Of These Stones

Paul Cézanne. Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffan, 1885-6. 28x36 inches. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The first Saturday, Anatole and his mother stood outside the iron gate in the high stone wall around Jas de Bouffan. He peered through the grating down a lane between two long rows of sycamore trees to a large yellow stone house with an orange tile roof.

"Stand up straight when you apologize to him."

"If he lives here, why does he wear such shabby clothes?"

"He's a disgrace, that's why. And immoral too. And to think, his father was a prosperous banker."

A gardener let them in and took them to the house where Madame Hortense Cézanne greeted them. Curious yet afraid to behold the face of a woman as disreputable as his grandmother had said she was, he looked only at the uneven hem of her dress.

"His name is Anatole. He's not afraid of hard work," his mother said, "so set him to digging a trench or rebuilding a garden wall. That'll teach him what stones are to be used for."

"The wall in front? I can't even reach the top."

His mother grabbed the back of his neck and squeezed. "Sh."