The Woman in the Red Dress
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She dominates the room with her bright hues of crimson, wine, and peach on a field of lavender. I can’t see her face, but she is beautiful.
We were not looking to purchase art when I saw her hanging in a gallery in Old Town, Quebec. Mister and I intended to enjoy the fall sunshine with a stroll, a glass of wine, and a bike ride to finish the afternoon. She thwarted all but the glass of wine.
Art has never had this effect on me before. We have beautiful pieces all over our home with stories of their own. We have original charcoals from well-touted indigenous masters; oil canvases crafted with knives by the artist we met in Beijing; a poster that reminds us of our friends in Australia; a gifted original layered oil of a canoe that has brought us many stories and much joy. But it is this woman in the red dress that I sit and watch over coffee each morning. We communicate without words. She is a reminder of the man I chose and of me. Me, on that day we found each other.
I was transfixed. I stopped walking the cobblestone streets when I saw this bewitching woman on canvas behind the glass of the gallery window. As I was soaking her in, she was gingerly lifted her from her tripod and brought in the store. She was gone. I chased this mirage into the building, still holding my husband’s hand when I saw her again. She sat perched in the centre of the gallery while a young couple stood to evaluate her with their faces in their hands and brows furrowed.
Over the couple’s shoulders, with as much calm as I could muster, I admired the painted woman’s dress cinched at the waist by ruching, obviously designed by a master. She had an aura of white as the sun shone on her hidden features in a cloud of purple haze reflecting the lavender at her feet. I imagined them to be bare. Wearing a dress of such volume in a field begs for bare feet. The dress’s folds were undulating behind her when she stopped and lifted her face to the sun for enough time to be captured. At that moment, the wind pushed the layers of her dress behind her. She did not move, except, I imagine, to massage the fragrant ground with her toes. She stood present.
My tears welled. She was mine and to have another couple ogling her like that seemed a violation. My husband whispered, “Don’t panic. We can wait. And for heaven’s sake, stop crying. You’re ruining any negotiating power we might have.” He squeezed my hand and proceeded to browse the gallery out of view of her beauty as if she was not in the room. My husband suggested others, but I just shook. There was only her. We continued to circle back to the centre of the gallery glancing at her. I felt compelled to confess to the staff member who was trying hard to win our affection for many other beautiful pieces; my devotion belonged with the woman in the red dress. I did not hold back the tears, much to my husband’s dismay, but each time he saw them on my cheek, he would wipe them away gently.
For almost an hour, we browsed with each passing minute more stressful than the last. We finally decided to get that wine and return after a long chat on the merits and complications of bringing her home. “If she is meant to be, she will still be here,” my husband tried to ease.
We were on the sidewalk outside the gallery as I let the tears flow and my husband’s arms console me. At this moment, I heard my name whispered by another man. It was the staffer who had been following us for our hour. “Kristine. She’s yours.” We turned to see the other couple leave to think her over. I skipped into the store fast enough to be first in line, but not fast enough to signal to the other couple that their chat would be in vain.
I stared at that piece while my husband tried desperately to negotiate a better price. I didn’t care. He knew not to try his usual tactic, ‘We’ll be back after we think about it,’ on this one. She was already ours, and the payment was a formality. I had taken several photos of her as you would any newborn and put her in the perfect spot in our home long before she was even in the province. She belonged to us.
Marriage should always be as easy as the woman in the red dress. Now, for that glass of wine.