Stephen slipped off his shoes. “Yoohoo! Anybody home?”
“Upstairs.” Lynne had started painting again, and she had outfitted one of the spare bedrooms as a studio.
“Where’s Avery?” Stephen asked, and Lynne pointed out the window. Two yards over, across the cul-de-sac, a girl was laughing as she chased a friend and her dog between the still-spindly trees sprinkled through the new subdivision. In the distance a line of jagged foothills angled toward the right, like giant dominoes falling. Beyond, the high peaks showed white. The house backed into a section of the greenbelt that surrounded the town, affording great views all around: location, location, location. They had bought this executive home when they were on a roll financially and professionally. Now that Stephen had jumped the track they really couldn’t afford the mortgage payments any longer. Stephen had the sense that they needed some tangible alternative dream to keep them from feeling that their best days were already behind them. The Salon had seemed to offer that alternative, but now he wasn’t so sure.
Stephen looked at the table under the window: on her sketchpad Lynne had watercolored a variety of abstract shapes, overlaid with precisely engineered black lines, probably executed in ink. “I’ve been trying to make a copy of this Kandinsky,” she said, pointing to a postcard-sized reproduction taped to the wall.
He inspected both versions carefully, point by point. Lynne’s variant, much larger, deviated only slightly from the postcard. She began applying a dark purple smudge of paint to her rendering of the masterwork.
“I’m not sure which one I like better,” Stephen said, though truth be told he didn’t really know what to look for. “Listen, suppose I have a client who believes things that are sort of nutty. Surely I don’t need to go along with everything the client believes?”
Concentrating, she extended the purple shape out and down. “You mean that young guy with hemophilia? Can you give him your opinion without sounding like you think he’s a little off center?”
“I guess not. Still, it seems dishonest not to, or at least disingenuous.”
Lynne put her brush down. “See this painting? Kandinsky had synaesthesia. When he saw colors he heard music. Literally. He painted like he was playing a keyboard, like he was playing his audience. He believed that each brushstroke would set off sympathetic harmonies in people’s souls. Kind of odd, but also kind of true. Before Kandinsky there was another Russian, a composer, Scriabin. Scriabin believed that if he played a certain chord, and if at that precise moment a certain pattern of colors was displayed, then — right then — the world would come to an end.”
Maybe Scriabin was right, Stephen thought: maybe some day somebody will hit the right combination. Maybe Scriabin already did it a century ago, and since then we’ve been living in some other world. “So,” he asked asked his wife, “would you have told Scriabin and Kandinsky you thought they were nuts?”
“I’d have told them I admire their work very much. Besides, only Scriabin was really nutty. Kandinsky was just eccentric.”
Stephen looked again at the Kandinsky postcard. A work of exuberant precision, the picture looked to him like a mapmaker’s rendition of a dreamscape. The fragments of geometry incorporated into the work: were they engineered segments of an intricate scaffolding being erected around the fantasy in order to contain it? Or was something uncontrollable smashing through the gridwork, breaking it to bits? “One more thing,” he said to Lynne. “If you’d had the chance, would you have encouraged Kandinsky to pursue his eccentricity to the limit, even if it took him all the way into madness? All for the sake of genius, for the sake of art, for the end of the world?”
“I wouldn’t have had to,” Lynne replied as she picked up her brush. “Kandinsky had Scriabin. I’m not sure who Scriabin had – maybe Rasputin.”
* * *
If the characters in this novel are at least partly autobiographical, then tomorrow Stephen and Lynne will be driving halfway across the country to take their daughter Avery to college. Time’s arrow and all that. Avery’s friend still lives in that cul-de-sac, as do the dog and all the other neighbors who don’t make an appearance in the story. While there are some visitors to this blog who teach college, and others who go to college or grad school, and still others who still think about their college days with some frequency, I’m guessing that not many of you are parents of college kids. Maybe even that will happen to you some day.