I’m not one to rub shoulders with the superrich nor attend their extravagant events, but a free ticket, along with a catalog, had arrived two days earlier inviting me to preview twenty paintings up for auction at the Gallagher’s Museum of Art, about a half-hour’s drive from my home in Clinton. While perusing the catalog, one of the paintings had caught my eye: It had been more than six years since our paths had crossed.
I found the white and red banners, that stretched across the front of the museum, out of character for the old, stuffy building whose rooms are filled with relics and faded tapestries. The banners welcomed all to their annual auction and gala fundraiser.
A college lad dressed in a guard’s gray uniform took my ticket and directed me to the marble stairs to the second floor. Music and laughter echoed through the halls and pulled me into a festive mood. A jazz ensemble played one of my favorite Dave Brubeck’s songs—“Take Five.”
I walked up to the buffet line. A slender woman, wearing a long, French white apron, welcomed me and handed me a plate with two mini bruschetta toasts topped with grilled shrimp under a bed of pesto—famished, I gobbled them down—and a glass of white wine.
Sipping the wine ever so slowly, my eyes darted across the room, trying to spot it. There … it was. A hint of remorse hit me. I was embarrassed for having sold it to raise my share of the money to invest in a swanky, and now defunct, Upper East Side Restaurant. I cautiously approached, and wondered if the painting had been a woman, would she had turned away and pretended she had not seen me.
It hung on a sidewall, alone and away from the other more expensive paintings. And if that weren’t enough of an insult, its light-gray, driftwood frame, which I so loved, had been replaced by a thick, gaudy, cherry wood. I felt for her. She deserved better.
It was Donald Demers’ Going out To Sea. I was lost in her, imagining being the skipper as the crew and I pushed on, ahead of the storm, towards an unknown destination.
Something projected me out of my thoughts: someone had brushed against me. I turned and plowed right into her sending her into a fall. She grabbed my forearm, my hand dropped the empty glass onto the floor, and caught her.
I should have been the one apologizing, for it had been my fault, but she beat me to it. “I beg your pardon,” I heard her say as my hand held her steady. “Thanks.” She tried to make light of her situation. “As my mother would have said, I should have been watching where I was going and worn sensible shoes. I forgot about these marble floors. Sorry, again, and thank you for catching me.” I released her arm.
“Are you all right?” I leaned down and picked up the few things that had fallen from her shopping-size purse. It was the least I could do.
“Yes, thank you.” She said and opened her bag as I gently tossed them in. I smiled and seeing that she was all right, went back to my thoughts.
“I guess you are planning to bid on this painting.”
I turned, but this time more cautiously. “Excuse me,” I said, surprised that she had not moved on.
She pointed her finger. “The painting … are you bidding on it tonight? I noticed you’ve been looking at it for a few minutes. You must really like it.”
“I’m a huge fan. This is one of his earlier works.”
I gave her the once-over. She was a lot shorter and younger than I was—about five feet six and maybe … late thirties. Her brown hair, pulled into a small bun, complemented her green eyes. She wore the standard, navy-blue power suit that all professional women now wore.
“So … are you going to bid on it?”
“Maybe.” Why was she interested in knowing my business?
“Come on … a simple yes or no … pretty please?”
I couldn’t see what harm it would do telling her. I turned my back to the painting. “I guess the answer is … no. I’m not going to bid on it.” It was hard confirming what I think the painting already knew: that she wasn’t going home with me. “It’s a little out of my league. … The starting bid is $100,000. I just came to see it before it goes on someone else’s wall.”
“Sad. The way you are looking at it, I was sure the painting had a new owner.” She turned towards me and gasped. “Oh my God! You were her first owner, weren’t you?” Her expression fixed, her eyes watching for any hint. I felt like a bug under a microscope.