She has seen him do this before, but she can’t shake the feeling that this is the last time. Finally, and with an excruciating sweetness, he stumbles down the steps and finds the door. He faces the other way, so she can’t make out his face, but she is pleased to imagine a smile, not something overt or intended, but natural and childlike. After all these years of trying, he could only be overjoyed by this Jurassic wonder, although she can make out no movement, no fist in the air, no excited shaking, nothing but a subtle shrug which, she is fully aware, she may have imagined. She should leave him to it. She loves seeing that moment, the inevitable expression of awe, and she would like more than ever to see it now, but this is not her moment; it has been a long time coming and it is only his.
For the sake of discovery her canvas is still blank and to gaze over it blinds her. The purity of its stretched weaving is out of place, offensive, aggressive, an affront to her dominant tastes. It has a way about it of breaking the scene like a window looking out over endless white; a glimpse into what is truly real, which reflects all and reveals nothing. Soon she will find a colour and apply it, breaking one form of monotony only to produce another. The walls of her studio are plastered with this scene, painted painstakingly, one for each day of imperfection, each a testament to failure. Why, when so many others have captured this scene, can she not? Is she not capable? The folded cheques in her pocket for other landscapes encourage doubt, and yet this scene eludes her.
The colour is purple this time, and perhaps she should include him, facing away from her, a hunched speck before a great void, but as the colours merge she envisions something other, leading her away from the sacred privacy of his moment. A battle, perhaps, from long ago, fought in the shadow of this great door. Or fought for this great door? There could be no political advantage to owning these conjoined stacks, yet she certainly would fight to the death for them – for the testament to natural beauty, for the message of fragility, for the moments of awe. Yes, she decides, a battle then. The hopes and dreams of would-be kings weighing down the stooped shoulders of men and boys, so much so that they sink a few inches into the piled stones of Reject Beach. Death approaches swiftly, much, much too swiftly, and the young fall over one another to escape his icy grasp. The young are swiftly joined by the old, who lingered at the back with dreams of safety, happy to see their sons off to a losing battle so they might be spared. But there can be no sparing here. Brave sons and their ignoble fathers fall to a relentless wave, foaming but refusing to break. Death wears the face of a king – a crowned general leading from the rear – and soon the would-be king is forced to meet with his reflection. Desperate, diseased with mania, he reaches out to snatch the crown he pretends to fight for and topples from his perch. The end of his fall offers nothing but rocks, hard and real, and he squints against the bare light from chalk cliffs. At the bottom, his body crumples with an age-defining softness, and his pupils dilate and glaze over. The spilled royal blood and regular should have come together in a swirling pool of imperfect purple, but instead remains a dull red, fading to dried black in the heat of the day.
Not purple, then, nor red, nor blue. Another wasted canvas to add to a growing collection. He is still there, as if inviting her brush to freeze him in time on a fresh sheet of white. Despite all his experience, however, she knows him to be wrong; he lives exclusively in the past. When the light fades to black and rises again for an early dawn, today will be yesterday, but tomorrow will still be there, waiting with eternal patience for an unrealised experience of the present. There is comfort in the thought of tomorrow’s promise. If today’s canvas is spoilt, tomorrow’s will still be blank and ready for a new injection of colour. One day, perhaps, a truer inspiration will hit and a more perfect version of a new colour will form on her palette. There is nothing of benefit to find in the past; history is a mess of repeated mistakes bound together by a central, silent error. There is no purple to be found in the past. Purple is firmly within the purview of tomorrow. The past has seen far too many days when the most natural place to rest her head is in the palms of her own disappointed hands.
And the future is calming. No longer do we rush, but shift with a subtle certainty towards a future already planned for us, and the sonorous sigh of a slowing Prius beats back the angry Mustang rumble. Perhaps she will never capture this scene, not quite, but then again perhaps she will, and this thought is more than enough to convince her to try. Her paintings may only fail, but she will never fail to arrive at precisely the same time each morning, earlier than most would consider rising, and leave long after the sun has set to drive home by the light of a conciliatory moon, on the elusive chance that her own moment might come. The awe she feels and sees will finally be translated into acrylic to blot out the reflective oppression of a blank canvas. The walls will be stripped of failure and imperfection to make way for one immaculate square of colour, resplendent against a backdrop of emptiness, proof of her talent for no eyes but her own.
A momentary shift in his bearing draws her from her thoughts and back to the task at her fingertips. The temptation is simply too strong and she dives for her palette. Equal parts yellow and burnt red, a spot of violet and lashings of purest white swirl about one other, coming together between the fibers of her smallest brush as a pale, but distinctly sandy beige. She wants to capture him before he leaves, before he takes off his coat against the rising heat seeping in from between clouds. Does he have a wife? Did he have a wife? Has he ever known love? Could he tell her what it feels like? Are words sufficient for that level of emotional expression? No, but colours perhaps. The back of his head, gazing at the beauty of an English Natural Wonder, can express far more about love than words ever could.
Before long he is there, standing slightly hunched in beige on a boundless sea of abstract nothingness, a fly on the window to reality. It comes to her not as she had imagined on all those sleepless nights, as a flash or explosion of sudden inspiration, but as a slow and purposeful trickle from some external point of knowledge to a growing pool in her mind. As her thoughts come together like colours on a palette, a smile breaches her lips to expose pearly whites with signs of yellowing edges. There is no need to paint the Door, even less need to capture landscapes at all. This here is the perfect image of an English Natural Wonder, this beige man with his untold capacity for love, staring in awe at an uplifting empty space, the perfect realisation of a new tomorrow.
Photo credit: Antony Spencer, Dorset.