Muriel and Miranda, part 1

Miranda could see the spider’s web as she walked up to the workshop she’d been constructing. Sunlight was sparkling through some of the drops left on the web from the morning’s heavy dew. She had never seen such an enormous spider. She stared at the bulbous yellow body supported by stiffly arched slender legs. As she watched the spider tending her web, for some reason, she thought of Muriel, the woman who lived along the road.

Miranda could see Muriel in her mind’s eye. Muriel was working in her garden as Miranda had seen her do every morning since spring. She was stopping and standing up straight holding her right hand to her back as if she had a crick in that side. She straightened slowly and turned. As Miranda watched this movement, she noticed that Muriel was wearing a bright yellow top and black slacks. Miranda felt as if Muriel was looking at her, at that very instant, across the woods and the hill which separated their houses.

Miranda had often stopped to chat with Muriel when she saw the older woman in her garden. Muriel raised herbs and old roses. She also had an apiary. Miranda had discovered in one of their conversations at the garden’s edge, that Muriel had designed the layout of her herb garden to give form to certain symbols. Muriel either thought Miranda knew and could discern the symbols recreated there or she preferred not to discuss them with Miranda. Miranda admired the intricate patterns created by the plants, which to her eye, seemed to be carefully shaped to give life to the lines of the patterns. The magical qualities of the garden only added to the air of mystery which surrounded Muriel.

When Miranda was talking with Muriel she felt as though they were communicating with each other through their eyes, through the air without, or in addition to, the words which flowed easily between them. Miranda had never experienced this sensation. They weren’t engaged in intimate exchanges. She thought it would have seemed natural to feel the sense of connection if they had been discussing their pasts or their beliefs. Regardless of the simplicity of the topic, the feeling came to Miranda.

On the days when she saw Muriel with her bee hood on and her gloves which rose to her elbows Miranda didn’t stop to chat. She knew Muriel could not interrupt the tending of the beehives to pass the time of day. On those days Miranda was disappointed to have to pass by Muriel and her garden without stopping.

Miranda was finished framing the workshop. She would install the windows today. As she did her work she tried to imagine the finished workshop where she would concentrate on her writing. As she set the last window into the opening she was startled to see Muriel’s face in the pane. She was puzzled by the insistent presence of the woman in her mind that day. She knew Muriel had been a librarian before she retired a few years ago. Aside from that, she didn’t know much about her.

When she’d finished setting in the windows, Miranda walked along the road past the woods of fir and cedar around the lower slope of the hill toward the post office. Muriel was working in her yard. She looked up as Miranda came close to her. “Hello, Miranda, How are you today? Are you on your way somewhere?

“Yes, the post office.” Miranda was only half surprised to notice that Muriel was wearing a yellow top and black slacks as she was earlier in the images in her mind and in the window pane.

“Stop in on your way back and have a cup of tea with me.”

Miranda agreed. So, Muriel could read minds, she thought. She had hoped Muriel would want to talk and she had been hoping it as she walked around the edge of the hill towards Muriel’s property.

Miranda hurried to the post office. No parcels—just letters and papers. She didn’t have to feel awkward arriving at Muriel’s laden down with a box or two.

Miranda hurried to the post office. No parcels—just letters and papers. She didn’t have to feel awkward arriving at Muriel’s laden down with a box or two.

Miranda was slightly annoyed at her body which became short of breath as she walked up the driveway to Muriel’s house. She had to admit she was excited to be invited for tea and that she couldn’t help but associate the invitation with the images of the handsome brown-eyed woman which had dwelt in her mind as she worked on her studio.

When Miranda stepped onto the porch of Muriel’s house, Muriel called out, “Let yourself in Miranda, I’m in the kitchen.”

Miranda walked into the entry and then Muriel called, “Come on through, dear.”

