent campground called Horseshoe Beach, and she was saying that the whole time people would come up to her and say: “Is that your little girl? But she is like a fairy dancing across the sand,” said Lucette.

The shaking finally went away after another hour or so, and Lucette finally warmed up. But Lucette was as exhausted as she had been when she had given birth to David. She couldn’t read for three days, and she could barely focus on the radio for a few minutes. She lied in bed the whole day, without getting restless or bored. It took her several weeks to be able to even go into her studio.

But when she did get there, Lucette immediately tried something new. First, she got out all her art books and played “what if”. It was an exercise from art school, where she would search out painters in her books, and tried to find something that appealed to her. Lucette was waiting for that voice inside of herself that would say: "I could do that" or "I'd like to be able to do that." She would then try and copy that image to figure out what that artist did and how. She did that with Leonardo before, referring to his notes on how to draw anatomy, for example.

Then Lucette tried to think about recombining ideas. When she had two or three paintings that spoke to her, she tried to ask herself what could be done differently. She looked at some still lives, and wondered if she could paint that on a tire? Or find a new subject of still lives, like bricks? Or maybe she could happily ruin her watercolor brushes and work with them in oil. Or use a new surface, like birch bark, or treat her surfaces differently, with that new epoxy she had seen. She thought about trying to be deliberately ugly.

The next day, Lucette went back to the studio in the afternoon rather than the morning. She had thought she just wanted to see what some of her old paintings looked like in the afternoon light, and so walked in with her cup of tea. Lucette, when she didn’t expect to work, always walked into her studio with something in her hands. She got out an early painting and stood looking at the vivid colors of one of the abstract work – reds, oranges, yellows. They lifted and blended as if they were breathing, pulsing with life. Lucette remembered how pleased she had been with this particular painting.

And then Lucette remembered David finger-painting with oranges and reds when he was about two…
Of course he had been too young for that, but Lucette was anxious to have him share everything she herself enjoyed so much. And then the David of her mind’s eye rose before her. She remembered him in Richard’s arms at his birth, and she remembered him playing as a toddler with Richard, and she remembered Richard and him playing ball. She remembered the boy being taught carpentry by Richard. And then she saw David grown up, as tall as Richard. Then Lucette came to understand that David was like Richard, purely a spirit now, not a living being constantly being torn from her body. He was separate from her, and he was independent, and he was free. Free to leave her for good, she realized, but nonetheless free, as every human being should. David was so young when he died that Lucette had not even started to realize that he was separate from her. But now she felt him like the other people who had died in her life. Present in memory but no longer in being. This was so intense for Lucette that when her mind returned to her studio she felt depleted and had to sit down.

She didn’t go to her studio for a few days, but eventually returned.

Come on, Lucette, smile for me,” said Richard.

Lucette had been sitting in her studio watching the minute hand of her clock go round and round. She had just been debating with herself what she should do. She had heard of writers who sat down at the computer or the typewriter and just wrote out whatever came into their heads. Lucette was wondering if she should do even that, and then Richard had come into her mind.

It can’t be that bad, Lucette. Try taping some of your drawing paper to your easel,” said Richard.

Lucette had no answer to that. She got up and went to her surfaces cupboard. She chose a large piece of newsprint, maybe 24 by 36 inches. She taped the long side vertically on her easel, then taped the rest. Lucette then sat down.

Try picking up the charcoal, that is the easiest,” said Richard. But Lucette didn’t think so.

Charcoal is the hardest, Richard. It is actually extremely difficult,” said Lucette.

Come on, how hard can it be? There is more to go wrong with colour,” said Richard.

There is more to go wrong with acrylic or oil. But because it is so simple, charcoal drawing is the most difficult. There is nothing that can mask a lack of technique or inspiration. There is nowhere you can hide, there is nothing to distract the ear. Because there is no colour, no texture, that artist is alone. There is just the charcoal and the paper,” said Lucette.

Just pick up your charcoal, Lucette, and see what happens,” said Richard.

What, actually work, instead of talking about how hard it is?” said Lucette.

Lucette’s grip on her charcoal pencil tightened.

