Leila hunched over her work, sitting before the garden’s centerpiece, a Grecian maiden perched in a dried-up fountain. Spanish moss grazed the greenish patina of her shoulders, glowing in the gradient light of late afternoon. She loomed as guardian over Leila. Her watchful eye seemed to alert the artist to unwanted attention approaching from behind.
Sensing an intrusion, Leila arched her aching back and quit with her paintbrush. She pulled the paper block to her chest. Cocking her head, she met an old woman’s piercing eyes.
The matron frowned, folding her arms and taking an abrupt suck from her cigarette. Standing less than five foot, the well-into-her-eighties matron swept a strand of white hair up and poked it into the knot crowning her head. She drew a long drag from the cigarette that doubled as a gesturing baton, leaving a thin trail of smoke. “Well?”
Leila wondered if this might be Marvelle. She clutched her work even tighter.
The old woman flicked her butt to the grass. Grinding it under foot, she thrust out her hand with all the authority of God.
“Don’t be ridiculous, child! Let me see!” Her smoker’s voice chopped with a Bostonian inflection.
Taken aback, Leila glowered at the encroachment while sizing up her opponent. A long, loose-fitting tunic hung from a buttoned neckline and square shoulders, covering most of her shapeless trousers. She looked well on her way to the grave, and yet Leila hesitated to disobey.
Crooked fingers snatched the tablet and held it at a distance, then brought it closer to her spectacles. “You’re overworking it, child.”
“Yeah?” Leila stated, regarding what had always been obvious to her.
“And you’re including too much detail.”
“I like detail.”
“That’s fine, da’ling, but until you can make your point with a few strokes you have no business with detail. You haven’t earned the right.”
Leila’s attention darted from fierce wrinkles to her own disappointing efforts. Was this feisty and officious bit-of-a-woman the ‘dear old soul’ of whom her had grandmother spoken?
“Your perspective, however, and proportions are impeccable. Perhaps you ought to stick with sketching, and not waste your time with paint.”
“I like to paint.”
“Could have fooled me. You look as uncomfortable as a cat in a shoebox, and your work is as passionless as a peck on the cheek.” She wielded the pad as though swatting mosquitoes, and then shoved it back at Leila. “You can’t tell me you’re happy with this.”
“I wasn’t expecting a great work of art. It’s just a pastime.”
“Rubbish! What prevents you from greatness?”
“What?” Wide-eyed, and then with a squint, Leila sat erect.
“Fear—that’s what! When you’re ready to own up to it, come and see me, da’ling.” With that old woman spun on her heal and jauntily headed back toward the house, belying any readiness for the grave.
For all intents and purposes, Marvelle could be standing over my shoulder as I type, trying to form a story. She always sees the flaw, but I think she also sees the potential.
Is your inner critic ‘cruel…but fair?’ Does she ever allow you any peace or gratification?