Sunlight coming through the uncurtained French doors woke me up. I couldn’t see the water—the tide was already too far out—but my old wooden chair was calling me nonetheless. I pulled on a robe and took a cup of coffee out to appreciate the morning. Ah, home.
Home? Hadn’t I just come from home? Well, yes, but. That was home for a different me. And although Mom’s cooking was just passable, the repartee had been as delicious as I remembered. And the TV here STILL didn’t work, although the satellite people promised me they’d be out this week, particularly when I threatened to firebomb their offices if they weren’t. But yes, I already thought of this as home. Strange.
Sabrina was off Mondays—damn! Was this my wedding day and I’d forgotten about it?—so I made my own breakfast and started into my chore for today: go through George’s studio.
I couldn’t imagine that Adeline was remotely interested in selling any of the artwork, but I’d promised Jerome I’d see if there were other George Foster originals. So first I toured the rest of the house, checking the paintings hanging in the other rooms to see if any might be his. None were. But the one beside the computer desk, a watercolor showing two black crabbers out working their traps at dawn, was signed “Lacey Simpson” (I probably wouldn’t have recognized the signature if I hadn’t seen it on a half dozen other paintings the previous Friday). I compared it with the signature in the erotica book to confirm, not that I needed it. OK, that sealed it for me—I moved “find Lacey Simpson” to the top of my to-do list.
There were two other G. Fosters on the walls in the studio. One was a boat being launched from the same ramp where I’d met Joe and Ollie, the other a pelican perched on an old post out in the water. Both were quite well done, but neither had that touch of greatness that had driven Jerome to buy the two paintings of the woman. Four other finished canvases leaning against the wall fell into the same category.
The half-finished painting on the easel might have ultimately have been kissed by the muse, if only George had completed it before he disappeared. An unfinished figure who was almost certainly the same woman, holding the hand of almost certainly the same child, was waving at something out in the ocean. The scene had been composed so that the viewer was looking at their backs and out at the sea with them. Without their faces showing, it would have been hard to capture the same magic that the portraits did. Still, there was a hint of the dynamic tension in their bodies that was to come, both with the application of the rest of the paint and with the arrival of whomever they were waving at. The ocean and the rocky shore were mostly finished, although there was an undefined patch of sea, as if George hadn’t yet decided what was out there that had excited them so.
Even unfinished, the painting evoked some small sense of jealousy in me. I wanted a woman to feel that way about me. She didn’t have to wait for nine years like Penelope did for Odysseus, carefully unraveling the shroud she’d woven during the day. But at least someone to exhibit that sense of joy that I was coming.
Rick, you idiot. You’re being utterly ridiculous. You want somebody to exhibit wild uninhibited joy, call up Missy Pierson. But after awhile I turned the painting around so I wouldn’t have to look at it while I was working in the studio.
There were five identical, bound sketchbooks that I’d missed the first time. I didn’t even know such things existed—I thought sketchbooks were all wire bound by design so you could tear the pages out—but apparently not. These were like journals except slightly larger than standard letter-size and the paper was thicker and textured.
The first two were utterly uninteresting. Studies for the kinds of paintings that Jerome would have redirected on down the road. But about halfway through the third one, the island showed up.
There were 61 sketches or studies of the island. Twenty of so from a distance, like the “Avalon” painting on the wall. The rest were closer; at least half had to have been done while standing on the island. A half dozen showed a circle of small standing stones. I surmised that the stones were the “unidentified objects lighter that the green background” on the Avalon painting.
The existence of sketches strongly suggested that the island was real and not in some book. Although it didn’t prove it to the degree necessary for inclusion in my report. Not that proving it would be necessary if I found George at Lacey’s house, which was still in my opinion the odds-on bet. But still.
The woman first appeared in the fourth book. Dozens of sketches. Some largely complete, some just outlines or studies of a hand position. She was markedly pregnant in the early ones, then holding an infant as often as not. Once she appeared the first time, she was in every single study until they stopped, three quarters through the fifth book.
The last few filled pages were studies for the unfinished work on the easel. Two showed the child in more detail. Three or four years old, garbed in a simple ankle-length dress. Long, loose hair, suggested by the pencil treatment to be dark—unlike the golden tresses of the older woman who I assumed was her mother. Huge eyes, no hint of a smile.
Was it possible that George Foster was the father? Perhaps they were living together in some hut on the mysterious island marked by the red pin, nourished by fish and love. And that George himself had named the island Avalon from his love of Arthurian lore. But I quickly discarded that wonderfully romantic but rather naïve notion. Surely his boat would have been spotted had that been the case. Not to mention that the practical George would have returned to his cottage for more clothes sometime during the last six years.
