‘Paint perceptions. Not reality.’ Artur’s French accent is beguiling. How he would scoff appraising our village art club efforts. I was apprehensive when Gerald, with uncharacteristic generosity, gave me a residential painting course in rural Franche-Comte. What would the tutor, a professional artist, make of this enthusiastic amateur? Yet, Artur’s eccentric attentions make me confident and fearless, like baby taking first steps
We trek through shaded forests and verdant valleys until Artur barks, ‘Paint zis scene.’ Seated on wet leaves or mossy boulders, I breath in the scent of pine and, using childish crayons, fill my sketch book. Artur smells of turps and sweat. Kneeling beside me, he pushes back Byronic curls and says, ‘Good. Colour not contour. Shade not shape.’ His finger pad, the colour of blueberries, traces cherry blushes suffusing my cheek.
‘Art is liberation,’ he breathes. Mentally painting over an image of Gerald silent behind an open newspaper, I replace it with Artur stroking my thigh.
My fellow students do not share my enthusiasm for Artur. During a challenging walk to a silent lake they huff and complain. Squinting at towering trees reflected in viridian glass, I bleed watery colours across my canvas. Tuttings erupt when Artur praises my obscure impression saying, ‘she paints with her soul.’ Shivering with lust and pride, I take his proffered hand and am led to the water’s edge.
‘Throw it in the lake,’ he commands.
A collective gasp startles roosting birds. Frightened, they flap across the lake. ‘Why?’
‘Art demands sacrifice.’ Smiling like a satyr, he turns and stalks away. I hurl the canvas across the water. Landing, it makes no sound. A square of colour spoiling a perfect scene.
Arriving home a day early, I assume Gerald is at work. Until, from our bedroom, I hear the woman’s laughter.