Seascape, by Michele Stepto
For many years, Andrea rented a small house in the mountains for a month during the summer, and in this house over the mantelpiece hung a seascape in which there was no boat and nothing but waves to be seen. The top half was a stormy sky and the bottom half was nothing but roiling waves, with a few whitecaps here and there. The painting was enclosed in an elaborate gold frame, such as you might see in a museum around an old master, and from a distance it looked quite abstract. It was only when you got up close that you saw the waves.
In the first few summers Andrea searched the painting carefully each time she arrived at the house, looking for the boat. She couldn’t believe that there was only the gray sea, with its chop, and the storm over it. She searched the horizon between sea and sky with particular care, thinking the painter had put the ship there, approaching from a great distance. There was a speck that one could see only from a certain angle, but it always turned out to be nothing. A flaw in the glass, perhaps.
After awhile Andrea stopped looking for the boat. She concluded that someone had painted the scene from shipboard, leaving out all trace of the ship, and for some reason this irritated her. If it had been her painting, she would have thrown it out, but of course it belonged to the house, which she only rented. Nor was she able to ignore it, because every time she had a guest, the guest would stand in front of the painting, sometimes for a long time, looking for the boat. A gentleman guest once said, “Funny there’s no boat. Maybe it’s underneath,” which Andrea thought was one of the stupidest things she’d ever heard. Underneath what? But hadn’t she herself turned the painting over once, looking for a clue? On the back was a sticker that read “Onde.” Waves.
One summer she arrived to find a different painting over the mantelpiece. When she asked the house’s owner what had happened to the seascape, she was told that the frame had turned out to be very valuable and so it was sold. And the painting? Worthless, she was told. It had disappeared.
She stopped coming after that. She began going to the shore instead, where she discovered that the painting had not disappeared. It was now inside of her, its storm unabated, the gray sky still lowering. Even on a sunny day the sea always looked dark and roiling, and she had no trouble anymore imagining what lay underneath.
Michele Stepto lives in Connecticut, where she has taught literature and writing at Yale University for many years. In the summers, she teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont, where this image hangs in one of the faculty houses. "Seascape" is one of sixty-five brief stories written in as many days, one per day, in the summer of 2007. Some of the others have appeared in NatureWriting, Mirror Dance Fantasy and Lacuna Journal. She is the translator, along with her son Gabriel, of Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World.
8/7/2017 03:35:23 pm
So beautiful and haunting! I love the arc of this story, and the puzzle at the heart of it.
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