Next morning, when I quietly resumed painting the studio's exterior walls, entering the mansion by a service side gate, I was surprised to see Barbara coming up to greet me. I honestly did not expect any more personal contact with that extraordinary couple -- I felt so far detached from them, and their self-absorbed behavior, perhaps too common in the realm of the rich and famous, but so distinct from my world of natives and servants.
Barbara left her social veneer aside for a moment and showed herself elated. For the first time in a long while, she said, Davez had locked himself into the studio. And every time she had checked to see if he was okay, she had been able to hear him composing.
But to me it was still a major surprise when, that afternoon, he slipped out of the studio for a moment, to hook Barbara and me, inviting us to listen to his compositions.
"Man, I owe you, forever..." he told me, driving me by one arm, while tugging Barbara by the other.
Davez had actually located his producer at a party in London, and through the extension put him to listen to, while he played for us each of the tunes he had composed during the night -- one of them the song inspired by you, Laurent. If I remember correctly, he first named it 'Seed of a Son'.
What am I doing here, I wondered. Never had I heard a song like that, hypnotic and incomprehensible -- and like formerly I had seen intriguing paintings in the museums and galleries of Paris, and Armand had advised me not to judge beforehand, not to close myself to the new -- I tried to approach Davez' compositions through my own painting process, trying to understand how he planned to add other instruments, as he was narrating it to his producer.
Davez abruptly ended the session, frustrated at not succeeding in harmonizing music and lyrics, and annoyed by the festive din which reached us through the mouthpiece of the phone, as a background to the producer's drunken voice.
And after he angrily left the studio to lock himself in the bedroom, Barbara cautiously walking behind him, I quietly and humbly returned to my painting job which was, after all, the only thing that had brought me to that mansion.
Several days later, I received a call from them. I figured they were going to rush me back to the job, because I had not attended it for days, to stay home taking care of you, Laurent, who had been sick. Do you remember it? I had been spending a lot of time away, working at Davez' house, but nevertheless I had been able to realize how my absence increased your sadness, paired with the fact that Catherine was not there either -- and she hadn't even bothered to phone you... us... from France yet. I think you got sick from grieving in silence, and I realized that no matter how much Joanna cared for you with great love and dedication, you would not heal without my presence. If you were to heal at all, I feared, without Catherine.
I had intended to spend the night at home in your company, but after putting you to bed, Davez phoned me at our colonial mansion, summoning me to his house. And he did not accept my apologies for not attending work, nor even when I said I would be there the next morning very early, to finally finish painting the walls.
"You're fine, man. You can come right now." It was not a marching order, but neither was it a question.
The rock star's mansion was on the other side of Punaouilo, and when I got there, and a long way it was on a bicycle, it was late, far more than I used to stay awake.
But maybe having slept all afternoon, Davez and Barbara were fresh and in high spirits. If I had arrived a little later, I would no longer have met them, as they were on their way to the bedroom, but not to go to sleep.
They had dined at the best restaurant on the island -- one praised even in international guides; after all, Punaouilo was an international resort for millionaires -- but before that, they had paid a brief visit to the local art gallery.
"I've never seen so much crap together!" Davez spit the words, tracing back to the same viral disdain with which he had treated me on that first afternoon, and I wondered if I had gone there to be humiliated. "And what was that creature?" I was sure he was referring to Danny Douxis, the poor cover we had for an art dealer in Punaouilo, and I felt embarrassed for him too. "How do you leave your paintings sitting there, man? Schatz..." I'd never heard the word before, and figured it must be Barbara's family name, who was not disguising her boredom doing the translation. "What did we think about of the paintings our friend here?"
"Gut..." Barbara replied, without even looking at me. "Very good..." she said, without enthusiasm.
That woman, so beautiful and sophisticated, made me think of Catherine. Not because of the coincidences, like the disdain both women treated me with, but mainly by the differences between them -- how your mother would have liked to be as rich and famous, and how I was the one blocking her path... Catherine did not blame me for her bad luck in life -- to her, I impersonated her very own bad luck.
"Good?" Davez cried and spun in his heels, excitedly. "Dude, your paintings are fantastic! Pure poetry... That blue one, it's like cosmic dust..." Davez seemed genuinely enthusiastic, and I was truly surprised. "Why didn't you tell us?"
Because no one ever wanted to know, I thought. At that point in my life, painting had become a mere hobby. Although it was not a secret, and not having an atelier I used to paint in the open, in our garden, no one had ever seen my art. In Punaouilo, people knew me as a house painter, and gardener. My hands had been calloused from the work in our ancestral farm in the Apennines, and they grew rougher from the work in Punaouilo. They were most commonly dirty with earth, or wall paint, not with my oils. I felt as invisible as my paintings, and defeated.
I didn't ask which blue painting Davez meant, because I found myself in a 'blue period' -- not inspired by Picasso's, but to Douxis' request. The poor marchand held blue to be the latest fashionable color in insular decoration, and thus he was only accepting blue paintings, to meet his customers wishes and to match their sofas and lampshades. I had of course submitted, to find a spot on the walls of his gallery.
"Have you ever painted ghosts, man?"
I wanted to laugh at Davez question, just as Barbara's subtle perfume made me want to cry. In the proximity of that stellar couple, I felt like crap, so poor and a failure, having given up on my own talent.
And as I did not have anything to reply to Davez, I again thought of you, Laurent, who had reported having seen people in my paintings. Invisible people, you had clarified. Sometimes, after having finished a painting, I had the desire to scribble and draw on top of some of them, and you could see people and other figures in those lines, Laurent. Do you remember it?
Davez wanted to know more about my paintings, about those invisible people, and my ink scribbles... I said I felt it was a process similar to his composing music, as I had heard it a few days ago. "Not always all things can be expressed in the same layers", I told him. And so, in my painting process I would add those lines later, as if they were an afterthought of imagetic poetry. "PS* Poetry. You know what I mean?", I concluded, thinking I had sounded stupid.
Just like Davez hadn't been able to harmonize melody and lyrics, I had clarified -- fearing to sound arrogant or disrespectful to the rock star --, because lyrics were not simply a complement, but they existed by themselves, as poetry, and I had recognized in his process the same difficulty I had with what I called the 'layers' of my paintings.
Again I watched Davez jump to the middle of the room, exclaiming "What are you telling me, man?", standing there for a minute or two, wide-eyed, staring at me, without seeing me however, to finally leave the house, darting towards the studio.
I immediately said goodbye to Barbara, politely. She must have been as embarrassed by Davez' sudden departure -- the second time he had left us alone. At least, I thought, this time I was not naked as I had formerly been, in the tub, though I felt as bare once again, since the girl had already checked my nudity up and down. And I felt even more embarrassed being dressed, once the rags that covered my body made a depressing contrast to her beautiful designer clothes, as much to everything else in that stunning house.
I excused myself, and left by the service side gate.