'Cathy!' Charles Chandler called out as he had put everything in order on his wide mahogany desk. He hadn't seen his daughter all afternoon but an open door and a whiff of Chanel 5 told him she was in the vicinity. If she was, she didn't answer.
Resolutely he rose, adjusted his vest and suit coat and strode to the door that connected their small suite in the opulent offices. The room seemed stale, yes, his secretary had cleared the newspapers and coffee service from his earlier lunch with his partner but it lacked Cathy's touch. She always brought in bouquets of tea roses for the two end tables, now the Tiffany vases stood empty, reflecting the low afternoon sun.
Hands deep in his pants pockets he strolled the vacant hallway to her office, at the sound of her soft chuckle he stood back and found himself eavesdropping.
Her voice rang of conviction for its soft tone, "He doesn't listen perhaps he never will. It'll take a stick of dynamite to get him off his tired, old ethics… Right… surely"
Charles heard her 'ahuhs' in response to the other person's portion of the conversation. He took two steps back in the thought he should leave, take his dinner at the club and turn in early. Curiosity axed his better judgment.
"So, I can't count on you for the exhibition?" Cathy's spirits turned and she nearly hissed, "You don't? No, he's not some loopy post-Impressionist painter, it's Van Gogh!" with a disgusted chuff it seemed the call had gone south quickly, "Well, enjoy your time with whomever it is… I'm going to be late. G'bye."
The conversation hadn't closed nicely; Charles recognized the tone of her voice. Little did she know her dear Mother could turn a tone on a dime and cut subjects to the quick?
Charles arranged his pose at the cross of the halls; scanning the discarded Village Voice from the hall table he looked almost casual to the uninformed eye sitting on the chair. Cathy Chandler knew better.
"You probably caught that didn't you, Dad?" There she appeared before him, changed into flat shoes without her brief case.
"What?" his eyes rose innocuously, "Was that Brett Norstrom?" his nose hitched as he carefully folded the discarded paper and rose to stand over his daughter. Brett was a wild card, new to the city and he hadn't drawn the right intel on him to prefer him over Tom. Charles knew Tom.
Cathy mirrored his stance, feet apart, arms folded over her chest, her chin up to his downcast eyes, "Yeah, the world is full of critics and the worst of them are junior art therapists."
"That show is this evening, isn't it?" Charles loosened his tie and turned, expecting her to drop into step. She followed as usual, her strides matching his gentle steps within the wide carpeted hall. "And no, I'd rather you not wrangle me." He looked as his watch and hoped it spoke for him.
Cathy shrugged into her car coat and thought about the Law Clerk with the wavy black hair, "Alex is going already, perhaps I'll drop the second ticket at will call and let them give it away." She winked conspiratorially at her father, "Isn't he from Ohio State? Or is it Florida State? I could see if they're right about Midwest values or Southern gentlemen?" That comment would snap him back to attention.
"Neither, he's a Stetson man, a well-bred Florida Cracker, if there's such a thing." Charles pressed the button on the elevator and they moved shoulder to shoulder yet in silence to the darkening sidewalk. He was always lonelier in winter, she'd been distant lately. They shared a silent hug and took divergent paths.
The Museum welcomed her, brilliantly lit with the same golden light similar to so many of Van Gogh's paintings. She checked her coat and her slight anger at Brett ditching her this evening. She could be alone in all this beauty, actually she could sit for hours if they'd let her. She could be consumed by the textures swirling on the canvas, wishing only to touch the topography and enter a part of Vincent's mind.
Head down, past a few of her social cohorts, she headed for the 'Sunflower' room. She needed warmth, she needed golden light, she did not need to hear Suzy Barclay's social calendar for the upcoming Hamptons season.
The room hadn't been invaded yet. Alone she scanned the walls. The three paintings with multiple flowers hung together waiting for her attention although they were not what she was looking for. She pondered whether numerology came to play in his paintings.
