Chapters 1 - 3: The Archivist (Advisory: Salty Language, Adult Themes)
The surface was smooth as it reflected dim lighting. Ted studied his features in this wooden mirror. He found it easier to examine himself than to try and make conversation with what he guessed was his friend.
“Care for another?” The bartender inquired.
“Yea, just make it a Yuengling.” He was drinking more than he expected and he needed to choose wiser or risk losing his internet for the month. It was hard not to drink though. Something about Dirk really put him on edge.
Dirk’s demeanor was languid but somehow also intense. He was leaning back in the chair nursing a lager. It seemed like he was looking through a window. Like he was watching something unfold. But there was nothing but a shelf of liquor in front of them.
“Trying to find a stronger medicine?” Ted asked attempting to dispel the unease.
“In a manner of speaking.” Dirk replied with the same chilly smile.
He wished he hadn’t asked anything. There was definitely a shift in Dirk’s voice. It was too urbane. Vidette had never been coonass but he was also not James Bond.
“That was some painting my man.”
“Yes, I suppose the client liked it.”
“It was a commission then?”
“For what exactly?”
Dirk sat silently musing.
“A rather romantic notion.”
“Well, all that Doctor Böhm said was: paint sorrow.”
Ted felt a chill as he recalled the expression of the girl.
“What was it that you’d called the thing?”
“Was that someone you knew? How did you come up with that face? Who is she?” Ted was a psychology student and a humanist he felt it was important to bring Dirk out of his grief by helping him make the connection.
“She’s no one.”
“Oh, come on she has to be based on something. It was really good come on tell me.”
Dirk sat musing silently again for some time.
“As I said she is nothing. If I had to reach for an explanation I guess it’s that old house.”
“Your uncle’s place.”
“Non. That is a happy house.”
Ted laughed. He didn’t want to know what sort of house Dirk was imaging if he called that mad Alsatians place happy.
“When I was young my father had us fly to someplace in Connecticut.”
“Yes, it was a business trip. Since he was state side he had us come there. His contact from Hart Pharmaceuticals had us all over for dinner to meet his family. I suppose it was one of those classic corporate butter-up events.”
Ted was a bona fide coonass but he felt he understood despite his class. “I see.”
“The family was normal. Langford’s wife was beautiful and the two children were twins. They were just about the same age I was at the time. Round fourteen I think. Right after dinner the brother went off to play games and the sister asked me to go to the garden with her.”
“So you were always a ladies man!”
“What was the garden like?” Ted was curious as to what any of this had to do with this painting.
“Extensive, surprisingly so, with several greenhouses. But the garden had nothing to do with the painting. It was that house.”
“Oui. On our way out we passed a room. It was evening and the last rays of the sun were falling ever so slightly diagonal wise through a large lattice window. I remember her passing through that light and…” It seemed that Dirk’s preternatural calm was about to shift.
But nothing happened. There was just an awkward silence and that same serene searching gaze.
“I thought you said that this had nothing to do with anyone. That it was no one. So it was that girl?”
“No, it was the house. But these things are hard to grasp. I suppose that she did have a bit to do with it…”
“Well, it’s just that as she passed through that light, as it danced across her face, for a second I thought I saw an older woman.”
Again Ted thought he saw the slightest quiver in Vidette’s Sphinx like trance.
“So it was based on somebody though. It was based on a person you thought you saw.”
“Yes, I suppose you could say that. That it was someone I thought I saw. But…”
There was a long silence.
“But it was the house that did it. There was something about that room. About the way that the furniture was placed. About the furniture itself. It seemed like I’d stepped onto a sponge that had soaked in everything. And that all that everything had stained right through my sneakers into my bones.”
“What exactly was so spooky about it. Was it one of those old Yankee places.”
“Oui, very much so. Georgian architecture and the furnishings to match.”
“Power of suggestion. So was the girl called Camilla.”
“No, Martha Langford.”
“Yes, very much so.”
“But she wasn’t called Camilla?”
“No she was Martha.”
“What kind of name…man I would never call my kid Martha. That’s an old lady name.” Ted chuckled.
“Yes, she never like it. In fact she wanted me to call her Francois after she found out we were French. You know after Francois Hardy?”
“Francois is not much of an improvement.”
“Where is your patriotism?”
“In the Mississippi depths”
“Ah, yes you are proud of your American rusticity.”
“But Camilla is the woman in the painting?”
“So you think maybe Camilla was someone who’d lived in that house. Or someone like Camilla. That it played with you imagination the way that they’d furnished it and you gave in to the power of suggestion.” Ted was trying to be a psychologist again.
“Non. Camilla is the house.”
It was a very clumsy and senseless phrase. Ted didn’t understand it. Was Dirk trying to be dramatic? Yet. Something about it chilled him to the bone as he recalled the woman with the quiet blue dress and the downcast hazel eyes by the window. There was something about the gas lamp and the twilight through the lattice window coupled with that expression…the design on the brooch set in the belt just beneath the bust was also suggestive. That painting was imprinted in Ted’s mind forever. It had bled into his soul just as that old house had bled into Dirk’s bones through his shoes.