Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and two : In class

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Thursday afternoon — 3:47 P.M.
Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado

“What do you do now when you see a painting?” Anjelika asked Nash.

“I don’t know,” Nash said with a shrug. “If it’s something Noelle painted, I look for what I like and tell her. If it’s a painting by Mike — I mean I know he’s a master painter, you know.”

“I do know,” Anjelika said.

“So if it’s Mike’s, I’m more critical,” Nash said. “What could he improve? He says I have a good eye so sometimes he’ll come and get me to see if he missed something. And sometimes he is. Like one time, the subject kind of faded into the background. He was working in the sun so didn’t realize it would fade away inside. I told him that and he fixed it. It’s better now.”

Nash nodded to Anjelika, who smiled at him.

“Very good,” Anjelika said. “I asked Nash first, not to put him on the spot, but because I assumed his experiences with art were like this. He has a painter in the family so he wants to be supportive. He knows a master painter so he wants to help. That’s probably true for all of you, right?”

Anjelika nodded to Noelle, Ivy, Tink, Teddy, and Blane. Wyn was strapped onto Blane’s chest in a baby carrier. The baby’s eyes followed the action. Everyone nodded.

“We live in an era of information,” Anjelika said. “This leads to a sense that we need to know the right and wrong of things. If we experience something, we need to write a critical report. Our job as the viewer is to judge what we see.”

“But isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?” Tink asked.

“If you’re the critic for a newspaper,” Anjelika said. “Art, especially important art, cannot live up to this kind of scrutiny. If you are standing under the Sistine Chapel, looking for the right and wrong of it, you will see a lot. And, over the years, many people have focused on the ‘wrongness’ of the work.”

“They covered over the genitals on the Sistine Chapel almost as soon as the Last Judgement was completed,” Noelle said. She was so excited to have something to say that she couldn’t help but do a little hop.

“This is what I mean,” Anjelika said. “The artist created a masterpiece which was later judged as ‘wrong.’ This is not what art is about. Art is one place where there is no right or wrong.”

Anjelika looked over her little class. They blinked in rapt attention.

“Art is a conversation,” Anjelika said. “There is a painter who says something, and the viewer who receives the information. While it’s true that many, many paintings were created to share ideas — to inform people — most art is about the experience of the art itself.”

“What do you mean?” Teddy asked.

“Art is about feeling,” Anjelika said. “Not judging or thinking. Take this piece.”

Anjelika gestured to the painting on the wall. The picture depicted a wide open blue sky filled with a few cumulous clouds. The sky took up most of the painting while there was a slice of green horizon along the bottom.

“This painting is called, By June the Light Begins To Breathe,” Anjelika said. “It’s by Keith Jacobshagen. Mr. Jacobshagen is famous for his paintings of sky and light. If you look him up on your phone, Teddy …”

Teddy looked up from his phone and Anjelika shook her head. He looked embarrassed and put the phone away.

“If you look up the facts of the painting, you will learn that this painting took Mr. Jacobshagen almost two years to paint,” Anjelika said. “If we were to judge this painting, the first thing we might say is … Tink?”

“That’s a long time to spend on something,” Tink said with a nod.

“Exactly,” Anjelika said. “We might talk about the color of the sky, whether or not he got the clouds correct, or … I’d bet there’s a conversation every Saturday about what exactly is going on in this strip of green grass on the horizon. Is this a field? Are those evergreen trees marking a road or on a creek?”

The kids nodded and shuffled to indicate they were just wondering the same things.

“That’s fine,” Anjelika said. “There is no wrong way to look at a painting. We are not here to merely check paintings off our list. ‘I saw this one and that one. I looked at this other one.’ We are here to experience art.”

She smiled at her little class.

“Now, I picked this painting because I know that you have seen fields like this one,” Anjelika said. “The sky in Colorado is often this color and filled with this very type of cloud. There should not be any new information here for you. Is this correct?”

“I’ve seen it a lot,” Ivy said with a nod.

The rest of the kids nodded. The baby on Blane’s chest gave Anjelika a thoughtful look that made her smile.

“Now, for our practice.” Anjelika took a breath in her nose and let it out from her mouth. “Let’s take a breath through the nose.”

The kids took a breath through their noses.

“And out through our mouths,” Anjelika said. “We try to clear our heads of our curiosities and enter into the conversation with Mr. Jacobshagen. Breath in, breath out. Take in the painting.”

The children focused on the blue and green painting in front of them.

“What do you feel?” Anjelika said.

“Open,” Noelle said.

“Peaceful,” Teddy said.

“Safe,” Ivy said.

“What is this painter trying to say to you?” Anjelika said in a low voice.

“There is hope,” Tink said.

“The world is a big place,” Nash said. “Filled with beauty.”

“Give yourself time to breathe,” Noelle said.

“Look up,” Blane said in a low voice. “Don’t miss the beauty by focusing on the trees.”

The kids turned to look at him and he shrugged.

“Remember, there is no right and no wrong,” Anjelika said. “Ivy? Teddy? What is Mr. Jacobshagen trying to tell you?”

“Get out of the city more,” Teddy said with a nod.

“Ivy?” Anjelika asked.