Just try a single stroke across the page, and see what it is…” said Richard.

You’re an actor, not an artist,” said Lucette.

True. And, by the way, what an accusation. But all creators are the same, and we all have to start each day with a warming up exercise. Just to keep the path to creativity from getting overgrown,” said Richard.

Lucette snapped her charcoal pencil in two.

Look what you made me do,” said Lucette.

So I made you mad, so what, at least you’re feeling something. Now try a single stroke,” said Richard.

What for?” said Lucette.

Like I said, just to keep that path from getting overgrown,” said Richard.

So that’s why I come in here every day,” said Lucette.

That’s right. You’re keeping your path open, everyday,” said Richard.

Lucette suddenly didn’t want to argue anymore. Suddenly, she caved in and picked up the charcoal. She drew a broad stroke from the top right to the bottom left, and then found the straightness of it too severe, and started softening it with a shallow arc. Then she was dissatisfied with a pure geometric shape, and added some more strokes, rubbing and blending as she went. Minutes started to go by. She had a sketch rising out of the blankness before her eyes. Then the last of the fine pencil charcoal crumbled in her fingers, and she had to get more. That was when she saw the hour had gone by. Lucette sighed with relief, and turned back to her easel.

The next day, she got out her charcoal sticks. She had already taped a sheet of paper onto her easel. She sat down on her stool and began her wait. She got up to move the clock to the shelving opposite, so that she could see the minutes tick by. Then she began her ritual wait for the hour to be over.

Lucette, you have moved forward quite a lot, but now you need to keep going,” said Richard.

How can I even think of going on? After everything I’ve just been through? Leave me alone, the path is too steep for my strength,” said Lucette.

You don’t want your life to pass you by,” said Richard.

Well, I can’t help it if my life is passing me by, without my being able to function. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” said Lucette.

Come and fly a kite with me,” said Richard.

What are you talking about?” said Lucette.

Come and fly a kite with me,” said Richard.

What kind of kite?” said Lucette.

One of those ultra light kites with tiny dowels…you can get them anywhere,” said Richard.

And why should I do that?” said Lucette.

Well, you can sit here and stare at the clock, or you can try and learn how to fly one of those battling kites. I saw them years ago when I went to India,” said Richard.

You’re going to sit in my head and teach me,” said Lucette.

Yes,” said Richard.

Lucette laughed, but she was sad when she got her backpack and got on her bike. Lucette went to an outdoor store, and got one of the new fighting kites for about thirty dollars. She chose it for the diamond shape and the vivid yellows and blues. It had to be assembled, and Nino had to help her with the insertion of the crossed dowels.

Lucette waited a few days, and then went to the park on a windy day. She walked up a slight hill, and with the wind in her back, blowing her hair into her eyes, she started trying to get the kite to lift. She got it off a few times a few feet, but her reflexes were wrong – she would tug on the cord, and the kite would nose into the hillside. She had to unlearn how to fly the kites of her childhood first. She played, and she played, and she played with it, but she could never get it off the ground for more than a few minutes, and finally it nosed into the ground and broke on of the dowels. Nino replaced it for her that night, and then she went out again the next day.

This time Nino came with her.

Nino didn’t have Lucette’s manual dexterity, but he also didn’t have kite-flying reflexes to undo. He could fly the fighting kite easily, to the delight of a little girl pick-nicking in the park with her parents, but Lucette kept tugging when she should release, and couldn’t learn any different. Nino started advising her, but Lucette crashed the kite again, breaking the other dowel.

Shoot, the dowel broke” said Nino.
Goddamn it,” said Lucette. Nino’s jaw dropped: Lucette never swore.

Don’t I damn well know it,” said Lucette.

We can put the others in tonight, and come out again soon,” said Nino.

I don’t give a fuck,” said Lucette. OK, thought Nino, now Lucette was making up for lost time with the swearing.

Well, you’re the one who wanted to get a kite,” said Nino.

Don’t you start reminding me of what to do and not to do,” said Lucette.

Gee, hon, take it easy,” said Nino.

