Chapter 4: Lullabies and Masking Fluid
Her laughter faded on an exhale, as echoes of levity mocked her chromatic reality; dissonance breaking diatonic peace. It was tantalizing to enjoy her great escape, to bask in the brief thrill of trickery; but even the brightest light can be blocked into shadow by a large enough obstacle. Pam stared ahead, drawing the soft flesh of her bottom lip in between her teeth, a crease knit lightly in the valley of her brow line. The road before her was an endless river of tarmac, interrupted by broken amber lines and chalky banks leading to the entrances of bland strip malls. Yet she did not see any of it.
Vivid images, memories, overlay her sight; pictures of moments unbridled by capsicum smoke and chaos, the seconds just before Roy’s attack. Her error had been written in his glance; confused sorrow and humiliating betrayal lightly inscribed in the golden flecks of his irises. A look she recognized as one that had reflected in her own. Yet a question muddled the green. Whether it was “Why?” or “Really?” or “How dare you?” she couldn’t tell, and Pam supposed it didn’t matter much. They all resolved in Jim’s unforgiving glare.
In the memory of it, she could feel her panic rising; building atop the embarrassment of her private life put on such violent display. Jolts of anxiety fired in her belly, before creeping into her throat where her breath drew in sharp, raspy, gasps. White-hot needles pierced her flesh before the cold dread seeped into her bones and the tell-tale feeling of impending death scorched her core. Recognizing her increasingly inhibited state, Pam quickly pulled over to the side of the road, tugging on the parking brake. The moment her car came to a complete stop her exhales accelerated, washing the skin of her forearms with goosebumps. Her fingers grazed the center dashboard, seeking relief. They found the rounded corners of plastic edges, giving slight resistance against her pressure; yet still, she coerced until the cassette disappeared into the console slot. A soft welter of mechanical din whirled below her shaking breaths, preluding the gentle hum of her deliverance.
Once upon another time
Somebody's hands who felt like mine
Turned the key and took a drive
A flickering candle against hollow arpeggiated chords lit the cabin of the Yaris in a canorous glow. Pam felt the music wash over her, a cascade of calming notes longing to soothe her inflamed psyche. She willed her body to absorb the harmonies, allowing the chordal progressions to fill the flailing sails that were her lungs.
I recall the sun sank low
Buckley on the radio
Cigarette was burning slow
Gradually, her breath came under control as she timed each intake and exhale with the song’s lilting cadence. Closing her eyes, she meditated on the vibrations of her surroundings; the motor of her car, the haunting melody emitted from her speakers, the quaking of her own form. Pam breathed through each of them, aligning with the rhythms of the atmosphere to suck the venom from her body.
Just yellow lines and tire marks
Sun-kissed skin and handlebars
And where I stood was where I was
She had listened to this song a thousand times. Meditated to it, permitted the lullaby to soothe her to sleep amidst long, troublesome nights that sank into grey mornings. Still, it wasn’t until this moment that Pam had really considered the lyrics and what they signified. It was a coming of age ballad, an ode to the moment of innocence lost, the moment of realization that the world was not a pearl to be held in the palm of their hand. And it resonated throughout her along a horrifically sad chord.
No enemies to call my own
No porch light on to pull me home
And where I was is beautiful
Because I was free
The tragedy for which Pam fought back tears again, as she flipped on her turn signal and entered the line of traffic, was the realization that life would likely never be simple or uncomplicated. And if she were to be perfectly honest with herself, her final whirl of artless bliss had ended in a parking lot on a warm night in May. Possibly even several years prior, when he had walked in the office for the first time to a rhythm she would later know by heart.
Once upon another time
Deciding nothing good in dying
So I would just keep on driving
Because I was free
The music dissipated into a fuzzy silence before a light click tolled the end of the mixed tape. The pavement whirling below and her own thoughts were all that serenaded Pam now, as she drove aimlessly forward. It would be another fifteen minutes before she realized where she was heading, although time was hardly a concept she was presently aware of. Turning into a residential neighborhood, her car glided along the curved streets as she subconsciously navigated the mazed community before pulling over in front of a series of identical, beige townhouses and turned off the engine.
