On the day I visit the gallery, it is raining. Manchester, famous for rain, revolution, and football, lives up to its reputation, and Mosely Street in March—seen from the third storey—glistens with passers-by holding dark umbrellas aloft.
Brett, Dorothy (1883-1977), hanging here on the white wall of the gallery, painted umbrellas in bright colours, parasols, really, for the sun. She does not call them parasols. Her bleak pessimism announces that it will surely rain soon.
Curved backs recline. Lytton Strachey, knees crossed under a yellow umbrella, book falling limply from his hand. Ottoline Morrell, on whom Dorothy has a crush, resplendent in pink silk, folding her hands in her lap beneath a sheath of green. Behind her, perhaps, Virginia, who was not yet Woolf, and Leonard, curled into blue and pink umbrellas, oblivious to the party, the absence of Vita not yet felt.
No sign of Lawrence here.
The slight man paying court to Ottoline is too tall, too dark, too earnest to be Lawrence.
Lawrence came later, cast Ottoline into controversy, drew Dorothy into his orbit. She followed him to Rananim—Dorothy, that is—by boat, leaving behind the grey March drizzle. In the heat of a parched New Mexico she put down roots, seeing no need now to paint umbrellas.
On the day I visit the gallery, I do not have an umbrella. I take shelter under Dorothy’s, spending long moments soaking in the warm light. Later, in the gallery gift shop, I buy a postcard of her umbrellas, slip it between the pages of a book I am reading, forget it is there.
I’ll find it later still, when I have travelled above the clouds to leave behind the grey March drizzle, when I, too, have put down roots in American soil.
Unlike Dorothy, I still need an umbrella. I keep hers in a small frame on my sunny kitchen wall, in case it rains.
Catherine A. Brereton
Catherine A. Brereton is from England, but moved to America in 2008, where she is now an MFA candidate at the University of Kentucky. Her essay, "Trance," published by SLICE magazine, was selected by Ariel Levy and Robert Atwan as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays, 2015. She is the 2015 winner of theFlounce’s Nonfiction Writer of the Year award. Her more recent work can be found in Crack the Spine, The Rain, Party, and Disaster Society, The Watershed Review, The Indianola Review, Literary Orphans, and The Spectacle, and is forthcoming in GTK Creative Journal, and Burning Down the House anthology. Catherine is the current Editor-in-Chief of Limestone, the University of Kentucky's literary journal. She lives in Lexington with her wife and their teenage daughters, and can be found online at catherinebrereton.com.
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