Yes, she recognized Vincent Van Gogh was attached to sunflowers and that he identified with the golden flower. That gave her no clue as to why she was so entranced to this particular subject alone. She approached the piece she had heard about, the simple painting of one large sunflower in the background with a smaller one facing it. She recalled her art history classes and had been intrigued by Van Gogh and Gauguin's turbulent relationship. Was this symbolic of something?
What would it have been to witness the story on the brothel and Van Gogh's ear? She'd been glad the most she had lost in her friendships had been a few books but making a clean break from Stephen Bass was worth a few textbooks.
There she stood, arms around herself inspecting the colors comprising every petal and leaf. With her arms wrapped around her own body she held herself and closed her eyes for a moment to watch Vincent approach the white canvas, pigment laden pallet in hand to dash these strokes into this vibrant masterpiece.
Cathy Chandler stood initially mesmerized by the background; agitated indigos ran concurrently in swirls behind the two flowers beckoning her closer to the canvass. The thatched center of the larger flower framed by ochre and sienna petals curled every which way, like the errant curls around a devious child's faultless smirk. She thought about the perfection of the yellows against the blues. Cathy was lost in the depth of the cobalt, or was it ultramarine?
She shook her head at not knowing the names of the colors; her life had been taken over by her career. She silently scoffed that the mad genius' signature intrigued her; Cathy Chandler had seen so many signatures on X'd lines, why did this one fascinate her?
Before she felt the chuff of breath a man's polished voice whispered, "Did Vincent paint the sunflowers because he was trying to please Gauguin, or because he really loved the sunflowers?"
Cathy bolted away from the seemingly cultured questioner. Turning abruptly she saw an older man, one even older than her father. Was it getting this bad that her social life consisted of attracting Grandpas? Did she present herself as shocked as she felt? Self-consciously she smoothed at her sweater.
"I apologize, my dear. I should not have stalked up behind you and given you a fright." The man in his 60's stood tall, wearing a black trench coat belted at his waist. She noticed the white collar at his throat and his black fedora in one pale hand. Was he perhaps a retired pastor? Had he ever physically worked a day in his life? She noticed the carefully buffed nails, the well-trimmed hair and the faint scent of an old fashioned hair tonic her maternal Grandfather used.
Cathy politely balked, "I'm sorry, have we been introduced?" Perhaps he had been a client of the firm? She stood, erecting her posture to her business stance, chin up and shoulders squared, her soft green eyes peering directly at him.
"No, Miss. We seem to be fascinated by the same subject" he pointed a thin finger toward the painting, in a quiet baritone he nearly whispered, "We've come to regard Vincent for everything he is." He mirrored her stance just a foot from her comfort zone. Cathy slid her weight to her right foot, easing away from the commanding man.
"And what would you say he is?" Now Cathy noticed the man had a charismatic gaze, so captivating Cathy barely recognized he wore a well-trimmed moustache and goatee. "I mean, Vincent Van Gogh has been dead since..." she turned the program over and sought Van Gogh's death, before she emphasized "1890."
Ignoring her comment the older gent gestured with a flourish, "I think you would agree he lives through these and all of his works." His stance widened as he leaned into her space, "Have you read the Vincent's letters to his brother?' He inclined his ear as if she would murmur her response. His demeanor shook her momentarily, yet she covered it, employing those courtroom skills honed at Columbia.
Was he reading her? The aged art enthusiast leaned back, his hands folded at his waist, "Once read, you couldn't forget his letters to his brother." He discreetly looked over his shoulder and then returned to his silent appraisal of both his captive conversation partner and the art.
"Thank-you," she stumbled for his name as she attempted to sidestep the black-clad gentleman, he drew a hand to goatee as if to admonish himself.
"I beg your pardon, miss. I bombarded you with my observations without introducing myself." His hands disappeared behind his back as he seemed to bow a bit from the waist. "My name is John."