Pam was hardly surprised when she looked upon the home that Jim and Mark used to occupy. The summer prior had seen several inexplicable visits to the abode, only one of which had been planned before igniting the engine.
— -- —
“Hey babe, you feelin’ alright.” Roy’s voice filtered over the familiar fanfares of Sports Center as she closed the front door and turned the lock.
Despite the painkillers the ER doctor had administered, Pam’s head still ached; although it wasn’t clear if that was from her stitches or the flurry of thoughts rolling through her mind. She hung her purse on one of the coat hooks that lined the hallway and gingerly walked the length of the entrance, which opened to a small living space. There she found him, exactly as she imagined, lounging across their couch with his feet propped on the far armrest. She eyed the dried mud that clogged the treads of his soles, Roy not having bothered to remove his work boots despite her history of numerous requests. Pam opened her mouth to say something, but words were lost to her own lassitude. Truly, she didn’t think she could handle being accused of nagging.
“Hey...Darryl said you had to go to the hospital?” Roy briefly looked up from the TV at her before returning his attention to the sports commentary. “I was out doing deliveries all day and missed your call. Everything ok?”
Pam dropped her gaze, familiar with this absence of concern, but only beginning to vaguely recognize its unacceptability. “Yeah, Angela drove me. I thought...I thought you would meet us at the hospital so she could go home?”
“Oh...sorry, babe,” Roy said, his tone barely matching his words, eyes never lifting. “Darryl never mentioned that, I figured I’d just wait for you at home.”
Her mouth gaped open, unable to form words in response. Instead, she turned to go, mumbling something about needing to lie down and pretending to not hear his questions about dinner. Sleep did find her eventually, though restlessly on a tear-stained pillow. When she woke at 3 am, alone in bed but not her mind, Pam tiptoed downstairs to find Roy passed out on the couch. The bluish glow of the television illuminated the leftover beer and pizza covering the coffee table, spotlighting a mess for her to clean up later. Soundlessly, she grabbed the truck keys from beneath the takeout box and without a word, left the house.
— -- —
Pam recalled the solemn drive, not entirely dissimilar to the one she had just conducted; both soured with distraught fatigue, both arriving at the same destination. That time, however, she had experienced utter anguish at finding Jim’s car absent its spot in the driveway, a “for lease” sign in its wake. She hadn’t been sure what she was going to say to him then; perhaps her prepared speech from the office, perhaps a full declaration of love. But she never had the chance. He was gone, just as he was now. For even if he was physically present in Scranton, the Jim she knew had never returned, that fact made abundantly clear in his earlier glare. And if she could grasp that, then possibly she could mourn this loss rather than cling to unattainable hope.
Her thought was interrupted by the ring of her cell. Reluctantly, Pam reached for the phone, glaring at the green glow that displayed an unrecognized number. For a moment, she considered letting it go to voicemail, worried it might be Brett or Kayla, or even worse, Roy calling from jail. But against her better judgment, she hit accept and brought the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“Hello, is this Pam?”
She went white, immediately recognizing the lyrical voice. “Ms. Sh...Madeleine! Yes, I mean, this is Pam.”
“Oh good, I was worried I...well, I hope it is alright to contact you by this number. It was listed in your student registration information at Marywood...”
“Oh! Oh, no that is fine, this is a good number.” Pam stammered, completely thrown off balance by her instructor’s call.
“Wonderful, I just wanted to touch base before tonight’s class...”
“Shit...” The curse flew faster than her hand could cover her mouth.
“Oh, I’m so sorry...I just, um...dropped something.” Pam’s gaunt reflection stared back at her in the rearview mirror. She was more exhausted than she had been in living memory, the hangover from her anxiety attack sinking into her muscles. Her face was white save for the lines of mascara and puffs of red that contoured the skin below her eyes from the mace-induced tears. But Roy's actions—and Jim’s coldness—had already robbed so much from her life; like hell if she would let them take this away from her. Her eyes snapped to the car’s clock; 6:34 pm. She had enough time to make it there but not enough to properly fix the mess that was her face, as she eyed the smudges of misplaced makeup.
