Saturday, July 19, 1924
The Overland Express #23 came to a screeching halt. Normally, Sarah would’ve admired the rich green pigments streaming through the stained-glass window onto the lower berth of the Pullman compartment where she now lay. But today wasn’t normal. And she doubted her life would ever be normal again. Not after her big sister, Ada Belle, had drowned two weeks ago in the Pacific Ocean.
Sarah had come all this way to bury her remains in Carmel, California, instead of staying in Paris to make the final paintings for her upcoming gallery show. Her thoughts turned to some compositional ideas she had for one of those paintings.
Shame on you, little Sis. Always thinking of yourself first. Try to remember that I’m the one who will never paint again. Her sister might be dead but that didn’t stop her from residing inside Sarah’s head. She’d always live there.
That’s not my fault, argued Sarah, gulping down an emotional cocktail of resentment mixed with loneliness and grief.
A piercing whistle shot through the window of the compartment like an alarm clock. She jumped up, stretched her cramped legs and stepped down onto the cold floor.
“San Francisco. End of the line. All passengers disembark!” shouted the Pullman porter as he rapped loudly on her door.
She stood in front of the mirror above the tiny corner washstand and splashed water on her dreary self-portrait. She looked much older than her thirty years. This will never do, she thought. She painted her lips ruby red and pinched her cheeks.
A crimson jersey skirt and matching jacket hung in the closet. In Paris the chic outfit had given her the appearance of a House of Chanel model stepping out from behind the curtain into the limelight. Three weeks ago she had been celebrating when she bought the outfit with the advance from the Nouy Gallery. She planned to wear it at her opening. That was just before she received the telegram from Marshal Judd that brought her here. She felt ridiculous wearing bright red under these circumstances and wished she had a black veil to hide behind.
It was too late to think of that now and she dressed quickly.
The porter rapped again and called out in his Southern drawl, “Ma’am, are you awake?” She asked him what time it was, wound back the hours on her deceased father’s pocket watch to nine o’clock and stood up straight and tall, feigning confidence. She took one last glance in the mirror and drew her jersey cloche hat down over her tearstained eyes and stuffed the short strands of unruly hair underneath the brim.
She checked for anything forgotten before leaving the compartment. It had been a small theatre where she had reeled across the country and through her childhood memories like a silent movie: Ada cuddling her when she fell and scraped her knee. Ada showing her how to hold a paintbrush and blend the oils on a palette even before she learned to read.