Chapter 4 of my novel Love of a Stonemason. It is available both as Kindle ebook and trade paperback at Amazon and in different ebook formats at Smashwords. Average customer reviews: 5 stars.
Blurb and Chapter 1
The day after her first exhibition, Karla got up earlier than usual, eager to paint. The opening had been a success. Several of her paintings had sold. To her pleasant surprise, Andreas had bought the aquarelle of Monte Sosto. In addition, Karla had an appointment with the person in charge of buying works of art for one of the major banks in the area. He liked her large colorful canvasses and he wanted to order some for his bank subsidiaries.Karla pulled on a pair of shorts and a work shirt, tied her long black hair into a pony tail, and stepped outside. A thin veil of early-morning mist hovered over the fields and the part of the river Maggia she could see from her house. The pines were a rich green and the leaves of the birches along the river quivered and sparkled in the sun. The colors seemed particularly vivid this morning.
Aside from the mild climate, it was above all the quality of the light and the colors which drew Karla to the south of Switzerland. Each season had its own special coloration, ranging from the diffuse tones of winter with its elongated shadows to the lively hues of spring, the fiery reds and purples of a summer sunset and, finally, the shades of mist and the mellow light of fall.
Karla sat down in front of her easel and squeezed globs of oil paints onto the palette. This was one of those moments when it became clear to her once again why she painted. The empty canvas, when everything was possible and nothing was decided yet. The excitement in the beginning, when her hand first felt the texture of the canvas or paper, the smells, the colors, the sensation of the brush gliding through the paint on the palette. Then the first creative impulse when the brush touched the canvas, the initial few brush strokes, perhaps hesitant at first, then more and more determined, taking control, then letting the painting guide her, taking control again, until she was so absorbed that she forgot time. When the doorbell or the phone rang, she looked up briefly, shook her head, and went right back to painting, ignoring the disturbance.
At noon, Karla took a break. She showered and dressed and got ready to drive to Bellinzona to do some shopping. Bellinzona, the capital of the canton Ticino and a city with an interesting past dating back to Roman times, was about a thirty-minute drive from the Maggia Valley. Its three castles on the hill above the town dominated its skyline and gave the city a distinct medieval flavor.
For Karla, the castles had a more personal significance. They reminded her of a happy time during her childhood, when her mother and grandmother were still alive and took her on outings to the castles. She had been fascinated by the thick stone walls, the narrow windows, the steep stairways. Her mother had told her stories of knights and damsels in distress, of ghosts haunting the castles, and Karla had spent hours drawing and painting those scenes. Now, she looked at the castles with a feeling of nostalgia.
Just as she got ready to drive home, she remembered that Andreas’s studio was in Bellinzona. At the opening, he had told her he would call her to show her some of his sculptures and other stonework. Karla pulled out his business card. His workshop was in a former factory building in the industrial area of Bellinzona. On an impulse, she took the freeway exit toward the south of the city. It didn’t take her long to find the place. She parked the car nearby and walked toward the square, yellowish brick house. The door to Andreas’s part of the building was open and she heard the grinding sound of a machine. There was a sign above the door: Andreas O’Reilly – Scultura. A few stone and metal sculptures in different stages of completion stood outside.
Karla stopped at the corner, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. She didn’t want to give Andreas the impression she was so eager to see him that she couldn’t wait for his phone call. She decided to just take a peek to find out what his workshop looked like. He probably wouldn’t even hear or see her with the machine running. She advanced to the open door and carefully looked inside. A light smell of stone dust and a whiff of exhaust drifted her way.
Andreas was sitting on a low stool with his back toward her. He was wearing goggles and a mask and was holding some kind of power tool with which he polished the surface of a piece of rock in front of him. He was dressed in blue workpants and a yellow undershirt. Karla watched him for a while and couldn’t help but admire the play of muscles on his tanned arms and shoulders as he held on to the grinder which slightly vibrated in his hands. Suddenly, Andreas turned off the machine, removed his mask and goggles, and wiped his forehead. As Karla stepped back, she realized that she cast a shadow next to his chair.
Andreas wheeled around on his stool and looked at her puzzled. “Hello. What a surprise. What are you doing here?” He got up and wiped his hands on a towel and dried his face. There were goggle marks around his eyes.
“I . . . I was in the neighborhood and remembered your workshop, so I thought I just drop by.” Karla, caught in the act of snooping on him, felt the heat rise to her face. “And I wanted to thank you for buying a painting,” she quickly added.
He gave her a wide smile. “Welcome. You’re actually the second woman who dropped by today. I didn’t know I was that popular with the ladies.”
“Oh? Who else dropped by?” Gee, this isn’t really any of my business.
“Your friend. The one who got tanked at your exhibition.”
“Yeah, that’s her.”
Karla was stunned. “Really? That’s odd. What did she want?”
“She was probably just overwhelmed with me and couldn’t keep away.” He grinned. “Just kidding. She apologized for being a mess the other day. She said she wanted to see my workshop and invited me to check out her art work.”
“Are you going to?” It was out before Karla could stop herself.
“Don’t you want me to?” His grin widened. He obviously enjoyed her discomfort.
