Nick Winkworth and Kristen Luft

Nick Winkworth
This Day Of Ideal Weather

Annals of An Arctic Tern
By Kristen Luft

Inspiration piece

Above the sedge-bearded inlet, on a mighty gust of wind headed easterly, there floated an arctic tern, its monochrome form rising and sinking mirror-like of the jade waters beneath. Perched on the rim of his patron’s water-marked rowboat with a glass jar of seashells nestled in the sand at his feet, Alfred upturned his smooth Noh face to regard the solitary flier while he waited for the human subject of his oil painting to wake from her ill-timed afternoon nap. The last he had seen of Camille, one of Wagner’s librettos was lain open upon her chest as she slumbered on a daybed, her fingers at the slim book’s edge in readiness to turn to the next page. Perchance her dreams, suffused with the composer’s naiads and Nordic wayfarers, would stick like splinters in her mind when she awakes so that when he gazes into these lucid eyes of a somnambulist he would see some other world, a perfect one in which heroes live with steadfast hearts for something greater than themselves. Visions beset him.

Lost as he was in dreaming, he did not hear his model approach.

Camille reveled in the sea air that made her hair wild with captured winds and strung many strands with grains of salt. She was roused earlier by a glancing light from whence she knew not, and she found the bottom half of her body swimming in the sunlight streaming in through the mullioned windowpanes. Casting aside the libretto, she got to her knees to look out on the day and wished that Alfred could see what she saw through the warped glass windows. Her family had never replaced the glass though it could be dated from antiquity and was as fragile as if it were spun from sugar. But the glass lent a watery quality to the view, as if one were ever looking out with tears in the eyes, so it was to her an enchanted relic of another age.

The wavy picture it now presented was dominated by a dome of clear blue sky whose horizon was traced with green water. Underneath the blue dome marred only by a bird, sat a man on a beached rowboat, a man whose face, outlined by a shock of heavy black hair, was clean of expression and yet welling with a violence of yearning and ecstasy. Camille drew away, timorous for reasons unknown to herself. She twisted the plastic wand to shut the blinds and left the room in a golden shade to join the painter as she knew he was waiting for her.

On her way down to the shore, Camille passed her reflection in a bed of water where clam diggers often toiled in the summertime. She then passed alongside a thick patch of reeds and cattails where she lost a bejeweled ring given to her upon taking the sacrament of confirmation; before she knew it was missing, the tides had swept the ring away into the deep. Picking her way through the gritty sand, she came upon Alfred who remained as still as a kingfisher suspended in air before it dives for a meal, striking the water’s surface with inborn certainty of its precision. Camille’s pulse stuttered before she said faintly, “Did I keep you long, Mr. Lee?”

Alfred twisted at her voice, and half believing he would find moonlight in her eyes, he bored his dark eyes into hers of a lighter tincture, but he did not find the other world he had hoped. Instead, he saw an insipid creature curled in on itself. He answered, “If I cannot complete the commission before the summer’s end because of your irregular sleeping habits, we will both be short of something worthy. Your father of a masterpiece, myself of my bread and butter.” Although he knew he could have woken her, his disappointment surprised himself, and it led him to be sharp with her. On this day of ideal weather, he also found himself ruing how much time had been spent profligately dreaming.

Camille nodded and promised firmly that she would be on time for their appointments from then on. She guarded herself from showing him how sorry she felt for placing reception of his payment even in the slightest doubt and also from showing how his rebuke had stung her, especially since they were of the same age.

Alfred positioned her, set up his supplies, and began. After some time had passed, a paltry length to Alfred but immeasurable to Camille, the tern reappeared. Camille considered it as Alfred positioned her farther from the land, a fathom’s quarter deeper, the water lapping at her hip. Black and white—such austere colors, she thought absently, her shoulders retaining a remnant of warmth from the painter’s hand. She mused further. It must have crossed marvels in its endless migration from one place to another. Longitudinally circling the globe each year, the arctic tern remained a remote passerby, travelling along the fringe of firm earth to wander above the unfixed sea as was its legacy.

Alfred returned to position her once more, wading in the salt water to meet her briefly, the model a raw material, recycled and reused on the canvas until the time comes when rest is his. The scratch of his pencil whispered, “In the interim, before wings sprout on your back, let us be patient.” Camille swayed as the tide caught her.

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