“Oh...no worries, I’m sorry to call without warning, if this is a bad time?”
“No, it’s alright. I mean, it’s an ok time. I’m just trying to collect...uh, myself...” Pam said as she licked the pad of her thumb and vigorously scrubbed at the skin below her eyes.
Madeleine’s light laughter could be just made out on the other line. “Well, I can certainly relate a bit with that. I actually...I needed to ask for a favor, to be honest.”
Pam stopped scrubbing for a moment to listen. “Oh?”
“Yes, I suppose I should first confirm you are still available to come to tonight’s class?”
“Yes, absolutely. I’m really so thrilled for this opportunity.” Pam began, looking again in her rearview mirror at her face, resuming her excavations of the stains. "I’m embarrassed though, I might be a little late tonight, I can be there around 7:10...”
“No, no, don’t worry about being early to set up this time, this is so terribly last minute to begin with, I’m thrilled you can make it at all. I certainly wasn’t expecting you until the start of class at eight o’clock.” Madeleine paused before continuing. “I was, however, going to ask if on your way here you might be able to stop at the Scranton Art Supply on Burbank Street? I have an order of masking fluid that just arrived, and I was wondering if you might be able to collect it for me? I hate to ask, I’m just in a bit of a bind presently.”
Again, Pam stopped her motions and listened to her instructor, who, for the first time in her memory, sounded a bit imperfectly composed. “Oh, that’s not a problem. Is everything alright?”
“Well...yes, yes everything is fine. You see, I have this volunteer project with the public schools in New York that I’m leading tomorrow. It requires more masking fluid than I had on hand and my order just came in this afternoon. I was about to head out to pick it up when a shelf I installed last weekend, er...poorly installed, as the case may be since I now have several jugs of acrylic covering my floors. Thankfully, no harm was done, except for the lost paint, which I’m having a time cleaning up...gosh, I must sound like a terrible disaster or at least a dreadful carpenter.”
“No...” Pam chuckled, reflecting on how little Madeleine could ever resemble a disaster when compared to her present state. “No, not at all. It would be no trouble to pick up the masking fluid.”
“Pam, you’re a dream. Thank you!” Madeleine effused. “The order should be under my name, just tell them I sent you, ask for Jerry if there is any trouble. And you know what, feel free to pick something out for yourself too, just have them charge my account...”
“Oh, no I couldn’t...”
“Pam, you’re saving me from an enormous embarrassment. They won’t be open in time for me to pick up the supplies tomorrow morning before I’m due in the city, and I can’t have this mess here in the studio when people arrive tonight.” Madeleine insisted. “I feel this is the least I can do. Of course, don’t buy a set of kolinsky sable brushes, but if you need anything, a pad of Arches paper or if you’re out of a tube or two of paint… Just bring back the receipt so I can keep track of expenses. And consider yourself on the clock.”
Pam was at a loss for words, and could only resign herself to a breathy, “Alright...”
“Wonderful, ok Pam, I will see you in a little bit, hopefully the floor won’t be lacquered in orange and purple by then. Thank you again, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help.”
Looking down at the phone in her hands, Pam wasn’t sure if she actually ever uttered a ‘goodbye’ at the end of the conversation. She was shocked again by the kindness and even more so the appreciation that Madeleine held for her even in such a simple request. Old Jim aside, if there had ever been an instance at the office when someone had asked for a favor and responded with something greater than a mumbled ‘thanks’ or worse, bellowed criticism or complaints over the length of time it had taken to complete the courtesy, Pam could not recall.
Glancing out the window at the house that stood for a few happy memories and many moments of loss, Pam started the engine of her car. Giving the smallest hint of a nod, she bid the memorial to her grieving ‘adieu’ and navigated her way in the direction of the art store.
— -- —
Things took much longer at Scranton Art Supply than she’d expected. The store clerk, who portrayed a green nervousness, could not locate Madeleine’s order in the backroom. She hadn’t entirely minded the extra time to roam the aisles, eyeing the store’s incredible inventory. To humor herself, she’d even taken a moment to look at the genuine kolinsky watercolor brushes they had on display and nearly choked on air when she saw the price.
