Helen Whittaker and Quentin Paquette

Helen Whittaker
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Mortlake Terrace
Quentin Paquette
Inspiration piece

I’d only closed my eyes for a moment. I’d found a place to sit in the shade, driven by the heat of the day off the sunny lawn and closer to the trees. I took a quick return trip back to the table to fix another drink to retreat with back into the shade. It wasn’t that I was particularly thirsty. Partly it was to stall, hope for inspiration out of the jam I’d gotten into — needing some subtle metaphor to help me slip into the next passage. It didn’t help that I had no idea what this one was about yet. I had a clear scene in my head, a few details in mind, but that was it. Getting another drink hadn’t helped yet; neither had wiping the condensation of the glass on my forehead. So I closed my eyes and listened to the stream, trying to hear it further and further down its course. And my previous drink had left me drowsy, and the heat had sunk in, and I was gone.

Some commotion out there started to bring me back awake. I started to open my eyes, but the sun was now below the trees and shone right in my face, so I chose to ignore the sound and go back to thinking, casting about for a theme. It was noticeably cooler, but sweat still hid in the hair above my ears — revealed by the appearance of an evening breeze. A bead made a break for it across my temple and toward my cheek. I let it sit for a moment — feeling an idea just about to strike and not wanting to be distracted.

A linen kerchief dabs my cheek dry, and I open my eyes to a moment of both incomprehension and recognition. The abruptness of the sensation gives me a start, and my lap desk goes flying, strewing pages into the breeze. Backlit, the high-waisted muslin dress seems to radiate standing above me. My attention is drawn initially to the ivory broach at the center of the low square neckline. As my eyes adjust to the light, I notice more detail. The sash tied in a large bow just below your shoulder blades as matched by a diaphanous burgundy shawl over the short lace sleeves. One white glove covers the forearm and hand holding the kerchief, the other is raised, fingers toying with a garnet bead choker. The hair is pulled up in tight ringlets and held back by braided tresses wrapped around and held in place by a wreath tiara. The light coming through the eyes is unmistakable to me in any context (What are you doing all made up like that? I thought I might be getting accosted by some re-enactment. “Me? Look at you.”), and the voice dispels all the remaining shock of arrival. “What are you looking at me like that for?” You switch hands with the kerchief, push back my hair, then reach back down inside my high collar to straighten the ascot. When you’re done, you pat the chest of my waistcoat. “Come on, wake up, I want to go watch the boats go by.”

Just a moment. I sit up and re-lace and tie my boots at the calf and jump up, rolling the cuffs of my sleeves down and grabbing my coat from where it hangs on the back of my chair. “If you’d let me, I’d get that shoulder fixed up on that.” It is a little worn, I hadn’t noticed before. You brush the shoulders of my coat off, and take my arm to walk to the water’s edge. The Lord Mayor’s barge is going by with a retinue of other boats, everyone making a great deal of noise trying to talk over one another. You step up on the parapet and slide over to lean back against a tree. I stand close beside next to the tree. “If I were boating today, I would endeavor to be quiet and listen.” (Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies… “Lime.” Eh? “Lime trees.” Yeah, I know, but it needs two more syllables. You could still be the girl. “With kaleidoscope eyes?” Look at me for a moment… oh yeah.) It does seem like there’s something they must be missing with all that talk; some meaning that could only be expressed as… “As what?” I open my arms wide to the scene in front of us. You put a hand on my shoulder and we watch as the boats recede and the sense of the sublime intensifies…

“So, tomorrow?” Tomorrow, yes, and tomorrow, and tomorrow yet again. “No, I mean, when the sun next reappears to outshine the stars. Are you working for Master Moffatt?” No, he invited us here just for our pleasure. “Then you’re still in agreement with the plan?” I’m sorry, you’ll have to remind me. The plan didn’t survive my nap. “Would you still want to go to the Gardens with me?” Of course, I’d love the Gardens. So much so, they’re nearly named after me. “And…” What? Yes, anything. “Bring those pages to read to me in the Secluded Garden?” Only if you promise to take my arm the length of the Broad Walk. “Agreed.” I might also have some brand new story from this evening. “That I’d also like to hear…”


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