Crispen's Rose: Chapter Six

Crispen's Rose: Chapter Six

A Chapter by Rhayne

CHAPTER SIX

THE PORTRAIT

 

 

Tabora Beach, North Carolina

Winter 2014

 

 

Laura hurries to the door while fumbling for the right key to let the girls in.  Rochelle knocks continuously, hoping that it will annoy Laura.  Whatever she has to show them had better be really good or Rochelle will never forgive her for making her disturb Rose’s much needed rest.  The museum is closed for the weekend to prepare for the new exhibit.  Mr. Merlion, the owner and curator of the museum had been awarded the privilege of exhibiting the findings of the latest of two excavations in France.  One, in his hometown of Cassis and the other in Marseilles where he received his training as curator. He fancies himself a historian of sorts.  He loves history especially of his own country but found living in the United States much easier as far as the legalities of business.  His expertise in French and Italian artifact has made him a wealthy and well-known socialite. De-crating today’s artifact would prove to be the most interesting of all exhibits he has ever done.  His knowledge of history will be put to the test as never before.

“I’m coming, I’m coming” Laura shouts, her voice echoing throughout the vast museum.

“This had better be good, Laura.  Rose is exhausted” lectures Rochelle.

Laura locks the door without commenting.  Her quietness got their attention.  The expression on her face when she turns to Rose is most intriguing.  For the first time ever in the six years they have known each other, she seems troubled for words. She grabs hold of Rose by her shoulders.


“Rose, I’ve got to show you something that is going to absolutely blow your mind.  When I first saw it, I was, well, I was shocked!  When I told Mr. Merlion, the curator, that this piece could not possibly be part of the excavation, he examined it and said that it definitely is because he was there when it was discovered.  I checked the manifest and there it was, big as day.  You guys simply are not going to believe it.”

“So, what is it?” asks Rose.

“It’s in the basement.  Come on, I’ll show you.”

Laura keeps repeating herself all the way through the main lobby and into the corridor where her voice finally stops echoing.  Still expressing her shock, she leads the girls into the elevator at the end of the corridor.  The doors open to the basement where two men work prying open large crates labeled ‘FRAGILE’ ‘EXHIBIT/France’.  Mr. Merlion, a tall lean man with glasses, walks toward them looking down at his clipboard.

“Mr. Merlion, this is Rose VanZandt and Rochelle Ward, my partners” says Laura.

“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Merlion” Rose says, offering her handshake.

“Wonderful to meet your acquaintance” he replies slowly, taking her hand while starring.

“Do you see what I mean now, Mr. Merlion?  Still think it’s part of the excavation?” grins Laura.

“Please forgive me for starring, Miss VanZandt, but the....”

“No, Mr. Merlion, don’t say it.  I want to surprise her” interrupts Laura.

“Yes, of course.  It is that, a surprise.  Please, come this way.  I have moved it to my office.  I wanted to study it closer and my colleague wants to run a test for authenticity. It’s standard procedure, you see.”


He holds the door to his office for the girls to file in.  The room is warm and wonderfully decorated with dark paneled walls accented by lighted sconces spaced perfectly to give a soft light.  Receded bookcases with glass doors fill two walls, ceiling to floor.  Inside were precious objects from all over the world once displayed in glass cases on the museum floors above them.  Mr. Merlion’s mahogany executive desk sits centered of the wall of shelves.  Mounds of books and papers scattered atop the glass protector and more stacked around it on the floor.  A green shaded lamp glows behind one of the stacks.  Two overstuffed, high back leather chairs sit strategically in front of the desk. Cameo tables placed carefully out of the way also adorn ancient artifact.  Mr. Merlion closes the door to reveal a tri-pod easel in the corner with a cheesecloth covering what is obviously a painting.  Laura stands beside it as Rose and Rochelle wait anxiously for the unveiling. 

“Well?  Are you going to be all day about it?” fuses Rochelle.

“Rose, maybe you better sit down” urges Laura.

Mr. Merlion turns one of the leather chairs around as he agrees with Laura.  He can’t seem to take his eyes from her.  She sits down, crosses her long legs and looks at Laura with a smug look as if to say, ’ok, let me have it’.  Laura is being overly dramatic as always.