The single Da Vinci ‘Maestro’ size eight, round watercolor brush was on sale for $95, and she swore she saw a price tag that read $325 taped to the stem of a Winsor and Newton round-ten. No, she’d manage just fine with her squirrel and sable blends. They were nothing special, her entire collection could be purchased for the price of the single Winsor and Newton brush. But she had kept them in decent condition, reshaping the hairs after each cleansing; and they would last her another couple of months or so.
By the time they had found the masking fluid order and rung up Pam’s choice of Daniel Smith’s Extra Fine watercolor tubes in Alizarin Crimson and Mayan Yellow, she was beginning to regret not bringing an option for dinner with her. Truthfully though, her fridge had been bare, and she could not will herself to eat another peanut butter sandwich. Especially after she swore she heard Kevin make a comment to Oscar on how PB stands for Pam Beesly; likely due to her now predictable lunch option. Grabbing the box of supplies from the counter and thanking the clerk and his manager, Jerry, for their help, Pam rushed out of the store to her car.
As she pulled out of the parking lot, Pam made an executive decision to get groceries tomorrow morning and stop at the Purple Pepper Deli tonight along the way. In the back of her mind, she knew it wasn’t the most economical choice, but she was starving and it was payday. She also knew she needed something with a few more nutrients than the typical value menu. So, ten minutes later, with a cider-brined bourbon pork sandwich and a side of roasted veggies in hand, Pam raced to Madeleine’s studio.
— -- —
“Does everyone have a sheet of graphite paper? Eric, I’ll get you one…oh, thank you, Rebecca.” Madeleine’s voice lilted over the chatter of the room as Pam entered the studio.
Cheery, twinkling, lights bowed between industrial pendants, which hung from the white cathedral ceilings of the converted bungalow. Mismatched art pieces splattered color along the pale blue walls above shelves of neatly organized art supplies. Six long tables were set up to form a broken oval, with smiling patrons sitting mostly on the exterior sides so they could easily watch their leader at the far end of the room.
“Pam, let me help you with that...” Madeleine said as she stood from her stool and made her way towards the entrance.
Madeleine looked the definition of Parisian-artist chic; with her black, knit turtleneck and tapered, black chinos contrasting with her signature ruby lipstick and paint-splattered apron. Her dark hair hung delicately, spiraled in a large, white clip, with several loose tendrils framing the clean lines of her face. Madeleine beamed as she approached Pam, her arms outstretched to collect the box of masking fluid. “Everyone, this is Pam Beesly. She’s going to be assisting with the instruction of these classes. Pam is a remarkable artist and especially talented in watercolor and gouache mediums. We’re so lucky to have her. So, please, give her a warm welcome!”
Handing Madeleine the box with a grateful smile, Pam thought she saw the woman falter when their eyes briefly met. But any hint of wavering faded and her attention quickly turned as the group of twenty or so clapped in embracing applause. She was grateful for having put in some effort this morning to her wardrobe, even if her makeup was wiped clean from her face and her choice of outfit was intended to hide her lack of sleep. She at least looked more put together than she felt.
“Pam, I believe there is a spot opposite me on this side of the room. We’ve just begun tracing our outline with graphite paper. Feel free to either observe or follow along and help those around you.” Madeleine said as she turned with the box and retreated to the back of the room, before addressing the class. “As this is her first time here, Pam will be observing mostly but she may come around and offer guidance throughout the class.”
Pam found the empty stool that Madeleine had reserved with a small piece of paper taped to the table reading ‘Seat reserved for Ms. Beesly’. Sitting down, she smiled at the group of ladies who surrounded her.
“Hello, Pam is it?” The elderly woman sitting to Pam’s right asked cheerfully as she extended her hand. She wore a bright smile that matched her peacock-blue framed glasses and carmine blouse. Pam accepted the handshake with her own. “My name is Ruth, and to your left is Theresa, and over here is Rebecca.”
