فصل 06

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فصل 06

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  • زمان مطالعه 17 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Hill View House

‘We lost them!’ I cheer, but Brad’s still frowning.

‘For now,’ he says. ‘For now.’

But I refuse to be calm. ‘This is so exciting!’ I say, and this time his frown is rather cool.

‘I’m very glad my personal disaster is so entertaining, Alex,’ he says.

Oh dear. ‘I didn’t mean that, Brad,’ I tell him quickly. ‘I don’t want you to be in trouble, it’s just that… well, this is so much more interesting than sitting in the gallery answering the telephone and watching people walk by outside.’

‘Your job is to help me to sell paintings, Alex,’ he reminds me, ‘not to watch tourists.’

Oh. Me and my big mouth!

Brad gives a little laugh, and I decide it’s probably best to keep quiet for a while. I’m so busy thinking about everything that’s just happened that it isn’t until some time later that I realise I don’t know where we’re going.

‘Brad?’ ‘What?’

‘Where are we going?’ I ask.

He stops at some traffic lights and looks at me. ‘To get some country air. I need to think.’

‘Oh,’ I say, feeling suddenly happy. ‘Lovely.’

A day out in the countryside with Brad! There’s no need at all for him to take me with him, but he obviously wants to. He wants to be with me. He wants to be with me! I’m so happy I feel like singing. Then I remember my shoes. As I told you, they’re the same colour today, but unfortunately they aren’t flat sensible shoes, suitable for walking in the countryside. They’re fashion shoes. And I’ve already done that long walk from my flat to Ship Street in them. In short, my feet hurt.

‘What’s wrong?’ Brad asks.

‘Nothing,’ I say, but too late. Brad has already seen me looking doubtfully down at my feet.

He smiles. ‘Oh, Alex, Alex, Alex,’ he says. ‘Do you ever wear the right shoes?’ Then he starts to laugh, but you know, somehow I don’t mind this time. This laughter’s somehow different. Friendly. Warm.

So I laugh too. ‘Not often,’ I say.

I always love driving away from Brighton into the countryside. Don’t misunderstand me. I love living in Brighton. It’s a lively town with lots to do and see. It’s just that sometimes, in the summer, it feels a little as if the tourists have stolen the town from those of us who live there all year round. They walk slowly along by the sea with their ice creams, wearing silly hats, and then they all travel home again at the same time in the evening, blocking the roads and filling the trains.

When the tourists stop coming in the autumn, it feels as if we get the town back again. This is when it’s fun to cycle along the seafront (past the ‘no cycling’ signs), or to walk to Rottingdean past the marina and along the path next to the sea. When the sea’s rough, the waves hit the wall by the side of the path and shoot right up into the air. If you don’t run fast enough, you get very wet. Running from the waves is a game I really enjoy.

When Brad’s my boyfriend, I’ll suggest we play the running from the waves game. It’s like being a child again, but it can also be quite romantic because you can scream and hold onto each other. Once, when I played the game with Barry, we both got really wet.

But I don’t want to think about Barry or I’ll start to feel guilty again.

‘Was that your boyfriend you were with last night?’ Brad asks just then, and I look at him, wondering if he can read my thoughts. I hope not!

‘Er… that was Barry, he’s just a friend,’ I lie. Although it isn’t a complete lie. You see, I do like Barry. I’d be very sad if I thought I’d never see him again. I’d really like us to stay friends.

‘And it was your thirtieth birthday.’

‘How did you guess that?’ I joke, remembering the balloons and the singing.

‘Alex,’ Brad says, ‘thirty isn’t old. You’re just a baby.’ And he leans forward to switch on some music.

‘Thanks!’ I say, happily, wondering how old he is. I don’t ask him though. I’m too afraid to! But I’d guess… maybe thirty-seven or thirty-eight. Definitely not older than that. Just the right age for me.

We drive past Lewes, a pretty little market town with a ruined castle, and then the road heads into the green hills. These hills are called the South Downs, and they always remind me of the backbone of some ancient large animal. They’re beautiful at all times of the year.

