Villa Blue, page 1
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Copyright © 2016 by Isla Dean
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To Maggi BB,
One of the most colorful people I’ve ever known.
I will forever see you dancing in the stars.
To Mary Jane Campbell-Mann
For sharing your love of art/life with me,
and so many others.
Real painters do not paint things as they are...they paint them as they themselves feel them to be.
—Vincent Van Gogh
Splashes of bold blue seeped between the sea and sky. With furrowed focus, Ivy Van Noten painted the blur of the horizon where gold shimmered against the sneaky sapphire shadows. To Ivy’s squinting artist’s eye, the light played with the shade, a sort of dance, an agreement between them that made the other more of what it was.
Perched in the wildly overgrown grass, putting brush to paper, Ivy painted that dance, even as the dainty features of her face creased into a frown and her mind churned like a low growling engine.
A mid-day passenger ferry to Parpadeo Island came into view as she refocused her eyes, then began painting it into the scene. She didn’t include the intricacies of the boat—that didn’t interest her—but rather the movement, the life, the anticipation it carried from its port in Santa Barbara.
Stabbing her brush in the Mason jar filled with water, she fought back the part of herself that wanted to judge the process—she was stiff in her mind and movements, and it was maddening. The brush strokes were uninspired, the feeling forced, the perspective unclear.
She forced out a long, heated breath into the breeze. She would push through the artist’s block even if it meant she never left the thimble-sized island—with its sparse population and colorful tourist town—for the rest of her life.
Which would be just fine with Ivy; she preferred her own company these days anyway.
Using excess water to dampen the cold press paper, she then dipped the brush into the pallet of paint, and with deliberate concentration, she layered on color, punching up the vibrancy. With an innately resilient spirit, she put paint to paper, striving—somewhat desperately—for that perfect place of no thought, just a combustion of feeling, action, and emotion.
Below in the harbor, the stern horn of the arriving passenger ferry gusted up to the highest point on the island where Villa Blue stood proudly in all its Spanish glory. And beside Villa Blue was Ivy, who stood, not so proudly, in a glorious jumble of snarling frustration.
Intently focused in her own bubble and dismissing the hard blow of the horn, she swept a deliberate streak of paint on the paper attempting to give it flow and mood, fire and passion. And with every speck of paint she added, she recognized that she was getting further and further from the elusive creative zone.
A muffled sound of aggravation escaped as she blew out another breath.
Her wavy blond hair was almost white in the sunlight and slowly coming unhinged from what had started as a tidy bun atop her head. And when her head tilted to study the efforts clipped to the easel, wisps of it fluttered into her wide blue eyes.
After swatting her hair aside and taking another moment of survey, the tensed muscles in her face fell into a dim droop of disappointment. “Well this is just shit, isn’t it?” she muttered without pity. Painting was her job. More than that, it was her sanity. And she was aware enough to know when she was creating from that glimmering, golden place of connectivity, or when she was forcing a slim semblance of art out of herself.
For longer than she cared to consider, she’d been at war with artist’s block, battling toward her purpose, her art, her passion that was behind enemy lines. But a greedy gargoyle ruthlessly guarded it and she just couldn’t find a way beyond the bastard.
She gave her paintbrush a little stab through the air as if it were a sword.
In a final act of what she considered dramatic surrender, she tossed the brush at the paper. The splotch of Cerulean Blue stained in the center then dripped down the paper, slowly, then careened off into the slender spears of swaying grass.
Shaking her head at herself, her efforts, she stared at the paper. Maybe effort was just the problem, maybe she was trying too hard. Or maybe she wasn’t trying hard enough. Forcing out another exhale—even breathing took too much effort—she reminded herself to be easy, to be in the flow of things, to not let her moods or fears carry her away.
Blah, blah, she thought with an eye roll at her worn-out pep talk.
Her phone dinged, interrupting the murky, puddled thoughts, and she tugged it out of the back pocket of her jeans.
The screen boasted a calendar alarm reminder: 6th Anniversary!
She muttered a string of unintelligible words, then shoved the phone back in her pocket and looked out at the island that, moments ago, she’d been studying for dimension, life, beauty. Now, through the lens of feeling flattened, it looked sharp and rocky and streaked by the glaring sun.
But that was just the rollercoaster of moods and she knew it. Moods were as fickle as the idea of a muse, and she didn’t rely on either as excuse or inspiration.
She grabbed another brush from her stash and began mixing messy drops of water and paint—this time French Ultramarine and Winsor Lemon—onto the small pallet.
So what, the first painting of the day had been dreadful? She simply had to start again—a concept Ivy was intimately familiar with.
