Where is the beginning?
Was it the e-mail late afternoon, yesterday, telling me that thirty of my paintings had been donated to the thrift store and could I tell them what they were worth? “Please call Edith”
Or was it my gentle friend and gallery dealer on Texada Island who notified me that she was dying – her last diagnosis on a recurring cancer having given her only a month to live? “Would I please pick up my paintings?”
Family in Powell River picked up those paintings and kept them for me until next time when I was visiting. I packed them in my car and traveled back along the Sunshine Coast highway, stopping at Half Moon Bay. To my surprise, there was a very pleasant book store with a strong gallery element in it.
I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the new owner, an enthusiastic young woman, and showed her my paintings. She liked them. I had a list from the previous gallery. We photocopied it and both kept a copy as proof of our transaction. I left all sixty-four paintings with her. They were small – 8×8, 8×10, 11×14, 10×12 . You get the picture – they filled two medium size cardboard boxes. Great for the tourist traffic wanting to take home a little something from their visit. Coastal scenes, (I had lived in Pender Harbour in my early adult years), spring flowers, a few metaphysical things, nothing too deep. Sketches, little drawings, postcard-sized watercolors .
It suited us both perfectly. Thus, she had some small stock, hopefully easily movable; and I had a place to “store” these lovely little art works.
I had moved into my mother’s place to help her in her last years and there was precious little space she was willing to allow me for studio and storage. I hadn’t known where I would put this lot, so it was a timely solution.
Time passed. I was working full time. When I came home daily, I had mother to look after, drive to appointments, feed, get groceries for, buy clothes for, look after her bills. She ached when she walked. Despite all of her fierce independence, and prairie grit, she had become thoroughly and completely dependent. Then my brother and his two boys came to live with us. It was a thriving, busy household of five and I had become the major domo.
I didn’t hear from the gallery nor did I expect to. In the two or three years these sixty-four paintings had been at the Holtenwood, only two sold. They sell slowly. Besides, these small tourist galleries only do business in the summer. They only open for the tourist trade. I didn’t worry. The paintings were safe and dry.
Then my sister Heather and her husband came in for a medical appointment. They had been up to Halfmoon Bay at the grocery and went poking into the new store there. I don’t remember exactly what it was – a bakery, I think. Or was it a fishing tackle shop?
“Oh? Have they built something new? Is the grocery store gone?”
“No,no. It was in the little building beside the grocery.”
“But that is an art gallery,” I said,
“Oh, the gallery? It’s been gone for a few years now.”
With a sinking feeling, I realized that not only had the gallery gone with no notice to me, but also the paintings along with it. Where were they?
It ate at me. I phoned the number I had for the gallery, but of course it was out of service. I looked up the woman’s name on the Internet – BC telephone directory white pages. Not listed. I spoke about it to friends. Finally I decided I must go up to Halfmoon Bay to see if I couldn’t find out what had happened to her. Surely she would not just chuck my paintings.
It took me a while before I could find someone to mind Mom for the day. She pleaded with me not to go. She was becoming much, much more dependent. But I needed a day for myself and I did not back down. The housekeeper came to stay with her and I left.
The day was rainy, cold and miserable. The windshield wipers slashed insistently like a metronome, sending sheets of water to the pavement. Luckily, Frank had agreed to come with me.
The defogger was not responding well and the car windows had large grey patches of condensation riddled with drippy lines that just would not go away.
Once on the ferry, Frank lifted the hood and tinkered until he was able to send gusts of air through the car to dissolve away the mists, but the air was frigid. The heater was not working.
We arrived in Langdale, disembarked and drove to Half Moon Bay, the windshield wipers still slapping away aggressively at the interminable rain.
At the little cove, the grocery was open but the small companion store was locked up for the season.
“Where has the gallery gone?” I asked the first person I saw in the store.
“Don’t know” was the answer “I moved here two years ago. I never knew the gallery. But the owner will be back in ten minutes. He’s lived here for a while.”
There was nowhere to go. The rain was teeming down. We stood near the cash register and waited more than fifteen minutes.
“She was a nurse’s aide or a nurse, I think,” the owner said. “She might be working at the hospital. That’s where she said she was going at that time. It must have been two years ago. There was some talk,” he said vaguely. “I don’t know if she’s still around.”