The weather over the Downs can sometimes be different from the weather in Brighton, even though the town isn’t very far away. It’s like that today. In Brighton it was sunny, but here it’s grey and the Downs look very dark against the sky. To tell you the truth, the scene looks a bit like a Ralph Blackman painting, and I think Brad thinks so too. Anyway, he’s frowning again, and suddenly he reaches forward to switch off the cheerful music.

‘It’s damn well going to rain,’ he says.

‘Yes,’ I have to agree, ‘it does look like it.’ I hope Brad will change his mind about going for a walk if it does rain. It’s true that I don’t mind getting wet by the sea. That’s fun. But walking through mud in unsuitable shoes isn’t fun. No fun at all.

Through the car window I can see Firle Beacon, the highest point along this part of the Downs. The cloud’s so low by now it’s hiding the hilltop completely. We pass a farm shop by the side of the road. There are Christmas trees for sale outside. I look at them with a sense of surprise, wondering if it will ever feel like Christmas this year.

Suddenly Brad slows the car down, and my heart sinks. I try to tell myself it won’t be so bad. That rain, mud and cold will be fun if I’m with Brad, but somehow I can’t quite believe it.

The car turns right, travelling up a narrow rough road in the direction of Firle Beacon, and when we go round a corner, I can see a house ahead. The house is dark-looking, but then everything looks dark by now. It looks as if it’s about to rain very heavily indeed.

The road stops at the house, and to my great surprise, so does the car.

‘Where are we?’ I ask, but Brad’s already getting out.

‘I should hurry up if you don’t want to get wet,’ he says, and then to my amazement he takes a key from his pocket and walks up to the house.

I follow him slowly. There’s a sign outside. ‘Hill View House’.

‘Do you live here?’ I ask, joining him in the hall.

‘Sometimes,’ he says. ‘This place belonged to my grandmother. She was a friend of the Bloomsbury Group.’ He looks at me. ‘You have heard of the Bloomsbury Group, haven’t you?’

‘Yes, of course.’ I really have, actually. Most people who live in this area have. The Bloomsbury Group was a group of artists who lived and worked together in the 1930s. They had a house called Charleston which is near here. Barry and I visited it once. I think he thought it was a bit crazy, but I thought it was beautiful. The whole house is decorated with paintings: the doors, the walls, even the furniture!

Brad looks at me doubtfully. ‘Hmm,’ he says. ‘Well, anyway, my grandmother bought this house intending to turn it into another Charleston, but unfortunately she was no artist. She was happy here though. This is where my mother was born. I came here for holidays as a boy.’

I immediately have a picture of him as a little boy in my mind, wearing short trousers, his black hair untidy.

‘It’s a lovely house,’ I say, and Brad nods.

‘Yes, I think so. Not everyone wants to live in the countryside though.’

I can’t imagine Tania living here at all. It’s much too far away from fashion shops and smart cafe bars.

‘I could live here,’ I tell him without thinking, and he looks at me.

What he says next takes me totally by surprise. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘that’s interesting because, I was going to ask you if you would. At least, not live here, but stay here. For tonight, anyway. I don’t want to go back to Brighton today. Of course, if you don’t want to stay, I could drive you to Lewes and you could catch a train back to Brighton.’

Wow, wow, wow! Me and Brad alone in this wonderful place. I can’t believe my luck.

‘No,’ I say quickly. ‘No, that would be fine. I mean, I’d like to stay.’

‘I always want to paint when the rest of my life is in a mess,’ he says, taking off his coat and hanging it up. ‘This is where I have my studio.’

‘You’re an artist?’ I ask, amazed.

‘Yes, I’m an artist.’ He holds out his hand for my coat. ‘Why’s that so surprising?’

‘I don’t know. I mean, it isn’t!’ I’m embarrassed again, but Brad’s smiling.

‘It’s all right, Alex. You weren’t to know.’ He hangs up my coat and goes into the kitchen to put the kettle on. When I follow him, I see that the kitchen’s painted a warm yellow with a red-brown floor. Very Mediterranean- looking. Nice.

‘Come on,’ Brad says, ‘I’ll show you my paintings while we wait for the water to boil.’

As I follow him up the stairs I feel really excited. I’m finding so much out about Brad today. So much has happened, and it’s still only eleven o’clock.

