“Camille’s Tea” is a submission for the Argus Arts Section’s November Fiction Series. Each Argus issue in November will contain either an excerpt or an entire student story submitted to the contest. Be sure to check the next issue for more fiction!
Camille whispered to her paintbrushes. She tried this whenever she found herself in a creative drought. Her room looked rather like an art piece itself. The walnut stain on the wooden floor had become indiscernible; there was too much spilled paint, hardened over years of inattention. She had pieces of papers taped on the walls of her room. They were frantically scrawled lists and ideas, words or drawn images that inspired her. Camille’s looping cursive always tilted downward; eventually creating more of a curve than a straight line. It was as if she kept forgetting the paper was ruled. Camille was always afraid she would forget her ideas, or worse, that she might run out. She was oddly comforted by the multitude surrounding her.
Camille had a dozen charcoal sketches unfinished. To her left sat a portrait of her cat, Suki, who had been too uninterested to sit still. Camille drew everything except the tail, her favorite part of Suki. She loved the easy way it curled and uncurled itself. How simply it told Camille what Suki was feeling. How reliable it was. To her right, a portrait of her cousin stopped just at the nose. She couldn’t get the crookedness right. A portrait of her mother had only half of its hair because Camille was sure the curl pattern was not the same. Camille did not want to look at her charcoals anymore. She did not want to be around their incompleteness, was afraid they would doom her next portrait. She flipped them all over so they faced the floor.
Camille hoped her paints would be more forgiving. She tried to coax something out of her brushes, anything that would feel right. But the indigo she kept placing on the canvas would not hum. Camille was used to the hum, the way she could place her hand over the canvas and feel the heat of something alive. By the end of a successful piece, Camille’s entire house was vibrating. Camille’s hand hovered over the portrait one more time, waiting to feel the warmth but it was still cold. She chucked her brush against the wall. It broke.
The sound of a page turning reminded Camille that she was not alone. Camille was so busy thinking about her art that she forgot about Andy. He was sitting on her bed comfortably; reading something she assumed was too complex for her to understand. He was quiet. Camille could remember the countless times he scared her by entering a room too silently. Andy could talk to her forever, about anything, but when they were not engaged, he was thinking. It seemed he spoke only when he had something important to say. Camille was the opposite. The work around her showed all of the empty noise she could make. If Camille could see the way that she was invariably connected to the things she made, that she was not separate from her art, but of it, she might be inspired. If she could see the way her surroundings reflected this, she might be proud. But she was not fortunate enough to have that view.
Andy closed his book and looked at Camille. Her frustration was not lost on him. He could not help but notice how incredibly beautiful she was. Her hair was piled on top of her head, but tightly wound curls fell to frame her face. Her fingertips were dark black from the charcoal, like she had dipped them into space. Maybe it was the fact that the green of Camille’s eyes reminded him of the first real trip he took alone. Every time he looked into her eyes, lush hills, rolling and endless, appeared before him. It was the first time he had seen anything beautiful by himself. And perhaps selfishly, he savored the fact that this memory was his alone. Camille was like this memory. He wanted her to be his.
Andy was in love with Camille. He noticed Camille’s beauty all the time, but there was something about Camille lost in a sea of her own art. He thought her pieces were stunning. Camille knew how to unearth the character of a person in a portrait. In the one of Camille’s mother, the left corner of her mouth is raised just slightly in a smirk. The smirk told him that she was sharp, but not in any way that intrigued Andy. Andy knew two kinds of sharp: the kind that he knew himself to be, and the kind that made you careful. Andy did not think Camille’s mother was the former. Her smirk was so slight in fact, that a smudge of Camille’s finger could’ve turned the corner of her mouth downwards into a frown. Andy could see it somehow in his mind, how easily Camille could make that mistake.
Andy watched Camille place paint on her canvas. He loved how focused she was, how easily she gave something all her attention. He loved the way that she was always changing her medium depending on all kinds of factors he didn’t really understand. Andy loved that she winced whenever she accidentally, or purposefully, broke something she used. It meant she cared.
Camille’s little papers were stuck all over her house and Andy treated them like archived documents, took deciphering them seriously. Andy remembered words like sugar, pulp, lock and line. He remembered finding them underneath his shoe or stuck to a cupboard. He remembered his curiosity as to what compelled her to write them. Andy wished Camille knew she never made anything bad, only things she could not see the value in. But there would be no convincing Camille that something she thought was shit was actually not. Andy knew better than to even try. He decided to make Camille a cup of tea, the chai that she liked.
The whine of the teakettle was the most noise she heard Andy make that day. It drew her from her thoughts. She watched from her bedroom door into the kitchen, as he took the tea bag from its box and placed it on the counter. His hands moved effortlessly. Andy looked like he had been making tea for thousands of years, like it was a craft that he had studied and mastered. He had a way of making everything look like that.
She watched him prepare her tea and she considered his reflective, quiet nature. She was so unused to it. Everyone in Camille’s life had colored her in some way. She was used to yelling and bright hues, tears, loud music, and mess. Everyone Camille touched left her hands dirty; but she did not mind. That was the life of an artist. To Andy though, Camille was the art. She was even more precious and meaningful to him as anything she made. He treated her so. Camille understood now why he was so careful with her. She had not known things could be loved this way. Camille could feel herself opening.
When Andy handed her the cup of tea, Camille realized she was in love. Camille thought she knew what it would look like, but it was much smaller and quieter than she expected. It didn’t take her breath away or sweep her off her feet. It felt more like an adjustment, like she was making room for something she knew she could not leave behind.
And Camille wanted very badly to keep what she had found. She would.