Percy’s tailor would be unforgiving if he saw the mix of textures. Rough plaid with silk-velvet and raw linen. He’d warned against such matches. But smoothing down his waistcoat, Percy asked his refection… Am I presenting sufficient intrigue and colour? Will I be enough for her crimson verve?
He took a taxi to the Brasserie. He would be early. She would be late. He settled himself in the quietest corner with a clear view of the door, and waited. Teaspoons clattered, customers chattered, but he only heard his heartbeat.
At precisely 11.11am she walked towards him with her curious smile. Gabriella had been painted by countless artists and caught by numerous photographers, but none had truly captured her. He rose to greet her, dipping slightly – a tiny bow.
‘Percy,’ she said in that honey-smooth voice. ‘I’m famished. May I suggest an early lunch?’
Lunch. Not Earl Grey as he’d expected. Percy moved his chair closer to the table. Her skirts and petticoats rustled as she sat. They ordered flaky pastries and plump olives. Gabriella confessed to a yearning for figs and Percy click-clicked his fingers for the waiter. Over crumbled artichokes, Percy gathered the courage to ask.
‘Dearest Gabriella, would you allow me the honour of painting you?’
She yawned, indelicately. ‘You may paint me on one condition.’
‘You shall paint me as a piece of fruit.’
She ate a cherry chocolate and licked her fingers.
His chest deflated. Percy said, ‘But you are finer than any fruit.’
She shrugged and replied, ‘Bring me your masterpiece next week.’
Percy painted a strawberry that looked like a bloodstain and a banana that was too suggestive. Finally, he painted a peach that looked like a sunset. When he unveiled it for Gabriella she asked, ‘Why did you paint me as a peach?’
His voice trembled as he answered, ‘The rich golden hues. The soft blush of perfect flesh. The sweetness inside.’
‘I do not wish to keep it.’ She shut the door in his face.
Percy paced his studio and painted a pomegranate. The next week, passionfruit. Six months later, he stood on Gabriella’s doorstep with his canvas.
‘Why did you paint me as a lemon?’ she asked.
He cleared his throat, then spoke.
‘In the mornings a small piece of sunrise glints through my lemon tree. If I’m inattentive and fail to notice my lemons ripening, the boughs buckle with weight. If I fail to pick the fruit when it’s offered, branches break. If I tug too early, the fruit will not yield.’
Percy gripped her eyes with his heart.
‘When the fruit falls, tiny blemishes remain on the tree like memories. Some heart-shaped, others jagged like wounds or scars. Memories of what was given, or perhaps wrongly taken. I’ve reflected on their beauty. They are, I think, as precious as the fruit.’
Percy blushed, waited.
Gabriella swished hair across her brow trying to blot a tear. Then said, ‘Let us choose the picture frame together.’