No, you take it easy. I’m fucking Zen,” said Lucette.

Ri-i-i-i-i-ght,” said Nino.

I’m so angry, I’m so angry, I’m so mad, I’m beside myself,” said Lucette.

Lucette realized she was being ridiculous, but she couldn’t help herself.

What are you angry at?” said Nino.

I’m mad at life, I’m mad at fate, I’m mad at God. If there is a God. Why me? Why me?” said Lucette.

It’s not about the kite, then,” said Nino.

Oh! Fuck the kite,” said Lucette. “It’s about David, of course.”

Hon, hon,” said Nino. “Let’s go home, let’s go home now.”

When they got home, Richard wasn’t waiting for her.

Lucette couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t. She just went to her studio, in case he came to her there. But there was nothing, he didn’t.

Lucette lost herself in thought. The winter before David died, when she went back to Deb’s, she had stood alone outside the paddock, watching Deb’s horses. It was a winter’s night, and it was bitterly cold. Deb had said that her forty-odd horses were in the far paddock, which was too big to encompass with the eyes. The horses were in the valley, and there was about four feet of snow on the ground, with a fresh ten inches on top of that. It was so cold that the horses had to keep moving, and so the herd was running together. As the horses ran in circles, Lucette could see the snow flying up under their hooves, and it looked like a cloud enveloping and trailing the herd. Lucette had never seen anything more beautiful. The moon was out, and the snow that flew up looked blue.

L’heure de la neige bleue,” said Lucette to herself. “When the time comes for me to die, let it be at the hour when the snow is blue.”

She had turned and trudged back to the house in her heavy borrowed boots, and when Deb gave her a cup of hot chocolate to warm her up, Lucette set it down without tasting it and got out her notebook and had started sketching.

Lucette sat there remembering that moment. Then suddenly she began to be afraid. Richard wasn’t there, and she needed him. Why wasn’t he there.

Richard, what happened? Are you there? Are you leaving me?” said Lucette.

I’m here, my darling, but you are healed now. You feel entirely and fully like a woman, so from now on, I will not have my body, I will just have my spirit,” said Richard.

But I need you, don’t leave me…”

I’m not leaving you, but from now on I would be holding you back, holding your painting back. That is the only thing that matters, your painting, your art,” said Richard.

Richard, don’t leave me,” said Lucette.

I won’t leave you, Lucette, just trust me on this. Our relationship is ready for a new phase, that is all,” said Richard.

But I’m dissatisfied…” said Lucette

Then face that up front. I’m still your muse. We always knew that this spiritual bond would not last forever, that we would have to move on. So let us move on to the next step, of being together as artists. From now on, to continue as we were will hold you back,” said Richard. “So it’s time for us to move on, and for you to get to know me as the muse that I am.”

I thought all this time it was immature of me to need you, but now I don’t want to let you go,” said Lucette.

Maybe it is immature, but the idea of the muse has been around for centuries, you know. Don’t you think it’s possible that this is some spirit form somewhere, just dressing up in this manner so you’ll find the whole experience less frightening, less scary?” said Richard. “

I guess, but if I admit that, I won’t be able to be reassured by it, will I?” said Lucette.

Lucette was almost too frightened to speak any more. Then Richard said:

Now start breathing deeply, it will help you get centered. And whenever you need to, you can breathe deeply.”

When Lucette told Nino all about this that night, he laughed at Lucette’s logic. But she was right of course, and the ways of Lucette’s heart he never took lightly.

The next day she could paint. She didn’t see at first the link between what Richard had said, and what she now could do. All she knew was she could paint. She could paint, she could paint, she could paint. Lucette’s soul sang, and her heart was light after so long being heavy. Lucette could paint without thinking. Lucette could paint without seeing the finished painting in her head, and she could paint when she saw the finished painting in her head. Lucette painted quickly and easily day after day, one canvas a day and several studies of paintings she wanted to do later.

