She drifted into my studio, more unencumbered then most. Hartford. Late April. Cold enough for outerwear, yet no coat, no pocketbook. A bit too light. I pondered what she might want and tracked her in my periphery, half listening to a buddy visiting from San Francisco.
During Open Studio Weekend at the Colt Building, inquiring minds travel through the century-old gun factory I once called home, ingesting art with restrained New England curiosity: press, gallery and shop owners in search of unique wares; families, private art patrons, and locals parading out-of-town guests in front of the off-beat and funky.
She looked at the art but didn’t really. She bobbed toward me, then away, like an anchored ship flirting with the coastline. I turned from my West Coast guest. My eyes searched her face. Do you have a question?
It didn’t take three turns of a heel to absorb the contents of my one-room, 1,200-square-foot studio. Yet, my visitor turned and spun, surveying everything and nothing. My nerves cranked like a workbench vice and my biases turned her into the enemy. Hair: stringy and strewn; corduroys: crumpled and faded; arms: bony and pale. Did her friends have her accoutrements? Was she homeless?
She knelt at my marble coffee table. An heirloom from Dad, the mottled tan and white rectangular slab weighted upon a crisscross wood stand.
The woman arched over a mammoth glass tureen nestled in a metal stand in the center of the coffee table. The bowl held stones and sea glass dating back decades from ocean adventures in Europe, Asia and beaches from my native New York.
The mysterious visitor selected a sleek ashen stone. Her posture reminiscent of prayer, she fondled it as if cradling a newborn chick. She glanced toward me, turning the stone over and over.
I smiled, nodded.
After a time, she spoke. “I’m moving to Virginia next week and I’ve been debating whether to take my stones.” She stood up, gazing at the bowl and continued. “I have this big box of stones,” she said, flicking the back of her hand as if shooing a gnat. “Rocks, really – that I’ve collected over a lifetime. It took me a week but they’re all packed. Some of them have been with me since I was little. I have so much to bring, I can’t take...rocks. It seems ridiculous, you know?” she said, finally turning away from my collection of stones and looking directly at me. “I mean, I can’t move them.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Would you consider leaving your cat behind when you moved to Virginia?”
“No, I wouldn’t leave my Molly behind.” She sounded surprised. Smiled.
“Then why wouldn’t you take your stones? They’re packed, ready to go and you’ve cherished them over a lifetime.”
“Yes. I remember where I found each one,” she said, eyes tearing. “When I came here, I really didn’t know why, I just…wandered in. I knew I was coming for something but didn’t know what, until now. Thank you. I will take my stones. And it’s a relief to know that I can.”
I stood. We hugged. Wished her success in her new home. Then she left.
Back down on the couch, I drew breath, smiled and picked up a stone from the bowl. I turned it over and over, rubbed its smoothness between my fingers, across my hands, against my cheek. I closed my eyes and smelled the smell of its origin, conjuring the moment of introduction. How ridiculous, I thought. Not taking your stones.
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