The Muse pt 2/3

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Veil_(1898)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau. The Veil. Public Domain of the United States. Wikimedia Commons.

Renee Roux was frustrated as he paced about in his studio. He was commissioned to do a painting of Michel, one of the dukes, by his estate just outside of Nice. Though it was a beautiful estate and the duke was a regal specimen in terms of looks, Renee just couldn’t find the inspiration, and when inspiration couldn’t be found, he paced in his studio, a mess of a room with paint stained upon pallets, unfinished paintings stacked upon one another, and rough charcoal sketches on paper strewn everywhere.

Part of the problem was he didn’t want to paint the duke. Michel was such an ugly man. By ugly it didn’t have so much to do with the duke’s physical appearance as it did his spiritual. The man was spiritually devoid of goodness, and yet he had the audacity to commission Renee to paint him in a positive light, in which he radiated generosity. The duke had a hard enough time wearing such a paper-thin façade that it was unreasonable to think that any sane artist could lie about him any further with painting.

And yet, wasn’t that what artists did? Were they not the biggest liars of all? It was an artist’s job to embellish, to stretch, or discard the truth. And yet, Renee found he couldn’t do it. And it didn’t stop with the duke. Renee had lost the ability to paint people in general. Everyone was just so petty, so mean, so self-centered. His disdain for people was such that a month ago when a physically beautiful farm girl, whom all the men loved, offered to pose for him, he turned her down when he found out that she beat her younger sister.

Yet, he needed the money to live, and the duke offered plenty.

Renee’s pacing was interrupted when he heard a knock on his door. He grumbled as he opened it. A young woman with dark hair and brown eyes stood before him. She wore a beautiful white dress, puffed out from a crinoline underneath, giving the illusion that she was wearing large white rose petals. Upon her head she wore a wreath of white flowers.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Jovanna Acquarone,” she spoke in an Italian accent. “This is the studio of Renee Roux, is it not?” She peaked inside.

“It is, but I’m afraid I’m too busy to accommodate you at the moment.”

“Oh please,” she begged, stepping in before he could protest. “I promise I shall only take but a moment.”  Rudely, she looked through his stacked portraits and drawings, messing up the order.

“Would you stop that!” he shouted. “I have everything in order for a reason.”

“Of course you do,” she smiled. “Many people just see a mess in your studio, but your mess has order. Is that not what artists do? Create order out of chaos? Do they not paint to give meaning to life?”

“I paint because I feel close to God when I do so.”

“And what’s your current project?” she asked while taking a seat.

“To paint a portrait of the grand duke, but I certainly can’t paint it with you bothering me.”

“Nor can you paint it when you are busy pacing back and forth,” she pointed out. “And I might add, it’s a little hard to paint without a subject, unless you have a keen memory.”

“Is there anything else?” He was irritated that she just didn’t get the clue.

“Actually, there is. I’m wondering why you insist on painting what doesn’t interest you.”

“You don’t know what interests me and what doesn’t!” he barked at her.

“Oh, but I do! I can see it in your eyes. They tell me that you’re bored and that you want so much more. You want to create art for the sake of art, not primarily for the sake of a livelihood. The eyes, they tell us more than the tongue could ever hope to. The tongue is full of beguilement, the eyes are full of honesty.”

“What do you expect me to do, you silly woman!?” Renee growled, his face flushed red with anger.

“You can stop stressing, and take a respite,” she said in a matter of fact tone. “I’m about to head to a café nearby for tea. Then I’m thinking about going to the countryside, not far from the vineyard.”

Renee’s anger at being interrupted was quickly dying. There was a beauty to this woman, and even though she was gifted with her mild olive complexion, her dark hair, and her Italian accent, there was more than just physical traits. It was her personality. She wasn’t bound in chains to the notion of proper decorum, but was rather like a horse who had broken from a stall to run free.

“Are you asking me to join you?”

“But of course,” Jovanna smiled. “I have always loved your art.” She paused to look at a large painting he did of a lake nestled in the mountains with a cottage by it. “You say that painting helps bring you close to God. Well, the beauty of your brush strokes upon the canvas, the way they form trees, lush and green, and stunning sunsets illuminating mountains, makes me feel close to God.”

“You really like my work?” he asked.

“But of course. Though I’m from Naples, Italy, I once traveled all the way from home to see your work exhibited in a gallery in Madrid Spain.”

The artist looked at her with a newfound respect. “I guess a respite would be good for my soul,” he said. “Very well, Mademoiselle, I’ll escort you to whatever café you have in mind and then to the countryside.”

“And I shall be honored,” said Jovanna, extending an arm for him to take.