After about ten days of painting like that, at the end of a satisfying day of painting quickly and well, and refilling her teapot without eating, that it finally hit her. She was standing at the shelving in her studio, where she put her teapot, Then Lucette felt suddenly that she was enveloped in light, completely enveloped so brilliantly that she could not see. She leaned forward and held on to the shelf at chest height. Afterwards, she realized that she had to have been hanging on to that shelf for about half an hour.  Lucette couldn’t move, and didn’t know that time was going by.   Eventually she got a cramp in her left shoulder and then in her jaw. That’s when she realized how tense she had been.

From that moment, when her mind’s eye saw Richard, he was like a statue or a photograph of a human being, rather than an actual human being. That was when Lucette realized that something was over. When she looked again, Richard’s image crumbled and fell to dust, like some plaster saint falling apart, or some freeze-dried drink falling into crystals. And Lucette would ask him the same questions over and over again.

Are you going to leave me?” said Lucette.

Through you, I have been able to live again, and to fulfill my promise as a human being,” said Richard.

You didn’t fulfill yourself when you were alive?” said Lucette.

In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. I too was separated from a son before time, but some of it was of my own doing, because I left his mother when he was two,” said Richard.

But then, suddenly, Richard had a lot to say.

How about you sit up straight for a change, don’t slouch like that. You cannot be your full beauty if you have bad posture,” said Richard.

Well, Richard, I have a thing…” said Lucette.

I know, I know, you have a thing about your breasts. Breasts, breasts, breasts. Well, they don’t look any smaller if you cave your chest in. They just look like they sit lower than they do. So shoulders back. Shoulders back,” said Richard. “Now I’m going to teach you about presence.”

Then it felt suddenly like I had a huge projector behind her face. And t was like Richard was using a fine-haired paintbrush to sweep away dust and everything that got in the way of my star power.

Sure, in film, I was really photogenic. Sometimes my performances lacked subtlety because it was too rushed or too difficult technically, but on stage I was so magnetic. I had so much presence that no one could look at anyone else,” said Richard. “Boy, I could feel it pouring out of me, like high beams. Now I’ll show you the on and the off switch so you can be on high only when you want.”

I want to be on high all the time,” said Lucette.

You diva. Trust me, you say that now, but you won’t want to be on high all the time,” said Richard.

And Richard put Lucette’s hand on the graduated knob, and showed her how to increase or decrease the intensity. Lucette laughed, but she could feel the difference.

I think I’m getting it,” said Lucette.

All right. Just so you know, this means I’m going to say goodbye soon,” said Richard.
Lucette looked stricken. She didn’t want to lose her inspiration by losing him. But there was nothing she could do but wait. Lucette could turn Richard down, but she couldn’t will him to come. And over time, Richard began to fade, and integrate into her, as he had always said he would. This went on and on, repeated itself for days on end, and Lucette at times found Richard’s absence unbearable. But Lucette doggedly went to her studio every day, and sat on her stool, and waited for something to change.

I don’t want to paint anything anymore that upsets me,” said Lucette.

Then stop doing portraits of cows, Lucette,” said Richard.

I know it sound obvious to you,” said Lucette.

You could start by painting portraits of mothers and babies,” said Richard.

It was then that, at last, Lucette allowed herself to remember the worst day of her life. Those words, mothers and babies, triggered it all. Lucette remembered thinking the take off was strange, and that they weren’t off the ground nearly quickly enough, nearly steeply enough. And then the shudder of the plane when it clipped the top of the trees, and Lucette barely managed to hold David in her arms, and David started crying, and the pilot sounded the alarm, and the plane wheeled at an impossible angle back towards the runway, and then it just slid sideways suddenly, and David no longer was in her arms when she was deafened by the tremendous crash. There was smoke and fire and heat and screaming, and Lucette couldn’t see David, and someone grabbed her arm and pulled her hard, and suddenly she was out of the smoke and could breathe again. And then someone shoved her and she slid down an emergency chute.

Lucette stumbled towards the trees right in front of her. She felt the heat, the heat of the plane going up in flames, and she instinctively thought the shade would protect her. She sat among the trees for what seemed like a long time, with all the sirens and shouting washing over her. And then she heard a shout, from someone who saw her in the woods. “I found another one,” in a man’s voice, and then there were two or three people running towards her, and hands pushing her to lie down as she struggled to get up, and a light flashing in her eyes, and voices that sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher speaking to her. And then she saw the flames, and shouted:

My baby, my baby, my baby.”

