STONE AND CANVAS©️
Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
#48 The Art Exhibit© - Part 1
I could not believe the words I heard G.B. speaking. We had planned all this together and as any wife would, I took it for granted that I would walk into this exhibition of my work, on my husband’s arm. I stared at him wondering if he saw himself stepping out of his element into an unknown world. Had the attention shifted from him to me during the last few hectic days? Or at some point had I begun to put the show before him?
“G.B. it’s all for you. I want you to see I can do something well, see my paintings have value. I want you to be proud of me the same way I’m proud of you and of all you accomplish.” I tried to strike the right note to undo whatever damage I had done. I was frantic and desperate but I did not have time to plumb his thoughts. It was time to leave.
“Please G.B. — please.” I looked at him with all the disappointment I felt. He stared at me, deflated, defeated and unusually silent, and then he turned and waked away to shower and dress. Moments later he was ready to go and I silently screamed “NO!”
He was wearing his khaki uniform pants an old short sleeved tan check shirt, casual suede shoes and no tie or hat. My heart wanted to burst.
Day in and year out I had endured the monotony of his khaki attire without comment and on dozens of occasions where khaki was extremely inappropriate. But a thousand times I had envisioned and anticipated walking into the Art Barn with him wearing shiny black shoes, a light grey suit that hung unused among others in his closet, a crisp white shirt, a striking tie and G.B. topped off by my birthday gift to him the Stetson hat.
I had to think fast, if I protested I would undoubtedly go alone. If I grabbed his Stetson and tie, he might put them on as we arrived.
If worse came to worst, no one ever seemed to judge me by his peculiarities — I had enough of my own. All that mattered was to get the man into the car, gather up Shirley and Bill and hope G.B. would not blow. An explosion was unlikely when he was insecure and apparently abandoned by his excessive confidence. I settled for my rough old rock man and let my well dressed, prosperous, oil well and property owning Good OL’ Okie Boy fade back into my dreams.
Lorraine had gone on ahead to supervise the caterers and with the Director, welcome early arrivals. Thank heavens Shirley and Bill were able to ride with us.
For the first time in his life G.B. chose the back seat of the car and told Shirley to sit in front with me. That was disconcerting but he had no idea how much I appreciated the chance to gab and dump onto Shirley, all the thoughts and concerns filling my head. She was there to keep me calm, and watch for antelope, deer, polecats, rabbits and murky hitchhikers that appeared abruptly amid the torrent of monsoon rain bouncing in the headlights.
The drive to Flagstaff is a blur to me, but Shirley recalled the drive with crystal clarity:
Charle needed to calm down, unload worries and be reassured. Instead every time she began to talk, G.B. bust into the conversation. He was frantically tryin’ to turn attention back to himself but Charle was past humorin’ the old boy and I was the target trapped in the middle of two loose cannons firein’ at everything in sight.
“Shirley, no one’ll come. In Vancouver we ignore rain but people here hide from it and this is more than rain it is a monsoon downpour.”
“Shirley, did y’all know we’re openin’ up the New Quarry this week an’ I gotta hire . . . .”
“Shirley, no one will face this fifty mile drive in darkness and monsoons . . . .”
“Shirley, y’all know how much rock I shipped today?”
“SHIRLEY! I forgot to price the paintings! How can they sell my paintin’s without prices? Who’s goin’ to do it?”
Before I could tell her, G.B. busted in again.
“Shirley,” he raised his voice to compete with the engine hummin’, the rain drummin’ an’ Charle’s risein’ panic. “Did Bill tell y’all what truck Bob is workin’ on these days? It’s that old Jimmy dump that’s set out there fer years, at Geronimo . . . .”
“Shirley, that humongous building will be empty!”
“Shirley, y’all listenin’?”
“Shirley, I rushed through those painting so fast. They’re terrible! I’m just goin’ to embarrass myself! I don’t want to go!”
“Shirley! — Shirley! — Shirley!” I knew it was comin’ an’ Charle finally said it, “I can’t go!” But thankfully she kept drivin’ east.”
For fifty miles through a monsoon I rode with a temporarily insane woman and the town idiot who was waiting for the right moment to self destruct.
“Shirley,” Charle asked, “I told Lorraine if I look wide eyed with fear, move in and carry away the conversation. But she might be busy, so will you take people away from me if I give you a look?”
I jumped in to say, “Charle! Talkin’ to people is the point of the whole thing. You’re goin’ so’s ya can talk to everyone.”
“Shirley, back in the old days in Ash Fork — back when me and Whitey . . . .”
“Shirley, I’m not going!” Charle was about to snap. “I’m not going! I can’t do this! It will be an empty room! Oh and what if nothing sells! Ohhh. How embarrassing — I want to go home!”
Why did I trap me ‘n Bill in this car with these two . . . two . . . fools. I should’ a known better.
“Shirley, we’re here!” Charle announced as she swept into a forest driveway, “Oh look at the Ponderosa Pine trees in the floodlights. Doesn’t the Barn look lovely? It’s so beautiful at night with all those lights shinning on it. And listen — the other building — there’s a reggae band playing!” How lovely!”
The music worked magic on Charle. She’d forgotten all the worries she’d driven me nuts with and suddenly she was — ready to boogie.
She stepped out of the car, grabbed G.B.’s arm, leavin’ him no chance to escape, encircled his neck with a already tied necktie (an’ damn near choked him in the process.) She plunked a big Stetson hat on his head, linked arms with G.B. on one side, an’ me an’ Bill on the other, an' we swept through the doors into the Art Barn, makin’ a real dramatic entrance.