“Are you ready?” ask Laura.

“For heaven sakes, Laura!” barks Rochelle.


She slides the cloth off the unframed portrait.  The 16x20 canvas, stretched and hand sewn to a thin wooden square, had been perfectly preserved.  A carefully brushed oil painting of a beautiful young woman lying on her side upon a large bed.  A long stem red rose lays cradled in the curls of her long white-blonde hair trailing over her plump pillow.  Firm round breasts are nearly exposed beneath her curved elbow.  Delicate fingers hold to the linen, stretching down the length of her to fold between her thighs leaving one bare leg exposed as well as the exquisite curve of her hip and buttock.  A peaceful expression she has as she sleeps with full pink lips and blushing cheeks.  It is no doubt that she is the object of the painting.  So much so that the viewer would easily overlook the fascination.  A man, fully clothed and standing near a windowed door in the background.  

Rochelle gasps, covering her mouth.  She looks down at Rose who is starring wide eyed.  Mr. Merlion looks from Rose to the portrait and back to Rose.  His eyes fall to her crossed legs for a moment and then back to the portrait, back to her lips and back to the portrait.  He scratches his head then looks at his manifest again, checking details.  Rose slowly rises from the chair.  Her knees are weak and shaky as she moves closer to the portrait, her eyes peeled to the man in the background.  Her finger lightly tracing his face.  Mr. Merlion is alarmed at her touching the paint but is halted by Rochelle and Laura before he can speak his objection.

“Where did this come from?” she whispers.

Her tiny fingernail traces the line of his mouth as she remembers his kiss, so tender and passionate.  His dark eyes, painted in a permanent gaze at her.  His black hair still tousled from her fingers running through it.  His right hand attached to the doorknob of the French door with the other directing his blown kiss to her as she sleeps.  Every detail of her bedroom, including the small scratch on the headboard of her bed, is permanently sealed by oil on the canvass.

“Crispin” she whispers again, his image fading as she folds limply to the floor.

“Rose!” shouts Rochelle trying to catch her.


Mr. Merlion helps Rochelle pick her up and back onto the chair while Laura pours water on a hand towel from Mr. Merlion’s wet bar.  Rochelle fans her with a stack of papers while Laura pats her face with the cool towel.  She slowly begins to arouse, relieving her friends.  Mr. Merlion is covering the painting when she sits upright with a jerk, “no!  Don’t cover it.  Please don’t cover it.”

“But Rose, it’s too painful for you, honey” says Rochelle.

“I want to see him” she says firmly.

“See who?” asks Mr. Merlion.  “You speak as though you know the man in the portrait.”

“I do.”

“But Miss VanZandt, that’s not possible.  This painting was done well over two hundred years ago, I assure you.  Maybe he just reminds you of someone you know.”

“Mr. Merlion, that man in that painting is Crispin Aleron. And even though I’m embarrassed to say so, that is me on the bed. That is my bedroom.  Rochelle, tell him that’s me and my bedroom. Look at the headboard.  See the scratch?  I did that years ago with my ring as I was making the bed, I swear.  And....and look here. See that picture frame on the night table? That’s a picture of the three of us, Laura!  Look at it!  Can’t you see us in it?  He painted every detail of my bedroom as it looked the night we spent together, just as it looks right now! I want to know where you got this.”

Even though she seems hysterical, Rochelle looks closely at the night table.  Laura tries to calm her with a glass of water.  Mr. Merlion is baffled by the candid description and for the first time really notices the details of modern items in the painting. He refers to his manifest’s information which confuses him even further.


