Home of the Bellingwood Series – Nammynools

Prelude – Vignette #8 – Beryl

“Miss Kitty,” Beryl said to her cat as she flopped onto the living room sofa, “I’m getting too old for this traveling stuff. You might be seeing a lot more of me than you used to.” She had to reach across the sofa to touch Miss Kitty’s tail.  What would it be like to have a fuzzy tail that you could flick when you were annoyed or tucked between your legs when you were scared? Beryl smiled at the thought of Miss Kitty curling into a tight ball, her tail the last thing to wrap itself around her.
The cat responded with purrs and finally deigned to walk across the sofa to Beryl’s side. It had been three days since Beryl got home from her last trip to Boston and in those three days, Miss Kitty had made known her disapproval at being left behind. Not by doing anything destructive, but by ignoring Beryl unless one of the girls was in the studio.
Deena and Meryl, Beryl’s two students, traded babysitting times with Miss Kitty. Some evenings, they both came over to eat the fun meals that Beryl had set in for them, watch television, and snuggle the cat.
“Silly spoiled cat,” Beryl said. “Are you grateful that I ensure your comfort even when I have to leave town? No. I’m off to sell paintings so that you live in the lap of luxury and you act as if I subjected you to the seventh level of hell.”
Miss Kitty rolled and purred as Beryl stroked her back, then ended with her belly up. Beryl almost caught herself rubbing down the exposed tummy. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know that it was a trap, it was just so darned fuzzy and pettable.
“Nope. We’ve been through this. I want it to be a real invitation, but it isn’t.” Instead of rubbing the belly, Beryl picked Miss Kitty up and cuddled her to her chest. “I have two big commissions I should be working on in the studio. Would you like to join me today or would you rather go back upstairs to the bedroom and await my return?”
She groaned as she lifted herself off the sofa, the cat in her arms. “I’m getting too old,” Beryl repeated. “Much too old.”
She walked down the steps, through the basement to the glass doors and outside to the small building she’d had built for her studio. There was something important about this space. Beryl loved her home, but even more, she loved being able to walk away from all of its responsibilities into a room that allowed her to forget the world and embrace her imagination.
Years and years ago, she’d set up her studio in the finished basement. It had everything she needed. Light, a bathroom, storage for her tools, and a large space to spread out. But then the phone rang and the television was right upstairs. People knocked on her door and she’d think about the bills at her desk upstairs that needed to be paid. She’d try to multi-task by running the washing machine or dryer. Dishes in the sink haunted her mind. Distractions in the house were hard to move past.
She’d complained about her state of mind to her best friend, Andy Saner. Andy was one of the gentlest, most organized people Beryl had ever known. And she’d met a lot of people in her lifetime. If anyone knew how to manage their time, it was Andy. She’d still been teaching when Beryl mentioned that she hated having to work so hard to carve out time to paint. Beryl half-expected Andy to show up and do all the housework for her, but instead, Andy mentioned that Beryl had that immense back yard that looked out on farm fields. It wasn’t being used and Beryl wouldn’t likely ever plant a garden. Why wouldn’t she build a studio?
The thought had never occurred to Beryl. She had a perfectly good house. Why build something else? The more she thought about it, though, the more the idea seemed genius. Within a week, she had called Bill Sturtz and he helped her find a contractor. She’d gone through it with the contractor at the time, arguing to make him understand what she was looking for. But he’d finally listened and given her a studio that thrilled her soul every time she entered. It was even more thrilling all these years later because the paint splotches on the floor, the stacks of canvases against the wall, the coffee rings on her counter, the worn seat of her stool, every flaw in the building illuminated the reality that it was her perfect space.
She could put her hand into a drawer without looking and know which brush she would find. Okay, sometimes she dropped the brushes into spaces where they didn’t belong and she’d have to tear the studio apart looking for what she needed. Okay, that happened more often than not, but she was never letting Andy in to do her organizational thing. Not that Andy hadn’t offered. Several years ago, after Beryl had complained about not finding something, Andy and Lydia showed up. Andy with her labeling tote and Lydia with a thermos of coffee and sandwiches. They’d thought to be helpful. Beryl padlocked the front door of the studio, confusing her friends. She didn’t unlock it until after they left. She was thrilled to have them spend time in her home. She even allowed the two of them to sort through and reorganize her kitchen. The studio was off-limits.
Beryl was afraid of what Andy would do in there. She’d tormented Andy for the last year or so whenever she visited her friend’s new home. Neither of them were extraordinarily social. Andy, because she hadn’t needed to throughout her life. She had a family and she had her school. When those two things were gone, she’d become more of a hermit than Beryl. That was saying something. Rather than let her friend become an old fuddy duddy, Beryl made it her mission to keep Andy’s heart skipping along, even if it was only a rubber snake under her pillow or spiders in a glass lamp base. Once Andy’s life jump-started again, Beryl would stop the silliness. It was exhausting trying to come up with clever ideas all the time.
