Some weeks later, Genevieve and Kelly sat on the same side of the breakfast table so that they could pass Alexis back and forth between them as they ate, while feeding her. As Kelly held Alexis in his lap attempting to eat his breakfast, Genevieve reached over to her husband’s plate and cut up the sausages into small bites, knowing that he was not going to have a free hand until she took the child back into her lap.
Alexis looked seriously at the bits of sausage and reached out to grab one. Looking up at her father with a scowl on her round face, she seemed to be challenging him to dispute her ownership of the treasure, which she was exploring with her lips as she held it tightly between fingers so small as to make the portion look large. Seeing him smile as she made attempts to dislodge bits of meat from the sausage casing, her face reflected his smile even though she had the sausage firmly pressed against her lips, making the resemblance between father and daughter conspicuous.
“If you want dear, I can come with you and spend the day at the show,” Kelly offered, as Alexis took the remaining part of her sausage and shoved it into her father’s mouth. Alexis giggled so softly it sounded like a kitten’s purr and snatched another bite of sausage and fed it to her father with equal joy.
“Kelly, it’s very nice of you to offer to stay with me all day, but it is about time that I dove into small town life. I just want you to help me set up and then go away until it is time to pack up again,” Genevieve said, watching as her husband began feeding soft scrambled eggs to the child on his lap, she was bemused at the fact that she was more nervous about spending a summer day on the lawn of the courthouse with the citizens of Misty and a few stalwarts of nearby towns, than she would have been going to a club in Harlem by herself.
“Okay, but I will be in town all day. If you get tired you can send me a message and I will come to get you,” Kelly said, not knowing if he were more surprised at his wife wanting to venture out alone, or if he was more surprised that it took her so long to make the leap into small-town life.
“Oh, what have you planned for the day?” Genevieve asked, taking the spoon from him and spooning some more egg into her daughter’s eagerly open mouth, enjoying the look of contentment on Alexis’ face as she half chewed and half sucked the food.
“I will be over at Massey’s Hardware for a good part of the morning. I am going to meet Mr. Dupont there. We are going to go over the catalogues and order the new farm equipment we’ll be needing. I’ll come back and have some lunch with you and Alexis; at 2pm, I will be going with the Massey boys to the Lions Club meeting. You will be able to track me down if you need too,” Kelly said reassuringly. “Call me when you are ready to load the truck.”
“Honey, I think we should put the camper onto the truck, to take your paintings to the show,” Kelly said, as he watched her moving canvases from one side of the room, which long ago was the bedroom of one of the Post girls; setting some of them closer to the door.
“Oh, the back of the truck will be okay. No need to go to all that trouble,” Genevieve said, distracted.
“Genevieve, remember that you are playing the part of a very proud amateur artist today. You have to treat these canvasses as if they were precious. Nearly the same as when you send canvases to the gallery,” Kelly pointed out.
Genevieve stopped her action and looked at her husband for a moment. “Yes, you are right. But we can’t use the mover’s rugs that I use for the good stuff. That wouldn’t be in character. I will have Eileen get out some of the old comforters to use for padding.”
By the time that Kelly tended to the truck and came back into the house, he found ten canvases of various sizes sitting in the studio near the front door, beside a pile of quilts that may have once been the pride of old Mrs. Post’s sewing circle.
After loading and padding the canvases into the back of the pickup, he went in search of his wife, finding her in the kitchen, tying a bonnet under Alexis’ chin. Eileen was closing and latching a wicker basket, which the capable woman filled will all the substance that Genevieve would need to survive her first arts and crafts show.
Kelly smiled at his wife, seeing she was wearing what she liked to call her small-town housewife uniform, a shirtdress, sensible heels, a cardigan, and pearls. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that she looked a little bit more like she stepped out of a TV drama about a small town, than an actual small-town woman.
“Nervous? Are you sure you want me to just leave you there?” Kelly asked as he pulled up to the curb outside the courthouse. He could see several other exhibitors who had already arrived and were setting up. Kelly liked the area around the courthouse, which he always thought of as a park, with its wide sidewalks and expanses of grass, liberally dotted by stately trees.
