ed up beside him.
“I see you like The Whispering Crow,” she said.
He glanced at her, noting a strong profile, but the picture commanded his attention.
“I’m not sure ‘like’ is the word,” said James. “But it’s certainly striking. It’s obviously saying something. The distorted figure with the crow on her shoulder. I’m trying to decode it.”
“Her shoulder? Isn’t the figure androgynous?”
James thought about that. “Yes, it is. But somehow it seems female to me. I don’t know why.”
“Because she’s speaking to you.” It was a statement rather than a suggestion.
“Maybe.” James didn’t want to admit how true it sounded. “Can you decode her?”
“I can make a guess. The large torso implies an oversized heart, symbolising a powerful will. The arms are in proportion, symbolising the physical strength needed to impose that will on the world.”
“Yes, I see,” said James. “I was thinking in terms of the heart symbolising generosity and compassion. That’s why I couldn’t put it all together. But if the heart is the will, it makes much more sense. Please go on.”
“All right. The undersized head indicates a lack of judgement to balance the will to use the strength. Hence the figure looks rather ponderous. Not someone whose way you’d want to fall into.”
Again, James felt something make more sense than it should. “What about the crow?”
“Ah yes, the crow.”
James glanced at the woman again. She was smiling and looking directly at the crow.
“It’s perched on her shoulder as if whispering in her ear,” the woman went on. “If you notice, the volume of the crow complements the volume of the head. Combined, they would add up to a head in proportion with the body.”
“So the crow whispers advice that compensates for her lack of judgement of her own.” James found himself nodding. “That’s absolutely right. I see it exactly now you’ve said it. It’s as though the picture spoke directly to you. But why a crow, do you think?”
“I expect that says something about the nature of the thoughts. You’d expect a very different set of ideas from a parrot, for example. Or Cock Robin.”
“I see.” James drew his gaze back from the crow and took in the whole painting. “I don’t suppose that head is being filled with thoughts of Pretty Polly or pieces of eight. And the red background says something about the nature of the thoughts. Or what happens when they’re translated into will and strength.”
The woman gave James’s hand a quick squeeze. James suddenly felt very cold. He looked at the woman, who was still looking at the crow. James watched for a few moments. She didn’t blink. She didn’t move.
She might almost be listening.
James had a flash of intuition. “Are you the artist? Is that a self-portrait?”
The woman turned her head toward him. Her smile showed her teeth without touching her eyes. “I’m so glad it found someone else to speak to. To whisper about.”
She dropped her voice. “I’ll see you soon.”
“I…” James had been about to say, ‘I’ll look forward to it’. It was no more than a polite reflex, but he found himself unable to say it. He didn’t want to set eyes on this woman ever again.
The woman turned away, paused, spoke over her shoulder. “I’ll see you soon. James.”