A Woman at A Window

A Woman at A Window – Oil on canvas- 22 x 32 inches.

“Happiness, you are the bright red lining
Of the dark winter coat
Grief wears inside out.”

Charles Simic

She had been a ballet dancer as a child. Dancers’ careers are usually brief, so after she retired she taught others to dance. Her students remember her affectionately as “Miss Jayne.” To her family, she was simply Jayne.

The room is in Lugano, Switzerland in her home with her husband, my brother, Tim. It’s an afternoon in July. The painting is about her but can only suggest her elegance and grace. It can only suggest what she is looking at, and what her thoughts might be, all hidden from us. Also hidden is the rest of her family, even though they are close by: Tim is in the kitchen cooking a tortilla española; their son, Jake, sings and plays the guitar and chats with his parents. Daughter Ruth lives in faraway Brooklyn, but in all their thoughts, Ruth is always here.

Not many Julys after this one, Jayne died in the last of her many homes with Tim, this one on an island in Puget Sound, Washington. On one of my visits during the months of her illness, I drew him carrying a bouquet of daphne to put by her bed. In my eyes he was already bearing in silence daphnes of grief.

Months after she left us, I visited Tim again. The house felt empty without Jayne, and yet she was present everywhere: in teacups, blankets, her guitar and her little red accordian, books, the pots on the stove, photographs and paintings, curtains, pens and sheet music, her favorite wine glasses, her chair by the wood stove, a calendar. In every room and corner, nothing hidden, nothing missing, except her.

On the night before I returned to California, Tim quoted one of our favorite poets, Antonio Machado: “In my heart I had the thorn of a passion; one day I pulled it out and now I can’t feel my heart.”

We both understood that more than one thorn remained in more than one heart, including hers. No more words were necessary because none were possible.