Lavacourt Under Snow
There were two stone buildings with closed shutters and several bare trees. There was thick, untouched snow on the ground and in the background a snow-covered hillside. The sky was a soft white. He could almost feel the chillness numbing his face, the muted silence ringing in his ears.
There was just one thing that, in his undisclosed loneliness, the attendant longed for.
A human presence.
Monet had neglected that. No solitary figures, as in so many of his Argenteuil paintings, to provide a moment of warmth in the lifeless cold. The attendant could do nothing about it.
A tall man and a lady entered the gallery, both smartly dressed, on a late lunch most likely. The lady wore a dark red coat and knee length brown boots that clicked softly on the laminate flooring. She studied each painting they came to, a serious expression on her face. The man, who was looking down at his phone rather than at any of the artwork, was obliged to keep stopping to let her catch up. He seemed annoyed by it.
The lady stopped in front of Lavacourt Under Snow.
‘I love this one.’
‘It’s my favourite, too.’
They both turned and the man glared down at the attendant. He saw that she was pondering the attendant with a faint smile. Slipping his phone smoothly into the inside pocket of his coat, he spoke in a voice that boomed around the gallery.
‘I did a History of Art degree.’
‘Did you? I never knew,’ said the lady.
‘Moved to law after the first year. No money in art. No offence.’
The attendant felt an overwhelming desire to pick up his chair and swing it as hard as he could into the man’s artless and ignorant mouth. Instead, he said politely, ‘Not much money, no.’
‘You get to see these paintings every day,’ said the lady, glancing up at the man, her face serious again. ‘It can’t be so bad.’
He nodded. ‘I get a lot of satisfaction from it, yes.’
The faint smile returned momentarily but the man gave a derisive snort and began to walk away. The lady said something to him and he responded sharply. She blushed and the attendant saw her lips tighten into a thin, angry line. The couple moved on to the next gallery and the attendant went to his chair.
After a short while, the lady reappeared, alone. There was no one else in the gallery.
‘I just wanted one more look,’ she said in a quiet, determined voice, standing in front of the Monet.
‘It’s just so beautifully captured.’
The attendant stood up.
‘I think it’s to do with the way he’s used different colour tones, along with the white. Like here.’
The lady stepped closer to examine where the attendant was pointing, where the foreground gave way to the hillside.
‘It’s so peaceful and empty. I’d love to go there,’ she said, scrutinising the painting.
The attendant turned to her. ‘Yes, you can almost feel the place, can’t you,’ he said.
The attendant was returned to consciousness by his walkie talkie. He sat up, lightheaded and confused, his energy drained. An elderly lady smiled at him sympathetically. He wondered if he was becoming unwell. He listened to the voices on the walkie talkie. A man at the information desk was searching for someone he’d arrived with earlier but could now no longer find. A woman. A series of negative responses crackled over the airwaves.
‘You haven’t seen her, have you?’
The sudden return of the booming voice made him jump. The tall man loomed over him. ‘She’s not even answering her phone. What’s she playing at?’ His expression was one of disdain, but there was a note of panic in his voice. Some of the other visitors turned to watch.
He barely had time to respond before the man had hurried away, the clack of his expensive-looking shoes echoing off the walls and the high ceiling.
Then the attendant noticed the Monet painting and an involuntary shiver passed through his whole body. He stepped closer to where it hung on the wall. He was not mistaken. A figure stood near one of the trees. She wore knee-length brown boots and had left footprints in the snow. She had her back to him, facing the hillside. Her red coat stood out against the grey and blue and the white.
The attendant felt unable to move. The walkie talkie crackled again. Five minutes to closing time. The last of the day’s visitors moved slowly past him towards the exit. In the solitude of the emptied gallery he continued to stare in amazement. Maybe she’s been there all along, he thought to himself, but he was too familiar with the painting to believe it.
Eventually one of the security staff appeared in the archway. The attendant turned off the lights and, in a daze, went to his locker.
‘Look at that, it’s starting to snow,’ said the guard at the front desk, leaning back in his chair and surveying a heavy grey sky outside the window. ‘Strange; the forecast didn’t say anything about snow.’
The attendant did not respond. He frowned deeply and left the building, half walking, half running. From the sky, the flakes were beginning to fall faster and faster. It seemed that there was a red light cutting through the night air. A strong wind suddenly whipped up all around him. He covered his face. When it had passed, he raised his eyes and saw that he was no longer in Trafalgar Square but in the middle of an expanse of snow-covered ground. He felt cold air on his skin. There were two buildings and bare trees. She was standing in the same place. She turned at his approach. ‘It’s the different colour tones that make it beautiful, just like you said.’ She smiled faintly and held out her hand, and he walked through the snow towards her.
Andrew Senior is a writer of short fiction and poetry based in Sheffield, UK. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in various publications including Litro Magazine, The Heartland Review and Flash Fiction Magazine. You can see more of his published work at:
The Ekphrastic Review
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