Another man’s voice said:

Your baby’s fine just lie still your baby’s fine just lie still.”

She turned her head and said:

How can you know already?”

And as she turned her head she saw even more flames, the whole plane was in flames, and there were more people looking after people on the ground and she curled up her arms around David but he wasn’t there, she tried to hold her baby again and she knew he was dead, she remembered that she saw him hit the seat in front of her and then bounce even more forward head first, only there was no forward in the plane anymore and her voice was like someone else’s.

My baby.”

Lucette felt the needle going into her arm and she fell into the blackness of a pit. Afterwards, everyone told her it was the blackness of the drugs, the black of unconsciousness, but Lucette knew, but never told until Richard was with her, that it was the pit of guilt. Her baby was dead because she had not held on enough to him, she was David’s mother and now Andy was dead…dead…dead…dead.

And then she heard Richard say to her:

I’m just so glad that you remembered at last.”

After that weeks went by without Richard saying a thing, only coming to her occasionally, like he was taking her pulse.

After that, she tried to rest but she had a great upsurge of painting. She had so many ideas suddenly that she ran to the studio in the morning and worked out her ideas in chalk, until the chalk crumbled in her fingers, and then she would rush to the store for more supplies and keep going, working into the night. She would fall into her bed exhausted, Nino long asleep, but would not be able to drift off because of all the ideas throttling her. Lucette began keeping a notebook and several pencils by the bed, so that all she had to do was reach for her bed stand and get the ideas down before they ran out on her. It was like being fire-hosed, Lucette thought. She experienced this onslaught for over a month, day after day, night after night, before she felt any slackening of inspiration.

Richard was fading, more and more. She could feel his presence, and see his smile, but he had no body, although he still had warmth. When Lucette painted, she could feel him, but he was not distinct from her any more. But she felt him best of all now when she worked. She could pick up a paintbrush or charcoal now, and she could feel Richard breathing with her. She could fee him looking at the paper or the canvas through her, and she was more than she was alone, even if she was not Richard. Richard’s gift was to bring out her own talent. She was more with him than without him, but she was nothing more than herself.

Yes, Lucette, I am leaving you in a way, but it is so you can be all that you are. My gift, my greatest gift, was always bringing artists into the world. With you I have come to be fulfilled,” said Richard.

Do you still have David?” said Lucette.

Yes, Lucette, I have kept him with me and he is my son, now,” said Richard.

And Lucette saw with her mind’s eye the field of wildflowers, fed by the crystalline pond. And she saw Richard, with a body made of light, without curves but all planes and angles, lift up the sun of her own gifts up high.

One morning Lucette got up at about five am, as usual, and made herself a cup of green tea. She turned out all the lights so she could see the sunrise in the calm of the early morning. That was the moment when Richard liked to speak her. She had prepared her weird breakfast, with lentils and chickpeas, and she would have eaten it in from of the TV, but Richard had asked her to eat her breakfasts with him, and she indulged him.

But I didn’t breakfast with him today,” thought Lucette, “I thought about all sorts of things, about work, about meetings. Then I settled down a bit more.”

Nino also came in for some surprises. They had been lovers for several years now, he had never known David, for instance, and there was a certain routine in their life together. But suddenly, she would press against him in the middle of the night, and whisper into his face as he awoke:

I want to come.”

She had feared intercourse, because she couldn’t face the possibility of pregnancy. So she had been into oral sexual and mutual masturbation and just about anything else she could think of instead, suddenly began welcoming Nino in every way, going down on him before rolling on the condom, climbing aboard if they kissed on the couch and he got a hard-on, wanting to try positions she had read about or seen in films but had never really had a chance to try before. Eventually they stopped using contraception, and Lucette started to feel that one day, maybe her juices would no long run so dry, and she might conceive again.

After a couple of weeks, when her pace at work slackened and she could think once again of her great theme of redemption, Richard spoke to her.

