A faint breeze blew through the shutters, bringing with it a trace of garlic and mussels from the nearby bistro. Oh God, Maître Barbier was known for his sensitive nose. He should have arranged for the bistro to close for the evening. As Pierre rose to go to the window his wife put her hand on his arm.
“Stay, Pierre. You must not be gone when Monsieur arrives.”
“But the smell! What if he notices? ”
“What if he does? It’s your night, isn’t it? Not his? Come, Pierre, sit down.”
Pierre been planning the Vernissage for months. Everything – lighting, temperature, ambiance – must be just so for the visit of Maître Barbier. It was an incredible coup to secure him for the opening. Pierre knew he was being unreasonable and took a deep breath. Everything that needed to be done had been done. He smiled at his wife then turned towards the door where a sudden flurry heralded the great man’s arrival.
Eventually, the introductions and speeches were done and Maître Barbier walked towards the central painting in the exhibition. It was of a tree in winter, bare branches stretching towards the sky in something like supplication. So many freezing days in the forest trying to capture the light between the branches, the yearning in their stretch and reach. Pierre sivered.
Maître Barbier leaned towards the painting, angling his head slightly, took a step backwards, then another. He approached the painting again, bending forward almost double. As if to sniff it, Pierre thought. The hush was palpable. Finally he turned to the assembled crowd.
“Competent”, he pronounced, then moved on, followed by his eager entourage.
Pierre made a quiet return to his position at the Bank later that year. How kind of them to hold it open for him, everyone said. A crise de folie, they said, this wanting to be an artist. And his wife, so patient. He would grow out of it.
Years later he watched the last leaves of that same tree drop soundlessly to the ground, propelled into their leaving by some invisible force. Gravity? Indifference? They might never have inhabited the branches, never have borne their vivid greenness with pride. Uncomplaining, they left behind the stark outline of their world. He mourned their loss and wished he’d known to come and look at the tree when it was at its best.
Carol A. Caffrey is an Irish writer and actor living in the UK. Her short fiction and poetry have been published by Lunch Ticket, Poetry Ireland Review, and The Mechanics’ Institute Review, among others. She has been shortlisted in a number of competitions and her Flash story “Vertigo”, nominated for best Small Fictions, won the BlakeJones Review Flash Fiction competition in 2019. She tours the one-woman play “Music For Dogs” by distinguished Irish poet and playwright Paula Meehan. Her debut poetry pamphlet “The Untethered Space” is published by 4Word Press in June 2020.