- Elizabeth Gilbert

It was August 1969, when Patricia first walked into the Gibson residence in New York. Fleeing the Mexican cartels, this was her chance to start afresh.   

She had been hired as a maid and carer for the renowned artist Charles Gibson.  

“He’s going blind,” Gibson’s agent, Mr. Parkes, informed her, “He was never the easiest man to deal with. But since the accident that damaged his eyesight, he has fallen into a pit of self-despair and anger. He’s like a wounded animal. More likely to bite your head off than thank you.”  

Parkes hadn’t been exaggerating. Those first few days were tough. Outraged by his growing need for dependency, Charles made no attempts to hide his hostility towards the new maid.  

Patricia tried to make the best of this less-than-ideal situation. And thanks to much patience and persistence on her part, the broken artist slowly grew more comfortable around her. But never quite so comfortable as to let her into the inner sanctum of his studio. That he kept for himself - never even permitting her to clean or tidy up.

 As time went by, the two developed an irregular routine. On bad days, when his eyesight was particularly ruinous, or old pains would sear through mind and body, Patricia knew to leave Charles alone. She afforded him the quiet dignity to lick his wounds in private.

 On good days, she would share her story with him – her own struggles and the joy of her simple triumphs. Together they would speak of life-changing events and inconsequential moments, finding beauty in both the ordinary and the extraordinary.  

Their mutual respect grew. But despite this, there was still one thing Patricia found awkward.  

Often, when she helped Charles with his personal care, the artist would trace the contours of her body and breathe in her scent. Other times, he would reach out and touch her face, like he was trying to read it with his hands.  

As awkward as it was, however, Patricia got the innate feeling that this was not an act of lust. Instead, it was as if he were exploring her very presence - and somehow finding comfort in it.  

Months went by, taking with them more and more of Charles’ remaining eyesight. Soon, he was spending the majority of his time secluded in his studio. Visitors to the house were berated for disturbing him. Doctors feared a life-threatening brain injury could be leading to rapid deterioration. But their advice was ignored.  

Lost in his darkening world, not even Patricia could reach him. Until one day he emerged, demanding that Parkes arrange an exhibit without delay.  

“It will probably be his last,” reflected Mr Parkes. And not wanting to stand in the way of one last hurrah, the agent made the necessary arrangements.  

But it wasn’t soon enough for Charles. Days before the exhibition opened, the last twinkle of light escaped his eyes.  

Among the collection in his studio were instructions and a handwritten note for Patricia. She was to read his final words at the unveiling of his work.  

“Figurative art was always my passion. I have spent my entire life studying anatomy, but it has been an utter waste of a lifetime. Only when I could no longer study the human form with my eyes was I able to truly see.  

“When I met Patricia for the first time, she was just a blur. But as she faded from my view, I discovered the most kind-hearted woman I have ever known. While my sight failed me, my other senses rewarded me. Through them, I saw a glorious vision of divinity.  

“All these years, I thought I was perfecting my craft. But I realise I was merely mimicking the human form. Only now have I seen the immaculate beauty of a soul.  

“Here is my only real masterpiece. I call it ‘The Glorious Mess’.”

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