The Ghostly Painting!
The Ghostly Painting!
As an artist I’m inspired by my surroundings when it comes to setting up my easel, brushes and tubes of oil paints. I felt the ocean calling me and I turned to the web hoping to find a cottage or cabin near the seashore I could rent for the summer. Highway 101 went from California clear to Washington State and there were many towns along the way that had newspapers. I hoped to find an ad offering a rental within my budget range.
First I found a map online of the California, Oregon and Washington coastline. Then I made a list of the towns closest to the ocean. It was painstaking for me to go through the same process over and over searching listings, checking prices, calling long distance, leaving messages on answering machines or talking to someone hoping the monthly rent and deposit were reasonable.
Then I had to wait for photographs to be e-mailed me to decide if I wanted to call them back. By the time I had crossed off the last rental inquiry on my sheet of paper, what I ended up was seven possible cottages, cabins or bungalows on the seashore. By the time the last batch of photographs arrived, I learned three of the rentals had been rented. That narrowed my possibilities down to four.
Of those, one in particular caught my attention more than the other three. The realtors e-mail wasn’t long and he didn’t go into as much detail as I would have liked. His description of the property was short and to the point. I guess he thought the photos he had taken on an overcast and rainy day would suffice. Well, he was right. The price was okay and he had provided his phone number and a map of the directions to his office in his e-mail.
I made a phone call at 10:30 that morning figuring he would be at his desk and he was. His name was Bill O’Reilly and from the moment he answered the phone I could tell he was Irish. He was a pleasant sounding man and I told him I planned on arriving at Port Angeles, Washington on the 23rd. I asked if there was a time that would be convenient for him to show me the cottage.
There was a moment of silence and I guess that should have made me a bit hesitant that he wasn’t telling me something about the cottage. But when he told me that anytime after 1 pm would be fine I figured he was looking at his calendar of appointments. I asked him if he knew of any good hotels in Port Angeles and he told me there was a Day’s Inn just off of Hwy 101 on the way into Port Angeles.
After I thanked him and hung up the phone I googled the temperature for Port Angeles, Washington in May. Basically I was looking at a low of 37 and a high of 47. That would be a huge change in the weather in Lodi, California. I knew the Pacific Northwest was the rainy part of the state but the greenery made it a beautiful place to visit. I don’t know if I could handle living there year-round though.
Knowing the type of weather I was headed for, I made sure I stopped off at Wal-Mart and bought warmer clothes than I had hanging in my closet. Since I was going to be living by the ocean I knew that the winds would feel bitter cold to me and that many times it would probably be raining off and on. But the photos e-mailed to me by Mr. O’Reilly showed me the cottage had a wide front porch facing the sea and it had a roof over it.
That suited me just fine because I wanted to capture mother nature differently than I had in northern California. When I turned off Highway 101 and began to make my way to Port Angeles, I was a day ahead of my appointment. I turned into the Day’s Inn and was glad to see a Denny’s restaurant next door. But at that moment I wasn’t so much hungry as I was tired. It had been a long drive.
What I wanted more than anything at that moment was to check in, take a shower, turn the heat on in the room if it was off, take a shower and climb under the sheets. I don’t know if I slept so well because I was so tired or because the bed was so comfortable. After I woke up and got dressed up it was evening. I ate supper at Denny’s and went back to my room and turned on the TV.
I watch show after show, mostly re-runs until my eyes were too tired to stay open any longer and went to sleep. The next morning after breakfast I got directions to the street where the realtors office was. I left early just because I was unfamiliar with Port Angeles and it was better to be a bit early than late. As a last resort I could call Mr. O’Reilly on my cell phone for better directions.
But that call wasn’t necessary and I parked in front of the building with the large red sign that said, O’Reilly Realty. When I walked inside and closed the door quickly, the blonde receptionist looked up and smiled as I rubbed my shoulders. I told her my name and who I was there to see. She welcomed me to Port Angeles and asked me to take a chair. She stood up she asked me if I’d like a cup of coffee but I told her no.