Spinning around in the grass that tickled her ankles as afternoon wind swished through the blades, she studied Villa Blue in all its dilapidated splendor. It was a sprawling estate painted Cobalt Blue that had once been beautiful. It had strong bones but it h
Much like Ivy aspired to be, Villa Blue was unapologetically colorful, unashamed of its past, and peacefully defiant in its solitude. The estate had become her North Star—even with walls lined by thin veins of cracks, chipped paint here and there, and a slightly slanting foundation that largely went unnoticed—and she’d recognized it the first moment she’d seen it.
Parpadeo Island was one of the best places on the planet, according to Ivy, whose mood was momentarily soothed. It was quiet, with the company of crashing waves and calling birds. And, more importantly, it was relatively free of disruptions and featured only a handful of people—honeymooners, romantics—who liked to keep to themselves during their stay.
And thank God for that.
Her phone chimed cheerfully again, and again she pulled it from her pocket to read the same reminder about what would’ve been her wedding anniversary. “Go away,” she muttered as she pressed buttons that—she hoped—would banish the message.
“Bad timing for a favor, bellissima? And no! I’m not looking!”
Ivy’s initial reaction to the presence of another person, a scowl, softened at the sight of Donatella, who held a dishtowel in front of her eyes.
It was impossible to be anything but happy to see the voluptuous seventy-five-year-old woman who owned and ran Villa Blue. Even with a kitchen rag shielding her bourbon brown eyes, she looked like a woman from the Golden Era of Hollywood—elegant, sensuous, oozing hearty beauty and guttural vivacity.
“I didn’t realize I’d said something out loud. And you don’t need to cover your eyes.”
“You talk more to yourself than anyone else. And I’m covering them because I know how much you hate when people see your work in progress. This is for my own protezione.”
Ivy considered, knowing her moods had been stubbornly sullen lately. “Oh, just put the towel down.”
Donatella, eager and unable to contain herself now that she had permission, tossed the towel over her shoulder and earnestly studied the painting. “Interesting. Impressionist with marks of modernism, yes?”
At Donatella’s use of terms, Ivy lifted an eyebrow. “It’s shit, is what it is. But listen to you.”
“You talk to yourself a lot, I just happen to listen and learn new things,” Donatella replied with a flutter of lashes. “Speaking of new things…” She retrieved the dishrag from her shoulder then waved it through the air in a grand gesture. “New guest staying for a week—a man by himself, go figure. Told him I’d meet him at the ferry to show him up the hill, but I’ve got rosemary bread in the oven and profiteroles ready to go in after that. L.B. is busy mopping up an unfortunate bathroom experience on the second floor, and Nicholas has his ‘Disturb Only For Fire Or Blood’ sign on the door. Plus they need to pack for their honeymoon. I wish them a happy honeymoon as much as I wish they’d wait until winter to leave for it, but so be it. For today, I have a guest arriving and no one to greet him.”
Ivy looked at her pallet of paint then to the paper, then took a steadying breath as she felt her pocket buzzing again. The torrent of interruptions was too swift a current to buck so she may as well stop swimming upstream. Even through the thick coat of stubbornness—her favorite ensemble of late—she could feel when the day’s work had been sunk, drowning in the disruptions that lobbed her way like iron cannonballs. “All right, I can help. I’ll show the man the way up.”
Donatella’s smile reflected conspirative sparkles of sunshine. “Aren’t women always?”
Ivy’s phone began ringing so she fished it out of her pocket, glanced at the name that filled the screen: Greg. “Most aren’t worth the effort.” She sent the call to voicemail and looked out at the harbor, a haven for her mind that had slipped into a slow tailspin.
Why couldn’t everyone just leave her alone? Wasn’t that why she’d gone to live on an island? To get away from the expectations, the obligations, the influence of people whose opinions she no longer wanted to matter?
Donatella stepped forward, patted Ivy’s back. “Some are, some aren’t. At least today’s visitor has a sexy voice. He may be worth the effort.”
Ivy swept aside the stray hairs falling in her face, tickling her skin. “Doubt it.”
“If he has a cute butt you could at least make him walk up the hill ahead of you.”
Ivy turned to Donatella with her eyes narrowed. “Unless he’s going to let me paint it for my showing, I don’t care about his cute butt.”
“I worry about you.”
“You should worry more about me if I don’t meet the deadline for my show. Fifteen paintings is a tall order. Well, a tall order and a huge opportunity,” she corrected.
