Excerpts from The Colourist
…I continued my journey around the garden. Ah, here I was on firmer territory with red, crimson, carmine and scarlet; colours known and named, loved and hated in equal measure. What other could encompass so many extremes? Love and blood, lust and murder, wealth and whores, magic and anarchy. What a maelstrom of meanings! On sad days, I can think of nothing more comforting than the glove-like grip of a red rose, velvet warm.
Colour-savvy warmongers used red to stimulate feelings of anger before a battle, so soldiers literally ‘see red’ before they charge, swords held aloft, screaming their lungs dry. My mother told me that the Maoris of New Zealand are able to separate red into over one hundred different shades. Red and war are important, and variations of both must be distinguished.
1952, it was. A telephone ringing. My telephone, in the hallway of the house in Clapham. ‘Hello?’
‘Rosa? Rosa Carmichael? It’s Francis Balmain.’
My heart missed a beat. ‘Is it Nathan?’ Why else would Francis want to contact me?
‘No, no. It’s not about Nathan. I just…just wondered if you and your daughter would do me the honour of accompanying me to tea next week? It has been a long time I know. I’d like to see you again.’
It seemed I was never to be rid of Francis. He would always find me.
We arranged to meet at the Ritz the following Tuesday. I spent an uncharacteristically long time getting ready that day, and fussed over Anna’s dress and hair.
‘I’m not nervous, darling. I simply don’t know why he wants to see us, after all this time. Why now? And the Ritz, for goodness sake. He always was something of a showman.’
‘Perhaps he just wants us to have a nice time,’ suggested Anna. ‘Please don’t make me wear my hair up like that, it makes me look like a little girl. And why are you wearing all red?’
‘It’s battledress today, darling. One never knows, with Francis. Come along, or we’ll be late.’