“It says here, just as I remember it, that the painting was found buried nearly three hundred feet down at the base of a mountain in Marseille, France.  There’s evidence that a monastery once stood there.  It apparently was destroyed by a landslide.  Construction clearing was halted when they unearthed the ruins of the monastery and an excavating team was called in. They carefully dug into the mountain and began to find items that were used in sanctuaries dating back to the late 1700's.  It was learned that this small monastery was destroyed in 1798 by a mudslide resulting after two days of torrential rains.  A friend of mine who headed the excavation called me and invited me to join them because I have knowledge of that era.  I agreed only if what we found could be exported here to be put on display for at least a year.  I helped with the digging and preserving of each item.  I was there when this painting was found in the root cellar that remained virtually unaffected by the slide.  There were many more, painted by the same artist.  And you’re right, Miss VanZandt, the artist’s name was Crispin Aleron.  I have read the history of him.  It was years ago when I lived in Marseille and worked for another museum.  I have books on paintings from that era and a few of the artists that were known.  It is simply impossible that you knew him, Madam, he was born in 1772 in Marseille.  In 1798, at age 26, he was confined in the monastery’s asylum for the mentally insane.  He was deemed possessed by demons or that he was practicing sorcery.  His paintings were of modern science and far beyond the knowledge of any man of his time.”

Rochelle backs away from the painting, “wait, what you mean is, he painted things of the future?”

“Yes, that’s right.  It’s not much different than when Michel de Nostradamus made predictions of the future, many of which some say have come true.  Nostradamus lived long before Crispin Aleron.  It has been said that he only painted descriptions that Nostradamus may have given in his writings. It was his paintings that drove him mad, non-the-less.  The monastery was the last place he was ever seen or heard of.  I’m sorry, Miss VanZandt, but like I said, the man in the painting must look like someone else you know.”


Rochelle leans toward the painting once more, squinting.  This time she could make out the figures in the framed picture on the night table.  She takes in a long gasp getting Laura’s attention. Laura leans in to get a better look also and she too takes in a long gasp.

“You see it, don’t you?” asks Rose.  “You can tell it’s us?”

“Mr. Merlion?  I don’t think women wore denim jeans back in those days, did they?” asks Rochelle.

“And underwire bras?” adds Laura.

“What are you talking about?” he asks pushing his glasses up and leaning toward the painting.

“Those pants on the floor there.  Those are women’s jeans.  And there’s an underwire bra hanging off the arm of the chair near the man” sneers Rochelle.  “Okay, Mr. Merlion, Laura, is this some kind of trick your playing?  Well, it isn’t funny.  I can’t believe you would stoop this far, Laura. You know what Rose has been going through.”

“Rochelle, I swear to you, I have never seen this before today.  This is not a trick.  I would never do something like that to Rose and it hurts me that you would even think such a thing.”

“Ladies, ladies! There has to be an explanation for these coincidences.  Why don’t you check out some of the other artifact and let me investigate this a little further?  Maynard, my colleague is due any time now and he will determine just how old this painting really is.  I will let you know the results as soon as I know.”

Rose suddenly emerges from her silence, “Mr. Merlion, you said there were other paintings found that were done by this artist. I want to see them, please.”


Her voice was calmer and demanding.  Her cheeks filling with color again.  Yet, her nervousness shows in her wringing her hands.  Mr. Merlion makes eye contact with her causing him to realize her desperate need to put this anticipation to rest.  He nods to her and gestures toward the door.  The girls file out of the room and wait as he locks the office door.

“They are still wrapped up.  It will take a moment to get them out for you” he says prying open the crate.

The girls wait anxiously as he pulls the first one out and unwraps it carefully.  He sits it carefully onto an easle.  The girls look it over.

“Hmmm....that’s nice” says Laura.  “Just a flower garden next to an old house.”

“It’s a rose trellis, Laura” snaps Rochelle, “not exactly a flower garden.  It’s a path to the house with a rose trellis arch.”

“It’s my Grandmother’s house” Rose says softly, “that’s my Grandmother standing inside the window and that’s me picking roses from the trellis.  I was ten years old.  My Grandfather had just passed away and my mother and I were staying with my Grandmother until my Daddy returned from overseas.”

“What?  Rose, you really are losing it” laughs Laura.

Rochelle watches Rose intently worrying that Laura may be right. Rose turns, anxious to see the next one.  Mr. Merlion removes the painting, replacing it with the next one.