“I don’t know,” Ivy said. “Just that I’m safe. That’s not more than I said before. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” Anjelika said. “Some paintings you will get a lot of information from and others just a feeling. It’s important to track what you feel so that you can learn about yourself. That’s the point. Art is about the experience, and about learning about yourself.”

Anjelika looked at her class.

“Are we ready to try something more complicated?” Anjelika asked.

Everyone nodded.

“I’d like to stay in this Western American Art Collection because the art depicts things you know about,” Anjelika said. “Before we move to learning new things about new cultures, we must learn how to look and how to feel about art.”

She moved to one of the many brass statues. This statue was of an enormous American bison.

“Those statues are all over Denver,” Teddy said.

“There are a lot of brass statues in Denver,” Anjelika said. “And in Colorado in general. Do you know why?”

She looked at a sea of blinking eyes.

“This statue was created by Alexander Phimister Proctor,” Anjelika said. “You can see that it is called the Q Street Bridge Buffalo. Mr. Proctor is from Canada. His family settled in Denver when he was a child. He grew up like you have — in the Rocky Mountains where he hunted, fished, …”

“And sketched!” Noelle said. “I’ve seen his sketchbook. It’s amazing with flowers and animals and …”

Realizing she’d disrupted the group, she blushed. Anjelika put her hand on Noelle’s shoulder to steady her.

“Noelle is right,” Anjelika said. “Mr. Proctor settled in Colorado when it was a wild place. The museum has a few of his pieces. Take a look at them.”

Anjelika gestured to the bronze statue of the bison and one of a cowboy breaking bronco.

“These are very different than our painting,” Anjelika said. “They are cooler. You might have a harder time creating a connection to the essence of the art. Now, let’s take our breath. Clear our heads. Take in the statue.”

Anjelika walked from child to child finally standing next to Blane. Anjelika gave Blane a grin before saying.

“How do you feel?” Anjelika asked.

“Weird,” Noelle said about the bison at the same time Tink said about the cowboy on the horse, “Scared.”

“Good, very good,” Anjelika said.

She looked around at the children to find Nash scowling at the statue. She touched his shoulder.

“I don’t really like it,” Nash said. “It looks stopped, stiff … and I feel … bored, maybe, like this is just a buffalo.”

Nash shrugged.

“It’s also all right to not like something,” Anjelika said.

“Really?” Nash asked.

“Most certainly,” Anjelika said. “Let me show you a piece that I don’t like. You may like it. That’s all right.”

Anjelika took off walking and the kids followed her to the next masterpiece. While Anjelika talked, Nash tried to do what she’d recommended. He tried to feel. By the fifth piece, he felt like he was getting the hang of it. For the first time, he felt like it might just be possible that he could have a life with Nadia. Smiling, he went to the next piece.


Thursday afternoon — 3:47 P.M.
Castle, Denver, Colorado

Jill looked up from her textbook. She had taken a moment to study at the picnic table in the backyard of the Castle. Edie was hosting a “Plant your feet” class for all of the little kids in the backyard. Delphie was knitting a sweater beside Jill. Jill’s boys were asleep in their double stroller next to her leg. Heather sat at the end of the bench with Mack on her lap.

Katy and Paddie were the teachers helpers. Paddie’s family had to go out of town for the weekend, so Jill was watching a few of the kids that lived with him. The babies had gone with their mother’s but his cousin, Grace, was standing next to the exotic Ooljee, his cousin by marriage. This was Ooljee’s weekend with her Navajo shaman grandparents, so she was just in class until they came to get her. Maggie and Jackie had just met Grace and Ooljee. The girls watched each other with guarded excitement. Of course, Rachel had easily toddled her way through introductions with the new kids and was standing next to Grace.

Edie was a funny teacher. Clearly experienced, she kept the kids entertained while they practiced getting grounded. Right now, the boys were jumping on their right leg while the girls were jumping on their left. Grace kept falling over which made everyone laugh. Katy went to stand next to the little girl to help.

Edie wiggled her finger and all of the kids fell over onto the soft grass. Surprised at first, they fell into gales of laughter which led to an impromptu dance session.

“They are so cute,” Heather said.

“Who knew that getting grounded could be so fun?” Jill asked with a smile.

Jacob came out of the back of the Castle, and Jill winced. He shuffled his feet to her side and sat down at the table. Delphie looked up at him and he shrugged.

“Have the flu,” he said to ease her questioning eyes. “I heard the music.”

Jill covered his hand with hers. He gave her an exhausted smile.

“They look like they’re having fun,” Jacob said.

“Plant your feet class,” Jill said.

“It looks like wiggle your ass class,” Jacob said.

Jill smiled at his joke and Heather chuckled. Delphie continued to give him a searching look. Irritated, he looked at her.

“What?” Jacob asked.

“You seem worse,” Delphie said.

Jacob lifted a shoulder in an angry shrug. After a moment of staring at each other, he dropped his head onto his arms. In a few seconds, he was asleep.

“He seems worse,” Delphie said in a quiet voice.

Jill nodded.

“Has anything helped?” Delphie said in the same voice.

Jill shook her head. Delphie gave her a sympathetic look before looking at Heather.

