Материалы к занятию
Those six paintings—which I casually rolled and stored in the backseat of the car for the ride back home—were the first of dozens, then hundreds, then more than a thousand paintings that we would eventually collect. Though everyone knows of Van Gogh and Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci, Ruth and I focused on twentieth-century American modern art, and many of the artists we met over the years created work that museums and other collectors later coveted. Artists like Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock gradually became household names, but other, then less well-known artists, like Rauschenberg, de Kooning, and Rothko, also created work that would eventually sell at auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s for tens of millions of dollars, sometimes more. Woman III, by Willem de Kooning, sold for over $137 million in 2006, but countless others, including work by artists like Ken Noland and Ray Johnson, also had sales prices that reached into the millions.
Of course, not every modern artist became famous, and not every painting we bought became exceptionally valuable, but that was never a factor in our decisions about whether or not to buy a piece of art in the first place. These days, the painting I treasure most is worth nothing at all. It was painted by a former student of Ruth’s and hangs above the fireplace, an amateur piece that is special only to me. The New Yorker journalist ignored it completely, and I didn’t bother to tell her why I treasured it, because I knew she wouldn’t understand. After all, she did not understand what I meant when I explained that the monetary value of the art meant nothing to me. Instead, all she seemed to want to know was how we’d been able to select the pieces we did, but even after I explained it, she didn’t seem satisfied.
“Why did she not understand?” Ruth suddenly asks me.
“I don’t know.”
“You said to her what we had always said?”
“Then what was so difficult about it? I would talk about the ways in which the work affected me…”
“And I would simply observe you as you talked,” I finished for her, “and know whether or not to buy it.”
It wasn’t scientific, but it worked for us, even if the journalist was frustrated by this explanation. And on the honeymoon it worked flawlessly, even if neither of us would fully understand the consequences for another fifty years.
It isn’t every couple, after all, who purchases paintings by Ken Noland and Ray Johnson on their honeymoon. Or even a painting by Ruth’s new friend Elaine, whose work now hangs in the world’s greatest museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, of course, it’s almost impossible to conceive that Ruth and I were able to pick up not only a spectacular painting by Robert Rauschenberg, but two paintings by Elaine’s husband, Willem de Kooning.
Although he’d been preoccupied with thoughts of Sophia since the night they’d met, they didn’t compare with the obsession he felt the following day. As he worked on some fencing in the far pasture, replacing posts that had begun to rot away, he occasionally found himself smiling as he thought about her. Even the rain, a cold autumn downpour that left him drenched, did little to dampen his mood. Later, when he had dinner with his mom, she didn’t even attempt to hide a smirk that let him know she was fully aware of the effect that Sophia had on him.
After dinner, he called and they talked for an hour; the next three days followed the same pattern. On Thursday evening, he made the drive to Wake Forest, where they finally had a chance to walk around campus. She showed him Wait Chapel and Reynolds Hall, holding his hand as they strolled through Hearn and Manchester Plazas. It was quiet on campus, the classrooms long since emptied of students. Leaves had already begun to fall en masse, carpeting the ground beneath the trees. In the residence halls, lights were blazing and he heard faint strains of music as students began readying themselves for yet another weekend.
On Saturday, Sophia returned to the ranch. They went for a short ride on horseback, and afterward she followed him around as he worked, lending a hand whenever she could. Again they ate at his mother’s place and then went back to his, the glowing fire as welcoming as it had been the week before. As had become usual, she headed back to the sorority once the fire began to burn lower— she wasn’t yet ready to spend the night with him—but the following day, he drove with her to Pilot Mountain State Park. They spent the afternoon hiking up to Big Pinnacle, where they shared a picnic lunch and took in the view. They’d missed the pageant of autumn color by a week or so, but beneath the cloudless sky, the horizon stretched all the way to Virginia.
In the week following Halloween, Sophia invited Luke back to the sorority. They were having a party on Saturday night. The novelty of his profession and their dating status must have worn off since he’d first shown up at the house, since no one paid him much attention after the initial hellos. He kept a wary lookout for Brian, but he was nowhere to be found. On their way out, he remarked upon it.
“He went to the football game at Clemson,” Sophia told him. “Which made tonight an ideal night to visit.”
The following morning, he returned to the sorority house to pick her up, and they walked around Old Salem, taking in the sights, before returning to the ranch for their third weekend in a row at his mother’s. Later, as they were saying good night beside her car, he asked if she was free the following weekend—he wanted to bring her to the place where he’d vacationed as a child, a place where they could ride trails amid breathtaking views.
Sophia kissed him then and smiled. “That sounds absolutely perfect.”
By the time Sophia arrived at the ranch, Luke had already loaded the horses in the trailer and packed the truck. A few minutes later, they were heading west on the highway, Sophia fiddling with the radio. She settled on a hip-hop station, cranking up the volume until he couldn’t take it any longer and switched to country-western.
“I wondered how long you’d be able to last,” she said, smirking.
“I just think this fits the mood better, what with the horses and all.”
“And I think you just never developed an appreciation for other kinds of music.”
“I listen to other music.”