I suspected that Jerome would pay a tidy sum for the last two sketch books, but Adeline would never consider it. This was a part of her father she’d never suspected even existed. If I didn’t actually locate him—I still believed that I was going to, but there was a significant chance I wouldn’t—she’d want to immerse herself in the manifestations. At least until she’d come to a place of peace with it all.
I also needed to start asking around to see if anybody recognized the woman. The idea made me intensely uncomfortable, like I would be grossly violating their privacy. But it had to be done. Fortunately, we newspapermen can be astonishingly insensitive when the situation demands it.
I found one other item of interest in the studio. A book that, according to George’s fixation on order, should have been shelved in the living room with the rest of the New Age Religious Studies. The Ancient Secrets of the Druids. And bookmarked was a picture of the island on the wall.
That disappointed the shit out of me. Here I was ready to get on a boat and head out to this mysterious place to discover the secret of the golden-haired woman, and it came from a freaking book. In a chapter entitled “Avalon,” no less.
The legend under the picture read, “Artist’s conception of Avalon, based on the true account of the Sacred Seven of the Reborn Brotherhood of the Druids (see below).” So I saw below to see what the hell they were talking about.
Avalon was the spiritual heart of Naturala, the pantheistic paganism that was the soul of the British Isles from about 4000 BC until the Christians finally destroyed the last remnants in the 8th Century AD. The Romans had earlier conducted a half-hearted if brutal campaign to eliminate the druids, although their efforts were more political than spiritual, particularly since the British Romans were of mixed faith. The location of Avalon remained a carefully guarded secret from both the Romans and the Christians. Even inhumane tortures at the hands of early forefathers of the Jesuits did not uncover the secret.
Some claim that the tor at Glastonbury is really the isle of Avalon. That bit of misdirection has been around for more than 800 years, since the powers spiritual and temporal affected the Arturus Rex scam on an ignorant and superstitious populous. Subsequent epic poems perpetrated the hoax. In the Arthurian romance cycle, Joseph of Arimathea visited the isle and planted the holy thorn; since there is a thorn bush that supposedly grows only in Jerusalem living on the Glastonbury tor, of course it must be the same place. But consider this: the one undisputable fact that we know about Avalon is that it was covered with groves of apple trees, from whence it got its name. And there is not one reliable shred of evidence that apples ever grew on Glastonbury tor before modern times.
So where is Avalon? The answer may surprise you.
In the dying days the last of the line of the descendents of Merlin sank the island beneath the sea, using the same power of focused energy loci that had been used to displace Atlantis centuries before, and to a lesser extent, to raise the massive trilithons at Stonehenge. This was done both as an act of love and to preserve Avalon’s sacred mysteries, including the corpora of Arthur and Merlin, which had been placed in suspended animation centuries before, from desecration. Until the world once again had need of heroes, not to mention the skills to raise the island from its watery sanctum.
Some may scoff, asking scornfully, “And where is the evidence of that?”
On the most powerful of days, the feast of Beltane, in the most powerful year this millennium, 2000 A.D., a group of seven of the most powerful priests and priestesses of the Reborn Brotherhood of the Druids cast a circle to communicate with their seven predecessors who had sunk the isle beneath the waters. A strong link was established, and the answer was clear and unequivocal. Each of the latter seven wrote his own vision of the event, and every one matched in every particular.
By then I could no longer control my own gag reflex, so I quit reading. I mean, I know that people believe some really strange things. For example, there are still many people today who believe that a single human being named Noah, assisted only by his three kids, put two of every species of animal (currently estimated at 1,900,000 but believed to be considerably higher) in a boat 440 feet long, 73 feet wide, and 43 feet high? And from the contents of his bookshelves, George Foster was obviously an Arthurian aficionado bordering on fanatic. Avalon would have been a sacred metaphor for him. But George was best known for his logical orderliness. No way was he buying that “vision of the sacred seven of the Reborn Brotherhood of the Druids” bullshit.
I tentatively decided that for some reason not apparent to me, he liked the picture and used it as a model for his own vision of Avalon. Although I put it on my personal list to ask him when I found him.
Thumbing through the book, I noted that each chapter had a different author; the prose swung between clear description and dispassionate analysis to outrageous New Age woo-woo (such as the Avalon chapter). Toward the back I found a section on the Sacred Wheel containing a picture that resembled the layout in the woods out back. Happily, this was penned by a writer on the clear and dispassionate end of the spectrum. The chapter mostly confirmed and expounded on what Wikipedia has said. But one subsection gave instructions on how to “walk the wheel.”
So believing in nothing and expecting nothing, I went out and walked the wheel. Held the image of the golden-haired woman in my mind as I did so. Looking for insight, understanding, or at least peace.
I came away without a trace of insight or understanding. But one out of three will earn you a handsome salary as a major league baseball player.