Alfred’s watching me. Every day since I began this canvas, he has come to my studio to spy on me, as straight and silver as one of his own photographs framed in the doorway. He is a piece of night in a room full of day.
‘So close,’ he says. He can’t help himself. A shuffle of his house slippers and he’s gone as fast as cloud obscuring moonlight. In a minute he’ll be back with his camera.
I can’t work out his fascination with the callas. He didn’t show this much interest in the petunias, but colour never has been his thing.
I move the oils slowly, enjoying these final strokes, wishing to dwell in this state of near completion, stave off the anxiety of starting a new painting. Plus I don’t want to make a pig’s ear of it.
He’s back, without his camera. In his hand, a photograph.
I put down my brush, look. It’s a portrait he took of my neck in nineteen twenty-one. Only my neck, a slice of jaw and two fingers from each of my hands are visible as if he has clipped the superfluous detail from me, as I have from these Two Calla Lilies on Pink.
‘I do,’ I say. I have painted another abstract of myself, but I resist adding what I suspect he thinks, that it was inspired by him.
I take the photograph; hold it up next to the canvas. He’s right, of course. The fingers of my right hand, prominent as they are entering the shot from the left hand corner of the frame, darker in tone than the surrounding skin, point toward my suprasternal notch—the centre of focus—like the stamens of my callas. The likeness is uncanny. Yet, in contrast to the way Alfred’s photograph contains me, I feel sure my sepals are escaping. They have slipped away somewhere, over the edges of this oblong that would wall them otherwise.
I think of all my paintings, not just the flowers, the sky scrapers—stamen proud, too; they are all me, trying to be me.
What was I before I was a still life, a subject?
I say, ‘I’m going to spend the summer in New Mexico, Alfred. Next year, I’m going to stay at the Kiowa Ranch.’
‘The Lawrence Ranch?’ He strokes his moustache.
‘That’s the one.’
‘You won’t find many flowers.’
I’m going to lie on that bench under the old ponderosa where Lawrence wrote The Plumed Serpent, and observe, just like he did; like Alfred’s camera. I’m going to go there to focus, alone, with nothing but stars for company at night.