She went to the door to her left and knocked lightly before opening the door and going inside. In a moment the door opened and Mr. O’Reilly walked out. When he saw me, I stood up and met him halfway and we shook hands. He was a big man in his 50’s with a potbelly and a thick head of red hair. His handshake was firm and he welcomed me to Port Angeles. Then he turned and invited me to follow him into his office.
Once we had both sat down I saw a folder of papers on his desk in front of him. He looked through them for a couple minutes before he sat them down and looked up at me. At that moment I didn’t see his smile. I saw a look of concern in his eyes before he spoke. “Mrs. Jensen owns the cottage I’ll be taking ya out to look at. She’s 70 years old and her health, well she asked me to handle all the details.
All she cares about is that the person who rents it isn’t someone young and likely to have parties and tear up the place.” he said as I began to see his smile grow. “I think it’s safe to say that you don’t look like you’re going to be having wild parties.” Mr. O’Reilly said and I couldn’t help but begin to laugh out loud as I nodded my head. “I think my partying days stopped years ago. I’m 59 years old and I don’t even feel I play my stereo loud.” I said in a comical tone.
I opened my wallet up and took out one of my business cards and handed it to him. As he looked down at my card, I saw him begin to nod. “That’s right. Now I remember. You’re an artist.” he said and he asked he could keep my card. I nodded and he thanked me. “I’ll give it to Mrs. Jensen. I think it’ll make her feel a bit less nervous knowing someone who paints will be staying at her cottage.
I did tell ya in one of my e-mails she was interested in someone staying until August 1st didn’t I?” the realtor asked. I told him yes and that I could pay the two month’s rent and deposit in advance if I liked what I saw. “Well Mrs. Jensen will be glad to know that because she would hate for someone to move into the place and then not be able to pay the following month’s rent.
Was that your Mercedes I saw parked out front of my office?” Mr. O’Reilly asked curiously. I told him yes. “Well, I think money is the least of your worries.” he said as he let out a big laugh. Then he asked a personal question, “You make a good living painting pictures?” As I cleared my throat I gave the best answer I could. “I guess a ‘good living’ depends on what someone feels a good living is.
None of my paintings are hung in Palm Springs or Beverly Hills but I feel I make a good living. I don’t paint as many pictures as I can hoping to sell as many as I can. Each one takes time and inspiration. Afterwards I try to pick the right matting and frame that compliments what I’ve painted. I feel I can be inspired from that cottages front porch whether it’s sunny, cloudy or rainy.” I said in an optimistic voice.
For the second time I watched a hesitant look come across Mr. O’Reilly’s face and curiosity made me ask a few questions. First I asked him if there was a problem with the cottage. I asked if the electricity was on, if the roof leaked and if the water was turned on. He told me the cottage had power and water and to his knowledge the roof didn’t leak. Then he quickly put on a cheerful smile and asked if he could take me out to the property.
I said sure and he asked me if I wanted to take my car or his truck. I told him his truck would be fine. When we came out of his office, he told his secretary where we were headed and told her we’d be back in about an hour. “It won’t be hard for ya driving into town or back to your cottage Mr. Cook. The road we’re gonna turn off onto will lead ya right back to town.” he said as he looked over at me and turned the engine over.
When we turned off the asphalt road, he abruptly stopped. He turned and looked back as he pointed to the brown and green trash cans. “Your two trash cans are dumped each Friday morning Raymond. The brown one is for regular trash and the green one is for recyclables. If I were you’ I’d bring up your trash on Thursday afternoon so ya don’t forget.
Sometimes they’ll pick up folks trash early one week and late the next week. So getting it up here on Thursdays makes sure your cans aren’t full.” he said with a smile as he looked over at me. I was half expecting a bumpy dirt road but it wasn’t half bad as we began driving down a winding road with tall evergreen trees and sword ferns on both sides of the road.
