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He first noticed them because their backs were to the sea sitting on the bench facing the people walking by He sketched in charcoal the arch of a shoulder the movement of a hand the woman’s head turned and tilted slightly toward the man who looks toward the mountains behind the artist Both man and woman are bundled in heavy coats, a magnificent sunset behind them but they’ve seen all this before the artist thinks maybe they’ve grown bored with gaudy sunsets and now are watching the more subtle beauty of the land rising toward the blue mountains and beyond. The woman wears a woolen head scarf, the man a fisherman’s cap, but he doesn’t have the hands of a fisherman the artist thinks, more the hands of say an accountant or teacher, soft yet certain, yes a couple of retired teachers the artist presumes. The woman clutches the scarf tightly against the wind, a light spray of the sea against jagged rocks, birds circling over the reddening water behind her. The artist somehow knows the couple is the center of the story, the other people walking by or standing at the rail looking out at the corrasions of weather are merely suggestions, local color in a colorless city estranged from his attention, the eye so subtle compared to a possible sketch, he must make each line a gesture of the moment, refined, distilled twisting in place as the wind blows across the paper lifting the birds on extended wings which then fold into dives below the paper’s surface. A plastic cup blown by the wind catches on a rock and he captures the distraction with with a single movement of the charcoal. The couple looks settled into place, belonging by long habit, the man with deep lines on his face, the woman perhaps younger, squints at him, not gazing, just a quick read of his mood. The artist moves his hand to their shoes the man’s brogans as they used to call these thick soled lace-ups, scratched and scuffed, still serviceable, but her shoes are delicately tooled leather not new carefully polished a design of red and black Spanish perhaps, elegant and expensive, her gloves red and black as well perhaps bought at the same shop they discovered in Madrid the artist imagines their tenderness when alone, an old couple in love. The old man’s hands burrow into the pockets of his great coat his affections disguised, known only to the woman who holds his arm in fierce possession which he doesn’t seem to mind at all, comfortable in the habitual grip of the very married. Later the artist washes the scene in watercolor, a blur of blue-gray and rust over the drawing of the old couples’ habitual comfort together solving the formal challenge of the layers of tension between the subtle intimacy of the couple almost invisible among strangers and the crashing waves spraying spumes into the air and the wine-blue sea darkening
Copyright 2021 Michael Simms. From Nightjar.