Miranda headed in the direction of Muriel’s voice. She walked into a brightly lit kitchen. Sunlight came in the south-facing windows and reflected off the shiny yellow countertops. Part of the wall had been opened to form a small greenhouse and Muriel had a collection of cacti and succulents arranged on the floor and on shelving that rose about six feet above the floor.

Muriel pulled out a fine old wooden chair for Miranda. When she sat down Miranda realized she could look through the greenhouse, over the cacti, to the fields below and out to the ocean beyond. “What a lovely view!”

“Yes, I enjoy it. Do you take anything in your tea?”

“No, thanks. Such a nice bright room.”

“It is, isn’t it?’

Miranda watched Muriel move gracefully about the kitchen. When Muriel had brought a plate of cookies to the table and a teapot she seated herself on another old chair. Although the detail of its design was different from Miranda’s both had webbed seats and ladderbacks. It was obvious to Miranda that Muriel’s good taste extended from the garden into the house. The pottery teapot and cups shared a grey blue glaze. The plate on which the oatmeal cookies were arranged was bright yellow.

Miranda’s attention was drawn to a large ring on Muriel’s right hand as Muriel fussed with the contents of the teapot. She didn’t want to be caught staring so she didn’t have time to make out the design.

“Miranda, I’m curious. What have you been building?”

“Oh, it’s a workshop for myself. Come and see it, won’t you?” Miranda hadn’t really intended to invite anyone to see her “hideaway” but at that instant she was under a compulsion to invite Muriel.

“Yes, I’d love to see it. You’re building it yourself?”

“Yes, I am.”

“And what will you use it for?”

“It’s to be a studio really, for my writing.”

“Lovely. I must come and see it. I thought you must be building it for a purpose like that. I didn’t think it was for woodworking. Though you must be able to do woodworking.”

“I manage. But, you’re right. It’s not for that.” Miranda smiled.

“Tell me more about it.” Muriel was stirring the tea again.

Miranda wasn’t sure where to begin but she began with her first idea about the workshop. “When I bought this place I had in mind building a small hut—a retreat—a very plain, simple building, a single small room, wood-panelled, light but warm. I was thinking of it as a place for meditation and quiet time. As I lived here this past while, I thought I’d like a larger space that could be used as a study or studio. You really must come and see it, that is, if you’d like to.”

“I’d love to. Maybe I could walk over with you when we finish tea?”

Miranda was hoping she’d come right away but hadn’t expected Muriel to feel the same urgency.

Miranda led Muriel to the workshop. It was possible to see it from the road but you had to catch just the right angle. Miranda was thinking that Muriel must have made an effort to see what she was doing when she heard the noises of construction some time when she walked by. As they stepped up to the door, Muriel admired the reddish-brown wood siding. Miranda opened the door to allow Muriel to enter.

Quiet descended as Miranda closed the door behind them when they entered the vestibule where Miranda had already begun to place a simple flower arrangement every few days.

Quiet descended as Miranda closed the door behind them when they entered the vestibule where Miranda had already begun to place a simple flower arrangement every few days.

Muriel remarked, “The entrance is exactly as I would arrange it if I were you. I want to sit here on that lovely cushion and look at your flower arrangement. Do you do that?”

“Yes.” Miranda had purposely finished the little vestibule as fast as possible so she would at least have a small quiet place to sit. Muriel sat on the dark red and blue woven cushion and Miranda sat on the bare wooden bench beside her. Miranda again sensed the connection, warm and knowing, between herself and Muriel. How could the woman know her so well, read her mind?

Miranda had picked a few yarrow stalks and a handful of large purple aster stalks to make up the tall arrangement on the table.

After a few silent moments they stood and stepped into the studio’s main room. “This is gorgeous, Miranda. I can see how it’s going to look when you are finished. Such a lovely high ceiling. You didn’t do the fireplace yourself, did you?”

“No. I had Chuck do that.”

Muriel ran her hand over the satisfyingly rough stone. Miranda was pleased to see that Muriel appeared to like the imposing grey granite stonework.

