From the doorway, Camille observes the vacant guest cottage. The bed is made, the wastebasket empty, the bathroom sink wiped clean. The only trace of her mother's recent visit is the pale blue pashmina draped over a chair. A talisman, thought Camille. I pretended such exuberance, but you saw right through me, didn't you, Mama.
Yesterday her mother had worn the scarf to Camille's first gallery opening where her delicately laced porcelain sculptors were displayed under bright lights. She needed Alex's support through the ordeal, but he had hardly moved from a remote corner. He was chaperoning his teen-age daughter Lucy who was unimpressed by her stepmother's sculptors. To be fair he was also trying to ward off any attention from his fans who came to the gallery to see him, a celebrated rock star. The only time Lucy smiled was at the waiter when she took another flute of champagne from his tray against her father's wishes.
This morning Camille and her mother had made the mad dash to the airport. Quick hugs and fleeting good-byes.
Camille cuddles the shawl left behind, breathing in her mother's spicy undertones. She leaves the key in the door and hurries through the garden gate and down the rocky path to her art studio.
Inside, she turns on Spotify and assuages her misery in a country singer's bittersweet songs. Songs that have helped her through the bad days. At the worktable she returns to shaping the still-soft clay of the bust she is making of her husband.
Alex's house is situated between her studio and his recording studio. When he wasn't on tour with his band, their summer routine was to finish working before the sunset and meet on the terrace to watch the day's end.
But tonight, he paces back and forth in front of her. She sips from her wineglass, barely listening to his complaints about Lucy’s newest catastrophe. He's infuriated with Lucy's mother who is unconcerned about the juvenile delinquents driving their daughter around town on motorcycles, keeping her out past curfew. Why can't Lucy settle down and stop with these dangerous flirtations.
Camille stops herself from saying 'like father, like daughter.'
Finally, he stops pacing and stares down at her. Golden rays of horizontal sunlight shoot off the mirrored lenses of his sunglasses and in the reflection Camille wavers like a flame.
He pulls away from her touch, swirls his wine, puts it to his lips and swallows. From the bottle, he pours into their half-empty glasses.
She peers past him at the horizon beyond land and sea. A silky yellow ribbon of light is stolen by sea nymphs who drag her down into the underworld. Her abduction darkens the sky.
She takes out the gold band she has been rubbing in her pocket and spins it on the glass table. Alex grabs it up before it falls over the edge.
“We can’t go on like this,” she says.
"What are you talking about?" he says.
She breaks into song, “You don't even know who I am. You left me a long time ago. So what do you care if I go?”
He withdraws into the shadows and sings the refrain, “You don't even know who I am. You left me a long time ago. So what do I care if you go?”
She shivers and wraps her mother’s shawl around her shoulders, feeling stronger for it.
Alex removes his sunglasses, but the sea nymphs have stolen the light and she can't see his face. She doesn’t need to. With her hands in soft clay, she has molded the distinctive scar above his left eyebrow, shaped his large eyes and heavy lids, carved his aquiline nose, picked at his chin until it was rough against her palm, and then puckered the full lips that she had often kissed when he lay over her in their nuptial bed.
“Did your mother put you up to this?" he asks.
“No. Why would you even say that?”
“When I would come into a room you would both stop laughing. I was sure you were laughing at me.”
“Not every conversation revolves around you, Alex. She knows nothing about my decision. It’s just that I need—”
The glare from a car’s headlights interrupts their mutual despair. It continues up the serpentine driveway. The sound of tires rolling over loose pebbles comes closer as it passes the heavy grapes clinging to the vines.
“I asked Karen to pick me up," she says. "I’ll come back for my things when you're not here. It'll be easier that way.”
He picks up his guitar and strums the refrain of their new song.
She strike several matches before one sparks. The candlewicks flicker while she waits for the unalterable knock on the door. He will snuff them out after she's gone leaving only a faint fragrance of what had once been.
This is the first chapter of the sequel to "The Drummer's Widow."
Song Credit: "You Don't Even Know Who I Am" - Gretchen Peters