Pam smiled at each of them and shook hands with Theresa when the woman offered hers. “We’re what you might call ‘regulars’ you see,” Theresa said with an air of elated pride before taking a sip of her wine.
“That’s right, we’ve been coming to these from the very beginning.” Rebecca chimed in.
“In fact, it was Clara, who couldn’t make it tonight because her grandchildren are in town, but anyway, she was the one who came up with ‘Sip, Sip, Monet!’ with Ms. Madeleine,” Ruth said with a light laugh.
“That’s right she did...” Rebecca’s own laugh fit perfectly into her friend’s. “We tried to tell her it was a ridiculous name, but then Ms. Madeleine insisted it was perfect.”
“That’s Ms. Madeleine for you though...always eager to lift up other people’s creativity. Even the silly stuff.” Theresa said with admiration.
Pam couldn’t help but smile at the ladies’ commentary; they were filled with such jollity and exuberance, and their assessment of Ms. Shay was apt. “She certainly does.”
“Ok, how is everyone doing? Have we finished tracing?” Madeleine’s voice floated over the champagne bubbles of conversation.
“Pam hasn’t...” Ruth blurted with cabernet courage. Pam’s mouth dropped at the woman’s gall, a laugh not far off.
“Ah yes, Ruth, thank you. And might I ask how far have you progressed on your own tracing?” Madeleine said with a smile, not missing a beat.
“Not very far...” Ruth giggled, leading the classroom in a titter of laughter.
Madeleine nodded, “Ah-ha, well, a little bit less cheek and a little more trace from your lot may just do wonders. Pam, don’t let these lovely ladies fool you, they don’t in fact, run this operation.”
“Yes, Ma’am!” Ruth saluted earnestly, chuckling as she went back to tracing the outline onto the watercolor paper.
“As everyone is finishing up tracing, we’re going to go on to some warm-up exercises. For those who are farther away, you can watch what I am doing on the screen behind me, which is projecting from the camera we’ve hung above. So just follow along on your scratch paper, and let’s start with some wet-on-wet techniques...” Madeleine said as she brought forward her scratch paper.
Pam glanced up and noticed for the first time the small camera and screen hanging from the ceiling that displayed Madeleine’s workspace and her demonstrations in real-time. It was all so well thought out and professional, and Pam was blown away by the ingenuity of it. Looking back down at her own space, she saw the assortment of supplies that had been given to each participant: cold-pressed watercolor paper; a palette of liquid watercolor paints; a mason jar of water; several round brushes of contrasting sizes; a piece of graphite paper; and the outline of a hummingbird in mid-flight, gracefully approaching the blooms of a wisteria branch. In the of her space was a small stemless glass. Not wanting to tempt her own fatigue, Pam politely turned down Ruth’s offer to pour a glass of wine from the bottle the woman brought. Instead, She quickly set to work, tracing the outline and catching up with the rest of the group just as Madeleine finished the various technique introductions.
“Great, so now before we jump into our painting, let’s do our oath. Pam, this is a little tradition I’ve started with these classes. We have everyone raise their wine glass and repeat after me: I will be kind to myself...”
The class responded as a chorus in kind, “I will be kind to myself.”
Madeleine grinned as she continued, “...I will not judge my own work against others...”
“I will not judge my own work against others.”
“...And I will enjoy this moment for myself,” Madeleine concluded.
“And I will enjoy this moment for myself!”
“Here, here!” Rebecca motioned her glass to Ruth, who lightly clinked it with her own.
“I’ve found we all tend to be a bit too hard on ourselves in day-to-day life, and art should be a means of escaping that. So, whenever we start to criticize ourselves or our work, I like to refer back to the oath.” Madeleine explained to Pam by way of the entire class.
Pam nodded with a grin that stretched from her lips to her eyes. She wasn’t sure exactly what she’d expected from these classes, but what she had already experienced was far deeper and more encouraging than anything she could have hoped for.
“And with that done, let’s get to it. We’re going to start with this very pale, greyish-blue shadow along the belly...” Madeleine continued, as she wet her own brush.
