I do not go to the office of the cottage. I do not call anyone. I am not sure why I didn’t call the police, but I know Ms. Brown is dead. I know Leslie killed her. I don’t know who Leslie is. I don’t know why he killed her.
I go to the tripod easel I have built in the corner of the garden. It is made of four pieces of two by four lumber. Three legs, making a teepee, are driven into the ground and nailed together at the top, one board is tacked on the side, making a ledge. I have painted it green to blend in. it is the only thing I ever painted green. I paint in black and white. Those are the colors I understand.
I paint the trees, the cottage, the fountain. I have painted this a thousand times. I do not have thousands or even hundreds of boards painted with this scene. Only a few, three hang in the cottage, one in the church and Ms. Brown has some in her gallery and one she says she took home, though I have never been to her house. I do not know where she lives. I have a couple on the shed, drying, and this one I am painting. I paint over the board with a fresh coat of white paint and then paint it again.
Suddenly, Ms. Brown is standing next to me.
“I thought…” I start.
“No, I am here. That looks very nice.” She says. She is kind. She encourages me.
“But Leslie…” I start again.
“Let’s not worry about Leslie,” she says. Then she is gone. It is getting dark. I put the board away and lock the gate.
I am standing in the gate. I just unlocked it and have my bar and my hammer. A young man approaches me. He has curly blonde hair. He asks for Bella. He is wearing a deep red jacket a red with hints of black in it, more crimson. It is zipped up, his hands are in his pockets. I tell him Ms. Brown is still on the main land. He wants to know if she is coming today. I tell him she will be here later.
He makes to go through the gate. I step aside. As he passes, I get an uneasy feeling.
“What is your name?” I call after him.
He turns and fixes me with his dead looking gray blue eyes and says, “Leslie.”
I think this means something. There is something about this man. I should warn Ms. Brown next time I see her. I see her, she is in her office in the cottage. I almost wave. Then I think, I hope Leslie doesn’t see her. Where is Leslie? How did Ms. Brown get to her office without me noticing her come in from the ferry? I see the door open behind Ms. Brown. It is Leslie. There is a soft patter on her window. Gray and pink. Soft. I hear the softness. Ms. Brown is there, but I know she is dead. I should go see about her. I should call someone. She is dead. I sleep.
I am painting in the garden, from memory, this time, I add the church, where it used to stand. I never paint the chain link fence. I don’t paint it today.
Ms. Brown says, “I sold one of your paintings today.”
“Here?” I ask.
“No, at the gallery, to a man I know. He’s an artist, too. His name is Leslie. You should meet him someday,” she says.
“Oh,” I say, “that’s nice.”
“Yes, it is,” she says.
Ms. Brown is gone. I should work on the gate, but I put the painting in the shed and put the iron bar in the corner of the shed and the hammer on its hook on the wall. I latch the wooden door and go out into the garden. This is my garden. I lock the gate and know tomorrow I will be here again.
Ms. Brown is patient and encouraging, not just to me, but to all of us. She can paint like anything, but she doesn’t. She teaches. She doesn’t teach us like my college art teacher taught me or like the guys on TV teach. She doesn’t teach us to paint like her, because she doesn’t paint. She teaches us to paint like ourselves.
“A poet has a voice, but a painter has a vision,” she says.
“What is my vision?” the girl next to me asks. It sounds stupid. I am so glad I didn’t ask it. I almost did, because I was wondering the same thing. How do I know what my vision is? How do I paint my vision?
One day I was standing near the gate, painting the cottage and the colonnade again and a man I didn’t recognize walked up into the garden from the street. He was obviously a gardener. He said the office had sent him. I told him I didn’t really need any help.
I told him I had been the gardener for years, and that I had enough spare time to tend to the garden and still paint my little paintings. I asked him if he wanted to look at my paintings. He started backing out of the garden, keeping his eye on me.
I told him, if he really wanted, he could help me drive a seat in the gravel for the gate. I told him I had been trying to get to that for a long time now. He turned very pale and ran.
That reminded me, so I put down my brush and went to the shed and got my iron bar and my hammer. When I came back, another man was standing there, which is odd, we don’t get many visitors. This man was maybe thirty, maybe younger, dirty curly blonde hair, red jacket with his hands jammed down in his pockets.