Suddenly his foot hit the brakes and I put my hand up on the dashboard. We saw a doe and its fawn running across the road ahead of us. “Ya got to expect the unexpected when you’re driving in the woods Mr. Cook. Ya never know when a deer might startle ya by jumping out in front of that Mercedes of yours.” he said as he let out a laugh. I nodded and lay back against the seat.
It was a long winding road all downhill as we made our way lower and lower. Now and then I caught a glimpse of the ocean and once the land opened up I could see a spectacular view of the ocean and down below the cottage I would call home for the next two months. As Mr. O’Reilly parked his truck in front of the small white cottage with a cedar shake roof he put his truck in park.
Then he looked over at me and spoke, “After that ride down the hill I’ll bet you’re glad there ain’t snow on the ground.” and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “I doubt if I could stay on the road all the way down to where you parked in my car if there was snow on the ground. And I sure couldn’t make it up to the main road.” I said as I let out a laugh. Now it was his turn to laugh as he said, “Not unless you were driving a truck like mine and had snow chains on.”
For a moment we both looked to our left and right before we opened our doors and stepped out. One of the first things I heard were waves crashing on the shore in the distance. Seagulls were screeching overhead and the strong scent of cedar filled my senses. The porch needed sweeping and I saw a broom lying on the front porch. The outside of the two large front windows, one on each side of the front door had cobwebs on them.
The grass all around the cabin was nearly a foot tall but flattened from the winter’s snowfall. Deer droppings were seen everywhere. I could see the outhouse about 40 feet behind the cottage. When Mr. O’Reilly saw me looking right at the outhouse, he couldn’t help but let out a chuckle as he asked me if he had told me there was no indoor toilet. I told him that he had.
“Well, at least ya got an electric stove, water heater, shower and lights. The wood stove heats that cottage up plenty nice. The wood shed is on the other side of the building. Just be sure to pull the tarp back over the wood pile and put some wood on top of the tarp. It gets a might breezy when the winds come off the ocean. Once ya get back to town, just stop by the Safeway store down the street from the realty office and pick up all the food ya want.
Mrs. Jensen put in a nice refrigerator and it has a large icebox too. Let me show ya around the place before we take a look inside.” the man said. I followed behind him as we spent about 15 minutes walking around. What I liked the most about the view of the ocean was the huge rock hillside ending at the ocean with a smaller outcropping of rocks further from shore. As Mr. O’Reilly saw me eyeing the rocks he cleared his throat.
“Many a shipwreck has happened up and down the coasts of Oregon and Washington Raymond. The ocean isn’t very forgiving to captains who don’t pay head to their navigational charts or are pushed off course by storms.
Well, we’ve seen everything outside so let me get out the key and I’ll unlock the door and we can take a look inside.” he said. Upon entering I immediately smelled mustiness.
“That smell in the air will be gone once ya open the windows and door and get some fresh air inside. It probably wouldn’t hurt any to buy a couple air fresheners though.” he said in a friendly voice. The inside of the one room cottage was pretty simple. In one corner was a double bed with a dresser beside it. The bed wasn’t made but blankets, pillows and sheets sat on top of the mattress in a plastic bag.
The mattress had a plastic mattress cover on it. In the center of the room was a wood stove. The chrome pieces on it gave the stove a nice piece of class. In the left corner of the room was a simple table with four chairs. Near it was a nice refrigerator with the door and freezer door propped open.“Just plug it in and in a few hours everything will be cold or be frozen good by morning.” Mr. O’Reilly said.
I saw a door and he told me that was a fair sized closet. Beside the refrigerator was an older but nice white porcelain sink with a water faucet. He walked over to it and turned the water on and clean water flowed out. Then he walked over to a small breaker box and flipped the breakers on. He turned the ceiling light on, then the porch light, before he knelt down and plugged in the refrigerator.