Hope dwindled. We drove back to the local hospital discussing my next move. What if she wasn’t there? Then what?
And what if she was there? What could I say? Why hadn’t she tried to contact me or send the paintings back? Had this long uncomfortable trip been for nothing? Was there a possibility that she could tell us where they were and we could just pick them up. Had she sold them and kept the money?
At the hospital, she hadn’t yet arrived for her shift. The receptionist said she would leave a message for her to come to see us on arrival. We could wait.
We sat, feeling numb. We couldn’t talk, with the injured and sick patients sitting morosely around us. Besides, in a small town, everyone knows everyone. It would have been indiscreet.
“I’m going back to the car. It’s your business,” Frank said flatly, suddenly leaving me to wait alone. I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to smoke.
The reading material was dismal – old Health journals – but I flipped through one nevertheless while I searched possibilities of what I could say.
“Are you Kay?”
The woman standing before me was thirty something, dark hair straggling around her face. I had a flash of Mother complaining, “In our day, nurses wore uniforms and crisp clean caps. They were polished and neat. Now you can’t tell the doctor from the nurses from nurses’ aides.”
“I am ,” I said.
I explained my business. I wanted to have my paintings back.
“You didn’t come to pick them up when I closed, ” she said accusingly.
“You never told me your were going out of business,” I defended.
“I notified everyone,” she replied defiantly.
“And how did you do that?”
“I put up posters everywhere in Halfmoon Bay and all the way down to Langdale.
“I live in Vancouver. How could you expect me to see your posters?”
“I phoned you and you had moved. The answering machine name wasn’t the same.”
“I haven’t moved in eight years,” I said, a note of accusation in my voice. I didn’t believe her. She was making things up as she went along. As for the answering machine, it was possibly true. We had one of the nephews living with us record the message. Had they included my name on it? There was a measure of doubt. The menfolk in the family were not always responsible about phone messages. Had she phoned and I hadn’t gotten back to her?
“Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it. I’m here now. What did you do with the paintings?”
“I must have sent them by Canada Post,” she said. “I sent them to the address you gave me when you first brought them in.”
“Canada Post?” I knew it was an unlikely way to send parcels, they were so expensive. I was incredulous. “You sent them when you thought I didn’t live there anymore?” I purposely brought the rising anger in me down, down down, until I could speak normally. “Well, they never arrived. Didn’t you get the parcel back then, undeliverable?”
“I can’t remember. I’ve been so busy. My mother’s been very sick and now she’s died. I’m looking after her estate. Now my father’s sick. My boyfriend left me.”
The litany of woes, of misplaced blame, came out in staccatto form.
“Supposing they came back, what would you have done with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. It was too long ago. They could be in my mother’s attic. But I’m just going through things now. If I find them, I’ll let you know.
She was defensive and I was trying to keep the conversation on a level. After all, I wanted her cooperation. I didn’t want to shut her down. She was trying to make me go away. I wanted a commitment from her to find the paintings.
“Could you keep an eye out for them? Please take my name and telephone number and give me yours.”
We exchanged information. I returned to the car thinking, “She doesn’t care one whit.” I suspected that my business card would find the nearest waste basket as soon as she turned the corner. The little scrap of paper which I had, I carefully folded into my wallet.
On the way back to Vancouver, impatiently-waiting Frank was sullen and weary. I repeated the conversation I’d had with her and proceeded to pick it apart. She’d never sent them. Was it possible she had called my house? Why would she say she would look for them at her mother’s when she said she had sent them by Canada Post. How careless could that woman be? Had she kept the paintings for herself? Had she sold some and couldn’t pay me for them, so was avoiding me?
Fast forward to last night:
I’ve been busy myself, enough to forget things. I’ve had a six week pile of documents on my kitchen counter that I haven’t found time to sort.
Last night, I took from the pile all the exhibition data – price lists, artist statements, resumes, submission cover letters, invitation designs, posters, press releases and sorted them out to be able to put them in a binder. At the end of the pile, I was holding a list of some sixty four works consigned to the Anchor Rock Gallery in Halfmoon Bay.
That confirmed it. The thrift store had my Anchor Rock paintings. No one else I knew had more than five of my works. It was the only answer. Now how coincidental is that? I hadn’t seen the list in many a year and the list of works/contract finds itself into my hands on the same day as the e-mail arrives.
To be continued. .