Muriel admired the view of the woods through the window. “A lovely view, dear”

“I do like to see natural surroundings when I look up from writing. I don’t find that view distracting. It’ll be soothing, I think.”

“Yes, I think so too.” Muriel agreed enthusiastically.

Miranda explained that she did some drawing and painting, more as a diversion from her writing than anything. She showed Muriel the counter surfaces she was planning to use for these activities.

“I want to furnish your place for you Miranda. Will you let me do that?”

“You mustn’t do that.”

“No, I insist. Indulge my impulse, please.” The look she gave Miranda at that moment shot through Miranda from front to back and then up and down her centre. She knew that Muriel’s impulse must be honoured. The woman was magical.

“Alright, I will . Thank you Muriel. That would be wonderful.”

They smiled at each other. Miranda knew Muriel sensed something about her or her work that she herself did not recognize.

The next few days were occupied by installing cabinets. Deep shelves under the window facing the woods provided a window seat. She’d made her own drafting table some months before and she moved it into the workshop from the house. She had found an antique desk which was to be delivered in a few days. Its greatest virtue was the number of drawers and cubbyholes it had. It was much wider and deeper than the usual rolltop desk. The rolltop covered only about half of the top surface of it.

Miranda installed bookshelves on the back wall of the study. She finished applying the panelling on the small amounts of remaining wall space. She had never discussed with Muriel what it was that Muriel was going to provide.

Miranda had described her plans for shelves and work surfaces and she had told Muriel about the big leather chair and ottoman and the desk chair and the chesterfield she would have in the study. Miranda hoped Muriel didn’t have any intention of buying some furniture or decoration.

When Miranda had agreed to her furnishing the place, as Muriel had put it, she felt as though she had some understanding of what the woman intended but it wasn’t an understanding she could put into words. Miranda felt, simply, that it would be right. She was sure the older woman would surprise her in the most desirable way. Still that was just a feeling and this was her most private place—the place she’d spent several months dreaming about and planning. It wasn’t logical to let someone else “furnish” it, someone who didn’t even know her very well. But, Miranda sighed to herself, she does know me, doesn’t she. She knows something about me I don’t about myself. Those eyes of hers—they cut right through me, not a surgical cut, but a divining probe or cross-section. Miranda wasn’t sure if Muriel saw Miranda’s future or whether it was more a question of seeing the extent of her powers, her capacity and if the latter then, her capacity for writing or friendship or love, which or any of these she wasn’t sure.

 Muriel insisted that Miranda let her bring over “her furnishings” and install them by herself. Miranda acquiesced though she was nervous thinking about what might unfold.

Muriel insisted that Miranda let her bring over “her furnishings” and install them by herself. Miranda acquiesced though she was nervous thinking about what might unfold. By then all but the trim around the windows was complete and the furniture was in place. Miranda had not had time to move any of her books to the shelves or to start to fill her cabinets with art supplies and papers. Muriel told Miranda to wait outside the building until she let her know when she might come to see what Muriel was doing.

When Muriel permitted Miranda to enter the room, there were stacks of papers in each shelf opening—all kinds of papers, rice paper, coloured papers, large sheets, very heavy papers. There were paints, every colour in the Winsor and Newton catalogue it seemed. Pencils, pens, markers. There was an easel set up near the north window. Miranda was stunned. She was overwhelmed by this woman’s generosity and by her selections.

Miranda had told Muriel she liked to draw and paint but that she was not really an artist. It was very much secondary to her writing. Muriel explained that she had thought Miranda needed the visual materials to aid her with her writing. She said something just told her that about Miranda.

Muriel had bought books too. Books of architectural drawings and garden plans. Books containing paper models to be constructed—models of diverse buildings, mobiles and complex geometric shapes. Miranda thought she must be dreaming as she looked over the shelves. Every item which caught her attention appealed to her. She was speechless.

