There’s Always Tomorrow – Episode 33

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

Helen and Larry had gone for a dog walk before dinner, through the fields to where she had found Larry painting on her first day here.

The sun broke through the clouds and the air around them seemed to sparkle with life and colour.

She’d read how light like this could attract artists, like St Ives in Cornwall, or Kirkcudbright on the Solway Firth.

“Larry,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about your paintings.”

“There must be better things to think about.” He smiled.

“Stop it,” Helen warned him. “I want to be serious.”

Larry sighed.

“Must we?”

“Yes,” Helen said firmly. “You’re so self-effacing about your paintings that there’s a danger you’ll never realise how good an artist you are.”

Shrugging off his backpack, Larry gestured to a large boulder where they could sit.

“OK, I’m listening.”

“You are gifted,” Helen continued. “Your beginner’s stuff shows a learning curve, but your later work has soared far beyond that.

“There are two artists in you. A gentle one who has found his voice in painting light and space in watercolour.” She paused.

“Then there’s the second artist, who paints from the gut in oils. Nobody can teach you skills like that.”

“You might be over-estimating me,” Larry warned her.

“I’m not. I’ve been to art galleries; I’ve seen exhibitions. None of them moved me half as much as your paintings.

“You must build on the gift you’ve found,” Helen urged him. “You must look on art as more than a hobby. You’re a serious artist and have only started on your journey.”

“Wow,” he said quietly. “How do I respond to that?”

“By bringing your art from the background to the foreground when you start thinking again about what you want to do with the rest of your life.”

Larry rummaged in his backpack to bring out his flask, a bottle with milk and some biscuits. He even had some treats for the dogs.

“Your Mary Poppins bag,” Helen teased.

Handing over her tea, Larry frowned.

“You want me to take up art for a career? Maybe one day, but that’s not what I want to do now.”

“Then what?” she asked him.

“It’s not easy to explain,” he muttered.

“Try,” Helen prompted him as the dogs settled around them.

“There’s a story my grandad told me. When he was a boy, the biggest day in their year was the local Highland Games.

“There were pipe bands from all around. They would stop about a quarter mile away and tune up their pipes. Then each would march into the field in their tartans, blowing their hearts out with whatever Highland march they’d chosen.

“Behind the pipers and their drummers marched the band’s ‘tail’ – the wives, daughters and mothers who had come to support them,” Larry went on. “Some of the daughters were competing in the Highland dancing.

“They were dressed in their finery, and walked in proudly behind their band, their heads high and their steps light, like ballerinas.”

Helen smiled. Scheherazade was in full flow and she loved the images.

“All afternoon,” Larry continued, “there were runners sprinting up and down the field. The pipe bands took it in turn to play their party pieces.

“In another corner, a lone piper played and the Highland dancers whirled, their kilts swirling, and their feet light as thistledown.

“In the middle of the field were the heavyweight competitions. Tossing the caber and throwing the hammer.” He paused.

“Am I boring you?” he asked.

“Not at all,” she assured him, her mind full of the sound of the pipes.

“There was a man who became the village’s hero,” he continued. “A gentle giant. Year after year, he threw the hammer further and tossed the caber straighter than anybody.

“One day, something went wrong. He tore the muscles in his back and badly hurt his spine. In the blink of an eye, his whole life had changed.”

“Oh, no,” Helen murmured. “What happened?”

“He couldn’t work in the farms,” Larry replied. “The life he knew was taken from him and he limped away from everybody, hiding himself in an old run-down shepherd’s bothy in the hills.”

“For ever?” Helen asked.

“It might have been, but there was a young village lad who had made the ex-champion his boyhood hero.

“One day he went to look for him, and begged to be taught how to throw the hammer, too.”

“And did he help him?”

“Not at first, but the boy kept going back, then one day brought up a throwing hammer and showed the old champion what he could do.

To be continued…

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