“Oh, yeah? Like what?”
“Hip-hop. For the past thirty minutes. But it’s a good thing I changed it. I could feel my dance moves coming on, and I’d hate to lose control of the truck.”
She giggled. “I’m sure. Guess what? I bought some boots yesterday. My very own pair. See?” She lifted her feet, preening as he admired them.
“I noticed when I was putting your bag in the truck.”
“You’re definitely turning country. Next thing you know, you’ll be roping cattle like a pro.”
“I doubt it,” she said. “There aren’t too many cows wandering around museums as far as I can tell. But maybe you’ll show me how this weekend?”
“I didn’t bring my rope. I did, however, remember to bring you an extra hat. It’s one of my nice ones. I wore it in the PBR World Championships.”
She looked at him. “Why do I sometimes get the sense you’re trying to change me?”
“I’m just offering… improvements.”
“You better be careful, or I’ll tell my mom what you said. Right now, I’ve got her believing you’re a nice guy, and you’ll want to stay on her good side.”
He laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So tell me where we’re going. You said you used to go there as a boy?”
“My mom discovered it. She was out this way trying to drum up business, and she just kind of stumbled on it. It used to be a struggling summer camp, but the new owners got it in their heads that if they opened it up to riders, they could fill the rooms all year long. They made some improvements on the cabins and added some horse stalls in the back of each one, and my mom fell in love with the place. You’ll see why when we get there.”
“I can’t wait. But how did you get your mom to agree to let you take off the whole weekend?”
“I got most everything done before I left and I offered José a little extra to come in to help while I’m gone. She’ll be in good shape.”
“I thought you said there’s always something to do.”
“There is. But it’s nothing my mom can’t handle. No emergencies pending.”
“Does she ever get to leave the ranch?”
“All the time. She tries to visit our customers at least once a year and they’re all over the state.”
“Does she ever take a vacation?”
“She’s not big on vacations.”
“Everyone needs a break now and then.”
“I know. And I’ve tried to tell her that. I even bought her cruise tickets once.”
“Did she go?”
“She returned the tickets and got a refund. The week she was supposed to go, she drove to Georgia to check out a bull that was for sale, and she ended up buying him.”
“No. For breeding. He’s still out there, by the way. Mean cuss. But he gets the job done.”
She pondered this information. “Does she have friends?”
“Some. And she still visits them from time to time. For a while, she was in a bridge club with a few ladies from town. But lately, she’s been trying to figure out how to increase the size of the herd and that’s been taking a lot of her time. She wants to add another couple hundred pair, but we don’t have enough pasture, so she’s trying to find a place for us to keep them.”
“Why? She doesn’t think she’s busy enough already?”
He shifted hands on the steering wheel before sighing. “Right now,” he said, “we don’t have much choice.”
He could feel Sophia’s questioning gaze, but he didn’t want to talk about it and he changed the subject. “Are you going to be heading home for Thanksgiving?”
“Yes,” she said. “Assuming my car makes it. There’s a loud squeaking-whining sound when I start it. The engine sounds like it’s screaming.”
“It’s most likely just a loose belt.”
“Yeah, well, it’ll probably be expensive to fix and I’m kind of on a budget.”
“If you’d like, I can probably take care of it.”
She turned toward him. “Why do I have no doubt about that?”
It took a little over two hours to reach the camp, the sky slowly filling with clouds that stretched to the blue-peaked mountains that dotted the horizon. In time, the highway began to rise, the air thinning and turning crisp, and they eventually stopped at a grocery store to pick up supplies. Everything went into the coolers in the bed of the truck.
Luke exited the main highway after leaving town, following a road that curved steadily and seemed carved into the mountain itself. It dropped off steeply on Sophia’s side, the tops of trees visible through the windows. Fortunately there was little traffic, but whenever a car passed in the opposite direction, Luke had to grip the wheel with both hands as the trailer’s wheels skirted the very edge of the asphalt.
Not having visited in years, he slowed the truck, searching for the turnoff, and just when he started thinking that he’d gone too far, he spotted it off the curve. It was a dirt road, even steeper in places than he remembered, and he put the truck into overdrive as he navigated slowly past trees that were pressing in from both sides.
When he reached the camp, his first thought was that it hadn’t changed much, with twelve cabins spreading out in a semicircle from the general store, which also doubled as the office. Behind the store was the lake, sparkling with the kind of crystal blue water found only in the mountains.
After checking in, Luke unloaded the coolers and filled the water trough for the horses while Sophia wandered off toward the ravine. She took in the view of the valley more than a thousand feet below, and when Luke finished up, he joined her near the ravine, their vision wandering from one mountaintop to the next. Below them was a collection of farmhouses and gravel roads lined by oaks and maples, everything looking miniaturized, like models in a diorama.
As they stood together, he noticed the same wonder on her face he’d felt whenever he came here as a child. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she murmured, awestruck. “It makes me feel breathless.”
He stared at her, wondering how she’d come to mean so much to him so quickly. Studying the graceful outline of her profile, he was certain he’d never seen anyone more beautiful.
“I was thinking exactly the same thing.”