Number 27

Sabine stood back and stared, fondling the old key in her palms until the metal grew warm. As warm as the memories that flooded through her as she gazed upon the door that had opened up to her every summertime. Number 27, the house of her Grandmama, Celestine Charbonneau. 

Her Grandmama was a self taught artist and had shown Sabine how to value the simplicity of life and look for the beauty in everything.  That was Celestine Charbonneau. A woman of soft strength.  She had lost her sweetheart in the battle of Dunkirk.  Though only 16 years of age, she had vowed that she would only marry for love and that her chance in this lifetime, had been taken. But love had come again in a different form.  A simple, hard working tailor, that was her Grandfather.  They’d built a life  together and had a son, Sabines Father.  Her Grandfather had been a sickly man and had stopped working early on in life due to poor health, leaving Celestine to make ends meet.  Instead of wallowing in the hardship that faced her, she poured her passion into her art.  Everyday, from April to September, Celestine would pick up her box of paints, her easel and canvas and sit painting at the harbour wall of Honfleur.   She would break for lunch at her friends restaurant and feast on crabfish gallettes and salad and hang her work for sale on the walls.  As dusk blanketed the day into a purple haze, she would make her way home to her husband, cooking him fresh caught fish from the market that she had purchased with the francs made on her paintings that day.  Sometimes there weren’t any sales and she would make bread for them both to eat instead.   Her bread was beautiful, like her art and the villagers would come of a morning and ask for it.  She began to bake it in the evening and sell it early the next morning from her open window, where her neighbours would line up on the cobbled street.  It helped them to live but she never gave up on her painting. Everyday she would sit and create an impression of the world in front of her.   Even when that world took away her husband at an early age, she would face it with a palette and a brush. 

Sabine could remember the long sultry weeks in August that she spent there, year after year.  It became her cleansing and retreat from the hum drum of her home in Paris and the hectic life of her parents.  Honfleur brought about a magic and ease that could not be found elsewhere and she would sit next to her Grandmama and learn to paint on an old canvas, trying to mimic Celestine’s movements and strokes. 

“No!”  Celestine would shout at Sabine and brush a stroke of paint across her nose from her plump filled brush.
“ You must paint the way that you see the world not how I do.  Only then will you harness your talent.”  She would smile and and talk to her about the colours in the sky. 

“The light is very different here; It is special.  Look at the sky and the water.  The water today is raven blue and pavement grey.  A dark, tainted hue of building sorrow.  Do you see? And yesterday tea time, the sky was mauve and chalky pink and filled with promise. Do you remember how we stared at it as it folded into night?  Tell me what you see, Sabine.” 

Sabine would look around at the little harbour, the boats bobbing on the water and the gulls, unable to be still, hopping and flying from one thing to the next. The people at the market stalls buying food with big wicker baskets on their arms filled with delicious fruits and pastries.  Artists, like her Grandmama drawing and painting; lost in a moment of colour. She would see the sugar man making animal lollipops and know she would get one later on the way home from the stock he hadn’t sold.  Sabine would look at her Grandmama and say, “I see love!” 

She would tilt her head back and laugh and say, “Then paint love, my child.”

Now Sabine was a young woman and growing a life of her own back in the city. A life that even on the greyest and dismal days wore a beautiful hue. Even today, though the palette of her feelings held only the muddiest of colours, she felt the warmth of burnt umber and magenta wash through her from the memories painted in her mind. Pictures of love.   She faltered as she stepped towards number 27, to pack away the life of Celestine Charbonneau, who had, without an ounce of doubt, been the most cherished and beautiful work of art of her childhood. 

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