Together, they chose to relax at the outdoor patio of the Grain de Raisin Rouge, a charming café near a channel of water. Renee was drinking from a cup of coffee, and Jovanna from a cup of tea. Children were playing games nearby, as adults went on their way, holding parasols, and reading the papers. Not far from the café was a fountain with carvings of sirens upon a rock, pouring out water from shell horns. Lovers sat together around the fountain while children dangled their feet in the water. A few old men had set up tables nearby to play chess.

“What made you choose to be an artist?” asked Jovanna after taking a sip of her tea.

“I don’t think I chose,” said Renee. “I think the calling chose me. My interest started when I was a boy, when my father took me to an art exhibition. You see, I saw so much strife growing up. My family was at war with another family. It had to do with familial honor or some sort of nonsense due to some conceived insult committed years ago against my family. At first, it was just petty squabbles, stealing property from one another, and an occasional fistfight.”

Rene sighed, wondering if he’d be able to continue his story, but he pushed on.  “When I was a youth, I met another youth from the rival family one day when I was in a gallery. We had been admiring the same painting. We struck up a conversation about it. I soon learned that he was the son of the rival family. But by then it didn’t matter. Pierre and I had become fast friends. We’d go to opera houses together, look at the art in the galleries, and just talk about life in general, from the complex subjects to the more simplistic things that teenage boys like to talk about, such as girls. We formed a bond. Then my father found out. In a rage, he beat Pierre to death. I then lost my father. He was executed for his crime. I ended up losing two people I loved, my friend and my father.”

“So you chose painting as a way to escape from the pain,” said Jovanna, touching Renee’s hand understandingly.

“Yes, that’s right,” said Renee. “There is so much suffering in the world that I find joy in painting an idyllic one. In a way, I try to paint a world that I think God would love. Some artists paint grim scenes of death and suffering. They say it helps us deal with reality, and to an extent, I agree with them. But I personally want to create art to elevate peoples’ minds to a higher level of joy.”

“You prove my point,” Jovanna looked at him thoughtfully. “I see sadness in your eyes, even after having mentioned that it brings you joy. Does art no longer serve its purpose? I would feign think not. Rather, I think that you are so busy working on commissions that you aren’t following your heart with your work anymore.”

Renee nodded, knowing what she said was true.

“Tell me,” she said, “what do you like to paint? Granted, I’ve seen your art, but I want you to put it in your own words.”

“I like to paint pictures of flowers in a spring field, or of brooks of rushing water, of farmlands with fields of cows and horses.” He felt excitement bubbling up within him. “I like painting the beautiful churches in Arles, or in Paris, with their magnificent steeples. I love painting what makes me feel edified.” He sighed. “Not stuffy old dukes at their estates. Besides, the duke is a vain man, cruel and callous to the poor, and anyone he finds beneath him. He’s also a violent man, making sure thieves are whipped until they are near dead He’s a man, though who’s never been in battle, still revels in war.”

“Then why paint him?”

“Because I have to earn a living and he pays well. Besides, it’s not just the duke. I have found that people are not worth my time to paint. My art is to bring out beauty, and I can’t see beauty in people anymore. Everyone is fallen, everyone is rotten. People are just so ugly. I just can’t seem to see beauty in them anymore.”

“Not even a newborn child?” she asked.

“That child could grow up to be a tyrant.”

“Could be, but doesn’t have to. I believe we are born innocent. That God made us innocent. Do you not, Renee?”

“I’d like to think that,” the artist nodded, “but I’m skeptical. I just want to paint the countryside.”

“And you should paint those subjects,” said Jovanna encouragingly. “Because from what I can tell, you are in a cage. I had to leave my cage at one time.”

“You did?”

“Oh yes. I was to be wed to a rich man in Rome. But I didn’t love him. You see, I originally come from a wealthy family where decorum was drilled into me. So many rules, so many regulations. Though I may have grown up in a villa of gardens, elegant dining rooms, and with bedrooms full of king size beds and fine draperies, and though we lived near the sea, I still felt as though I were in a cage.”

“I had no idea that luxury could be a burden.”

“Oh, it most certainly can! My parents seemed more concerned about social status and money than they did about me. Each time they corrected me, it was more to help them avoid humiliation in the eyes of others, rather than actually caring for me. In fact, they hardly ever associated with me. My greatest company was the maid.”

“That does sound like a horrible life,” nodded Renee.

“Maybe so, but that changed soon enough.”

“How so?”

“I first saw your work,” Jovanna said excitedly, “when they were exhibiting it at a local gallery in Naples. I fell in love with it. It was your work that eventually made me decide to leave my parents, and to travel across Europe.”

Renee dropped his cup of coffee, spilling it on the clean, white linen. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Thank you works.”

“Thank you, then.”

“Now, I don’t know about you, but as lovely as this café is, I could certainly do for a stroll out in the countryside,” she said putting her tea aside. “Who knows? Maybe your spark of inspiration will be rekindled again.”