I saw the inside light come on before he closed both doors. “Well, Raymond. There it is, just as I explained in my e-mails.” he said with a grin. Then he turned to his right and pulled back a vinyl shower curtain with sea shells and fish and seagulls. “Oh I almost forgot. This here is your shower. The water heater is out back in a shed. If ya don’t have any other questions I’ll take ya back to my office and let you fill out the rental application.
After you pay the deposit and two month’s rent you’ll be free to start moving your things in and getting ya some food.” he said in a friendly voice. When I saw the cordless phone on the nightstand I asked Mr. O’Reilly if he had turned on the phone as I had asked and he nodded. “I put it in my name so when the bill comes in I’ll give ya a call.” he said and I thanked him.
Then I saw him walk over to the phone and pick it up. “Yep, it’s got a dial tone and I added the internet to it just like ya asked.” he said as he shook my hand. By the time we made it back to his office, filled out the paperwork and paid the money Mrs. Jensen wanted, I was hungry. When he handed me the cottage’s front door key, he said, “Don’t lose that key Raymond. Mrs. Jensen didn’t give me a spare.” and I said, “Thanks.”
The first thing I did when I backed out of the parking lot was head over to Denny’s for something to eat. Then I stopped by the post office and gave the clerk a temporary change of address card. The man asked me to tape my name on the inside of the mailbox so the postal carrier knew someone was living at that address. I checked out my hotel room and headed out of town.
After I turned off the asphalt road I stopped my car and taped my name to the inside of the mailbox lid and headed slowly down the dirt road. I had no desire to hit a deer. When I made it down the hill I backed up to the cottage porch. I unlocked the front door and left it open. I unlocked the trunk and one box at a time I brought my things inside. Then I opened the back doors of my Mercedes and carefully carried all my clothes and then my easel, linen canvas boards, box of brushes and another box containing tubes of oil paint in many colors.
All together I brought 36 linen canvas boards to paint the scenes I hoped would both memorable and profitable. After I had unloaded everything, I locked the door and headed back to town. Safeway was my destination and I also wanted to stop by Wal-Mart so I could pick up some pots and pans, plates, bowls, silverware and glasses. When I got back to the cottage I glanced out at the ocean and saw a passing freighter.
Hopefully I would see many more passing by as I saw on the front porch with my easel, brushes and paints. I unlocked the door and went back to the trunk to start bringing my groceries inside. But as soon as I entered the room I stopped dead in my tracks. Someone had been inside the cabin because most of my boxes or bags had been opened.
I quickly sat the box in my hands down on the table and checked the shower area and windows. I found all the windows locked but did I lock the front door in my hurry to head to town? I was sure I did but maybe I just thought I did. I went through all my things and didn’t find anything missing. I went back outside and looked in all directions but saw no one.
When I saw the 24 roll bag of toilet paper in the trunk I took two rolls out and took them down to the outhouse. There was an upside down plunger beside the seat and I slid both rolls down the pole. I brought everything inside and locked my car up before closing the door. It took me a while to get everything put away and things looked nice considering the smallness of the cottage.
I sat the radio by the counter and plugged it in so I could have some music playing. The last thing I had left to do was unpack my oil paints and brushes. I decided to take the rest of the day to relax rather than try to hurriedly get my first portrait painted. With the radio volume on low I could barely hear the waves crashing on the shore. It was a pleasant sound though. I turned the lights on when it started getting dark.
I liked the look of the room with the overhead light on. This cottage had a touch of hominess to it. I don’t think I’d care to live in the place year round, but for the next two months I think I could like it. As I held one of my many long handled Sabletek brushes I wondered when the last time someone had lived in the cottage. I wondered if they were relatives of Mrs. Jensen.
Perhaps they too had been an artist. If I were her, I’d sure invest in a classified ad in ‘The Artist’s Magazine’. I would make a point of asking Mr. O’Reilly for Mrs. Jensen’s phone number before I headed back to California to let her know that artists would pay a tidy sum to live in her cottage and be able to be inspired to do their painting. The magazine catered to many genres such as pen and ink, charcoal, watercolors, colored pencils, pastels, acrylics and of course oils.