I’m so glad that you are better,” said Richard.

So am I, Richard, it feels so good to be able to work again,” said Lucette.

Have you thought more about your lost Eden,” said Richard?

Not really, I’ve been so busy with all these ideas,” said Lucette.

And what do you think they amount to?” said Richard.

I don’t know, I only know that I am happy, and that there are abstract ideas and not just about horses or mothers or babies anymore,” said Lucette.

What are they about?” said Richard.

Well, I’m painting nudes a lot, and faces, but in the same way that I painted the cows, always in saturated backgrounds. And they are all looking far away,” said Lucette.

What do you mean? Far away into the distance?” said Richard.

I mean that they are looking out from the canvas, but beyond the spectator, towards some distant point,” said Lucette.

And what does this tell you?” said Richard. “What are they looking at?”

Whatever it is that made them happy, because all the faces are happy, but nostalgic also,” said Lucette.

So they are looking at their lost Eden,” said Richard.

I suppose you’re right,” said Lucette.

And I think that in time, that lost Eden will come closer and closer,” said Richard.

Now I don’t know what you mean,” said Lucette.

You will,” said Richard, “Because you are painting into your portraits the way to happiness that you have found.”

Not really,” said Lucette. “No, that’s impossible. No one recovers from the death of a child.”

No one goes back to who they were before,” said Richard. “But they can move to a new and positive life just the same. Look at me,” said Richard.

Yeah, but you’re dead,” said Lucette.

Richard laughed and faded away.

The days went by and Lucette continued to work well.

And then she saw with her mind’s eye Richard as he now was, with a presence that was really made up of mist. The mist made up a little ball, and Lucette could see that her own essence, also like a cloud or mist, formed a small ball, about the size of a softball, in front of her. The two mists got closer and closer together and then mixed. And then the ball of mist, made up of her own essence and Richard’s, dove into her heart. She felt her chest expand, and could hear Richard’s voice inside her heart now. And then Lucette could see Richard had come inside her, and he was putting a Teflon coast inside her heart. It was a wonderful feeling, not exactly sexual, but involved all of her sensations. It was pleasure. It was pleasure.

But then Lucette suddenly found that she could speak the truth that had been nudging at her for some time.

I don’t see you any more,” said Lucette

Don’t I also get to go to my eternal rest?” said Richard.

Lucette had no answer to that. Lucette didn’t like that phrase, it sounded too much like the euphemisms from funeral homes. But there was something essentially truth in what he said. She came to understand as well that as a little girl, she had had other spirit guides, other guardian angels, and she had thought they were real people, she had not known they were speaking to her in her mind. Women who had lost their children, and cared for her instead, people who had done wrong by others and protected her from the worst, people who had been helpless but now could use their power. They would watch over her for a time, and then they would go away, their work done, their dilemma resolved. It was strange, that there was this vast spirit world that no one acknowledged or understood. It was strange to Lucette, after a year of living with her spirit. But it was also too much for her, and Lucette knew that she would prefer to shut herself off from all that, now that she could paint again, if only she could keep painting.

Meanwhile, Lucette knew instinctively that Richard, who had never been good to the women he was with, and had left them when both of his children were about two years old, without ever understanding what was going on, had been able to understand the loss of her son because he had left his own young son behind. She had become able to face her loss and helped resolve his own.

Maybe that time of final separation had finally come. Lucette took out a canvas and set to work. For the first time in her life, she chose a brush intuitively, and she chose the color instinctively, and she applied the red. And then she applied the yellow, and the blue, and she started to mix colours, and she didn’t think, she just felt. She didn’t paint, she just let the colours flow into each other. Time ceased to tick past and began to flow, and she worked into the night, forgetting everything, until she had completed her painting, panting, tired, exhilarated.

Lucette stopped every once in a while and asked Richard where he was. Lucette called for him, but then he would answer, but from inside her own heart. Lucette would cross her arms in front of her chest and hug herself. Richard was there, she could hear him speak.

I miss you, Richard,” said Lucette out loud.

