The gallery is open by appointment only. He’s arrived early, and the door is locked. Daylight drains from the sky by four o’clock here in Paris, in midwinter, and lights begin to twinkle in all the small shops and cafés. He peers through the big plate glass window but it is too dark to make out much of what’s inside.
Instead, his own reflection confronts him, and for a moment the person looking back at him is the young man he once was. Unsure of his talents and abilities, but certain of what he wanted. Amazing how things have reversed themselves over the years, he thinks, turning away.
“Entrez! Entrez!” The gallery owner arrives now, and hurries to open the door for the two of them. “Je suis en retard? Désolé! I am sorry to be late, Dr. Pearce!” As he’d expected, Monsieur DeLettre is an older gentleman; he fumbles a little with the keys. In the foyer, spotlights glow above elegant bronze type: Galerie DeLettre.
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“Allow me to take your coat. May I offer you something warm to drink? Un café crème, peut-être?”
“Non, merci—well, peut-être . . . maybe . . .” He stumbles with his rusty French.
Here, standing on this threshold to his past, he finds he doesn’t know what he wants. This isn’t open-heart surgery, Pearce. Make a decision. “Yes, I’ll take a coffee, thank you. And again, I appreciate your meeting me today, on such short notice. I hope it wasn’t inconvenient.”
It would probably be more inconvenient if he decided to turn and bolt out the door. Which does, in fact, occur to him. Get a grip, man.
“You did not mention, Dr. Pearce, how you knew of the artist . . . ?”
“Katherine and I were friends, when we were young. In America. Before she moved to Paris.”
“Ah”—he looks appraisingly at Pearce—“a long time ago, then.”
“Yes. I’ve never had a chance to see her work. And since I was here in Paris, giving a lecture, well . . .”
The coffee with cream is ready and DeLettre hands him the cup. “And what is your medical spécialité?”
Pearce wonders if the jeans, black sweater, and beat-up leather jacket—the only casual clothes he’d brought with him for this short trip—are making a suspect first impression. That and his jumpiness. Not what you’d expect from a respected and self- assured American physician.
“All the Flowers of the Mountain”
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“I’m a cardiologist, at a hospital in Colorado. I’m just in Paris for a few days, for a conference.” His presentation this morning, “Cardiac Arrhythmia Among World Cup Ski Racers at High Altitude,” had impressed his colleagues. Not a surprise, but still, gratifying. That seems a long time ago, now. His attention has narrowed to the warm coffee cup in his hand. And the coffee is good—strong, fortifying.
“A doctor of the heart, then,” says DeLettre.
How French. He immediately discounts this remark as a poetic flourish. But the irony makes him pause. How is it that he who has become an expert on this muscular pump inside the human body should remain so confounded by the figurative matters of the heart? By love? He’s remained single all his life, and emotion—intangible and baffling—is a subject about which he still understands very little.
“Voilà! Let us view the sculptures.” DeLettre shuffles into the gallery space, flipping on the lights, and the figures are illuminated dramatically, one by one.
The pieces are life-size, cast bronze.
As if from a great distance, Pearce hears the sound of his breath catching—the work is so vivid, the resemblances uncanny. The walls of the studio seem to vanish, and all the color and light, the warmth of summer and the sounds of birds from a distant time fill the room.
He spies two children tumbling in play with a prancing calf. And another sculpture of a young man, guitar slung across his back, cradling a small bird in his hands. And a girl—it’s her—as wild as a forest daemon, arms thrown above her head, emerging from the fluid arc of a waterfall.
A wave of vertigo hits him, and the coffee cup drops from his hands. It shatters as it hits the concrete floor. DeLettre hurries over with a folding chair, and he collapses into it unsteadily, unable even to apologize.
Minutes go by, or maybe weeks, or an entire lifetime, as he covers his face with his hands. His shoulders heave with gasping, uncontrolled sobs. Dimly, he is aware of the old man standing motionless beside him, unconcerned by his sudden outburst. I am a scientist! A doctor! And this is not appropriate, not normal. DeLettre places a hand, meant to comfort, on his shoulder.
When he looks up, finally, at the sculptures, he sees his own life.
It is the summer he found—and lost—Katherine Morgan. The sweep of fields, the vastness and the intimacy of the rolling hills surround him. He hears the rumble of a storm moving across the distant White Mountains. Water thunders over a secret waterfall that belonged only to them.
At the center of the spare, white gallery space, a boy and a girl are holding hands, caught in rhythmic stride as they climb a hillside. In his memory, the field was blooming with flowers: daisies and purple lupine, forget-me-nots blue as the sky in summer.
The softly burnished bronze figures glow with warmth and passion. He, walking ahead, looks back at his beloved urging her forward toward some secret destination he must share with her; she, hair tossed in the breeze, her head thrown back in joyous laughter.
They could be any two young lovers, from two thousand years ago—or yesterday. Except that they are people Michael Pearce recognizes: himself and Kit.
There is a small plaque on the stone pedestal beneath the sculpture. It reads: Toutes les fleurs de la montagne.
All the flowers of the mountain.
From the distance of years, memories he’d had every intention of confronting and processing with rational, scientific clarity come crashing in on him. Turning him upside down until he lands at the very beginning, as if it were yesterday.
Christina Holbrook is a native of New York and the White Mountains of New Hampshire who now lives in Breckenridge, Colorado with her husband, Alan Dulit. Her debut novel, “All the Flowers of the Mountain,” is a 2023 IPPY Award Bronze Medal winner and 2023 Colorado Book Award winner. “Table for One,” her collection of short stories, was released in July. For more information, visit www.christinaholbrook.com. Follow Christina on Instagram @christinaholbrookwrites.