The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice

The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice by Allen Say

Book: The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice by Allen Say Read Free Book Online
Authors: Allen Say
overnight. I felt healthy and hungry.
    Outside the university gate was a large bookstore, and looking in the window I thought about Tokida and the van Gogh exhibit. A book of van Gogh's letters had been published recently, and I thought how good it would be to get it for Tokida. He would really like that. I went into the store.
    "Do you have the book of van Gogh's letters?" I asked.
Dear Theo,
" the clerk said, without looking up. "Look under biography. If it isn't there check under art. And if you don't see it there, it's a special order."
    In the art section I got sidetracked by thick art books with color plates in them, forgetting all about van Gogh's letters. As I thumbed through an expensive new book I hadn't seen before, I saw a painting that took my breath away. It was a small portrait of a young woman. Her hair was done up in a big bun at the back of her head, and she wore a plain black velvet dress with a plain round collar. Her face was turned three quarters to the right, looking straight ahead. Her nose was too big; her lower lip
was thick and broad, and her heavy eyelids made her eyes seem dreamy, drowsy even. It was the most beautiful face I had ever seen, but like a vandal, Degas had scribbled his name right above her head. I stared at her eyes with great concentration, hoping somehow she'd turn her eyes to look at me. It was that kind of painting.
    I was standing in a busy narrow lane and people brushed against me trying to reach around me for books. I had an uncomfortable feeling that everyone in the store was watching me. So every time I felt someone near me, I unconsciously held the book close to my body to hide the painting. I memorized the page number, put the book back on the shelf, and walked out.
    It wasn't until I got on a crowded train that it occurred to me that I could have bought the book. But I was glad I hadn't. I'd also forgotten to get the van Gogh book and felt bad about that. I had wanted to surprise Tokida with it.
    I stood in the packed aisle of the train and stared absentmindedly at a young woman by the automatic door. She stood with her back to me, listening to a man in a university uniform. As her head bobbled busily above her pink kimono collar while she nodded to everything the man was saying, something clicked in my mind. Her hair was tied in a bun like Degas's girl. I wiggled through the crowd to get near the couple, hoping she'd turn her head. I had to see her face. But the most I saw of her face was a three-quarter view, from the back. The soft round curve of her cheek thrilled me.
    Two stations later, when the door opened, the couple stepped out. A kind of panic seized me, and without thinking I rushed out after them. I walked quickly, almost at a trot, and took in a whiff of camellia oil on her hair as I passed them. When I reached the staircase I turned around abruptly as if I'd forgotten something, and got a good look at her. She was still listening to the man, completely unaware of me or anything else in the world. She had a round face and chubby nose, and when she laughed a gold-capped tooth glinted inside her mouth. I wished I had not seen her face.
    After that I went to the gym three days in a row, not so much to
take my karate lessons, but to look at Degas's painting afterward. It was amazing how a painting could look so different from day to day. One day she'd seem pensive, on another day happy, and sometimes indifferent. And each time I saw her I tried to capture her image in my mind and draw her later from memory.

    "You haven't been ill, have you?" asked Sensei, lying on the floor with a book in his hand.
    Tokida, who was drawing Venus de Milo, looked up and told me with his eyes not to mention anything about the demonstration.
    "I had to run some errands for Grandmother," I lied. I hadn't been to the inn since the day of the riot, and felt a little guilty about it.
    "Do you think we're ready to paint in oil?" I asked Sensei.
    "So you've come down with van

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