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Sample piece from PULSE - Writings on Sliabh Luachra By Tommy Frank O'Connor


Liam is my wife's favourite neighbour. He likes being listened to, especially the way Judith entertains every word of his latest gripe. A surveyor in her father's architectural practice, he set the levels for our patio last summer and then arranged delivery of the gravel, sand and stone. Apart from insisting on selecting the stone, all I had to do was pay the bill and shut my hearing to his derision of my selection.

The patio has been waiting for twenty-one months and I've decided that I have to lay it tomorrow.

"But Liam says it'll take three days, maybe more with those crazy stones," she says.

"I'm doing it tomorrow, on my own."

The way I rejected Liam's offers of help to lay down what had formed in my mind did not meet with her approval. Allowing him anywhere near my plan would mean handing it over to him, giving him further opportunity to show off to Judith, while I would end up with a replica of symmetrical perfection like his own patio, or the one he had laid for Judith's father. And he would again regale his friends in the club with the tendencies of my DIY towards, what he regarded as, catastrophe.

But she must understand what I'm like when an idea forms inside me and then enslaves me until I give it expression. Thankfully it is such a different world in the Gallery: canvas, linen, oils, enamel, parchment; three-dimensional things with the calming scent of centuries. I work on the paintings, maintaining a proper environment, alert for signs of stress, re-touching where necessary. Hanging Exhibitions in Themes.

That was how I first met Judith, seven years ago. I'm not likely to forget that meeting though I'm not good on the detail of times and dates.

I had become temporarily famous for finding a Monet hidden under a naturalistic landscape in pieces donated from private collections. I was thirty, single. A similar discovery three years earlier had me sharing headlines with the CAMILLE. I couldn't explain exactly how I had known, so media people labelled me psychic. Some even gave me X-ray eyes. I was a curiosity, for a while.

What really happened was that both paintings created hell with the soul or spirit who shares my mind. Yes, they bore the authentic signature of Claude Oscar Monet. They still showed some of his brush strokes even though someone had decided that the works were unfinished; and filled them in. Absolutely finished them, almost. It was as if I had allowed Liam to complete my patio in ordinary perfection, only worse. I pointed out the near perfect merging of colour, the imposition of weakness on strength. The originals must have felt like powerful swimmers being overpowered by an oil slick.

The fact that I could restore the - CAMILLE AND THE LILLIES - to what Claude had visualised won me permission to prove my theory in the studio. It helped that somehow I recognised those parts of the original which were untouched. I felt the line of the strokes suffocating beneath the added paint; Naturalistic mediocrity imposed on Impressionistic mastery.

CAMILLE took her place in evening light, brushed to timelessness in mutual love. So when the ALICE manifested herself to me I became the subject of a documentary. I had to agree to comment on the detailed stages of restoration, on video. Because of the nature of the work I made my commentary in English and French. After all, the originals had been conceived and painted in French.

Invitations to parties became a feature of my post. On those occasions I was expected to expound on the works of the Masters, with particular emphasis on any scandal in their lives.

Judith's father had a private Renoir collection, and requested an evaluation.

Twelve pieces, unquestionably Pierre Aguste Renoir hung in strategic locations in the reception rooms, one in some difficulty from exposure to direct sunlight and dust attracted by electricity in the over-polished frame. I explained that it would be possible to restore it, and promptly received a generous commission to undertake the work provided that I did not remove the painting from his premises.

Outside in his acre of garden he had a pond, which he called a lake, formed by a diversion from a brook into the grounds and back out through a concealed sluice. It was Judith who introduced me to it, and to the possibilities of herself standing beside it. I allowed her chatty comments to flow as I restored Renoir's work to its original texture and hung it in a place that could have been set for it in another part of the hallway.

She asked me to paint her by the pond; only, like her father, she called it a lake. It was as if she had caught some of my compulsion. I hesitated in deference to that other part of me, and then relented to her urgings. Monet would have been proud of the finished work. Judith certainly was.

"You've just made me live forever," she said.
"Thanks. You flatter me." I waited for her to say something to help me interpret the message in her eyes as they flickered over me between glances at the finished canvas.
"I'm sure you've things to do; hobbies and so on?" My question was by way of a prompt, to remind her that she was free to get on with whatever she would normally be doing at this time.
"Hobbies? Well, I like the idea of being taken out to dinner by famous people."
I relaxed, confident that I was disqualified. A quizzical frown, a tilt of that regal head, suggested - such as you, for instance.
"You'd like to come to dinner with me?" I could not hide my dismay.
"You're so very kind. Thursday about seven perhaps. How does that sound?"
"Should be very interesting." After a while observing the breeze in her hair and how well she wore that floral dress, I added: "you look beautiful, against the pond; pity there were't lilies." "Pond? Don't let Dad hear you call it that. It's a lake; very special. He built it himself, and don't you forget it."