‘This is the studio,’ he says, leading the way into a big square room with very large windows.

‘Oh, what a fantastic view!’ I say, crossing to the window to look out. Outside the skies are still dark, but it hasn’t started to rain yet. But even in this poor light the view of Firle Beacon is wonderful. The room is perfect for an artist.

Brad doesn’t seem interested in the view. I can hear him moving things around in the room behind me, and when I turn round I notice several paintings leaning against the wall. They’re all facing the wrong way, but because of the view from the window, I guess they will be landscapes. I’m so sure about it that when Brad turns two round the right way, I can’t help but gasp with surprise.

‘What is it?’ he asks, frowning at me. ‘Don’t you like them?’

For a moment I can’t think of anything to say. The paintings aren’t landscapes at all. To be honest, I’ve no idea what they are. One of them seems to be completely black except for a small green spot in one corner, and the other seems to be all white. All white. It doesn’t even have any spots.

‘Yes!’ I cry quickly. ‘Of course I like them! They’re…’ But I have to stop because I can’t think how to continue the sentence. Panicking a little, I start another one. ‘Is… is that one a snow scene?’ I ask.

My question is followed by a long silence. It’s as quiet as it was in the gallery office. I can hear his breathing again.

Brad’s frowning. I realise I’ve made a big mistake.

‘No, Alex,’ he says at last, ‘it’s not a snow scene. It’s not a scene at all. I’m not a landscape painter.’

‘Oh,’ I say, swallowing nervously. ‘Sorry. I … I don’t know much about modern art.’

‘So it would seem.’ Brad returns his paintings to their place against the wall as if I’m no longer allowed to see them. ‘And yet, if I remember correctly, when you came to the job interview, you told me you knew a lot about art.’

It’s true. I did say that. OK, I lied. But you see, as soon as I saw Brad, I knew I had to get the job. I was a desperate girl, and I took desperate action.

‘I… well, I do know about art,’ I say. ‘Well, a bit, anyway. Just… just not modern art.’

‘OK, who’s your favourite artist?’ he demands to know.

By now I’m panicking so much that for a moment the only artist’s name I can remember is Ralph Blackman’s. Luckily I realise it wouldn’t be a good idea to say his name though, and I think for a little while longer.

‘Van Gogh!’ I shout at last, and he looks at me doubtfully.

‘OK,’ he says. ‘Name three paintings by Van Gogh.’

‘Um…’ I say, thinking hard.

‘Two paintings.’ ‘Um…’

‘Come on, Alex! One painting.’

Suddenly I remember one, and shout out its name excitedly. ‘Sunflowers!’

Brad doesn’t seem to be impressed. He shakes his head. ‘Alex, every person in the world has heard of Sunflowers, he says.

‘Well, I haven’t got a very good memory for names,’ I say weakly. ‘That’s why I can’t think of any more titles.’

‘Hmm,’ he says, ‘I’m not sure I entirely believe you, Alex, but never mind. Go and make the coffee while I get my paints ready, would you?’

By the time I return with the coffee Brad’s staring hard at his white painting. In fact, he hardly notices I’m there. He just takes his coffee and keeps right on staring.

I stare at the painting too, trying to see more in it than just white. Eventually I notice that it’s painted in three or four different types of white: blue-white, grey-white, green- white and… plain white. The more I look, the more I see. Some of the paint’s thick, and some of the paint’s thin. The different whites look a bit like rocks covered by snow.

Brad might not think he has painted a snow scene, but I still think he has. Not that I intend to say that to him though!

‘Go for a walk or something won’t you, Alex?’ Brad says to me over his shoulder. ‘I prefer to be alone when I’m painting.’

I look out of the window. It is now raining very hard indeed. Firle Beacon has almost disappeared from view.

‘Or if you don’t want to do that,’ he continues, ‘why don’t you find yourself a book to read? There are plenty in the sitting-room. I’ll be about two or three hours here.’

So I wander downstairs, trying not to feel fed up. If Tania were here instead of me, would it be different? Would he send her downstairs to read a book while he painted a picture? Somehow I can’t imagine it.

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