Renee escorted Jovanna to the vineyard and the abandoned chateau out in the countryside, which was a short distance away from his studio and the café. The chateau was run-down, but even with the caved-in roof, and the crumbling walls, it still retained a sense of elegance with the twisted gate that enclosed it. Grapevines were growing wild and Jovanna was eager to pick some fruit off the vines.

“I think that can be arranged,” the artist said. “The chateau has been reclaimed by nature.”

Renee and Jovanna walked along the rows of grapevines, sampling the fruit that tasted liked spring and summer.

“Look,” she said putting a cluster of grapes above his right earlobe. “You now have the appearance of a Greico-Roman god, such as Bachus. Now all you need is a toga.”

“Or my own winepress to make wine,” said Renee.

“Why do you need your own winepress? We can make our own wine here.” She took a clump of grapes and squeezed them over his head, the juice running down his back.

“You have some nerve. Two can play at that game.”

“No, no, stop!” she laughed as he grabbed her by the arm to shove some grapes onto her face, only for her to slip out of his arm.

He felt alive as he chased after her. He followed her laughter and the sounds of her footsteps. Turning a corner, he nearly crashed into her. Jovanna didn’t have time to get away before he slipped a cluster of crushed grapes down her back. She turned around and reciprocated by tossing grapes at him. But he pounced on her, and the two of them rolled through the grapevines, laughing merrily. They laughed for a long time, until Renee found his stomach hurting from it.

Tired, they retired to a brook amongst a grove of trees, to have their share of water. Renee had a heart of thankfulness. If this was happiness, he wanted to live this way every day. He was thirsty for it. Such contentment continued as Jovanna encouraged him to listen to the birds within the trees, and to catch frogs with her in a nearby pond. Renee noticed that beautiful Mediterranean wildflowers were in a rainbow of bloom. Jovanna remarked how lovely they were as she began to weave herself a new crown of flowers. Her new floral crown further accentuated the beauty of her colorful soul.

“How do you feel?” asked Jovanna, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“I feel inspired,” he said. “I have to paint people again! I want to use this location as a setting. I can quickly get my easel and paints from the studio. We’re not far away. I can be back in thirty minutes.”

“I’ll go with you,” she said.

“No. You can wait here.”

“I can,” she nodded thoughtfully. “But I don’t want to.”

Finding there was no use in arguing with her, he let her assist him in bringing his supplies, though he was adamant about carrying the heavier items himself.

When they were back amongst the grove towering over the wildflowers, Jovanna asked him, “So, what do you want to paint?”

“Well, I’m worried you might think me awfully audacious if I asked,” he said nervously.

“I think I know what you’re going to ask,” she smiled at him gently. “You want to paint a picture of me. Am I right?”

“Yes, that’s right. Jovanna, you are beautiful, inside and out. I haven’t felt so inspired in such a long time. I love to paint what is beautiful, and what’s beautiful right now to me is you.”

“But of course,” the Italian woman laughed. “I would love to pose for you.”

“You would?”

“But of course! What would you like me to wear?”

The artist found himself blushing, embarrassed to state what was in his heart for fear she’d think he was a man of ill intent.

“Did you want me to pose nude?” she chuckled.

“Well, yes,” said Renee rather timidly. Then he felt a surge of energy rise within him. “But I’m not sorry to ask. You’re a goddess in many ways, an Aphrodite, and clothing can only hide your beauty, not magnify it. I want to put on canvas, every one of your curves, every tone of your flesh. I want to paint out from your flowing black hair and deep brown eyes, to the curves of your hips, all the way down to the elegant shape of your feet.”

“A simple yes would have sufficed,” said Jovanna, as she started to remove her stockings, followed by her dress, crinoline, and her petticoat.

Tossing her clothing aside, she stood naked before the artist, except for the new wreath of flowers in her hair. For a moment, Renee lost his breath. He felt a profound sense of reverence towards this woman. There was divinity within her, as though God himself had created the ultimate form of art. Within her was a fire that birthed creativity. The sun shone through the break in the trees, illuminating her hair like polished ebony. Her light, olive skin gave off a glow. She was a living sculpture that would have put Rodin’s best work, if living and breathing, to envy. But it was her smile that was the most beautiful, for in it was light, love, and hope. Was she even human? Or was she something more, such as an angel from God himself?

“So, do tell. How should I pose?” she awakened him out of his near worship.

“Well, I” Renee, stuttered before concluding with, “I bestow the choice to you.”