I am always here, you can always feel me from now on, Lucette. And if you miss the body, then go ahead, meet someone else, and enjoy that company. See what other muses have to offer you,” said Richard.

Lucette smiled. She was grieved and yet she could feel Richard’s strength in her arms, in her legs, like another body inside hers. Richard was still with her. She could feel his strength integrating with her own. And then the image she had of herself changed, and Lucette started to feel the power of the earth beneath her feet. She had walked on a erupting volcano once – hiking in New Zealand, the low lying clouds had hidden the plume of ash – but this was different. She felt that the earth was giving her power. She could feel the energy coming up through her feet. She ran out into her little garden barefoot, to feel it more clearly on the grass. There it was, energy pouring up through her legs.

And then she started to feel like there was a windmill inside her belly. There was a whirlwind in there, and it was like the sexual organs and the genitals were energized, were infused with blood afresh, even her own shrivelled uterus was vital and vibrant. And then it was like there was a vacuum inside of her, because all the fear and anguish of old was gone, and not only her sexual organs but all her organs were starting to go into overdrive. The vacuum reached even up her windpipe and into her mouth, and she had to double over. It was such an intense feeling of life and energy she could scarcely bear it. It would take her days to understand what had happened.

And she understood that she was meant to be conjugated by men, that she was meant to interact with others. Her womanhood was fulfilled. Her womanhood was integrated. And then she understood that she was meant to interact with people. She was meant to be one with other people, to join the common herd, to hear their stories, to express for them what they did not even know they felt. It was so intense, Lucette could scarcely bear it. She could hear Richard calling out reassurances to her. She went back in the house. She sat down by the window. She doubled over again, trying to breathe, trying to comprehend what this feeling of integration within, with her greatness and uniqueness growing within her would mean for her. She couldn’t grasp it, she could only barely keep up with the catalysis of her own being.

And then Richard spoke distinctly to her for the last time.

The terrible tragedy that you experienced broke up your personality into pieces, and in the years since, you have laboriously re-established communication between those components. Later on, you managed to resolve pretty much all the conflicts that existed between your mind and your heart and your body, and that felt great, and you could paint. But now, all those pieces are coming together, are starting to work together, and now you can be all that you can be. Now, you can accept your own talent and your own uniqueness, you can accept that no one else sees what you see, you can accept that you need to paint only for yourself. Very soon, it will all feel normal for you, you will not even think about it.”

From now on,” said Lucette to Richard, “I won’t feel you in the same way, will I?”

No, but you will feel me clearly for what I am, your muse. Now you are healed, not completely or forever, but enough for you to be able to bring all of the parts of you to work together. And you now have something to say, that has never been said before,” said Richard.

I understand. I can now say that it is possible to survive anything. It is possible to heal from anything,” said Lucette.

And that was the last time she talked to her muse, Richard Jordan. Richard spoke to her clearly no more. She knew this was the end. However much she felt his strength, Lucette also felt much more alone that she ever had. And that was hard to bear.

Lucette went to the kitchen and made herself a double gin and tonic, and sat down and drank it on an empty stomach. The feeling of whirlwind continued inside her for another couple of hours, but the drunkenness took the edge off the anxiety.

For a long time after, of course, Lucette missed Richard. Once he was integrated, she called him Richard, but she couldn’t come up with more than memories. She missed him. She missed the newness of his affection for her. She missed his constant appreciation of her womanhood. She could feel him inside her heart, she could see him in her mind’s eye, integrated into the great field of wildflowers, spring-fed and flooded with sunshine, the sunshine of her talent. But if she could not feel him next to her, he had no body anymore. She would talk to him, but it was a disembodied voice inside her own heart that answered. She would think of him, but it was a disembodied warmth. That body of his, tall, the smooth chest, the broad hands, the blue eyes, the chiselled features, the immense shoulders, she missed all of those things. After a year of having him with her, reassuring her and affirming her, of being told she was wonderful and extraordinary, she had no one to do that suddenly.

