It’s like a large wading-bird, she thinks, studying the easel: see, there’s the long legs and dipping beak; the canvas is its plumage, the colours happening before my eyes.
She stretches, touches brush to painting, asks her sitter to hold the pose. Her subject, an elderly man, sits astride a rock beside a lough. An old Scots lord, he looks the part: tweedy, austere. He grips a book as though absorbed in reading.
The water, trees, sky, seem massive. She strives to capture them, scale them down, make from them, a backdrop to the portrait.
Far out on the lough, a boy in a rowing boat, oars raised, casts overboard a single line. She adds that image, the line curving like a signature, then concentrates on canvas sky: her paintbrush, a bird in flight.
Engrossed, she hardly notices the morning slip away, the light subtly alter.
Let’s take a break, she says. We’re nearly there. Would you like to peep?
The old man stretches, steps around to study the portrait.
What’s that? he growls, pointing to the shape in the background.
The fishing-boat, she says, but when she looks for it, the boat has gone.
Impossible, is the gruff response.
There’s been no fishing on this lough since the wee Burrows laddie drowned a year ago. Yes, come to think of it, a year ago today.