The Way We Lied

Days before the exhibition opened I was still so nervous about my new work, even though I had been terribly excited for months and Mary had been supporting me, as well as everyone else, all that time. I just kept thinking that I would die if anyone said they didn’t like my new pictures. While my previous paintings had been unadventurous they had always been admired and I had sold enough to make it worthwhile, but now I was afraid I would meet with rejection. I could tell Simon wasn’t sure about my new style, but by then I think he realised he should just keep quiet. I had hoped he would be able to help me hang my work in the gallery for the show, but as usual he was too busy and so I did most of it myself.
But in the end I need not have worried. People liked the new work. In fact they more than liked it, they were really interested in it, which I could never have said of my previous style. Before, I just daubed pretty colours, attractive patterns which fitted in with the decor, now I was creating paintings which talked to people and everyone wanted to know how my new style had evolved. Well, quite a large number of people did.
Alex was one of the friends who came to the show and it was obvious she still liked my old pictures, one of which I had hung in the show to highlight the new start I had made. She bought that one, which I thought was very kind of her, knowing she would probably never buy another of my pictures again even though we have been friends ever since she married Charles. And by the end of the show, all my pictures had sold and I had commissions for several more. I was absolutely overwhelmed and delighted. But even then I never imagined that working with Mary and finding a new way of working could change my life as radically as it has done.
There is a soft breeze here today and the scent of lemons ripening on the trees. Soon they will fall and ants will crawl over the yellow pitted skin. Maybe I will draw and paint the lemons in the shade this afternoon, cutting one or two open to show the thick uneven pith, white against the yellow, so different from the thin-skinned lemons of English supermarkets. I think I will contrast that bright sunshine yellow with the black of the shiny local olives, the blackness speaking of their oily bitterness.
Every hour of the day I see images I long to capture. When Aphrodite serves supper, I am in raptures over the irregularity of the huge slices of juicy tomato and the texture of the fresh bread. And when I accompanied her to the market yesterday, I saw compositions in every stall of shining silver fish, the glistening fresh cherries and the tangerine courgette flowers.
I am eager to work every minute of every single day, to capture as many colours and shapes as possible before I go back to the urbanity and mediocrity of England. I have promised to return when the children come home for the summer, although I could afford to stay away for longer. I have been selling my paintings ever since the show took place and also have several commissions, including a collaboration with a writer on a book of old country stories called Tales from the Potting Shed. And I have been talking to my agent about an idea I’ve had for a series of three books of illustrated recipes entitled Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, which will depict the meals I have encountered on my travels. Whereas once I could not see how my work would ever develop, now I cannot see it ending with so many possibilities stretching before me I can only hope for the time and health to complete them all.
Sometimes I also wonder where Mary is now and what she is seeing. I imagine her wandering dusty villages in Africa, the souks of Marrakesh or temples in India, absorbing and observing. She left a couple of months after the show, just before Christmas that year. Although she had never actually said she would be leaving, I think I always knew she would not stay there for ever. I think I knew she had to see more, experience more and touch more people. A little part of me is sad I cannot share my work with her now, but really I do not have regrets. I know she was hungry for new experiences and I know she will always be working.
My only regret is Simon. I can no longer stay by his side forever and live the tidy, restricted life he likes. I am grateful for the protection he gave me when I was vulnerable and for giving me our lovely children. But although I still love him, I have to go where my work takes me. I have shown him how to find the courage to move away, but I cannot force him to change. He can choose whether he wants a new life with endless opportunity, or his safe old life.
The morning light is growing stronger now and the early mist is lifting from the calm sea. On the far horizon a small ship is steaming to Albania. Perhaps I will go there tomorrow.


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