Cathy Chandler blinked at the name. "That's quite alright, Father." She burrowed her hands into her trouser pockets, his hands looked deathly cold. She watched him move the fedora from one hand to the other, was he going to reach for her hand? A chill trickled up her spine and nestled at the base of her brain.
"Oh, no dear child," his words clipped, "Not Father, please, please do not call me Father." His right hand gestured admonishingly yet did not reach to touch her. His eyes burned with a suffering darkness.
With a deep breath Cathy reclaimed her composure to stand more resolutely. How many Johns were there in New York City? How many were clients at the firm? All he revealed was 'John' with – no – last – name? She had no inclination to offer her name. This lack of a last name left her reticent to even give her first name. However, it didn't deter him from his soliloquy.
Now the man hooked his thumbs behind him and slowly paced the seam of the marble floor, head down in thought he went on, "Reading these letters, I am struck with the perspicacity of someone who is completely honest and has a gift for self-reflection: a combination that makes his musings as incandescent as his art." Then the messianic ramblings began, long sentences, breathy from near exhaustion.
Cathy now weighed her breeding versus her gut feelings on this peculiar old man's incoherent rant about brothers and sisters living together against the status quo. He expounded an edict to breathe anarchy and find an odd peace. Their once gentle conversation about paint and canvas had become saturated with his dogma... to create a gathering of thinkers and workers, almost imposing a sort of communal living with his single goal.
What had he done all his life? Then as if he'd read her mind he turned on the worn heal of his shoe and pursed his lips, "I've spent my life grounded in science, never had a moment's peace with art. Now, at word of this exhibit I rousted myself from my journals and came up for air, you could say." His smile seemed nonsensical, as if it would sweeten his megalomaniacal treaties.
Cathy debated whether she could get a word into his monologue? Or should she appear brusque and excuse herself to find the bores she'd flown by minutes ago? She wanted to turn him off, needed to slide away behind his back but her genteel upbringing caused her to look sideways and make a concentrated appraisal of the painting.
Cathy Chandler found some human attributes unveiled here, as if the one flower was seeking the other's attention. She shook her head, as if to adjust the image. Yes, it could be the smaller flower seeking the larger flower's attention. It was her life as it seemed in February, 1987. Cogs ground in her brain while he stood, staring at a vein on the floor and spoke of something on which she could not comment - brotherly bonds.
As a particularly sad lyric played out her eyes revealed her mind had travelled. "You're thinking of something else. There's been a thought jogged inside your mind, do tell me... if it is not too private?" His brow arched notoriously as his head drew back to look down his nose at her.
Feeling his odd scrutiny she rejoiced, perhaps he'd pin his theories on someone his own age, so she went with her gut and summoned her voice sweetly, "But I could have told you, Vincent, This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you"
The stranger blanched. What relative color his parchment skin held rapidly drained. He dipped his goateed chin to his chest and gracefully placed his fedora on his head. His shoulders straightened as he regarded Cathy this time with steely eyes. "Beautiful? I see." Did she detect his head shake in a small but vehement gesture as he took a step back and left the room?
With a shake of her head she left that particular painting. She was not Van Gogh and her father or her men friends were not Gauguin. Cathy Chandler had come to enjoy art and so far had avoided her own milieu to be bombarded by an anarchist. Perhaps she'd wheedle her way back into the social fold and let tongues wag while she chatted up the intern.
Alex had been different, an older than traditional intern who had taught English for three years before he decided to burn some of his inheritance studying law. He went against norm for nervous interns and his words bespoke a verbal grace she had not heard in New York courtrooms. Alex seemed to be a very different sort from Tom, an egregious developer and number one man for Cathy in her father's eyes.
She ambled toward a few of the other paintings, bouncing thoughts off the walls of her brain. Would she build her dream of a life, or would she live out her Father's dream of a happily married society wife? A year from now, what would she think about tonight?
Had she lost her 'North Star' or perhaps she was simply looking in the wrong solar system...