Miss Kitty jumped up to the soft bed Beryl had made for her in front of a window. She turned around in the sunbeam. Rather than curl in on herself, she stretched out, ensuring that as much of her body absorbed sunshine as possible. Beryl thought curling up in the sun with her cat sounded like a grand idea, but she needed to work. Company of the feline persuasion was all she could tolerate when she was starting a new project. This was when she needed to focus in utter silence. Once she fully understood how the painting would come together, she could stand a few interruptions, but she preferred quiet. Cats were quiet.
“Aren’t you, Kitty,” Beryl said aloud.
Miss Kitty’s tail twitched, but that was the only sign she’d heard Beryl speak.
Beryl sat in front of the blank canvas, her eyes half open as she considered the images she wanted to portray. She thought about the sculptors who told about chipping away the excess to leave only that which the stone wanted the world to see. As nice as that would be, she’d never felt as if the canvases had magical qualities that she alone could find as she covered them with paint. No, what the world was meant to see came from her imagination.
She had spent a lifetime as the oddball, the strange girl, the weirdo, the crackpot, or the misfit. Those labels should have destroyed her and there had been a time in high school when she desperately tried to fit in. That hadn’t lasted long. She couldn’t do it. The moment she wore mundane clothing or attempted to act as the other girls did, her silly mind would cause her to say or do something ridiculous. Beryl knew she was odd. She felt odd on the inside every day.
Rather than expose that part of herself to the world, which felt really unsafe, she boldly chose to give people a reason to stare at her, to laugh at her, or to talk about her behind her back. She was in control of the Beryl Carter they saw, not them. If they wanted to laugh, she would be in charge of what they laughed at.
It wasn’t until she was older that she discovered by putting the ridiculousness from her mind on canvas, she could fully express herself. No one in her family, or for that matter in Bellingwood, really cared that she created art. Sometimes it felt a little strange that she could enter a Boston art gallery to applause and celebration, yet walk into her hometown grocery store and feel as unnoticed as the spider in a corner.
To be honest, it was easier that way. The people she loved, Andy, along with Lydia and all her family, and now that cute gal, Sylvie Donovan, saw Beryl for who she was. It would be awkward to walk down the streets of Bellingwood and have people she’d encountered throughout her life ask for autographs, wouldn’t it? Of course it would. It would embarrass Beryl to death.
She blinked and looked at the canvas in front of her filled with paint and images. How had that happened?
Miss Kitty stood and stretched, then looked at Beryl expectantly. The sun had long since left Kitty’s bed and was starting its path downward. Beryl’s painting was coming together. It didn’t happen often, but every once in a while, her hands seemed to move while her mind worked on other things.
There was so much joy in creation, in allowing herself the freedom to gather beauty onto a canvas. She had quite a bit of work left to do, but it was a good start.
“I’m hungry,” Beryl said. “Shall we return to the house and see what I can find to eat?”
Miss Kitty jumped down and stood in front of the door. Beryl picked her up, then flipped off the lights.
When she walked into the living room, the first thing Beryl did was check her phone. Her friends knew that if she didn’t answer, she was busy. They also knew there was every possibility Beryl wouldn’t return their call, but they left voice mails and texts for her anyway.
Lydia had sent a text asking if Beryl would be interested in joining her, Andy, and Sylvie to meet the new owner of the old school building. That was interesting. People had been talking about this woman for months. Bill Sturtz’s son had taken on the task of renovating the building and no one was quite certain what the purpose behind the renovation was. If it was to be a single woman’s home, that was plain ridiculous. Beryl laughed at herself. It sounded like something she would love to do, just to drive the people of Bellingwood crazy.
Where would any of them be without Lydia? She gave Beryl as much privacy and freedom as Beryl needed, but sometimes she stepped up and dragged Beryl back into the world to remind her that there was still life and love to be found.
“Why not?” Beryl sent back. “Should I wear my purple and lime or my yellow, red, and green?”
“I was thinking maybe you could wear your muumuu and turban,” Lydia sent. “Did you have a good workday?”
“Great workday. I’d love to join you.”
“I’ll pick you up, then. I can’t wait.”
One more person for Lydia to care for. She was addicted to people, that woman. “I’ll bring the slime and nerf guns,” Beryl said.
“Maybe that’s a second date type of activity.”
“I love how you understand me. Sedate and normal it is.”
“Don’t do it. You need to be you.”
“We’ll see.” Beryl smiled at her phone. What would this new woman bring to Bellingwood? It might not be a grand adventure, but it could be interesting. She’d have to wait and see.


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