Jovanna chose a sycamore tree among the grove. Many trees were clustered in shadows around the sycamore, but she stood in a soft beam of light from where the branches were scarce, as though she were an angel who had descended from heaven. Standing bare upon the carpet of wild-flowers, she was elegant and powerful. She arched slightly back against the tree, putting her right leg a couple of inches in front of the left and arched it so her heel was pointing upwards and her sole was flat on the ground. Her arms hung at her side, slightly crossing her them behind her back. Her head was partly facing towards the left side, her chin tilted up a little bit, and she wore a look of serenity on her face that accompanied the wreath of flowers on her head perfectly.

Renee felt that creative fire rekindled in him as he dipped his brush into his pallet and manipulated the colors upon his canvas. He knew that he couldn’t put her actual flesh and her actual soul upon the board, but he could give the illusion of it. No. That wasn’t completely true. He had felt for a long time that an artist at least shared a mirror image of someone’s soul. In this case, the viewer of the work would catch a glimpse into his soul and into the soul of Jovanna. To share such, he painted for hours, capturing each of her skin tones, the curves of her body, and the flowers wreathed around her hair. He painted with delicacy and with love, for that is what she was made from. He even painted the landscape around her with that same care. It came to point in which it was hard to differentiate between her and the grove as they molded into each other.

Upon finishing his painting, he felt more exhausted than he had in a long time. Yet he also felt a sense of elevation of his spirit. Gazing upon his painting, Renee knew that it was easily one of his best. The attention to detail of the work was exquisite. He had managed to capture each little subtly and nuance of the model and of the landscape around her.

“Jovanna, come and take a look!” he beckoned to her excitedly.

Without even bothering to get dressed, Jovanna jogged over to take a look at the completed piece. Renee saw approval glisten in her eyes as she smiled. She placed a hand gently on his shoulder. “I knew you could do it,” she said.

“I couldn’t,” he protested. “Not without you. It wasn’t just I who did it. But the both of us. We equally put our hearts and souls into it. And I know that there is more art that we can create. I don’t want to create it alone, but with you by my side.”

“I cannot,” she told him sadly, “as much as I’d love to.”

“But why?” he protested. “Is it something I did?”

“It’s nothing you did,” Jovanna said, as she walked over to her clothing and began to get dressed. “It’s what has been accomplished. My sole purpose was to help you gain your inspiration again, and now you have it,” she said as she put on her petticoat. “There are others who need my help.”

“But I need you,” he protested. “Everyone else is so ugly.”

“You will always have a part of me,” she said as she pulled her stockings up. “And you’ll find other beautiful people who look just as good as I do.”

“It’s not that! As I painted you, I could feel the love and warmth that burns within you, radiating out from your heart. You are kind. You are fun. You are gentle. You inspire me.”

“Many things inspired you before you turned your passion into a profession,” she pointed out while she put her crinoline around her waist. After putting her dress back on, she looked at the artist with imploring eyes. “Don’t ever let your profession overrule your passion.”

“But you are my passion!” he shouted.

She walked back over to him and took his hands in hers. “Your art is your passion,” she said. “Your ability to create. You said God gave you a talent. I believe that’s true. God drew me to you to rekindle that talent. He wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t help others in need.”

“But I don’t want to say goodbye,” said the artist, feeling like he was going to break down.

“We don’t have to say goodbye, yet.” She hugged him close to her.

He felt her warmth, and the dress she wore even felt like a rose. Only now he also felt the thorns from a relationship that he had previously thought was the beginning of something heavenly. He had thought it would turn into a relationship that transcended above the troubles of the earthly realm. He was wrong. He held onto her tighter. He didn’t want to let go. For a moment she held onto him tightly as well.

Finally, Jovanna letting go and taking him by the hand said, “Can you please escort me to the station?”

Renee nodded, knowing that there wasn’t anything more that he could say.

The sun was setting as he walked with her, hand in hand, to the train station. It was strange about how the day was simultaneously at its saddest and most stunning during sunset. It was a poetic reminder of life, about how one is given blessings that one must appreciate before such blessings are lost.

“I am happy,” said Jovanna quietly, although there was a tinge of sorrow to her voice.

Renee stared at her in contemplation.

“I’m happy,” she continued, “that I get to enjoy the rest of this evening with you. I could ask for no greater joy.”

“And I as well,” nodded the artist, though his pain felt immense.

Renee felt another one of his heartstrings break when they came to the train station. “You know, I’m willing to board the train with you,” he said.

“I do know,” she nodded plaintively. “But it’s not to be. Trust me when I tell you as much.” Suddenly, Renee found himself again tight within her arms as she hugged him farewell. Then he was given a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for all that you’ve done. Thank you for letting me inspire you. Now go and be happy again. Pursue what gives you joy. Arrivederci.”

With these farewells given, Renee watched her train leave the station.

“Monsieur Roux,” came a voice behind him.

Renee turned around to find that he was looking at the servant of the duke he was commissioned to paint.