Oh, Nino was wonderful – he brought her flowers, he brought her presents, he brought her favourite trashy reading. But suddenly Lucette felt that Richard was beyond her reach. She couldn’t write to him, even, she who had written her complete thoughts in her diary or letters her whole life. Lucette realized now that she had been sexually unfulfilled all these years, not from lack of Nino’s being a good lover, but because of whom she had been and what she had been. But, she supposed, few women got to be as sexually fulfilled as she had been with Nino since Richard was in her life. Richard had made her complete. He had freed up her womanhood. Whatever she was and whoever she was, whatever she did in her mortal frailties and limitations, she was entirely herself. Nothing was hidden from her, nothing was unclear to her, nothing was unavailable to her. She was forty two, and she possessed herself entirely.

Lucette was not always sure what that meant, but she knew it was true. Lucette did not always understand what difference that would make in her life, but she knew it was true.

Instead of feeling bereft, Lucette felt comforted at the thought that Richard would benefit from the fruits of her relationship, as she herself had, and that both of them could stay close friends without this strange, unearthly, eerie relationship interfering with her own life or whatever after life Richard might have. It was wonderful, and it was suitable, and it felt right, and in the end, it is all that Lucette had to go on.

In time Lucette came to be drawn to her easel more and more. When she missed Richard, the only solution was to paint. And she did – she painted with ease, she painted with serenity, she painted with abandon, she painted with speed, she painted with great creativity, she painted day after day after day. She would pick up the brush and not know what was going to happen beyond that first touch of color to the canvas. She would draw sometimes, because she couldn’t keep up her canvas stretching with her painting, with pastels or coloured chalk, or just charcoal, until the charcoal piece crumbled in her fingers. Her entire soul would be unleashed onto the canvas, and she would put her drawings and paintings carefully away, because she knew that it would be thought impossible for anyone t paint so much. And she could see her work clearly -- she knew what was good and what needed more work, even as she loved all her works. All she had to do was show up every morning in her workshop, and work for a few hours, until her neck got a little stiff and her right thumb was numb. Then she knew it was time to stop, and to work a little bit at making the whole art world machine work.

Lucette got very good at moving herself forward, at fuelling her own process. She knew all about different galleries in town, but she had never really gone to them to show her own work. Now she was free to go and introduce herself, to the gallery owners and the curators and the collectors. Lucette was just herself with all of them. The life flowed out of her unimpeded. The colours poured out of her, without obstacle or judgment on her part. She simply was, when she worked in her studio. Time went by without her glancing at the clock anymore.

For years afterwards, when Lucette had to cope with the more common ups and downs that come to everyone, she found it difficult to explain to herself, let along others, what it was like to have had Richard in her life. When she had to face difficult situations, where the pain of her loss was awoken, Richard was always there for her. She only had to go inside herself and say:


and the warm comfort of the thought that he had taken up her son when death had separated him, was wonderful. David’s death had shaken many of Lucette’s beliefs, including her optimism and her belief in life. Her recovering her ability to paint had been in part due to a restoration of those beliefs. But occasionally, something would happen – she would have a health scare, or she would be with people who did not value their children, or, quite simply, she had to take the plane again, and her fears would come flooding back. Then she would call to him, and she would feel as supported and as comforted as ever she did in the heyday of that first year with his company. Lucette took it upon herself not to call out to him unless she had to, but she also didn’t hesitate to do as necessary.

One day the following winter, Nino and she were having dinner with friends. They talked and laughed and ate and drank, and Lucette wore a new purple shirt, ruched at the front, that set off her shoulders. Lucette had never before left her shoulders bare. Melinda said to her:

Don’t you look pretty!”

And after dinner on the terrace, they moved to the living room to her Jack’s new stereo play the Black Eyed Peas covering some sixties UK band whose name she couldn’t remember, and she heard the beat of that song, and Lucette started to dance. Bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, the beat was insider her and her body just naturally moved and Melinda and jack and Nino just smiled at her. They didn’t dance, they didn’t stop talking, they just kept chatting, they didn’t stare at her, they didn’t look surprised, Lucette moved a couple of feet away from them, there was hardwood floor beyond the area rug. Once there, it was even easier to dance, and her movements become more natural and broader. Lucette danced. And she danced. And she danced.