Eden had nowhere in particular to be during the winter break in terms. Last year, she had spent the holidays in Francine Smalls’s home with Gertrude, who was Miss Francine’s niece. This year, Gertrude would be spending the holidays with family friends in New York. So Eden stayed in the boarding house alone while the other girls went to their homes, or on other holiday adventures.
She didn’t mind the prospect of being alone for a few weeks. She had a pile of books she wanted to read—things referenced by her professors and the other students that everyone seemed to take for granted. There were fewer of these this year than there had been last, but Eden still felt she was catching up on the education her classmates had all received before college.
So she spent her evenings before the little hearth in her room, reading and writing letters to Gertrude in New York and her parents and sister in Arizona.
But every week, Eden spent at least one afternoon wandering the Boston Museum of Art and a few small galleries in the city where more recent works were on display or available for sale. Some of the new art intrigued her, but she liked the big museum best. Though she had all but memorized the pictures there, she liked to visit her favorites again and again. And she liked simply to be in the building.
Ever since she had first found the museum in Copley Square, Eden had come to feel that a gallery full of pictures must be to her what a cathedral was to a Roman priest. There was something in the quiet, in the high-ceilinged rooms, in the light pouring through oversized windows that made her feel she ought to bow her head in its presence. Wandering among the paintings, she felt transported to places she had never seen, felt like someone she might have been if she’d been born in another place or another time. Standing before a favorite portrait or a landscape of some distant country, she was as close to entranced as she thought she could ever be. It felt like some great revelation was trying to reach her through the canvases; reach her across time, across space, reach the reality she knew and pull her into some other one she couldn’t quite see or touch.
Dimly, she began to think that what she needed to find it was art of her own making. And Eden’s fingers began to itch whenever they were empty of a pencil.
She had taken up drawing during her first year at Radcliffe, after Gertrude had mentioned casually that it was something the other girls had all done in school. Eden liked to sit at her window and record the changes the seasons wrought on the scene below. She liked to sit in Harvard Square and capture little vignettes from the street. She had taken to carrying about a sketchbook and a pencil instead of a book when she was likely to have idle time, waiting for a streetcar or for a friend to meet her in a café.
Now, behind her almost compulsive need to draw, crept a dream of painting. It was a literal dream. It began that Christmas break and it continued to happen every few nights throughout the second term of the year.
She was standing in the desert alone. It was dark and her head was thrown back to watch the sky. The stars that always dominated the nights in Arizona were shining brightly, but as she watched, they grew ever more crowded until an explosion of light filled the air around her. She held her hands before her face, to shield her eyes, but as she did, her fingers crackled with electricity, like lightening in a storm.
Just as the light became intolerable, it was suddenly gone. She wasn’t in Arizona now. She was in a great, dark room with no light at all. She knew there was a woman somewhere in front of her, though she couldn’t see her. But gradually, she became aware that she was holding a brush in her right hand. She raised it, and as she did, light began to come up on the mysterious woman, beginning dimly at her feet. Eden drew an imaginary outline of the woman in the air and the light moved higher and increased. Finally the woman stood before her, naked, but draped in her own long hair, modestly holding it before her, her eyes vacant and staring into nothingness, like Botticelli’s Venus. But the woman was real. And as Eden’s brush completed its work, and the woman was fully lit, she drew her hands away from her body, holding them aloft like a dancer. She raised her eyes boldly to meet Eden’s across the dark room. “Paint me,” she whispered.
Eden always awoke after the dream with an insatiable hunger for something she had never known. It took her, as often as she could get there, to the museum. But even her favorites were not enough to feed her desire. She wanted her own paint, her own canvas, her own models, her own landscapes… She wanted her own art.