Winterlight by Gracie Mae Bradley

I was trying to paint the river; I'd taken myself, wind biting, sky sharp, along a route moving west out of the city. My heart sang a small homecoming each time I crossed the flagstone, the cloud-watched expanse of the Cour Carré; a delighted smile, welled up slow from my chest as the open arms of the Institut de France waved welcome across the water, the day bright blinding through the archway against the dark of the stone corridor. And yet despite the ephemeral brilliance gifted the sky by the gloom on that morning, when I emerged squint-blinking into the light to walk down to the riverbank, were water and the clouds the same winter-wrought dishwater grey.

Slowed as I had been by a crowd of tourists heading in the opposite direction, we would have otherwise taken a brief moment of pleasure in the measured consideration that is the appraisal of strangers, that indulgent process by which the rest of an unknown life is imagined on the basis of a single insignifcant object close-held; but today, the air nipped sharp, sky waxed pale, so the crowd and I set our shoulders firm against the cold and trudged on; and perhaps only when they gained the safe harbour of the Louvre did those strangers pause to dream the life of the girl.

At the canvas, now, it was the light that escaped me; the crisp luminosity that winter skies retain early in the day despite the half-mast sun. The river having burst her banks, her myriad faces swollen and shining I imagined her, still rolling tireless on with the heavens. I had, that morning, considered turning back confused with the birds, when I saw that the waters had reached the embankment wall I moved on further, out from under the belly of the bridge; I found I could paddle my way up to the Tuileries if I set my wet toes to the back of my mind. And so I'd carried on up to Concorde, wondering at the welkin, all the way, and quietly pretending to myself when I looked down right and not too close that I was walking on the water.

If only in that moment I could have rummaged through my array of acrylics and emerged triumphant with my small tube of Winterlight, unearthed from in between Moon Milk-Shimmer and Tungsten Hum. I would have squeezed just the smallest pearl onto the easel, run it with my brush into the Seine-scape grey, and taken solace in that, that morning memory at least, was safe in the four walls of my home, a small piece mine as I had known it.

Gracie Mae Bradley holds a BA in Philosophy & French from the University of Oxford. She lived a while in Paris and Marseille and is now a postgraduate student in London. One day she will get around to writing on Sartre’s ‘Critique of Dialectical Reason’. In the meantime she is working on postcolonial theory, the philosophy of international relations, and living out into the world.