“Monsieur Roux, whatever are you doing at the train station? Only watching the trains leave, I presume?”

“No. I was seeing off an old friend.”

“I beg your pardon,” the servant scratched his head, puzzled. “But I have been watching your strange manners since before the last train left, and I noticed no one.”

“You had to have noticed her!” said the temperamental artist. “She was a beautiful Italian woman, and she gave me a kiss on the cheek before she left.

“Monsieur, I fear you may be hallucinating, for I saw no such person. Regardless, my master, Monsieur Michel is most excited about the painting he has commissioned of you. I trust you will grace us with your presence soon.”

“Yes, of course,” sighed Renee, absolutely emotionally worn out. “Next week, next Tuesday.”

“Very good, Monsieur Roux. Monsieur Michel looks forward to seeing you again. Until then, I take my leave. Au revoir!”

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_Lost_Pleiad_(1884)

Painting by William Adolph Bouguerau.  L’Etoile Perdue. Public Domain of the United States. Wikimedia Commons  

The painting of the duke was the last commissioned painting that Renee Roux ever did. From then on he worked at the old chateau and vineyards he had purchased in remembrance of the short time he had with Jovanna. That’s not to say he gave up painting. On his spare time he still painted every week, but this time out of joy and pleasure, and not out of work. He had made a few inquiries with friends in Naples to find out about an Acquarone family, but they couldn’t find any rich family with that name. Nor had anyone else heard of a Jovanna Acquarone. Her light had disappeared into the sunset that evening. The only thing he had to remember her by was the painting that he had done of her which he always kept close by in his studio.

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The Muse Part 1

H._A._Brendekilde_-_A_wooded_path_in_autumn_(1902)

A Wooded Path in Autumn by H.A. Brendekilde.

 

Jean Francois was at a loss for words, literally. The poet renowned all throughout France had been composing poems since he was six-years old. His poems weren’t just stanzas or lines of words, but verbal pictures enlivening the senses. Born a prodigy, he had a gift for weaving words together into a beautiful sunset or of a terror waiting in the dungeons of Paris. He could capture the tender feelings of a mother for her child or the fear of a soldier upon the battlefields. His pen was both an angelic finger touching the hearts of all his readers, and a cold draft of wind causing them discomfort. It had seemed like the master poet’s mind would always be a fountain of ideas, gushing ink out of his indefatigable pen, raining words onto paper. But such was not the case.

It had been five years in which Jean had been unable to tap in into the fountain of creativity. Through these years he grew despondent, but tried to live the best he could within the city of Paris. He had enough money live off of from sales of his past work. But it wasn’t about the money. Certainly he was grateful that he had enough to live off of, but what was the point on continuing to live if he couldn’t continue on with his passion? Food, drink, and shelter could sustain his physical health, but only his poetry could sustain the cravings of his soul. He had been starving creatively for so long now.

Then, she arrived.

She arrived when he was taking a stroll in the park. The poet saw her. She was wearing a yellow bonnet, brighter than a summer day, and a dress, green like a field in spring. Despite the colors of the clothing, they weren’t the fanciest clothes. Yet she carried herself with such confidence that would befit a queen. Jean was perplexed that no one else noticed the beauty that had sprung among them, everyone preoccupied in their own daily tasks.

Then he noticed that she was making her way towards him and he grew nervous. With eyes fixed on him, like an arrow that had found it’s mark, he wondered if she was coming to berate him for staring. He thought of some way he could apologize to her, but he had nothing to say. It was ironic. The famed poet was an exceptional genius when it came to expressing himself in poetry, but when it came to everyday speech and communication, he was clueless.

“Are you Jean Francois?” the woman asked him.

“Yes,” the poet said. “How did you know?”

“I know because my intuition tells me that you need inspiration,” she said. “Besides, I am in love with your prose, Jean Francois. The way the words flow across the page, the way the prose touches my heart. For instance” she said quoting one of his best loved poems….

In a cell of my own making, your flowers bloom

               Changing hell into paradise, as it ushers out the gloom.

               Though I was confined to darkness dead

               You are the sun, in which from your light I’m fed.

               For not all of God’s angels have wings

               Of his whole heavenly choir that sings

               But they are still angels, unlocking the cell with a key

               Allowing your heart to fly free.

 

“Why would you love that one?” asked Jean. “It’s not even one of my bests. Also, what do you mean I called out to you? Who are you?”

“It’s not for any artist to make a judgement which one of their works is the best,” said the woman. “That’s up to each and every individual who is in love with their craft. As for who I am, my name is Aednat. Now, tell me, does your soul not grow weary in the city?”

“I think so,” said Jean, embarrassed of giving such a simplistic answer. Of course he was bored of Paris! And normally he’d write down his feelings upon paper so eloquently, if not for the writer’s block. He was tired of the sounds of the clattering of horse hooves and carriages upon the cobblestone roads, of crowds walking down the streets like cattle, and of the public drunkenness and belligerence.

