The Simpson Gallery
by Kathy Dillenbeck

As they strolled through the Simpson Gallery, Harry was regaling Grace with tales of an encounter with a crazed fan. Unaware she was no longer walking beside him, he was several steps ahead of her and almost at the punch line when he noticed her absence. He turned back to see her, mouth agape, staring at a large oil painting on the wall ahead of them. When he considered the painting's striking array of brilliant red, yellow, and orange leaves contrasted against the dark tree trunks and deep green of the pines, Harry thought he understood her distraction. Walking back to stand beside her, he said, "It is quite beautiful, isn't it?"

Not really hearing Harry's question, Grace continued to stare at the canvas, moving forward a step at a time, as if afraid it would disappear if she approached too quickly. She drew nearer to the masterpiece, wondering how the artist could depict a scene so familiar to her. Almost every night, in that time between sleep and wakefulness, she walked on that cobblestone road, heard the crackle of those brightly colored leaves beneath her feet, shivered from the chill in the air, and smelled the smoke coming from the fireplace of the cottage she somehow knew was hidden behind the stand of trees. Sometimes, her heart soared as she felt the warmth of the hand holding hers and heard the rich baritone voice speaking softly of the future, how they would spend their honeymoon, how they would raise their children, how they would always be together. Then, just as he turned her to face him and leaned toward her for a kiss, a rush of overwhelming sadness would overcome her, and she would wake up. The man's name and face dwelled just beyond her reach, behind some invisible barrier in her brain.

Unable to prevent the emotions engulfing her, she wrapped her arms around herself and whimpered.

"Grace," Harry said, wrapping her in one arm. "What is it? Are you sick? How can I help you?"

At his words, tears welled up in her eyes. She could not speak. She could only shake her head and stare at the haunting image.
Harry nudged her over to a bench and gently forced her to sit. He eased himself beside her and held her hand in both of his.

"What is it, Grace?" Harry asked. "How can I help you if I don't know what's wrong?"

"That picture." Grace pointed. "It's ..." She looked at Harry, willing him to understand. "I dream about that place almost every night, but I have no memory of ever having been there. I'm walking hand in hand with someone whose face I can't see. Although nothing bad really happens, I always wake feeling sadness and a great sense of loss."

"But, how is that possible?" Harry asked.

"I don't know. How can someone paint my dreams right down to the smallest detail?"

"Do you suppose it's a real place and you've seen it in a magazine or on the Travel Channel?"

"I don't think so, I must be going crazy." Grace looked at Harry, willing him to assure her she was as sane as the next person.

"That's absurd. There must be some explanation." Harry walked over to the small plaque on the wall next to the painting. "Let's see if there's some explanation on this.'

"The painting is titled "Pathway to Paradise" and is set in the Adirondack Mountains. No other information here except the artist's name, G. L. Booth, and the fact that the painting is not for sale."

"My parents and I used to spend as much time as we could in the Adirondacks--we had a cabin near Long Lake, but I don't remember any place like this. I never went back after they were killed in a car crash when I was nineteen." Grace rubbed the scar on her forehead as if trying to stir up some long lost memory.

"Maybe we could find the artist and find out where this place is, then track it down to see if being there will help us figure it out." Harry walked toward Grace and held his hand out. "I know Adele Simpson. I'm sure she can tell us how to contact him."

Grace let him drag her to the manager's office where Harry knocked on the door. Without waiting for an invitation, Harry barged into the office. A man and woman stared in surprise as they entered.

"Harry!" Adele Simpson rose and rushed forward to hug Harry. "George, this is my dear friend, Harry Woodstock, but I'm afraid I don't know this young lady." She gestured for Harry to introduce Grace.

"That won't be necessary. Grace and I are old friends," the man called George said in the tones Grace had heard countless times in her dreams. "But it's been years since we saw each other."

Grace, too stunned to speak, put a hand to her mouth and passed out. George was quick enough to catch her before she fell. He lifted her and laid her on Adele's sofa.

"What's going on?" Harry demanded, racing over to kneel beside Grace.

"She just collapsed," George said. "Has she been ill?"

"No, but we were coming to ask you about "Pathway to Paradise," Harry said. "Grace told me she dreams about that place and we thought if we could find you, we might be able to figure out why you would be painting a place she has only seen in her dreams.

"I don't understand," George said. "Grace has been there. We were there together. We fell in love at first sight and were planning to be married, but she left and I never heard from her again. I tried to reach her, but she never told me her last name."

"George, is that really you?" Grace mumbled, reaching toward George.

He gently pushed Harry out of the way and knelt beside Grace. He clasped her hand in both of his and said, "Yes, Grace, it's really me, but why did you leave and never contact me? I thought we were going to be married. I thought you deserted me."

Grace caressed George's cheek. "After I left you that last night, my parents and I were driving toward Blue Mountain Lake when a runaway truck crashed into us. They were both killed instantly and I spent months in the hospital. I think I must have blocked out all my memory from that summer, but you were always there in my dreams. Is it too late for us?"

In answer, George kissed her.