View of the Pond at Charleston, painting by Vanessa Bell 1919 (public domain)

In the pond, she watches the fish: quick, silver, blood orange, speckled, larger this time, having grown enormous last summer, and now, at the end of spring, they grow again, just before summer grazes lazily at the edges.

She watches the pond from the front of the house. Upstairs. Her bedroom. In a pause between painting, where her brush wilts in the bottom of a green glass (a gift Clive had brought back from Trehern? India? She couldn’t recall which) where the water is the same yellow as the trees. She wipes her fingers on the seam of her skirt where it won’t show, hums a note of a half-forgotten tune half-played on the piano last night, hears the soft creak and close of the front door and watches Duncan, in the same grey buttoned-down cardigan and brown corduroy trousers he’s been wearing since January, step out.

He leans back. Stretches his back, and takes in the morning air. He walks slowly. Takes his time from doorstep to pond, a short distance of only a few steps, but he pauses, slow, gentle, takes in the bluest of blue skies, the fragile warmth of the sun, closes his eyes. Stops. Then, with hands in pockets, looks out across the water, watches the fish gulp and pop their lips at the surface, the flash of gold and silver, a fin, grey striped and shining, slicing the water here and there.

The pond, an eruption of life, of light, a million dazzling, shimmering dashes and moments of sunlight ablaze on the water’s surface.

She wonders what he thinks, standing there, the shadow of Charleston at his heels, then, turns instead to dry her brush, to dip, now, into the red-pink of a curtain, brought back into this room, this house, this home, where the sun warms her face through the glass.

She paints: draws the color in waves, becomes for a moment, the painter, instead of the observer. Then, almost as if she has willed it to happen, the sun shines brighter, bringing her back beyond the glass.

Duncan, gone moments, minutes or hours ago, is replaced by the hurried halting stride of Virginia. She too with hands in the pockets of her skirt, only hers are balled, straight arms, shoulders tight. She moves fast, wide-brimmed sun hat covering her face, though Vanessa knows she is whispering, mouthing, perhaps, the words of other people, a novel, an essay, or, perhaps, a letter, after all, one needed only to receive a postcard arranging or confirming an appointment to see that here was a mind with a twist of its own; always a quip or unexpected phrase.

How different, the two of them, the sun-bleached Virginia of the day, all soft edges and soft smiles, then the glowering, glowing Virginia of evening time, shrouded in a fitting gloom that suited her well.

Only hours ago, last night, she had been fizzing with possibility, arm draped over Vita’s, sitting on the floor, at the foot of Vita’s chair, finger making circles over a knuckle. A look, a gaze, a moment in love between conversation.

She remembers, whilst working the deepest pinks of the curtain into soft folds, the hours of the evening before, spent over wine, after dinner (Lytton had bought a goose), Virginia, sitting in the half-light she loved, seemed to draw the thrill of the coming night into herself, only becoming more alive when her moving hands became shadowy, the teasing bite left her voice (now more the purity of Virginia than the fang of the Woolf) and her features became visible only when she bent forward to poke the fire. Twilight and firelight were her illumination, distorted, fragmented, gloriously glowing, perfectly fitted with her imaginative penchant for seeing things aslant rather than dully straight, and she grew confident in her own game, a task willingly undertook, taking the offerings of the table, a bit of information handed to her as dull as a lump of coal, only to hand it back glittering like diamonds.

She rouses herself, makes a final brushstroke, the painting is done, new, perfect, and, stepping back she sees not the view, but Virginia, now sitting in the garden, where the blackbirds call, and the sun is high. Virginia, amongst a garden ready to spring forth with lupins and delphiniums, veiled in the slight romantic haze which surrounds a nature deepened by thoughtfulness and melancholy, whilst Vita, sleeping somewhere in the house, busies herself in the back of Virginia’s mind, swarms, overcomes, and Virginia smiles, relaxes, and welcomes the sun.

Natascha Graham

Natascha Graham

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