By Giulia Cozzi
Join our regular short story writer for a piece inspired by Red Canna (1924) by Georgia O’Keeffe. Check out some of her other stories here.
Red Canna (1924) by Georgia O’Keeffe.
Emily was exhausted. She was drained physically and emotionally. Her grandma’s death was still a fresh scar, even after months. When that event happened at the end of summer, she wanted to take some time off work to support her mother and deal with her own grief. However, she only managed to secure four days of rest and now she was exhausted. Life absorbed all the energy she had: a loss, a wonderful but highly demanding job and a shattered relationship. Everything happened at the same time. Everything seemed to be so heavy and bulky, slowly expanding into her bones and suffocating her.
That Sunday Emily jumped on an early morning train from London to Cambridge. She had to help her mother vacating her granny’s house. Emily’s grandmother used to live in a small house close to a canal, the one in red bricks you could see from down the hill. The first time Emily went there after the occurrence was to take some documents for the will. Her heart skipped. She opened the door and no one was inside. She felt a sense of isolation, abandonment and dereliction. She wanted to scream but nothing came out. Abruptly, she shook her head as a way to push away those sad thoughts and tried to concentrate on the view.
When Emily arrived at the house, her mum was already sorting things out. ‘Hello sweetheart, how are you?’ ‘I’m good thanks’, replied Emily with a smile. ‘I’m going to grandma’s studio to clean it up. Call me if you need any help’. ‘Great, thank you my love’, said her mother with a feeble smile.
Emily walked upstairs, removed her shoes and took a deep breath. She slowly opened the wood door to access her grandma’s studio and stopped for a few seconds. She closed her eyes and inhaled the smell of old books and wooden furniture. Instantly she was transported back to when she was a child and used to visit her grandma in her studio. The woman used to sit at her desk, glasses on, immersed in enormous art books. Only when a younger Emily went to pull her sweater, she would come back to reality.
Emily sat on the comfy chair and started looking through the closets at the sides of the desk: documents, sketches, receipts, unexpected objects - all physical memories that had to find another home. After two hours of cleaning, Emily was ready to take a break when something caught her attention. A book of novels popped out of a pile of old documents. Emily gently opened it and flicked through. Suddenly, she stopped: something was marking a page. A drawing. A bright coloured drawing was making itself very visible, almost as if it wanted to be picked up. Emily took it and stared at it, puzzled by the skilful use of colours and the intricate subject. It looked like a flower; a powerful, strong, independent flower, exploding in all its beauty. Emily felt an instant connection to it and her eyes glued to the drawing, following the curved lines of the petals. A small signature appeared on the left-hand corner: Georgia O’Keeffe. The famous painter, Emily recollected.
In that moment of realization, something fell off from the book: a letter. Emily quickly picked it up from the floor and opened it, hungry to know its content. The letter was a wealth of information. She discovered that her grandmother and Georgia O’Keeffe were close friends and that the drawing was a reproduction of the famous painting Red Canna by O’Keeffe. The artist painted it, before donating it to her grandmother during a period of sadness and difficulties. The flower was designed to act as a memento of the existence of beauty, the colours of life and as a momentary relief from the strains of everyday life. The drawing was supposed to provide hope, support and confidence. It was a reminder to be bold, brave and audacious in life, because even in the darkest moments, strength is there to be grasped. The last two lines of the letter read: ‘And dear Adele, you are the strongest person I’ve ever known. You’re gonna make it. You’re gonna be fine. Love, Georgia’. Emily felt tears streaming down her face. She was moved by the truth and honesty of those words and by the power of the painting. She took her findings and went down to her mum to hug her: 'I love you, don’t forget it. We’re gonna get through all of this together and brighter times will come.'
That night, when she got back to her small flat in central London, she made an important decision: she called an artist and asked her to reproduce the drawing on the wall of her bedroom. She wanted to be able to see that flower every morning when she woke up and every night before going to bed. She needed, so desperately, that emotional support. She needed it to remind herself that life could be hard, very hard, but that hardness was not going to take the beauty away. She could contemplate the drawing to escape life, to drown all those negative thoughts, but at the end of the day, everything was going to be fine.