— -- —
“It was an absolute joy meeting you, Pam,” Ruth said cheerfully as she drew the strap of her purse over her shoulder. “I’m looking forward to learning more from you. And I’m going to work on that texturing technique you showed me. That was really something.”
Pam beamed, “Well, thank you, Ruth. It was lovely meeting all of you, I can’t wait for next week’s class!”
The group of women followed the path of participants to the studio’s foyer and exited into the quiet night. Pam looked to Madeleine, who was collecting her own palette to bring towards the large metal sink that stood in the back of the room. “Pam, do you mind grabbing any of the supplies you see left on tables and bringing them to the counter just here?” Madeleine said as she gestured to the counter space that sat perpendicular to the sink.
“Of course!” Pam did as requested, bringing an array of abandoned palettes and mason jars to the back of the room.
“So, I’m curious to know your thoughts?” Madeleine asked as she looked up from the palette pan she was rinsing.
Pam’s eyes grew large at the question. “Oh, where to even begin? I thought it was incredible. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this sort of class structure. I mean, I didn’t know how seriously people would take the painting aspect...”
Madeleine laughed lightly, “Yes, I understand. And sometimes it can be more of a party than an educational experience. I’ve learned that it is best to just go with the flow during these classes, not to have any expectations. Especially since the clientele changes weekly, for the most part.”
“That makes sense...” Pam nodded, retreating to a long table to collect more used supplies. “At the same time, I really respect how in-depth you went with this lesson. I mean, you touched on everything from color theory to dimensional form. It felt more like a non-major, collegiate intro to water coloring than what I suppose I’ve imagined these to be.”
The young instructor nodded before turning off the sink water and laying the brushes she had been washing to dry horizontally on a toweled rack. Madeleine then turned to face Pam, while leaning against the rim of the sink. “Did you ever have the opportunity to take a pedagogical course during your studies?”
Pam paused as she organized used brushes in her hand, her eyes remaining low to avoid Madeleine’s. “I started one…”
“Started?” Madeleine’s gaze narrowed.
Swallowing back a lump of embarrassment, Pam continued. “I was initially enrolled in one during my junior year at Marywood. My ex-fiancé, well…I ended up dropping out because money was tight and a job as a receptionist came open. It wasn’t anything special but it was full time, with benefits. I suppose I convinced myself that, after saving up for a bit, I could go back and finish. Five years later, that’s what I’m trying to do now.”
Madeleine nodded slowly, her brow still furrowed. “Well, that’s really admirable. It’s extremely difficult to come back after any time away from school. Most people never manage it.” She paused before continuing. “You have a real knack for teaching though, which is why I asked. I watched you with Ruth and the other ladies today, and it seems to come naturally to you.”
Pam met Madeleine’s gaze fully for the first time and smiled modestly. “Thanks, they are a fun group. And they seemed eager to absorb whatever advice I could offer.”
Madeleine smiled, “Yes, I suppose that is my point. I approach these classes without expectations, but at the same time offering the full extent of knowledge that I can. There is this connotation that art is stuffy and elitist, or that only those born with natural abilities can enjoy it. But in truth, anyone can learn to paint and everyone should be able to enjoy art. In fact, very few are born with natural ability or instinct for it. Mostly, any achievement comes from continuous work, interest, and the proper instruction. So, that’s what I try to provide and encourage here. Some will absorb it and others won’t, but as long as they enjoy the process then you’ve planted the seed in them. Art should be for everyone; not just majors or professionals.”
Pam’s lips turned upward to match her teacher’s. “I agree.”
“Good,” Madeline said pointedly. “And now, as both a mentor and hopefully a friend, I have to ask, are you doing alright? It’s the curse of an artist’s gaze, but when you came in this evening, I couldn’t help but notice your eyes…”
“Oh…”, her own gaze dropped again. Pam had hoped that the redness would have reduced enough by the time she entered the studio, but now realized it was wishful thinking. She wasn’t sure where to begin; how to explain the events of the day without revealing more embarrassing truths than she already had.
“So, I have an open bottle of Merlot that needs to be finished off, would you like to help me with that?”
Pam gave a weak smile and nodded.