Yet she had asked a good question, although she didn’t state it asking him why he hadn’t communed with nature for the last eight years. The truth was he didn’t know. Maybe, even though he was uncomfortable in the city, he had still grown too accustomed to the comforts it offered with the fine wine, the rich food, the theater, and the concerts. Still, looking into his heart, he knew that he certainly did miss the beautiful countryside, its woods and creeks.

“Has it occurred to you,” continued Aednat, “that the reason you have lost your inspiration is because of the city?”

“I didn’t think,” –

“Say no more, Jean. What you need is a holiday in the countryside.”

“I’m not disposed to at the moment,” Jean said nervously.

“What important appointments do you have in your current life?”

Jean had nothing to say. He had nothing of paramount importance in his life. It’s just that he was never good talking to people, particularly women. The fact that she was a beautiful woman, not just physically, but personally, made him all the more uncomfortable. He feared he might say something stupid.

“I would rather go to the countryside by myself,” he ventured timidly.

“Nonsense,” said Aednat, taking him by the hand. “I, along with millions of others, have fallen under the spell of your beautiful poetry. Surely the most gifted Monsieur Francois can find it in his heart to socialize with the common folk.”

“But that’s the problem,” said Jean. “You’re not common.”

“Oh, then it shouldn’t be a difficulty for you to join me,” she laughed while pulling him along.

Before Jean knew it, he was on a carriage leaving Paris with Aednat. For the first part of the journey he could only look at his feet. But she gradually helped him out of his shell. She had a picnic basket full of sandwiches and grapes, as well as a bottle of champagne to share and a couple glasses to pour it in.

It was hard to tell whether it was the gregarious nature of Aednat or the champagne that put Jean at ease, but eventually the poet was laughing and talking more freely. “I am unsure as to what made me write poetry in the first place,” he said. “But perhaps it helps me connect more with reality.”

“I think most would say the same about their art,” agreed Aednat, who had sat across from him prior was now sitting right by him.

“Come to think of it,” continued Jean with a hiccup, “I’m not sure why I haven’t gone to the woods in such a long time. When I was a boy, I lived out in the countryside with my father, a hardworking farmer. My mother had passed away when I was eight-years old, and my father always resented me for having lived and her for having died. He never liked children much. Sometimes he would hit me or yell at me for his misfortune. But my mother, oh she was different. Before she died, she gave me a special notebook that she had saved up for with her money. See, I wrote my first poem when I was six, and everyone said it was the work of a prodigy. So she encouraged, no, she made me promise to keep up with my writing. After her death, I kept away from my belligerent father as much as possible, finding solitude in the woods by the creek as I wrote down my poetry.”

“It sounds like you had difficult life,” said Aednat, giving his hand a squeeze.

“Difficult is right,” sighed Jean. “I was sport of by the other children. Perhaps it was jealousy or maybe they just thought I was strange since I wasn’t like them. Either way, I didn’t have a beautiful life with my father who thought poetry was a waste of time, and I certainly didn’t have anyone my age as friends who loved nature. Nature was my temple, my solitude.”

“Why then did you ever choose to live in Paris?” asked Aednat.

“My editor and my publishing firm asked me to,” shrugged the poet. “They were tired of the long waits when it came to mailing my manuscripts. In time though, I grew to love aspects of city life, such as good food, performing arts, and galleries. But now that I think about it, my soul has missed the gentle company of the woods.”

“And I think the woods will do more for you than you can imagine,” acknowledged Aednat.

“Now, tell me, I beg of you, where are you from?” asked Jean. “You don’t have a French accent in the least. Your accent sounds Irish.”

“This is true,” affirmed Aednat. She took off her bonnet. Bright red hair cascaded down her shoulders, like a waterfall in the sunset. And for the first time, since she removed her bonnet, Jean noticed that there were freckles upon her cheeks. He wasn’t sure why hadn’t noticed them before. Perhaps the shadows had covered them. “I’m from Dublin, Ireland,” she said.

“And what brings you to France?”

“France is a land of writers, artists, musicians, actors, and overall dreamers. In truth, I don’t think I chose France, but France chose me to be a muse. I lived in what many would call poverty, but I was never poor. Like you, I had nature to commune with. But unlike you, I had a loving family my whole life who always supported me. I am terribly sorry about the loss of your mother and the abuse from your father.”

“I let is sleep in the past unless I’m asked. It’s not a big deal, Aednat. I am curious as to how you made it to France.”

“It wasn’t easy, my dear Jean. But a wife of one of the farmers nearby was French, and she taught me how to speak the language. It’s how I discovered your poetry, which opened up a whole new world for me, in which I saw greater beauty in life. I said to myself that if France could produce someone of such a stellar spirit, I had to go meet him for myself.”