“No, I am ready,” Genevieve said, not truly feeling ready to expose herself to the town alone for the first time. She hugged Alexis tighter to her, though the child was wiggling, wanting to stand up in the seat and see the activity on the courthouse lawn.
“I see that the area I asked be kept for you is still open,” Kelly said, indicating an area near the sidewalk fence, where they could prop the canvases up against the fence and the nearby trees.
“It looks just right. I can put my chair and table in the middle and you can pile up some of the blankets for Alexis to nap on,” Genevieve said, with a worried look on her face.
“What is the matter dear?” Kelly asked, seeing the look.
“Where is the restroom?” she asked, blushing slightly.
“Oh, it is in the basement of the courthouse. Don’t worry, they have left it unlocked for the show,” Kelly assured her.
While Kelly and his wife sat in the truck talking, the other exhibitors and a few early bird attendees where watching, while trying to not appear to be watching. They watched with approval as Kelly hopped out of the truck and came around to the passenger door to help Genevieve and Alexis out. They watched with approval, as he started to move the wrapped objects from the truck. They whispered among themselves, noting that the objects were the right size to be the rumored paintings, though some of them seemed surprisingly large. They watched with approval as Genevieve took the wrappings off the first canvases and placed them leaning up against the fence. They watched with disapproval when they realized that the quilts, so cavalierly treated, were once the envied production of Old Mrs. Post and her girls. Their disproval deepened when they saw the city woman toss the quilts on the ground and arrange them in a nest for her toddler. They watched surprised that the child, once told to stay put, sat quietly and watched her parents finish setting up the display area and return to the truck to get the folding chairs, table and basket. They watched with approval as Kelly walked back to the truck with Genevieve, getting ready to drive off; leaving the city woman for them to approach as they wished, with whatever degree of civility they chose to use. They watched eagerly as the couple said goodbye.
“Okay, I will be back at four to take you home. If you decide that you want to go home early send me a message. With all the kids around here, it shouldn’t be hard to get one of them to play messenger” Kelly said, through the open driver’s side window, as Genevieve leaned on the door, and reached out to lightly stroke her husband’s face with the tips of her fingers.
“Thanks, Kelly, but I am sure it will be okay. Just come back when you have finished your day, and have fun!” Genevieve said, bemused at her husband’s need for his time out with the boys, thinking how different it was from New York, when Kelly’s boys’ night out usually ended up with him being thrown out of a jazz club somewhere, and coming home in a taxi, to spend the morning sick in the bathroom. Now, he might just come home a little jumpy from too much coffee. Watching her husband drive off, down the quiet street, toward his day, she found that she liked this aspect of the small-town life.
Genevieve walked back to her display area, got comfortable in her chair, and started talking to Alexis, helping the child say new words. Her heart was pounding. She was afraid that someone would come talk to her. She was afraid that no one would come. Longing for and fearful of attention from these people that she avoided for so long, she could feel her color rising. Realizing that she was becoming flushed, she hoped that people would think it was from the heat of the day, and not from nerves. She forced herself to raise her head and look around, willing herself to be calm.
As Genevieve sat watching the town’s people milling around and the various exhibitors showing their wares, she realized that people were leaving their exhibits, disappearing into the courthouse basement, going across the street to the diner, or just visiting with other exhibitors, leaving their display’s unattended, and even leaving cash boxes on the tables. “I am not in the city any more,” she thought to herself, smiling, and found herself relaxing even more.
She hadn’t realized that others were observing her as closely as she was examining them. When they saw her relax, set back in her chair, and smile, first one and then another ventured over and began talking to her about her work.
“Oh, now Mrs. Archie, I heard that you painted, but oh, my, my. No one told me you were so good,” Kara Cribbs gushed, as she stared at the large canvas, depicting the old farmhouse that was not too far from the Archies’ house, which the Post family built new.
