Of Art And Envy

Excerpt from The Hierarchy of Weeds

Saturday, a week later…

Purslane had written directions to Cappy’s studio and her car had a full tank of gas. “A full tank just in case I get lost.” She said aloud as she merged onto Interstate 5, full of anxiety that she might indeed not be able to find her way. Reggie always swore that Purslane not learning to drive until the age of 30 had left her without a good sense of direction. He felt that something in her brain (a natural navigation system that gets activated in the teenage years) lay dormant in Purslane. Purslane missed her exit and continued until she could get off the freeway in the Beacon Hill area, circled back and returned to I-5. She entered the Georgetown neighborhood but could not find the street where Cappy’s building was and in a minor state of panic pulled off the road and dialed Cappy’s number. An hour had passed since Purslane left her home on a journey that should have taken a mere 18 minutes, especially on a Sunday morning when traffic was at a minimum. Thank God she was near the studio, so close in fact that when she returned to the road, Cappy said happily into the phone, “Are you driving a gold colored sedan?”
“Yes!” Purslane felt like crying with relief. Cappy could actually see her from the window of the studio, four stories above.

The building was orange and sienna; a large box shaped structure full of windows and sitting on a bare gravel lot. Purslane was buzzed inside and heard Cappy calling her name. “You have the penthouse suite!” Purslane yelled as she followed the voice until it led her to Cappy. When she saw Cappy smiling eagerly on the landing Purslane felt disappointed for a mere second and hoped the emotion didn’t show on her face and that Cappy, a demure, petite older woman in jeans and a sweatshirt, didn’t see it. Purslane expected a more dramatic look—some unusual expression of hair style or heavy eye make-up at least. When Cappy’s soft, cool hand shook Purslane’s she felt as if she were meeting someone who might write cook books instead of creating beautiful glass art. She followed the woman into a long wood floored hallway and into a very large kitchen space. Purslane was immediately in awe and her eyes took in every detail, filing it away and keeping it in a place so she would never forget what a real artist’s studio looked and felt like. They passed an area on the way to the kitchen that had been sectioned off by cinderblock and beautiful wood planks. Purslane could see a bed behind the partition. The kitchen was full of light and Purslane’s eyes immediately went to the large window above the sink that hosted an array of colored glass shapes; bottles, jars and simple figurines that held the captured sun and illuminated warmly in red, blue, amber and varying shades of green. Cappy motioned for Purslane to sit at the table and Purslane sat until she noticed the figure of a man sitting and studying her in a small easy chair at the far end of the room. Purslane, surprised, stood up straight as if she were in a military line up. Cappy introduced them and Purslane made a move to shake the man’s hand but stopped suddenly when she realized he was not standing up to shake hers. In fact he barely smiled and remained in his chair, meeting Purslane’s eyes with an unspoken warning. He was Cappy’s husband and he was there to protect his wife, the sensitive artist, from a crazy woman and her ridiculous, probably made up story about a dream. Cappy smiled and placed two teacups on the table. The sun created shafts of colored light that fell between them. Cappy was unaffected by her taciturn spouse but Purslane felt awkward and judged and in any ordinary circumstance she would have found an excuse to leave. But this was no ordinary meeting and the days leading up to her introduction to Cappy were nothing but extraordinary and Purslane needed answers. She came to Cappy’s studio hoping to find a piece to the puzzle. Purslane smiled and reached for the tea, sliding the delicate cup and saucer across a large, solidly built wood table stained in a deep red color, “Tell me again about your dreams and the sequence of them.” Cappy kept her eyes on Purslane and blinked against the steam that rose from her tea as she took a long, deliberate sip. She recounted everything, trying not to forget any details but rambled on in a manic sort of rushed speech all the while feeling the man across the room watching her, his eyes at her back. Cappy had a calm almost dreamy demeanor. She finished her tea and placed both hands on the table with the porcelain cup in between. Her thick fingers caressed the wood and she looked steadily into Purslane’s eyes, “Angels may manifest themselves as birds in dreams.” Purslane listened with her eyes wide and mouth slightly opened. “and dreaming of milk indicates a readiness to learn something new.” Cappy held her gaze on Purslane’s eyes.
“I’ve been reading all about Buddhism and a little about East Indian spiritual leaders. Reading all I can find.” Purslane smiled nervously and looked over her shoulder in the man’s direction, thinking he might want to join the conversation. He pretended to read a paperback and Purslane turned her attention again to Cappy, “But I don’t understand the story behind this one Indian spiritual leader, a westerner, known as the Mother.”
“Adam, you were just talking about her, remember?” Cappy looked at her husband and waited for a response. The man mumbled a name and carefully closed the book he was pretending to read. Purslane didn’t like him. Didn’t like that he was there, that he sat so distant and piously away from his wife and her guest. It wasn’t his lack of interest that mattered to Purslane but his dismissive attitude and lack of cordiality that bothered her most. Purslane was relieved when Cappy rose from the table and buoyantly commanded they take a tour.