“I’m touched,” Jean was at a loss for words.

“So I saved every penny to make it here,” she said proudly. “Eventually I was able to take a ship to France, and I have since fallen in love with it, just as much as I have fallen in love with your poetry.

For the rest of the trip, Jean became so at ease with this gregarious Irish woman that it didn’t seem long until the carriage reached its destination. Upon disembarking, Jean paid the coachman some francs, and Aednat fed the horses some carrots she had in the basket.

After the coachman gave his word that he would wait, the two of them headed into the groves of trees. Jean was unprepared for the overwhelming wave of nostalgia that overcame him, reminding him of simpler times when the woods were his true friends, before he was beguiled by the false charms of the city. As he pondered over the matter, Aednat ran out and spun herself in circles around the trees. Jean watched her fall into the orange and yellow leaves as she took a deep breath of the fresh autumn air. Following suit, he also drank down the air, finding it to smell more intoxicating than a freshly opened bottle of fine wine. Drunk off the aroma of the crisp autumn season, he followed her lead and crashed into the leaves right by her.

“Do you smell that that sweet smell?” asked Aednat.

“Yes, indeed I do,” said Jean. “For it’s not just the smell of the autumn woods, but of my childhood. Sometimes I wish I could have had other children to share it with.”

“Then let’s be children again,” she took him by the hand, and pulled him up. “Just for the day.”

For the next three hours, Jean was climbing trees with her. Atop, he saw a stunning panorama of gold and red in all directions. He walked with her, barefoot, in creeks of water, in which she would sometimes giggle as she splashed cold water on him. In turn, he would splash cold water back at her.

When they were tired of climbing trees and walking through the woods, the two of them laid side by side under the trees as evening approached. The setting sun transmuted the leaves of yellow into glowing molten gold like an alchemic formula. The setting sun turned the leaves of red and orange into a brilliant blaze without a fire. Yet the air around them was fresh and growing cold. Aednat cuddled close to Jean, providing him warmth.

“Is this not better for your soul than the city?” she asked softly.

“It is,” agreed the poet. “I feel invigorated.”

Aednat nodded, and then stood up and stretched. Jean watched her walk towards a grove of trees as a rush of wind caused the bright, red strands of her hair to flutter in unison with the red leaves that were flying about her like beautiful butterflies. Her yellow dress was accentuated by the red and yellow sky.

“Can one truly get any closer to Heaven than this?” she asked. “Come join me, Jean!”

Once Jean walked over, Aednat took him by the hand. He gulped, feeling his heart beat rapidly.

“Now, with our hands together, let’s lift them up in the air,” she said.

“Just the hands we are holding?”

“No our other hands, too. We’re going close our eyes and pretend, while the wind blows against us, that we are birds flying together over the hills.”

Jean closed his eyes, and as the wind blew against him, he saw a vison of them flying over the hills. In his mind, they were passing over farmlands, chateaus, old castles, and mountains. The two of them were birds with nothing to keep them attached to the ground, free to soar wherever they wished.

Jean was surprised to find himself briefly lifted off his feet by Aednat, and then twirled by her, before she clasped one hand on his shoulder and another in his hand.

“I’m so happy I could just dance,” she said. “Don’t you feel similar?”

“I’ve never danced before.”

“Then I’d be happy to teach you. Put your right hand on my back.”

When the poet stalled, she moved his right hand to her lower back.

“Now, just follow my lead,” she said.

He did so but not without feeling awkward about it. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“You’re doing magnificent,” she encouraged him.

Magnificent? He doubted it! She was leading him in a waltz, and he was tripping over his own feet. Once he even fell down, taking her with him. When he tried to apologize, she only laughed heartily. Her laugh was a sweet, caring voice, echoing with joy, like a fairy creature throughout the woods. She even had the audacity to pull him back to his feet again and urge him to continue on.

As the dance progressed, he found that he was indeed getting better.

“Aednat, I’m” – he started before she cut him off.

“Don’t say anything,” she whispered. “Just pay attention to the surroundings.”

Jean took her advice as they continued to waltz. Leaves floated down, like pages of gold, from the trees around them that rose up tall, like pillars within a ballroom. Except, the woods were more elegant than any ballroom. The woods were where nature did its dance of life.

Feeling more confident, Jean dipped Aednat downwards. In turn, Aednet lifted one of her legs in the air and tilted her head back. Her bright red hair swept across the carpet of gold and fire. For a brief moment, he looked into her eyes to find that they mirrored a galaxy full of endless possibilities. Who was this woman?

The dance continued until the moon cast its glow upon the forest. It was then that Aednat ended the dance by kissing Jean upon the forehead. “You dance divinely,” she said.

