The Angel of the Stories by John…
About this Feature
John Simmons has contributed two stories, Angel Wings and The Lady of the Plates, to Shortbread. We're delighted to announce that we will be featuring the collection, The Angel of the Stories, which will be published in book form in summer 2011. You can read them here first in an exclusive 20-week serialisation. The book will be illustrated by the internationally acclaimed Anita Klein, in a unique collaboration between writer and artist.
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The Angel of the Stories by John Simmons: Episode 9
2 years ago
The Mayor was talking to the Norwegian. It was a bright day in early December, with a chill in the air that sunshine made pleasant. The two men were in the sunniest corner of the market square on a quiet Monday.
The Norwegian, of course, was engaged on his task. He had arrived in town five years earlier, an architect from snowy northern lands who had retired early to seek a life less demanding. He needed an occupation to add interest without pressure to his days so he had opened a paint shop. There he offered tins of paint of every hue and tried to tempt customers with the infinite possibilities of colour. But the customers and his own eyes told him that the town was painted only in white.
After a while, he realised that this was a good basis for his little business. Nearly all the paint he sold was white, but people looked forward to a discussion about the merits of aquamarine window frames, terracotta steps, sunflower-yellow chairs, even if they still left the shop carrying tins of white paint for the walls of their houses.
The Norwegian, inspired by his immersion in paint, took up painting. Not the sort of painting that involved daubing white emulsion on walls but the application of oil paint to canvas or watercolours to paper. Drawing on his architectural background he painted the streets, houses and views of the town. Not surprisingly, given the subject, the paintings were somewhat monochrome, dominated by white. Even so, the style was distinctive and it appealed to the taste of the townspeople. Soon the Norwegian’s paintings were hanging on the living room walls of many houses. The style even came with a name that he invented for it: blancismo.
This particular day, in the market square, the Norwegian was sitting at his easel with a canvas in front of him. The Mayor came up to look over his shoulder.
“It’s very nice,” said the Mayor. “You have captured the spirit of the town.”
The Norwegian nodded his head slightly, concentrating on a slightly greyer tinge in the white wall on the other side of the building that he was painting.
“Do you ever – no reason why you should – but curious, you know? Do you ever want to add more – more colour?”
The Mayor asked his question hesitantly. After all, he was responsible for upholding the local law that all houses must be painted white. Yet he couldn’t resist secret hankerings.
The Norwegian looked a little shocked. Once he would have seized upon the Mayor’s enquiry with enthusiasm. But now he was the leading proponent of blancismo, and the Mayor’s suggestion offended his artistic sensibilities, undermined his philosophy.
“Why would I?” he replied, as calmly as he could. “Look. Step closer. Look at the colours that make up these whites. This one here, this white, it has the golden warmth of the sun beneath its skin. This white has the icy blue of shade in its pigment. This white here takes its green shadow from these leaves. There are all the colours of the rainbow contained in this white palette.”
It was true, the Mayor could see, now that he looked closely. But still there was a part of him that yearned for the rainbow to be more visible.
“It gives me an idea, though,” the Mayor said. “I think it’s a good idea. Next Christmas we should have more colour in the town. Christmas is the right time for it. Lights to hang on trees. Colour in the darkness. I’ll put it to the next Council meeting.”
The Norwegian ignored him and carried on painting. Let him burble on, he told himself. Whatever he says or does, I will paint and my paintings will have all the colours of whiteness.
* * *
The weeks leading up to Christmas were marked by shorter, darker days and by the strange absence of joy. It was as if the people resented the relative gloom – where was the sun? – and wanted to toss the season over their shoulders. But as the days went by, as Christmas grew closer, your could sense a gathering feeling of expectation.
The Mayor walked around, more and more convinced of the rightness of his idea. Let there be light, he thought. For now, though it did not match the pictures in his head, he had to be content with street lamps, light cast from upstairs windows, the fluorescent dazzle from shops.
While Julia continued her life as usual: writing, still writing, listening to conversations and sometimes joining in, going for walks in the mountains, collecting stones from river beds.