I didn’t have much of knowledge about Gouache and Tempera though. But I did have a love for using oils to paint with. When I set down to paint a scene, I relied on a dozen ‘tried and true’ oil paint colors. alizarin crimson, blue black, brown madder, cadmium lemon, cadmium red deep, cerulean blue, cobalt chromite green, indian yellow, copper, flake white no. 1, ivory black, mauve blue shade, payne's grey, permanent rose and raw umber.
I sat one of the chairs out on the porch while I cooked supper. I ate each bite as I watched the waves hitting the shore in the last rays of light. The day had been overcast the entire day and I hoped in spite of the of the reputation for Washington State as being a rainy state that I would enjoy some clear days too. When I finished making my bed, turned off the lights and got under the covers I could hear each wave clearly and I felt myself smile.
But my sleep would be far from restful that night. Several times during the night it sounded like something was bumping into boxes or plastic bags on the floor. Each time I turned on the night lamp beside my bed I didn’t see anyone or anything. After I woke up and had breakfast my instincts told me there must be a hole in a wall and mice were scurrying around.
But I didn’t find any mouse droppings and a thorough search along all four walls turned up no holes. Perhaps it was just my subconscious knowing I was sleeping in a new place. After I washed up my plate, pan and glass I went out on the porch to find a beautiful blue sky day. I couldn’t wait to bring out a chair, set up my easel and paints and hold my paint brush.
I had an eagerness to paint a passing freighter, oil tanker or maybe even a large sailboat so I just sat there enjoying the warmth against my face. There was a slight breeze in the air and seagulls were flying overhead screeching. Within an hour I was lucky enough to see a freighter on my left headed for Canada I imagined. I fought the urge to grab my paint brush.
I passed up painting that ship because I needed to know approximately how long I would have from the time a ship came into view until it was out of sight. This would give me an idea of how long I would have to paint the ship I saw. I would have plenty of time to fill in the rest of the painting. By the time the day had ended, I had painted two oil paintings. I was quite pleased with what I had been able to capture on each canvas.
I slide both paintings back into the box of eighteen panels and took two more out. If I was lucky enough to use up all thirty-six panels, I would find out where the nearest arts and crafts store was and buy another case of eighteen panels.
When the day had ended I settled down to looking through a 1996 book titled, ‘The Best of Oil Painting’ by Tom Nicholas. It contained more than two hundred works of art painted in the medium of oil.
I had more than a dozen books at home about how to paint with oils as well as books showing step by step instructions. But Tom’s book was filled with awe inspiring photographs of his best work. By the time my eyes were tired, I reached over and turned off the night lamp and went to sleep. I can’t remember if I was ever woken up like that first night sleeping in this cottage.
But something lingered in my mind much more dramatically than the sounds of the waves crashing into shore. A young woman’s face was stuck in my mind and I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I didn’t know who she was and was sure I hadn’t even seen her in Safeway or Wal-Mart, yet there she was. She was a slender woman about 30 with long brown hair well past her shoulder. Her eyes were blue and entrancingly beautiful.
From just her glance it felt like she was looking into my soul. The image of her distracted me so strongly after I set up my easel on the front porch of that cloudy morning that I found myself painting a portrait of her rather than that of passing ships. After finishing that portrait, I put away my paints and left it on the easel. The more I gazed at the woman in the painting the more I wanted to know who she was.
But I knew that wasn’t possible because she was just part of my imagination as I held my paint brush in my hand. Several days later I made another food run to Safeway and when I returned and opened the door; I nearly dropped the two heavy bags of groceries in my hands. The painting of the woman that had painted a few days earlier was now leaning against my easel, not on it as I had left it.