On the way back in the carriage, Jean was in awe over the events of the day. Emotions, profound and powerful, were welling up inside of him.

“Aednat, when will I see you again?”

“You will see me every fall amongst the trees. You will see me in your poetry.  But you won’t see me again like this,” she told him, not unkindly.

“Why ever not?” he asked in shock. “Did I do something to dishonor you?”

“No, nothing of the sort. I have had a lovely time with you. But there are others who are in need of a muse, and I must be a muse to them as well. I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have awakened your soul. Now, it’s time for you to write poetry again.”

“But I can’t write it without you,” he protested.

“You have written it without me for years because of all of the different facets of life that inspired you. I was only one inspiration out of many. Now I must go and re-inspire other artists.”

The poet looked down, broken-hearted, unable to look at Aednat. She took a seat by him and gently held him in her arms.

“Be not full of sorrow,” she said, her voice as gentle as her touch. “Don’t you see? Not only are you able to write again, but I have coaxed you out of your shell. There are many wonderful woman out there who will be blessed to meet you. Stop withdrawing yourself. You will continue to bless people with your poetry, but now also with your company. Would you refuse me the right to awaken or reawaken the art within others as I have for you?”

“No, of course not,” said Jean. “That would be selfish.”

She clutched his hand. “You are amazing, Jean. I enjoyed our time together. Good things will happen to you. And truth be told, I will miss you, just as you’ll miss me. I will always love you, but I must go.” And with these words she kissed him on the cheek.

Back at his Parisian apartment, Jean toiled on a new poem. By lantern light, he poured out all the tender feelings and passions from his heart on paper, forming verses that bespoke of the enchantment of dancing with a fairy princess among the golden leaves, under trees of marble against the setting sun. He concluded it with the pain of such a moment slipping out of his life. It was the most powerful poem he had ever written. It burned painfully on paper just as it burned in his heart.

The next morning, Jean submitted his poem for publication. His readers were ecstatic to see another poem from Jean Francois after five years of silence. But upon reading his latest work, they were overwhelmed with feelings of both happiness and melancholy. For the poet’s words awoke in their hearts memories of joy and loss.

Jean Francois was never without ideas from then on.

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The Future of Science Fiction isn’t on Earth

Barnard_59,_part_of_a_vast_dark_cloud

Banard 59, a part of the Pipe Nebulae. Credit ESO.

To those who read my post asking about what the point of science fiction is when so many inventions are already coming out, I have given it much thought since then. Is there a place for science fiction still in literature? Many of my dear friends who want nothing more than to encourage me have told me that good science fiction is about character and not tech. To a point, I agree with them. However, if the books I am writing already have the technology I envisioned out, then how are my books science fiction? Rather they are more like techno-thillers, and truth be told, I’m not a fan of techno-thrillers.

With lifelike androids just around the corner, flying cars being worked on, virtual reality already here, and computers everywhere many of these tropes now a reality. Look at the original Star Trek and you find that we already have computers with monitors, computer calls, and tricorders. Look at Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. We have shells that go into ears. We call them blue tooths and headphones. The virtual walls in Bradbury’s novel are like the interactive video games people play today. Look at Lary Niven’s Ringworld. He mentions e-books, but he doesn’t call them e-books. Nonetheless, they are screens people read books off of. I could go on and on. It seems like there is very little else to explore. Except for distant space travel. Notice, I used the term distant. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got colonies on our moon or on Mars during our lifetime. Heck! We may even have some research station orbiting Jupiter, for one reason or another. But for distance space travel? That’s another matter entirely.

We are still far away from warp drive if warp drive is even possible or wise. It’s true that the Hubble has peered far into the soul of the universe, but we still aren’t any closer to visiting these nebulas, setting foot on a planet in a different solar system (heck, I don’t even think we’ll set foot on Pluto within our own solar system in our lifetime), and seeing extraterrestrial life. The distance between us and these distant galaxies are like the distance between us and our current technology.

I already hear protesting over the other end of the keyboards and monitors. We’ll get there in our lifetime. Look at all the leaps and bounds we have made. I am willing to admit I could be wrong. Nothing wrong with that. But for the time being I am skeptical.

But my theory is we won’t travel to different galaxies and see different lifeforms in our lifetime. Therefore, at least in our lifetime, the science fiction of light speed and meeting extraterrestrial races will never feel dated. While we live on a world oversaturated with holograms, robotics, nanobots, and yes, even force fields, we will still be looking to the stars for our science fiction. That said, I am still going to finish my novel Cold Shades, but it will be one of the very few Earth-based science fiction books I write. The stars are calling me.

_Finger_of_God__Bok_globule_in_the_Carina_Nebula

Finger of God in the Carina Nebula. Credit NASA and ESA.