|La Dame Rouge
Author: Vivaldia PM
The discovery of a mysterious painting in her grandmother's attic leads Nadia to investigate. As the painting's history unfolds, a number of surprising events are uncovered, along with a tragic romance. Set in Marrakech at the turn of the 20th century.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Chapters: 6 - Words: 7,504 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 11-10-10 - Published: 08-17-10 - id: 2839237
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The ladder creaked precariously as Nadia climbed it.
"Are you sure this is safe, Mum?" she asked.
"It's fine, it's been there for years," her mother replied.
"That's my point," she mumbled as she peered up through the hatch of the dark attic. "Is there a light?"
"Should be on the left."
Nadia felt her way gingerly through the air, cringing as she felt cobwebs gently knotting themselves around her fingers. There was a loud click followed by a buzz and a flicker as the single light-bulb came on.
"Wow, it's quite big isn't it?"
"Just be careful when you get in there, there's loads of stuff scattered everywhere. We'll have to get some bin-liners to clear it all."
Nadia pulled herself up through the hatch and stood in the cosy loft-space of her grandmother's house. It had been two weeks since she had passed away, and now she and her mum had come to attempt to organise the contents of her house, a task which didn't particularly thrill Nadia. But the promise of a party for her eighteenth birthday was more than enough of an incentive for her to volunteer.
There was something quietly magnificent about the modest treasure trove that awaited her in the attic. Old newspapers, boxes of photographs, toys, even a mannequin, which frightened the life out of Nadia when she saw it and caused her to yelp. She thought it most charming that her mother just laughed.
She was only glancing briefly at objects before she passed them down through the hatch to her mum. Although historical things always interested her, cobwebs and lurking spiders did not. She wanted them wiped before she would look at them.
One by one, the boxes and paraphernalia disappeared from the attic, until one box remained.
"Just one left now, Mum. I'm knackered."
"Have you looked around the side? There's a bit behind the pillar I forgot to tell you about. You'd better check it. I don't want the house's new owners to phone up angrily saying they've found one of your nutty grandmother's mannequins."
Nadia crouched under the limited roof space and stepped carefully into an annexed part of the attic, where the light of the dimming single light-bulb could not quite reach.
"Mum, I need a torch. I can't see a thing around there. I don't think there is anything there though. Can't I just come down?"
"No, you need to check it," her mum replied.
An object flew up through the hatch and landed on the plywood plank flooring. "There's your torch," her mum added.
Nadia sighed and picked up the torch. She slowly manoeuvred herself around the pillar and stood at the entrance to the annexed section. She shone it on the walls and moved it along slowly.
"Nothing here mum," she said. But literally as she uttered the words, the reflection of the torchlight from a crumpled bin-liner caught her eye.
"Oh hang on, there's a bin bag. It's got something in it."
The large square-shaped object in the bag was clearly a painting. She opened the top and shone the torch on the top section of the frame and grew intrigued by the oranges, pinks and purples she could see.
"It's a painting. Don't know what it's of yet."
"Bring it down then. Is that the last thing?"
"Yeah, that's it."
Nadia handed the painting down to her mum and closed the hatch. She went to investigate the painting but was halted.
"No, you can check it out later. We're taking everything to the car first, come on."
Nadia sighed heavily. It took hours. Figuratively speaking, of course. It was more like forty minutes in reality. Even so, it felt like ages before Nadia managed to sit down and open the packaged painting. She gently pulled away the black bag and blew away the dust.
"Bugger me," she said, barely noticing the slap on the shoulder her mother gave her straight afterwards.
"Don't swear," she said sternly.
The painting was stunning. It was painted mostly in reds and oranges, with purples and pinks denoting a dusky sky in the background. In the foreground was its subject, a woman, painted from her head down to her chest. She was dressed colourfully in an exotic-looking headscarf and tunic. Her face was beautiful and her expression pleasant. Wistful and reflective, Nadia thought.
"What do you think all that red stuff on her face is?" she asked her mother, referring to paint or dust which seemed to be smudged onto the woman's cheeks, lips and forehead.
"I don't know. Is there any writing on it?"
Nadia traced the edges of the painting and came across a faint inscription at the bottom.
"It says 'La Dame Rouge', Marrakech, 1900.' Marrakech is in Morocco, isn't it?"
"Yes. She looks a very Moroccan lady, doesn't she?"
"Why does Gran have a painting of a Moroccan lady in her attic?"
"I think I heard her mention something once of a connection to Morocco in the family. Decades ago. One of them was a sailor there, or something like that. Maybe it's his painting."
Nadia scanned the opposite side of the painting and was excited to see initials scribbled hastily in the corner.
"Oh look! It says 'R.N.' Who do you suppose 'R.N.' is?"
"Oh goodness only knows, Nadia. Come on, put it in the car. We need to get home now."
Nadia spent the entire evening gazing at the painting. Mystery and intrigue emanated from it in waves and with each second she examined the detail and small imperfections in the brushstrokes and colours, she grew more and more in awe of it. Who was this 'Dame Rouge'? Or 'Red Lady' as her classroom French informed her. Who was the artist, 'R.N.'? Was he a member of her family? Was the lady herself an ancestor of hers? Nadia had always thought she looked quite dark – darker than one would expect from a boring English family. Not even her parents were that dark. But her Gran had been. It started firing her brain with endless ideas and possibilities. She yearned to find out.
She would find out.