“When did you know it was over?” he asked.
“The marriage?” Clara considered. “Probably a while before I actually faced it. It sorta grows in the gut. But I wasn’t sure. It seemed impossible that what I was feeling from Peter was real. And it was a confusing time, so much was happening. And Peter had always been so supportive.”
“When you were failing,” said Myrna quietly.
They were standing in the kitchen now. There were no paintings on the walls, but the windows acted as works of art, framing the view of Three Pines out the front, and the garden out the back.
Clara looked like she was going to take exception to what Myrna said, but then didn’t. Instead she nodded.
“Funny, I’m so used to defending Peter, I do it even now. But you’re right. He never understood my art. He tolerated it. What he couldn’t tolerate was my success.”
“That must’ve hurt,” said Beauvoir.
“It was shattering, inconceivable.”
“No, I meant it must have hurt him,” said Beauvoir.
Clara looked at him. “I guess.”
She looked at Beauvoir and knew he knew how that felt. To turn against people you’d loved. To see allies as threats and friends as enemies. To be eaten alive. From within.
“Did you talk to him about it?” asked Gamache.
“I tried, but he always denied it. Told me I was insecure, too sensitive. And I believed him.” She shook her head. “But then it became so obvious even I couldn’t deny it.”
“And when was that?” Gamache asked.
“I think you know. You were there. It was last year, when I had the solo show at the Musée d’art contemporain in Montréal.”
The pinnacle of her career. What every artist dreamed of happening. And on the surface, Peter had been pleased for his wife, accompanying her to the vernissage. A smile on his handsome face. And a stone in his heart.
That’s what the end so often looked like, Gamache knew. Not the smile, not even the stone, but the crevice in between.
“Let’s get some fresh air,” said Myrna, opening the back door into the garden. She joined them a few minutes later with a platter of sandwiches and a pitcher of iced tea.
They sat in the shade of a grove of maples, their four Adirondack chairs like the points of a compass, Gamache realized.
The Chief leaned forward and chose a sandwich, then slid back in his chair.
“You asked Peter to leave shortly after your solo show opened last year,” he said, chasing the bite with a sip of iced tea.
“After an argument that lasted all day and night,” Clara said. “I was exhausted and finally fell asleep at about three in the morning. When I woke up Peter wasn’t in bed anymore.”
“He’d left?” asked Beauvoir. He’d already finished most of his baguette, filled with paté and chutney. The iced tea perspired on the arm of his chair.
“No. He was against the wall of our bedroom, his knees up to his chin. Staring. I thought he’d had a breakdown.”
“Had he?” asked Myrna.
“I guess, of sorts. Maybe more a breakthrough. He said it came to him in the middle of the night that he’d never been jealous of my art.”
Myrna snorted into her glass, sending tea onto her nose.
“I know,” said Clara. “I didn’t believe him either. And then we fought some more.” She sounded weary to the bone as she described it.
Gamache had been listening closely. “If he wasn’t jealous of your art, then what did he say was the problem?”
“Me, I was the problem,” said Clara. “He was jealous of me. Not that I painted friendship and love and hope, but that I felt them.”
“And he didn’t,” said Myrna. Clara nodded.
“He realized in the night that he’d been pretending all his life and that deep down there was nothing. Just a hole. Which was why his paintings had no substance.”
“Because he had no substance,” said Gamache.
Their little circle fell silent. Bees buzzed in and out of the roses and tall foxglove. Flies tried to drag crispy baguette shards off the empty plates. The Rivière Bella Bella bubbled by.
And they considered a man who had a hole where his core should have been.
“Is that why he left?” asked Myrna, finally.
“He left because I told him to. But…”
Clara looked across the garden so that they could only see her in profile.
“I expected him back.” She smiled suddenly and looked at them. “I thought he’d miss me. I thought he’d be lonely and lost without me. And he’d realize what he had, with me. I thought he’d come home.”