In its place I stared at a new painting of the same woman but in a different pose. She was looking at the ocean and the rock outcropping but was looking back at me. She didn’t have a shirt on as the seagulls flew high above in the background. On the right side of the painting was an artist’s hand holding a paint brush. It was a beautiful portrait and whoever painted it had captured a powerful expression in her eyes.
I had yet to reach the quality as a painter as the one who painted her picture. I was awestruck. As I sat down and looked at the portrait I came to only one conclusion. The woman in the portrait was a ghost and for some reason her spirit lingered in this cottage or nearby. Why, I didn’t know. I decided to call Mr. O’Reilly and ask for Mrs. Jensen’s phone number. After he gave it to me I called the woman.
She didn’t recognize my voice and asked who I was. When I told her I was renting her cottage by the ocean, I heard a warm smile in her voice as she asked me if there was a problem with the cottage. I told her not exactly and asked if I could meet with her to discuss something with her. She agreed to meet me at the library and with her directions I found it and parked.
I didn’t know what type of car she was driving and I hadn’t told her what I was driving so I waited beside my car. All I knew was that she was 70 years old. That narrowed it down for me. When the blue 2000 Saturn four door car pulled into the library parking place I knew right away it was her. But I called out to her anyways. “Mrs. Jensen?” I asked in a friendly voice. She gave me a kind smile and said, “You must be Raymond Cook?”
I nodded and walked over to her. We shook hands and she thanked me for renting her cottage. “You’re the first renter I have had in almost four years. How is your painting coming along?” she asked curiously.
I smiled and told her fine. That was when her expression changed and she asked me why I had called to meet with her if there wasn’t anything wrong with the cottage.
I told her I would be right back and when I returned I held the portrait in both hands but she couldn’t see what was painted. When I turned it around and she saw it was a portrait of her granddaughter Beverly who had died four years ago she nearly fainted. She put a hand on the front quarter panel of her Saturn and tried to catch her breath as she put her other hand over her heart.
“That’s a picture of my granddaughter Beverly, but she died four years ago. How on earth did you paint such a beautiful picture of her?” she asked in a trembling voice. At that moment I told Mrs. Jensen that I thought the spirit of her granddaughter was in the cottage. “I have never seen the ghost of your granddaughter Mrs. Jensen. More importantly, I can’t explain who painted this picture.” I said as she looked on in disbelief.
Before she could speak, I told her when I came back to the cottage from Safeway, that when I opened the door, the portrait was sitting on my easel. I saw she was clearly upset. “I didn’t know if you wanted me to stay at the cottage if the person in this picture was related to you and had passed away. I figured the only way I would know if you knew the woman was to show you the portrait.” I said in a comforting voice.
Tears were falling from Mrs. Jensen’s eyes now as she opened both of her hands wanting me to hand her the portrait and I did. She held it close to her in a tender and loving way as she blinked her eyes. “I have few photographs of my granddaughter, Raymond. She died four years ago coming out of her road onto the highway after a drunk driver crossed the center line. The police never found her killer.” she said as she broke down crying.
As she turned to look me in the eyes she asked me what I would charge her to buy the portrait of her granddaughter. The answer was easy. “Since I didn’t paint the portrait Mrs. Jensen it wouldn’t be right for me to sell it to you so I’m letting you keep it. I think your granddaughter wanted me to give it to you and I’ll honor her wish. “I’ll be moving out of your cottage tomorrow morning.
I hope to find another cabin, A-Frame or cottage along the seashore while I’m staying at the Day’s Inn.” I said in a kind voice. Mrs. Jensen carefully set the painting up against her car as she anxiously wiped her eyes and smiled. “I’ll write you out a check right here Mr. Cook for the full amount you paid Mr. O’Reilly. I appreciate your deciding not to stay at the cottage through the summer knowing my granddaughter’s spirit still lingers there.” she said.
Then she walked over to the driver’s side of her car to get her checkbook. After writing me out a check I gave her a much needed hug and told her that I would drop off the key to the cottage to Mr. O’Reilly in the morning.
© 2013 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)