“Is there anything you can do?” Delphie asked.

“We’ve all done what we can do,” Mike said as he came out the backdoor of the Castle. “I’ve tried. Blane, too. Acupuncture, fishing, massage, everything we could think of.”

“The doctor says he’s fine,” Jill said.

Delphie gave a worried shake of her head.

“The problems is that we don’t know very much about the Sea of Amber,” Heather said. “And when I say ‘we,’ I mean all of Olympia too. I was just there. They know less than we do about the effects of being in the Sea of Amber.”

“Olympia only knows about Olympia,” Delphie said.

“That’s exactly right,” Heather said. “Whatever is known is only known about how it affects us.”

“Did you ever ask Edie?” Delphie asked.

Jill nodded and then shook her head.

“She doesn’t know anything,” Jill said. “That’s what’s so frustrating. I feel like we got into this because of them, and they don’t know anything.”

“Which could be the truth or could be a lie,” Mike said. “Are we sure we’re okay with her taking care of the kids?”

Everyone turned to cast a worried look in Edie’s direction.

“I think that, if there’s something going on, she is not a part of it,” Jill said with more certainty than she felt.

Delphie and Mike looked at Edie and nodded. Heather scowled.

“What is it?” Delphie asked Heather.

“Something I heard,” Heather said. “I was trying to focus on what I needed to do so that I could get home.”

She squinted and looked down at Mack.

“Why don’t you go find Maggie?” Heather asked.

“Maggie!” Mack called his friend as he trotted across the field. “Maggie!”

“We’re here!” Jackie said.

“Come meet, Gracie and Ooljee!” Maggie ordered.

Mack joined them in some kind of dance and roll on the grass game. Heather smiled at her funny child.

“What did you hear?” Delphie asked, her voice impatient with her worry for Jacob.

“I heard that Queen Fand can’t have her child,” Heather said. “It’s stuck in some way.”

“Tanesha said that Fin said that Abi hasn’t had her baby yet either,” Jill said with a nod. “Fin showed up for the test and then disappeared.”

“You think …” Heather gestured to Jacob.

“Probably some stupid power struggle,” Mike said under his breath.

Heather and Jill nodded, and Delphie grunted in agreement.

“Hello?” an elderly woman’s voice came from the driveway.

“I gave Ooljee’s grandparents the gate code,” Jill said as she jumped up from the picnic table.

She put her hand on Jacob’s shoulder. He opened his eyes to look at her.

“They’re here,” Jill said.

“I’ll be right there,” Jacob said.

She went to the driveway to meet Ooljee’s elderly grandparents. A surprisingly spry elderly woman stood next to a man about Mike’s age. Clearly a military person, the man nodded to Jill and stepped forward. Delphie came up behind Jill and spoke to the elderly woman.

“Gando Peaches,” he said.

He held his hand out to Jill. She took his hand and he reacted by staring at her hand. He scowled, but didn’t let go. After a moment, he said, “Thank you.”

As if nothing happened, he let go of her hand and looked at the children. He said something in another language. Ooljee and Paddie looked up. Paddie held up the Sword of Truth, and the man nodded to him.

“You must be Jill,” he said. He turned his eyes to look at her. “I never get used to that sword.”

Jill squinted at him.

“The object itself radiates power,” Gando said. “As do you. Healer?”

“I’m studying to be an interior designer,” Jill said in a wry voice which caught his full attention.

“Caught between worlds,” Gando said with a smile. He looked her full in the face. “I’m a Marine. A shaman. A walker of the path between.”

“Yes,” Jill said.

“Holy crap!” Mike said. “Ganny?”

The man in front of her let go of her eyes to glance at Mike. Then, in a show of surprise, he dramatically fell onto his back. Mike ran to the man, picked him up by his arms, and held him tight. Jill laughed.

“Men,” the elderly women said. “They love so fiercely.”

Jill’s eyes flicked to the woman. A strong fire burned behind her dark eyes. Jill smiled.

“Please,” Jill said. “Come in. We weren’t sure if you’d like to have a bite to eat before you head out.”

“We don’t want to be any trouble,” the elderly woman said.

“My husband and Mike are running the grill,” Jill said. “If you’d like some bison or chicken, we have corn …”

Jill glanced up to the deck and noticed an elderly man with long white hair was leaning over Jacob, who had returned to sleeping on his hands. This white haired man covered Jacob’s right shoulder. His hands seemed to be under the table.

“We …” Jill started again. Her eyes watched the elderly man and she fell silent again. “Would you excuse me?”

The elderly woman put her hand on Jill’s arm.

“Your husband is sick?” the elderly woman asked.

Jill nodded. The elderly woman said something to the elderly man. Gando stopped talking to Mike and looked up onto the deck.

“Who is this man?” the elderly man demanded.

Heather had been standing nearby. She opened her mouth to say something to him, but he waved his hand in front of her.

“Be gone, you are of no help here,” the elderly man’s voice was decisively firm and cruel. Seeing Heather’s surprise, he added, “Goddess, please, do not take offense. This is a matter of urgency.”

The elderly man stood behind Jacob and repeated, “Who is this man?”

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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