Masterpiece of the Heart
Vienne dug the letter out of the mailbox with eagerness. The pleasure at seeing her mother’s shopping list scrawled on the envelope corner filled her heart. She was glad her family was carrying on business as usual, even as she doubted her decision to leave them. Rodez, France was a place of her dreams, with its presumed elegance and fancy foods, but after many months living in Rodez she was more than reluctant to feel at home here. Each day she worked her perfect job in a perfect riverside village, but her chest gripped her with homesickness. She ached for the dusty country roads, miles of barbed wire fences, and the nothing to dos.
As Vienne carried her bags and mail up the stairs to her flat, she pondered the time she spent in Rodez. The excitement for being a museum curator at the Soulages faded after weeks of guiding mundane fieldtrips for uncaring children through the gallery. However, Vienne knew every night when she turned down the display lights one by one that showcasing good art was worth even the most ungrateful spectator. She had an eye for the artist’s purpose that had launched her to the top of her graduating class at New Mexico State. Vienne’s talent for noticing special details caused her to notice Oliver.
About three weeks passed working at the Soulages, Oliver stood alone across from the Brou de Noix painting and Vienne paused to glance down the passage way towards him. Seeing Oliver stand perfectly distanced from the Noix surprised her. Vienne remembered thinking, the older gentleman had probably visited the gallery before and knew the piece’s worth. She had dismissed the observation and went about her business.
This first impression was a fond memory for Vienne. Their friendship grew every day since the first meeting. They shared many conversations about art the way few other people understood and their talks were a healing salve to her. Vienne reminisced, Oliver had been the one to say hello first. She had been surprised the third time she saw Oliver wandering alone through the gallery. Many people are not Soulages fans; the art makes them feel desperate and bored. But Oliver is pleasant and a frequent visitor to the Soulages Musee. The receptionists greet him by name. He teases with them that he is familiar enough to be part of the exhibit. No one is ever bothered by Oliver. He is not the type of old man looking for distraction from his progressing age.
Vienne thought all of this about her kind and serene friend. Oliver is so happy in Rodez. How could Oliver possibly understand wanting to return to Santa Fe when she could not understand it herself? She could have been an outstanding curator at any one of the galleries around Santa Fe, but she refused to recognize the created beauty of the desert artists. Vienne left because her childhood in Santa Fe tethered her in a way she struggled to unbind. People agreed with her choices assuring her that every young person needs adventure. Now her heart aches with regret. Clutching the unopened letter from her mother as she stands in her little kitchen, she realizes she wants to tell Oliver how desperate her heart is for home.
While eating dinner that night, Vienne feels less of an appetite than usual. She lingers over each bite slowly deciding if it is worth bringing to her mouth. She is distracted by plans to return home and plans to tough this season out. Her mother’s letter feels like a heavy weight reminder that she does not belong in Rodez.
Throughout the evening while cleaning up dishes and checking her email, Vienne draws upon memories of the first afternoon her and Oliver had stepped out for a walk together. Vienne felt noticed once again. Oliver had held the door pausing in the entry way for her to find her coat. She loved the way he bobbed his head up and down, as if every word she spoke agreed with him. He was not trying to charm her but to validate her and her youthful ideas. He saw her bright life among the dark gallery of Solanges’ onyx fixtures and chose to spend time with her. As the quiet of her flat and a glass of red wine lull her, she thinks about talking to Oliver again. He might know a solution for her heart ache? Maybe she would tell him tomorrow.
Oliver and Vienne walked in the late afternoons around the Foirail Gardens. Many weeks passed before he inquired about her personal life. She was hesitant to share in the way one might be slow to bend an arm that has road rash on the skin. Too much strain can crack the surface exposing what is wounded beneath. Vienne wanted Oliver to know her as strong and intelligent and light hearted the way he is for her.
Vienne resolved, while brushing out her hair before bed, to not bother her friend with her heart ache. She drifted to sleep that night deciding to wait for sunnier days. Rodez would eventually start to feel comfortable enough for her to call home.
“Ma Chere’? A walk today?” Oliver inquired the next afternoon.
“Oh Oliver! I did not realize you had come in. I was distracted by the plans for rehanging in gallery three.”
“Well something like that.” Vienne, feeling somber, responded. Her fingertips tracing the letter’s edge in her pocket.