The studio was in many ways just as Purslane had imagined based on what little she’d seen on TV or in pictures. The ceilings were high with exposed duct work and pipes. The walls were concrete and in some areas so was the floor. Cappy led Purslane down the long hallway where she first entered and past the entrance to a room on the left. The wood floors beneath their feet creaked in places. Purslane entered the room with Cappy behind her. A row of large windows several inches above their heads flooded the room in natural light and Purslane did not know what to make of the massive frame that filled the room. Cappy’s hand lovingly touched the edge of the wood frame that sat supported by a steel metal rack. “This is my next installation. It’ll be placed in the Covington Library next year.” Cappy’s fingers trailed the wood frame as she walked around to the other side, motioning for Purslane to follow. They stopped at an aluminum ladder and Cappy asked Purslane to climb up. The ladder gave a bird’s eye view of the work in progress, all colored glass depicting moons and stars and graceful creatures winged and hoofed and joyful. Purslane stood on the ladder looking down and smiling, “it’s beautiful. It’s breathtaking.” Cappy explained that she had to work at this angle so she could see the play of light and know she was creating the desired effect. It was just so amazing that Purslane suddenly felt shy and out of place. She froze, speechless on the ladder and was glad when Cappy broke the spell and offered a hand to help her down.

They walked again down the long hallway and into a room on the right that was adjacent to the kitchen. This was Cappy’s reading room and it contained a few comfortable chairs with soft pillows, bookcases filled to capacity and a medium sized chest that held a copper or brass Buddha. There were no windows in this part of the studio. Purslane imagined Cappy spending time here in deep reflection, sitting on the floor in a lotus pose, her own placid face smiling up at the kind, fat face of the Buddha.

Cappy walked slowly back towards the kitchen and Purslane followed. The man still sat immobile and on guard in the small easy chair, his unread book held between his hands. Purslane locked eyes with him for an instant and tried to smile but her lips quivered nervously and she was grateful for the distraction of Cappy’s angel. Her eyes turned sharply to the exposed brick wall that held the most glorious depiction of an angelic being Purslane had ever seen. It was done in soft whites and gold tones and hung from floor to ceiling on a parchment type of paper or maybe canvas. Purslane wanted to move closer to it, but she was caught in a kind of triangle ( the man’s eyes on her and her eyes on the angel) so she stayed put, gazing up in awe while Cappy added more water to the teapot. The man’s gruff voice broke the spell and Purslane moved quickly back to the long red kitchen table. “I’m ready for lunch, Cappy.” He said, and Purslane knew then that she had overstayed her welcome. Cappy took Purslane’s hand, “You’ll join us?”
“No, I can’t but thank you so much for everything,” Cappy let go of her hand but continued to smile, “I’m so glad to have met you,” Purslane said, “and your studio is amazing!” Cappy embraced her and Purslane hugged the slight woman. She felt fragile and small boned. Cappy walked her back to the entrance of the studio, opened the door and watched for a few minutes as Purslane descended the iron stairs, her steps echoing against concrete walls.

Two weeks later

It didn’t help really. The meeting with Cappy, the dreams, the interpretation of dreams. Purslane was still Purslane. Still hungry for what lay far beyond her grasp, out of reach, out of her league, out of her mind with desire and longing and want. WANT. But hadn’t she learned that these elements were the very root of pain? The envy of Cherry’s world? How she tried to be happy for her friend! Tried and failed and feared. Feared she’d be found out. She sometimes had to endure Reggie when he talked about Vance and Cherry and sometimes the topic of Cherry’s writing success would be broached and Purslane would comment nonchalantly but inside she folded like a flattened card board box and hoped Reggie would change the subject. When they got together for dinner with Cherry and Vance and Augustine, Purslane felt the difference. She and Cherry were in different worlds now. Cherry had a confidence, a self- assuredness that Purslane had never before seen and Purslane sometimes felt that Augustine was staring at her and even worse… feeling sorry for her.