“I brought dessert.” Gabri pointed to a cardboard box on the counter. “Chocolate fudge cake.”
“Could you show me your studio?” Gamache asked Clara, hoping to get far enough away from the cake to overcome the temptation to put his finger in it. “I realize I’ve never seen your art.”
Gamache stood in front of an image of three elderly women, arms entwined, cradling each other. It was an amazingly complex work, with layers of photographs and paintings and even some writing. Em, the woman in the middle, was leaning back precipitously, laughing with abandon, and the other two were supporting her and also laughing. It ached of intimacy, of a private moment caught in women’s lives. It captured their friendship and their dependence on each other. It sang of love and a caring that went beyond pleasant lunches and the remembrance of birthdays. Gamache felt as though he was looking into each of their souls, and the combination of the three was almost too much to bear.
“I call it The Three Graces,” said Clara.
“Perfect,” Gamache whispered.
“Mother is Faith, Em is Hope and Kaye is Charity. I was tired of seeing the Graces always depicted as beautiful young things. I think wisdom comes with age and life and pain. And knowing what matters.”
“Is it finished? It looks as though there’s space for another.”
That’s very perceptive of you. It is finished, but in each of my works I try to leave a little space, a kind of crack.”
“Can you make out the writing on the wall behind them?” She nodded toward her painting.
Gamache leaned in and put on his reading glasses.‘Ring the bells that still can ring//Forget your perfect offering,//There’s a crack in everything,//That’s how the light gets in.’
He read it out loud. “Beautiful. Madame Zardo?” he asked.“
No, Leonard Cohen. All my works have vessels of some sort. Containers. Sometimes it’s in the negative space, sometimes it’s more obvious. In The Three Graces it’s more obvious.”
It wasn’t obvious to Gamache. He stepped back from the work, then he saw what she meant. The vessel, like a vase, was formed by their bodies, and the space he’d noticed was the crack, to let the light in.
“I do it for Peter,” she said quietly. At first Gamache thought he might have misheard, but she continued as though speaking to herself. “He’s like a dog, like Lucy. He’s very loyal. He puts everything he has into one thing. One interest, one hobby, one friend, one love. I’m his love and it scares the shit out of me.” She turned now to look in Gamache’s thoughtful brown eyes. “He’s poured all his love into me. I’m his vessel. But suppose I crack? Suppose I break? Suppose I die? What would he do?”
But suppose I crack? Suppose I break? Suppose I die?
“So all your art is exploring that theme?”
“Mostly it’s about imperfection and impermanence. There’s a crack in everything.”
“That’s how the light gets in, said Gamache. He thought of CC who’d written so much about light and enlightenment and illumination, and thought it came from perfection. But she couldn’t hold a candle to this bright woman beside him.
“Peter doesn’t get it. Probably never will.”
“Have you ever painted Ruth?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, frankly, if anyone’s cracked…” He laughed and Clara joined him.
“No, and you know why? I’m afraid to. I think she could be my masterpiece and I’m afraid to try.”
“In case you can’t do it?”
“Got it in one. There’s also something scary about Ruth. I’m not sure I want to look that deeply into her.”
“You will,” he said, and she believed him.
“They’re marvelous, Clara. They radiate.” He turned to look at her in astonishment, as though meeting the woman for the first time. He’d known she was insightful, and courageous and compassionate. But he hadn’t appreciated that she was this gifted.
‘Ring the bells that still can ring//Forget your perfect offering,//There’s a crack in everything,//That’s how the light gets in.’