“Vienne, there is somewhere I want to go. Will you go with me to this place?” Oliver looked over her face searching for her answer.
He told her they could walk from the museum doors after she closed up the galleries. They had gone many places together before, so she was not surprised by his request. He waited, unbothered, in the entry way while she locked up the doors, turned down the lights, gathered her coat and scarf, and unpinned her hair. She relished the sweet breeze coming off L Aveyron to muss her hair and blush her cheeks. Oliver sometimes would tease her about the ritual and say, “Ah better, you look like yourself again.”
Today Oliver seemed determined, “We are meeting my friend, Father Peter.”
At the mention of a clergy man Vienne stiffened. What was Oliver planning for them? If he needed confession or assistance he very well would have attended to that on his own. Oliver was already three paces ahead of her on the gravel path.
“Oliver?” Vienne called to him.
“What is it we are seeing Father Peter about?” Vienne inquired, quickening her steps to catch up to him.
Oliver turned and noticed her posture, “Oh we are not going to see him. Do not look so concerned, I am not ailing! I need him to give me the key in.”
Oliver continued the walk and Vienne fell into step beside him. They swayed along in their usual walking rhythm. Quieter than normal, today something was being left unsaid. The crunch of footsteps on gravel grated at Vienne’s heart. She caught her own tears in the corners of her eyes and prayed the cool breeze would give her excuse for the emotions she was beginning to physically display.
Oliver led her to the parish door at the side of a large gothic cathedral. Vienne wondered at its grandeur then chided herself for not exhibiting more joy that Oliver had brought her to this magnificent church. How had she never seen this massive, glorious architectural wonder just a quarter of a mile away from the gallery?
Father Peter welcomed them as they entered the cathedral. Vienne noticed the distinctive signs of cherished friendship pass between the men. After the warm greetings were exchanged, the church man excused himself to his work leaving Oliver and Vienne to roam the outer halls surrounding the sanctuary. Vienne began to sputter out words of amazement, but Oliver stopped her with a kind smile.
Oliver came to a large wooden door and pausing he dipped into a small bow towards it. The reverence reserved for this place delighted Vienne. She assumed Oliver walked through those doors a thousand times before today and yet he still cherished this sanctuary.
“Now Chere’, close your eyes.” He said turning toward her with an outstretched hand.
They had just entered the most beautiful cathedral and he was asking her to stop looking. Even though she did not understand why Vienne trusted Oliver. With her eyes closed she felt a pressing palm turning her shoulders towards something. She did not orient herself in the room before closing her eyes, but she could feel the sun’s warmth on her face and imagined windows nearby. Her eyelids fluttered open.
He tutted at her and she squeezed them shut if only to humor him. They stood in the holy silence for a minute more. She noticed the intensifying odor of sage. It was not like someone was dispersing smoldering incense, more like a lilting fragrance on the wind. She listened to the shallow, calm breaths of Oliver near her until her own thoughts drifted out of the present moment. The burning ache in her heart subsided to a dull throb and her spirit lifted.
“Open your eyes, Vienne.”
The church burst into radiant view before her! Everywhere there were deep oranges, warm scarlets, and bright yellows. Oliver waited until the exact moment for the sun to kiss the horizon to reveal this spectacular scene. Birds chirped outside the windows in a rousing chorus, anticipating their meal at dusk. Soft wind whirled past the tall spires above, creating a natural song.
“Do you see it? The desert sunset.” Oliver’s voice, excitable and comforting, spoke to her.
She turned quizzically to him and he lifted his chin just enough to direct her gaze back down the center aisle.
“Do you smell the wild sage and hear the lonesome silence of Santa Fe?”
Vienne’s eyes pricked with tears as New Mexico shimmered like a mirage before her. She could almost feel the heat of the hardened sand rising up through her feet. She basked in the glory of seeing something so familiar to her and she felt whole once more.
“How did you know?” Vienne whispered to Oliver without turning from the new-found wonder.
“Oh dear Vienne, your heart is not the only heart to have longed for home. Carry this place you love with you wherever you go and usher people to it. Let them know what you love, and they will love it too”
Vienne embraced Oliver. She would return to this spot in the cathedral and feel close to home, even in far away Rodez. Oliver revealed a masterpiece to her, and the view of Santa Fe was healing her heart.