“Oh, my God” Rochelle says under her breath, “I don’t believe it.  Mr. Merlion, these paintings can’t be as old as you say they are.  There’s no way an artist from the 1700's would know anything about that.”


“I remember that day too” says Rose, “my mother and I went to the airport to see my Daddy off to England on business.  I was fifteen.  We watched his plane taxi onto the runway.  I saw him waving to me from the window.”

In the painting a plane sits on the tarmac, a man’s face and waving hand in the window just in front of the wing.  A red long stem rose painted directly below the window.  A woman and teenage girl waving back stand in the foreground.  The girl having long blond curls.

“It was the last time I saw my Daddy alive” she sniffs.

Putting her arm around Rose, Rochelle pulls her close.  She wonders if something completely supernatural is happening here or if each of the paintings were just too similar to a memory. Even she was interested to see the next one and what story she would have to go with it.  Laura seems dazed now and as interested as Rochelle.  She’s having trouble with words again. Mr. Merlion moves the two paintings and places a third one on the easel. Rose immediately covers her mouth and tears puddle in her eyes.  Rochelle’s bottom lip quivers.  Words return to Laura, “Oh....my....God” she whispers.  The cemetery is in full bloom of spring colors.  A large Willow tree hangs low over a fresh grave where a teenage girl lays fresh bouquet of long stem red roses near the headstone.  Her long blonde curls hide her face.  The etched letters on the granite marker reads,

 

 

ROSARIO DAVID VANZANDT

Beloved Husband and Father

Born May 25, 1935

Died March 12, 1993

 

 


Rose wipes away her tears with the back of her hand and asks Mr. Merlion to please put up the next one.  The girls are too stunned now to say anything.  Mr. Merlion is also amazed and silent.  He sits the last painting on the rail and brushes his hands free of the packing straw.  The girls hug closely together with Rose in the middle.  Each starring at the portrait, speechless.  It was almost as beautiful as the one in Mr. Merlion’s office.  Three women picnicking on the beach near a cluster of bending sea oats. A blue and white striped blanket beneath them.  A woven basket overflowing with bread and fruit. A bottle of wine waiting to be opened as one woman with long blonde hair hands a glass to another.

“This is freaky” whispers Laura.  “I actually remember that day.”

“Me too” says Rochelle.

“He’s been with me all my life.  Did I ever tell you where I was born?” says Rose, still starring at the portrait.

“No” says Rochelle. 


“I was born in an elevator during a storm.  My mother’s doctor’s office was on the third floor of the Municipal building. She was on the elevator when the power went out.  There was a man on it with her.  She told me that she loved my Daddy dearly, but that this man on the elevator was the most handsome man she had ever seen.  The elevator was completely dark when she suddenly went into labor.  She was scared of course.  She said the man touched her hand and spoke to her softly telling her that everything would be all right.  She said she panicked and told him that her water had broken and that her baby was coming, I was coming.  He told her to be calm and he helped her to the floor.  She began to cry as the pains got worse.  She said he told her that he would deliver her baby, for her not to worry.  He could do this because he could see well enough to do what was necessary.  She thought he was just trying to calm her.  In minutes, I arrived into the man’s hands.  He used the pocket clips from ink pens to tie off the cord and his pocket knife to cut it.  She said he used his jacket to wrap me and then placed me in her arms.  You can think I’m crazy if you want too, frankly, I don’t care.  But I know now who that man was.  It was Crispin Aleron.  He delivered me into this world and he’s been watching over me ever since.  I know he isn’t far away now.  He’ll be back for me soon.  I know he will.”

Mr. Merlion wipes his beaded forehead with his handkerchief.  Rochelle and Laura are both silent.  Rose turns to one and then the other, “I want to go home now, please.  I’m feeling rather tired.”

Her voice is solemn.  Her eyes like glass.  Rochelle takes her arm and leads her past the stunned curator and slowly made their way to the elevator. 



© 2019 Rhayne


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Yessss, Crispin's paintings made it!

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Added on September 13, 2019
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Author

Rhayne
Rhayne

Nashville, NC



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I love to write. It clears my head of all the noise and sometimes, somehow it turns into something that makes sense. more..

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