The animated wrinkles on Donatella’s face pulled into a taut look of regality and respect. “I’ll turn off the oven and go get the guest. Don’t you worry about it, bellissima. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
“No, no. I’m happy to help. I’m just in a funk. I hate feeling so disconnected. It’s torturous. It’s like craving rich, gooey chocolate cake with all of your being, and it’s right in front of you, only it’s locked away in a see-through, indestructible locked case that you can’t get to.”
“You know what’s good for that?”
“Choosing a different dessert?” Ivy let her pallet fall to the ground, the watery colors splashing down. “But I don’t want a different dessert. I want that damn chocolate cake,” she explained, getting lost in the metaphor and beginning to crave actual chocolate cake.
“A different kind of dessert,” Donatella replied with a purr.
Ivy’s face flushed with a quick sprinkle of pink, then narrowed into a glare, knowing where Donatella’s perky mind had gone. “If you say cute butts or anything pertaining to men, I’m staying put.”
Donatella pressed her lips together, biting back her words, grinning.
“Thought so. I’ll be back,” Ivy announced.
“Want me to take your painting in, tesoro?”
“No. Maybe something fun and unexpected will happen to it while I’m gone. Maybe a magical muse will come along and make it better.”
“You don’t believe in muses or magic,” Donatella called out to Ivy, who was already heading down the hill.
“No, but you do. Maybe it’ll be enough for both of us!” Ivy yelled back.
In skinny jeans worn through in some areas and rolled up at the ankles, an oversized white linen button-up with sleeves gathered at her elbows, and black ballet flats, Ivy trekked down from Villa Blue to the harbor. Forgoing the walk-path and the street with equal fervor, she kicked through the weeds and stumbled over loose rocks like a child working out a temper tantrum.
Why was she making things more difficult for herself? Why couldn’t she just take the road like a normal person?
Because that was to be expected, and she was tired of doing what was expected.
Plus, the path scattered with imperfect pebbles, unruly plants, and occasional wandering bugs was more interesting, she decided. And maybe, in some strange way, the expedition would lead her around the artist’s block. Like a nature guide. A muse, as Donatella would say, leading the way.
No, no. She didn’t want to buy into the thought that something outside of her was in charge of her art. Creativity was a flow; all she had to do was focus, to be in her own space without the distractions of others, and turn it back on.
It sounded simple enough. In practice, it was like trying to water a garden with an elephant sitting on the hose.
As she arrived at the bottom of the hill and started up the main stretch of the pedestrian promenade, she glanced at her simple shoes and tattered jeans, both coated in splashes of watercolor paint and streaks of grass stains.
“At least I look like a damn painter,” she mumbled to herself.
And because she wasn’t watching where she was going, her next step was onto a chewed wad of bright pink gum, perkily propped on a piece of paper, just waiting for her to stomp right on it.<
Ivy moved off the pedestrian path, hopping on one foot to avoid smearing the gum any further, and reached for the paper that was now glued to the bottom of her shoe.
It was an all black business card that had a name in white lettering displayed dead center. Ivy read the name, Warren Townsend, as she slowly pulled it—along with an elastic stretch of gum—from her shoe. Being visually oriented, she glanced over the odd design, checked the backside, and vaguely registered that there was no other information—no email address, no telephone number—only the first and last name.
Concluding that it was created to inspire intrigue, Ivy used the obscure card to scrape away the remaining goo from her shoe’s sole. It would take a lot more than a name to intrigue her.
She finished the task with irritation pressing between her brows, then scrubbed the remnant stickiness away in the dirt, and stepped back onto the path.
Apparently she required a muse to help her around both artist’s block and random bits of bubblegum.
Annoyed with the day, she ignored the fifteen or so tourists that ooo’d and aww’d their way past her, each pointing in different directions at the myriad of—ironically—inspiring views.
Ivy shaded her eyes from the sun and scanned the small handful of exiting ferry passengers for a lone man—the latest guest at Villa Blue. When she spotted the only single man, she noted the layers of wrinkles, the rounded back, the tight grip on the glazed wooden cane.
She approached, her shoe only slightly sticking to the pavement with each step, as she ignored the ring emanating from her pocket. “Welcome to Parpadeo. Here, I’ll take that for you.”
“Well isn’t that nice. Thank you, young lady.” The man tipped the brim of his stylish fedora.
Rethinking the walk back up to the peak of the island, and vaguely noting that Donatella had an interesting gauge of what made for a sexy voice, she led the man to the tidy row of wooden benches. “I’m just going to make a call and have Donatella bring the cart down. I forgot you’d have luggage. It seems I left my brain along with the cart back up at Villa Blue.”