CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Faces in Charcoal
“Last day,” thought Aoife as she sat up. It was the second day of September, and the next day they were travelling back home to Pentingdon, to be ready for school later in the week.
She felt sad to be leaving this wonderful place and possibly not returning after her honeymoon in November; sad because her wonderful summer was nearly over. Sad to be saying goodbye to Élodie and her sisters for some months to come; sad that she was saying goodbye to an era in her life – the era of being strong for her younger cousins, to which she had been accustomed for some years without regret; sad because she would not see Vinzent for the ensuing week, as he would be arranging for his stored furniture to be shipped to England and installed in the pretty cottage where they would begin their life together.
Yet she was also happy; happy because this holiday had given her valuable friends and experiences; happy that Delia was so well now and the family had bonded together again; happy to have rediscovered the joys of closest family in the unexpected arrival of her parents and brother; happy because now she was rich with the pure friendship and sincere honesty around her. The Achensee had opened her eyes, deepened her character, enhanced her inner and outer beauty.
She went down the stairs in a sober mood. It would be good to get a last painting session in today. But no; there was the packing, and the children would certainly demand a final expedition. Never mind. Putting one’s own wishes aside was something Aoife had mastered years ago – perhaps even from the event of her birth.
She had been forced to occupy herself for hours in her early years, when her parents lost track of time in the throes of their painting. They scarcely noticed if she went to a friend’s house or to the cinema, or rode her bike to the sweet shop a mile or two away. They scarcely cared when she struggled for hours trying to do her maths homework or, when she was smaller, tried for minutes to open a packet of crisps before she surrendered, and toddled off to find the scissors in the second drawer down beside the kitchen sink. They did not notice what time she went to bed, or how she managed to get to school on time every day, or when she made her own dinner in the week. Their strictest rule was quiet when they were working in the studio, and the second strictest was family dinner on Sundays, a decree which had been enforced in the Thimble families for generations.
She had lacked that crucial supervision, and if she had not been a good, responsible child, and had been allowed to continue in that way for her teen years, she would doubtless have turned out to be an independent rebellious horror.
So coming into the household of her cousins, where she was truly loved and where there was never a moment of boredom, where everything was closely monitored, it was sometimes stressful and busy and confined and she missed the ambiguous presence of her inattentive parents – but most of the time Aoife cried because she was so happy.
She had no difficulty in pushing away her own wants. She knew from experience that it was more pleasurable to give in and do the activity favoured by her companions than to make a fuss and live in guilt for the lengthy duration of the excursion.
What mattered was spending time together and talking and laughing and having a good, profitable time. Aoife knew that. If only everyone did. But then no one would ever make any real decisions. Or would they? Aoife also knew that there were certain things not to pass, certain things to believe in whatever the odds, certain things that truly were important not to merely grin and shrug at.
Oh, the world! What without diversity? And knowledge! Who knew everything? What had the perfect balance of everything? Aoife was happy with the way she was with a good degree of modesty, but she knew she was not ideal. She was not perfectly balanced. But if everything were perfectly balanced, wouldn’t everything cancel out and x equal nought?
Aoife shook her head. She did not possess a mathematical brain, but that strangely fascinating observation was a favourite one of her friend Alicia, who was an imagination-less scientist and mathematician, and Aoife couldn’t help but wonder if maybe she was right and the perfect people were really nothing. Aoife thought the Buddhist belief of enlightenment was an empty oblivion. Nirvana was meant to be perfect. So was perfection really a vacuum, a false belief, an airless void, a thoughtless illusion? Was perfection really defined by imperfection, the faults and the flaws of the loved and valued?
She didn’t know. She didn’t even want to know. There was never enough time for thinking hard or deep enough to reach the answers, and even then, wouldn’t they be empty and useless – like enlightenment, the Void of Needlessness?