Gamache turned back to the canvas. He’d met all three women, but Clara’s painting of them always stunned him. They were old. Worn. Lined. Creviced. Their clothes were comfortable, sensible. Taken in parts there was nothing remotely remarkable about them in this painting.
But the whole? What Clara had captured? It was breathtaking.
Emilie, Beatrice, and Kaye reached out to each other. Not grasping. These women weren’t drowning. They weren’t clinging to each other.
All three were laughing, with open-faced pleasure in each other’s company.
In her first portrait Clara had captured intimacy.
“It had been a mistake, then?” asked Beauvoir, pointing to the painting.
“Well, that’s one word for it,” said Clara.
“And what did Peter say when he saw it?” asked Gamache.
“He said it was very good, but that I might have to work on perspective.”
Gamache felt a spike of anger. This was a form of murder. Peter Morrow had tried to kill not his wife, but her creation. He’d clearly recognized a work of genius and had tried to ruin it.
“Do you think he knew then what was going to happen?” Beauvoir asked.
“I don’t think anyone could have known what would happen,” said Clara. “I sure didn’t.”
“But I think he suspected,” said Myrna. “I think he looked at The Three Graces and saw the Visigoths on the seventh hill. He knew his world was about to change.”
“Why wasn’t he happy for Clara?” Gamache asked Myrna.
“Have you ever been jealous?”
Gamache thought about that. He’d been passed over for promotions. In his youth girls he’d had crushes on had turned him down, only to date one of his friends. Which somehow made it worse for his young heart. But the closest he’d come to consuming, corroding jealousy was seeing other kids with their parents.
He’d hated them for that. And, God help him, he’d hated his parents. For not being there. For leaving him behind.
“It’s like drinking acid,” said Myrna, “and expecting the other person to die.”
Is that how Peter had felt, looking at this painting? Had Peter taken his first gulp of acid? Had he felt his insides curdle when he saw The Three Graces?
Gamache knew Peter Morrow well and had no doubt even now that he loved Clara with all his heart. And that must have made it worse. To love the woman but hate and fear what she’d created. Peter didn’t want Clara to die, but he’d almost certainly wanted her paintings to die. And he’d do what he could to kill them. With a quiet word, an insinuation, a suggestion.
“May I?” Gamache pointed out the door of the studio to the closed door across the hall.
“Yes.” Clara led the way.
Peter’s studio was tidy, organized, calm. It felt serene, to Clara’s disorder. It smelled of paint, with a slight undertone of lemon. Pledge, thought Gamache. Or lemon meringue pie.
The walls were covered with studies for Peter’s careful, brilliantly executed creations. Early on in his career, Peter had discovered if he took a simple object and magnified it, it looked abstract.
And that’s what he painted. He loved the fact that something banal, often natural, like a twig or a leaf, could look abstract and unnatural when examined closely.
At first it had been exciting. Fresh and new, his paintings had taken the art world by storm. But after ten, twenty years of essentially the same thing, over and over …
Gamache looked at Peter’s works. They were spectacular. At first glance. And then they faded. They were, finally, examples of great draftsmanship. There was no mistaking a work by Peter Morrow, you could spot one a mile away. Admire it for a minute, then move on. There was a center, maybe even a message, but no soul.
Though the studio walls were covered with his works, the space felt cold and empty.
Gamache considered the canvas in front of him, and found himself still consumed by Clara’s painting. The actual image of The Three Graces might fade a little in memory, but how the work made him feel would not.
And that wasn’t even Clara’s best painting. Her works since had only grown in their power and depth. In all they evoked.
But these? Peter’s canvases made him feel nothing.
Peter’s career would have languished all by itself, eventually, independent of what happened to Clara. But her unexpected and spectacular ascent made his decline seem all the sharper.
What did flourish, though, what grew and grew, was his jealousy.
As Gamache followed Clara from the studio, he found his anger toward Peter had been replaced by a sort of pity. The poor sod hadn’t stood a chance.