“I don’t care.” Karla was getting irritated, not just because she was making a fool of herself but because she suspected that there were other reasons behind Sarah’s visit than a casual meeting between artists. It wouldn’t be the first time that Sarah stole one of my boyfriends. But he isn’t my boyfriend. So, why should I care?
“You look upset. What’s the matter?” He peered at her with a serious face.
“Nothing.” She tried to sound casual. “I guess I better go.”
“You just got here. Come on, I’ll show you the studio. Want some coffee?”
Karla nodded and forced a smile. “Coffee sounds great.”
While Andreas washed two cups and turned on the small espresso machine next to his desk, Karla looked around. Along the walls were shelves with stone samples of different types of granite, gneiss, marble, serpentine, verrucano, and many more, in shades ranging from black to blue-gray, sea-green, orange, red, terra-cotta, and a muted gold. On the other side of the room was a shelf with all kinds of stone cutting tools as well as goggles and masks to protect from the dust and stone splinters. Another machine stood in the corner next to a half-finished tombstone.
Karla touched some of the rocks, feeling their different textures, the smoothness of a piece of green alabaster, the rough surface of granite. “I didn’t even know there were that many kinds of stones. Where did you get them all?”
“This is just a minute collection of what’s out there. Some of them I bought, some of the smaller ones I collected while hiking.” He picked up a piece of blue speckled marble and caressed it with his hand, then gave it to Karla to hold. It was polished and smooth on one side and left raw on the other.
“How beautiful. I always thought of marble as being smooth. But it’s actually quite rough,” Karla said, brushing her hand over the unpolished side.
“Yes, in its natural state. It takes some work to make it smooth and polished. Just like with us humans, huh?” He put the stone back on the shelf.
“I think I like the unpolished side better,” Karla said.
“Stones or humans?” Andreas winked at her, then walked over to the coffee machine.
Karla shrugged her shoulder. “Both, I guess.”
“Good, that gives me some encouragement. Not much polishing here.” He handed her a cup of espresso. “It’s quite strong, you might want some sugar.”
“No, I like it strong, thanks.”
“Well, that’s me. Strong and unpolished.” Andreas grinned.
Karla laughed and felt herself blush. She took a sip of coffee and pointed at a group of small stone fountains, some plain, others with elaborate carvings. “These seem to be very popular these days.”
“Yeah. That’s the kind of stuff that sells. Just like gnomes or frogs, which I refuse to make. Too kitschy.” Andreas lifted one of the heavy fountains seemingly without effort and moved it out of the way. “But let me show you some of my other stuff.” He led Karla into the second room which contained several stone and metal sculptures. There were a few stone mandalas of grey-black or greenish granite with fine carvings, green and purplish stone figurines, a rounded shape made of bronze, and several other delicate metal sculptures as well as a combination of wood and metal. Each work was unique. Form and material of the sculptures fit together perfectly. There was no doubt, Andreas was extremely talented.
Karla walked around for a while looking at the different works of art. She gently touched one of the small stone mandalas. “How beautiful. . . . So delicate and yet so powerful.”
Andreas smiled. “Thanks.”
“Do you ever show your work?”
“I’ve been in a couple of group shows. I’m going to be in one in August. It’s an exhibition in Ascona of students from the Scuola di Sculptura di Peccia.
“You studied at the sculpture school in Peccia? That must be an excellent school. I heard they attract students from all over the world.”
“Yeah, I took a few workshops there as well as in Carrera, Italy.”
Something tickled Karla’s nose and she sneezed.
“Bless you; it’s the stone dust,” Andreas said. “There’s always some around, after I use the grinding or polishing machine.”
They stepped outside, where the late afternoon sun was just about to disappear behind the tall building on the other side of the street. The last sunrays bounced off the metal roof.
Karla touched one of the granite slabs sitting next to the door outside, which felt warm, having absorbed the heat of the day. She looked at her watch. “I guess, I should get going, otherwise I’ll hit rush hour traffic.” She turned to face him. “Thanks for showing me your work. That was a real treat. I’d like to see more.”
“Glad you liked it. Most of my work is in someone's garden or in a park. I can give you a guided tour of O'Reilly's art work, if you’re interested.” Andreas laughed his typical throaty laugh. “How about next Saturday?”
Karla nodded. “Yes, that would work.”
Andreas gave her a warm smile. “How about if I pick you up?”
Karla handed him one of her business cards. “Okay, here is my address. I live just up the hill from Lena’s place. It’s called Casa di tre Angeli. You can’t miss it.”
“Tre angeli? Three angels, huh. Any connection to you?” The humorous glint in his eyes was back.
“None at all . . . though I could use one once in a while.” Karla smiled wistfully.
Andreas followed her to the car. “Karla.” She turned around. He pulled her close and kissed her. His breath smelled of coffee, smoky and slightly bitter. “See you Saturday.”
Before Karla could do or say anything, he turned and walked back to his workshop in his leisurely wide-legged swagger. Karla opened the door and got into the car. She waited for a while before starting the engine, then slapped the steering wheel.
“Damn. I don’t want to fall in love.”