Camille returns to the guest house after her mother's departure.
The bed is made, the wastebasket empty, the bathroom sink wiped clean. She can hear her mother saying, "Leave no mess behind."
Camille sees the pale blue pashmina scarf draped over the door hook. How like her to leave this for me. I pretended such happiness but she saw the truth.
She tosses the scarf around her shoulders like her mother did at the gallery opening last week. The two of them stayed close together while visitors crowded around Camille’s work, criticizing or admiring the delicately laced porcelain sculptures, not knowing the unrecognized artist was standing nearby, taking in every word.
She and Marisa had come with Alex but he’d spent most of the evening outside with his daughter Lucy. Unimpressed by Camille’s work or her gallery opening, Lucy reached for the champagne every time the uniformed waiter passed by with a tray.
And then the following morning they made the mad dash to the airport. Quick hugs and good-byes. So much left unsaid.
Now Camille draws the shawl closer, drawing in its spicy undertones. The key she leaves in the door. Hurries through the garden gate and down the rocky path to her studio.
Inside, she locks the door, slumping against it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Camille. There are things to be done. She flicks on her computer to Gretchen Peters’s bittersweet songs, returns to her worktable and, with the clay still soft, she shapes the porcelain with a fine scalpel.
It has been her and Alex’s summer routine to leave their studios before the sun sets over Monterey Bay and meet on the balcony for a glass of wine. Tonight Alex is late but he doesn’t apologize. He never does. Camille sips from her glass, barely listening to his jealous complaints about Lucy’s new boyfriend.
Finally, he stops. The last golden rays of sunlight shoot off his dark lenses.
“Alex,” she says, reaching for his hand. “We can’t go on like this.”
He pulls away from her and spins his glass, swallows the last drop and reaches for the wine bottle.
A shimmering strip of sunlight slips behind the horizon as if mermaids were drawing it down with a red silk net. Camille rubs the gold band in her pocket and takes it out. It rolls across the glass table. Without a sound it falls flat.
She expects an argument but instead he says, “Maybe you’re right. I go to work every morning and I come home to you every night. And you don’t even know who I am. You left me a long time ago. So what do I care if you go?”
Goose bumps ran up her arm. The same words she rehearsed so many times but had not spoken …and now he cuts me to the quick without even taking off his sunglasses.
He puts down his glass next to the gold band that had been his mother’s. Camille shivers and wraps her mother’s shawl around her shoulders.
Alex removes his sunglasses but it’s too dark now to see his face. She doesn’t need to. How often her fingers have touched the scar above his left eyebrow, his aqualine nose, his soft lips, his bristly chin. How often she smothered her cries in his neck, then gasped for breath, pressed into his embrace until his release.
“Did your mother put you up to this when she was here? Trying to manage you as if you were one of her helpless artists.”
“No. Why would you think that?”
“I saw you two laughing and then when I came in the room you stopped. I was sure you were laughing at me.”
“Not every conversation revolves around you, Alex. She knows nothing about this. It’s just that I need—”
A car’s headlights climp up the serpentine driveway. The tires rolling over the loose pebbles. She looks down at her watch. “Karen is picking me up. I’ll come back for my things.”
She strikes a match and lights three votives while they wait.
Camille is drawn from a character in my recent novel The Drummer's Widow.