Muriel could see that Miranda was pleased and she smiled broadly as she watched tears come to Miranda’s eyes.

Miranda choked out the words, “I can’t thank you enough.”

“Yes, you can”, Muriel said in a voice of authority which Miranda had not heard previously.

Muriel continued, “I want you to start right now. First you must take one of the extra-large sheets of the heavy paper. There on the lower shelf. Then you are going to draw and paint. First, draw an island on the paper as if you were beginning to sketch a topographical map of the place. I’ll guide you.”

Miranda was surprised. She studied Muriel for a moment. She saw she couldn’t disagree. She took out three paint brushes of different sizes and laid out blue, green and brown paints. Muriel was edgy, tensely waiting for her to get started.

“Leave lots of room around the island. You will want to add many other things later. The island must have bays to make safe harbours when we go to visit it.”

Miranda chuckled.

“Don’t make more than one side have a steep cliff.”

Miranda began to draw with the paint-laden brush. Her first stroke formed a sharp brown edge. As she turned back to the paper ready to execute the second bold outline stroke, she noticed the paper begin to crinkle in a strange way. She glanced at Muriel. Muriel nodded affirmatively and told her to carry on. As Miranda painted the next line to form the second coast of the island, parts of the paper began to rise off the table. When she added the third coast, part of the paper was turning on itself. The edges were folding under and behind the part of the paper she was painting. By the time she finished the outline of the island, the sheet had formed itself into a large globe shape. The paper’s corners had folded over each other to press into the smooth spherical shape.

Miranda was astonished to be caught up in this magical process. She said as much to Muriel. Muriel did not respond to the comment. Instead Muriel told Miranda to sketch in some detail so they could visit the island. Miranda couldn’t believe what was happening as she was dutifully following the instructions of the older woman. There was no questioning her, no breaking the spell.

Miranda drew the cliffs at the lower end of the island. She put gentle beaches at the edges of the two harbours. Muriel told her to leave the interior—it would fill in after their first visit.

Miranda looked at the huge white sphere on the table in her study. It was the largest globe she’d seen. Mostly blank—just the outline of one unknown island on it.

Muriel told Miranda they must now construct a boat. She had bought some very strong and yet flexible paper out of which to fashion the boat. She had a pattern in one of the books she’d bought and she turned the book to the pattern and had Miranda set to work creating the small sailboat out of the softly textured bright green paper.

The work of tracing the outlines of the pieces and cutting them out of the special paper went quickly. Soon there was a fine little sailboat sitting on the ledge across the room from the globe.

“Now”, Muriel instructed, “We’ll sail in the boat to the island. You must imagine yourself small enough to fit in that boat.”

Miranda had felt every millimetre of the boat as she constructed it and so was able to imagine herself to be an appropriate size to fit into it. She imagined climbing in and hoisting the sail and moving towards the island. Muriel said she was coming with her. Immediately, they were sailing. Miranda gave no thought to how they were held to the surface of the globe or how the sea which covered some portion of it had arisen. The sun was shining, the water glistening, the bow met the swells which broke gently around the prow of the boat.

Miranda was amazed to see the rocky cliff looming over the small craft but as they drew close to the cliff Muriel steered them alongside and they rounded the edge of the cliff to come into one of the harbours Miranda had so recently created on the paper. They landed and walked up the white-sand beach. The landscape was completely barren above the beach. Whiteness stretched as far as they could see. When Miranda turned around, the beach was still there and the green boat. The sea was lapping gently at the edge of the beach.

Muriel said, “We’ll fill in the island landscape as we go. Let me show you how it’s done. Be careful what you bring to mind. We don’t want monsters or fires or storms—not today anyway.”

They walked farther up the beach. Suddenly, Muriel raised her right arm in a sweeping gesture, “I see logs at the edge of the beach. Can you see them too, Miranda?”

Miranda followed the extension of Muriel’s gesture. “Yes, I see them”.

This Story Continues here….