by F.E. Clark
I saw her again that morning. O’Keeffe—walking away. Always, she was walking away. She didn’t look back, never did. I’d tried calling to her, chasing after her—she just slipped away like smoke.
It was one of those summer mornings here in Scotland, when the mists rise and there is still green to shine through. The sky was cerulean and Georgia O’Keeffe—cowboy hat on, clad in black—strode away from the cottage, trailing the scent of wood-smoke and Chanel Number 19 behind her.
I’d been sitting on the step, bare feet on the warm boards, worshipping my morning cup of Jamaican Blue.
Midsummer’s day, and the world was brewing fury and hate. Nothing seemed possible. I had not painted in the longest time. My self-imposed isolation wasn’t helping. It was telling, of my state of mind, that the shade of the painter visiting me every other morning didn’t seem strange.
Seeing the points of a huge rack of antlers jut up dinosaur-like from the ground, I went to investigate.
I wondered what O’Keeffe must make of all this lushness after the adobe and sand, or the vertical cityscapes, of her living-time homes. I knew she must love the foxgloves and honeysuckle, and the lupins and lilies that were thriving here—perhaps they summoned her with their intoxicating scents.
The altar began quite by accident, I found a rabbit’s foot on my walk in the nearby wood, and luck being in short supply I’d picked it up. I laid it on the wall on my return. Maybe I had looked to the skies and hollered for some grace—something. A primal scream in the woods—well, why not?
I’d put each bone she brought beside the rabbit’s foot, not knowing what to do with them. Every morning, the altar grew, the highlight being the antlers that day— surely a 20 point rack is impossible?
Procrastinating the vastness of a blank canvas I’d pieced the collection of bones together, constructing a chimera skeleton there on the grass—rabbit, bird, sheep, deer, and other bones, strange and impossible to identify. Old and new, smooth and pitted, I held each bone and tried to imagine the flesh and skin and fur that once held them.
That afternoon I made the trip to the village in the old Land Rover with the killer clutch, air-conditioned by way of the cracked windows. I wanted something to toast the solstice and O’Keeffe with, the shop lacked tequila, though perhaps not the worm. They’d sold their only bottle to the “auld dame in black” that morning. I settled on a bottle of Talisker, a single malt from the misty Isle of Skye.
I lit the bonfire at dusk. I’d been saving the wood. It would not get totally dark, the “Simmer Dim” they called in on the islands to the north; that odd light, straight through midnight, that comes at this latitude.
On a whim, I’d set out two camping chairs, two glasses. The fire took immediately, crackling and sparking, scaring off the midgies that had begun to nip at me. White moths and bats whirled in the light.
I poured two tumblers of Talisker. “Here’s to you, Georgia,” I toasted the empty chair beside me and knocked back the whisky— it burnt. The fire burned. Around me the twilight seemed to vibrate and crackle with electric. I felt the heat from the fire on my face.
I knocked back the second tumbler of whisky, “Here’s to the Sun and the Earth and all us stupid buggers who’re screwing it up.” The whisky had gone to my head. The skirl of bagpipes filled my ears and vibrated in my breastbone.
The rumbling began far away. Grew closer. Louder.
CRACK—a log exploded on the fire, spraying sparks. The fire seemed to fill my entire field of vision. It raged. Smoke billowed.
A clattering and clanking came from the grass in front of the cottage—and there, a white beast rose up through the smoke. It staggered to one side, righted itself. Took a step towards me.
I froze. Paralyzed.
The beast cocked its head to one side, tipped its antlers at me, then galloped. Straight at me. Feinting away at the last minute. It circled the bonfire once, then disappeared into the wood.
I glanced to my left and blinked, there on the camping chair was one white blossom—exotic and perfect.