At the table she savoured her own food and portions of mine which I didn't get to on time. She made it seem like she was helping me out.
"You don't often take ladies out to dinner, do you?"
"So I thought. Never, I'd guess?" She spooned a baked potato on to my plate. I nodded. As the meal progressed I was happy that her words and opinions confirmed my earlier impression.

"You're probably too busy with your art to have a regular lady friend," she observed as dessert arrived. She shrugged a reply out of me with a smile.
"Right again," I nodded.
"What do you think of courtship anyway?" She picked a grape out of my fresh fruit cocktail. I wanted to tell her that it seemed crude when compared to what one could do with a brush; and time consuming without any guarantee of progress.
"I can't claim any experience; I've never really had the time," I said.
"Exactly as I thought. Exactly." She leaned across the table, searching my eyes as if to read what I was thinking. Her face had a curious beauty. I tried to keep my eyes out of her sun-tanned cleavage.
"I think we should marry." She waited until I finished coughing into my napkin. "You need a wife, and I cannot see you courting anybody, except me, through your magnificent brushes. And you obviously love me." She raised the empty bottle out of the ice-bucket to remind me to re-order. "In fact if you were to ask me now, here where you look so right against to dark oak, I'd accept."
"Would you, really?"
"Oh, my precious, there's no need to ask. I'd love to be wife to you."
The waiter offered me the wine to taste.
"But we barely know each other." My mouth was still open but the next words were delayed somewhere.
"You're saying you don't know me! So how come you've painted me from the inside out?" She offered me her raised glass. "To us," she said. We touched.

Liam was best man at our wedding. Soon he was our best friend, and then ...
Anyway, back to the patio.
"Don't you think I should get Liam to help? You know he wants to. And you're bound to come up with something way out."
"I know what I'm doing," I insist.
"Why can't you be normal and sociable? Sometimes - I don't know - it's as if you've mislaid your head and put on someone else's by mistake."

The area is five metres long and four wide, Liam's perfect rectangle. But I see an ellipse. I spread the gravel to the levels. Soon it will settle under the weight of the stones and my weight as I work on them and coax them into position.

There's something about Judith. Not resting; giddy almost. I wonder if it's the delay with the patio, or maybe it's about starting a family; I haven't suggested it since she threw my own words back at me about the delay with the patio. "When the time is right," I'd promised. There was very little promise in the spin Judith put on the same words last night.

There isn't a regular size of stone in the heap; mostly small sizes in colours from yellow through green, brown, black, dark blue, speckled and streaked. I bind some in on edge, cobblestone style. They'll provide a brace for their neighbours laid flat. I toss the stones on to the gravel bed, mixing colour almost at random. But the pattern in my head comes alive on the bed. Stones snuggle together as if they've been shaped for each other. I recheck the surface levels with the straight edge, edges now reaching their fingers into the neighbouring soil, the soil taking each stone and giving of itself. Earth and stone tuck into the firm feel of each other, naturally.

I spread bonding sand over my work, teasing it into the joints.
Judith is at the end of the garden among the sunflowers. I try not to feel her lack of faith in my work. Colour swirls in the stone. Stone becomes a living thing like the paintings in the gallery. Two women, Camille and Alice in the somewhere.

Grey in the centre blending into speckled pieces holding brown and greens to themselves. Why is she carrying an "if" in her head about conceiving our baby?

Liam is leaning over the fence, talking to her.
No "if's" in me as my patio defines itself; altogether stating something other than the combination of its parts, pieces of stone important to each other.

Conversation murmurs. They look towards my work. Dark pieces on the outside embrace the centre as I trowel and brush in the finishing sand; weak sand becoming strong in the grip of the grooves.

He's over the fence. They approach, Liam a half-step ahead. I stand barefooted in the middle of my mosaic, close my eyes and await the approval of touch. Inch by inch I move around the centre. Grains of sand play with my toes. The stones that had waited in a pile now want the feel of my skin. They do not waver in their embrace.

Liam and Judith are behind me. Whispers fade into the hush.
"We have something to tell you," a voice quivers. I do not respond.
"We agreed you should be the one to tell him, Judith."
A chill chases from my toes up through my skin.
"Oh, darling, it's - now I see what you've been trying to say," she says.
"I can't make anything of it." Liam contradicts her.
"I was speaking to my husband," she says.

View Other Sample Works from the DOGHOUSE collection