“Why, I am so glad you like it. As soon as I saw the old house I realized I had to paint it,” Genevieve said, enjoying the sensation of talking about her work, without having to explain the meaning behind it. To have someone just like a painting, without analyzing it was such a fresh idea to the artist, she found herself beaming at Kara.
“I notice that you haven’t put a price on it,” Kara commented.
“Well, I didn’t know what to charge. I have never been to a show like this. So … well this was Kelly’s idea, He made a list with all the paintings on it,” Genevieve said, remembering to call her works paintings, rather than canvases. “So if someone wants to buy something, they can write down what they are willing to pay, and put down their name. If someone is willing to pay more, they strike out the first number and put in their own. At four I will sell the paintings to whoever writes down the most,” Genevieve said, though the idea was all her own, and she was somewhat worried that Kelly would disapprove of the method.
“Why isn’t that just the quaintest idea?” Kara remarked.
“I figure it is a good way to find out how much things like this are worth. Kelly calls it a Silent Auction,” she said, as if bubbling over with pride at her husband’s inventiveness. Genevieve had listened well when Eileen coached her on the small town norms, which encouraged women to put their husbands first.
“Your Kelly was always the smartest boy in school, but aren’t you afraid that people will not bid enough for them?” Kara asked.
“Oh, no, I would just be happy knowing that each and every one went to people who really wanted them, regardless of what they could afford,” Genevieve said, knowing that people were going to show off how much they could afford, since all the bids could be seen.
“Well, I am going to put down my bid for that lovely old house right now,” Kara exclaimed.
Kara Cribbs went off to talk to her friends and brag about the price she offered for the large painting of the old farmhouse covered with wisteria vines and surrounded by high grass. As she passed among her friends bragging, her friends made their way over to Genevieve’s area, and carefully wrote down bids they thought would empress their friends and beat their enemies.
Genevieve smilingly answered their questions, whether they were about the paintings, or about her family, and the farm. Most of the townspeople were charmed by her and went home to announce that Kelly Archie’s wife, wasn’t stuck up at all, but just very shy, and didn’t break out of her shyness until she started talking about her paintings or her little girl.
“Hi, honey, I am sorry I am late getting here. Let’s get your stuff packed up and be getting home. … Where is all your stuff?” Kelly asked, looking around and only seeing Alexis, sleeping on the quilts next to the chair and table, which Genevieve folded up in anticipation of her husband’s return.
“I sold it all!” Genevieve said happily, proudly clutching her cash box, which held a fraction of the money that she would have made from a single canvass sold in a gallery.
“All ten of them?” Kelly asked, surprised. “How did that come about?”
“Oh, I did a silent auction. I figured that if they went cheap it would endear me to the locals, but if they went high I would have a better impression of their taste in art,” she said laughing quietly as not to wake the sleeping child.
“Well, it was a good idea. How much did you get? Not much I am guessing,” Kelly said, figuring that all the locals got some really good bargains.
“Actually, they went for about $200 for the smaller ones to $800 for the largest,” she said smugly.
“Wow, it more than pays for the materials,” Kelly said, having been bothered about the expense of producing the non-commercial paintings, and the space they took up in the storage room. “You don’t have any regrets about selling them?” Kelly asked, knowing that he wife was attached to her works, even when they couldn’t be sold in New York.
“No, it isn’t like I just painted over them to reuse the canvasses, like I did when I couldn’t buy new canvass. That really broke my heart. Now I know that each and everyone one of them is going to be loved by the person who bought it,” Genevieve said happily.
“I thought we brought a lot more quilts,” Kelly said as he hoisted the bundle into the back of the truck.
“That is right. I sold a bunch of them too,” Genevieve said, happy to have returned some of the quilts to the women whose mothers’ worked on them with old Mrs. Post.
“No kidding, I wonder what else in that attic could be sold,” Kelly said, not realizing that it would be years before the subject crossed his mind again, as he helped Genevieve get the sleeping child settled into the truck between them before driving home.