Something made me nervous. I felt like this man might mean harm to something or someone I cared about, but you can’t attack someone with a hammer because they have cold steel blue gray eyes. He asked for Bella. I wondered at that. I had known a long time and she was still Ms. Brown to me. I wondered what this white man, a young man, at that, at least a decade younger than Ms. Brown was doing calling her Bella. I told him she wasn’t here. She was on the main land. He wanted to know if she was coming today. I told him I expected her later. He started through the gate, and I let him by. As he passed me, I didn’t like the bulkiness of his jacket.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Leslie,” he replied.
I should hit him in the head with the iron bar. I know I should, but I can’t hit a man when I don’t know why. I could kill him if I hit him just right. I don’t want to kill nobody. But I know in my heart I should.
Ms. Brown is standing next to me in the garden. I am painting.
“You have found your vision,” she says, “that is beautiful!”
“You mean the garden, or my painting?” I ask.
“Both are, but I meant the painting,” she said.
“Its only a series of lines,” I say.
“All painting is only a series of lines,” she says.
“Yes. But my lines are all black and the background is only white,” I explain.
“Of course, that is your vision, you see it in black and white,” she said.
She is gone. I stand in an empty garden. The tools and the paintings are all put away. It is late.
I am about to leave and a young couple come to the gate. They peer in. I call out that the garden is open and for them to come on in. They are obviously tentative, but they come in.
They are lovers. They hold each other close. I can see the excitement in their eyes, but it is not only love. There is a bit of the goodfunfear one has going on a roller coaster or into a haunted house.
“We heard this place was haunted,” the girl said.
“Haunted? What a strange thing to say!” I replied.
“Yeah, some people say a man and a women died here, and they still haunt the place,” the boy said.
“I have been here a long time. Never no man died here, A woman was shot once, but that was just Ms. Brown. And she’s fine. She was here a little earlier. You just missed her,” I said.
“Bella Brown?” the girl asked.
“Sure, why?” I replied.
The boy and the girl looked at each other.
“You must be the gardener!” they blurted out, together.
“Sure am,” I said.
“Now this is a pretty garden. It isn’t very big, but it is lovely. If you want to walk around in it a bit, you better get to it. Its almost time for me to lock the gate and go,” I continued.
“No, no, we better be going…” they said.
After they left I locked up. I drove the iron bar deep into the gravel, one clanging hammer blow at a time, down into the sand and shell rock crust a few inches down. I must have been sunk in about two feet.
I pulled it out and was about to go to the shed when a man asked me if Bella was here. I looked at him closely. I didn’t know anybody who called Ms. Brown by her given name. I knew it was her name, because I had seen it on forms, she may have even introduced herself as Bella Brown the first time we met.
I don’t remember. It was a along time ago and I didn’t know her then. I was looking for some help with my painting.
I studied his face. Not young, a little sun weathered, but this is Florida. Though he didn’t look like a beach kid. His burgundy wind breaker looked expensive, but old, like it was either his father’s, or he had gotten it at the thrift shop on Sunset, where Palm Beachers tended to dump their old but still nice stuff.
I tried to shop there once or twice, but I am not that interested in clothes and they wanted better money than most thrifts, so I stayed out of there. And they seemed to not particularly want a gardener grubbing through their stuff.
“She’s not here,” I said.
“Is she coming today?” the man asked.
“I expect she will,” I replied.
He came on through the gate. I remembered him.
“You are Leslie, aren’t you?” I asked.
He turned to look at me. I had to stop him. He would shoot Ms. Brown! I raised my iron bar, but before I could hit him, he stepped aside and pulled his black pistol. He fired. I felt like he had hit me with the iron bar. My head hurt.
“At least you shot me instead of Bella,” I said.
“Oh, no, I will shoot you both. I always do,” he said.
He smiled and walked towards the cottage. I tried to cry out but I made no sound. I sat down, holding onto the bar.
I was painting, this time the cottage with only a broken segment of the colonnade, no church, not even all of the stones that were really still there. Ms. Brown touched my arm.
I turned to look at her.
“I thought you were dead,” I said.
“It’s okay,” she said.
“I think that is your best painting, yet,” she added.