Girl in Tow

 

 

At 3:02 in the afternoon of a summer Wednesday, a man in soiled red hiking boots approaches the summit of Mount Katahdin having traveled the entirety of the Appalachian Trail by foot. At the moment he reaches the peak, a boy in Venice Beach completes the final of his many laps this season in the water to claim a junior lifeguard certificate. Meanwhile, the wishes of a little girl in Butte, Montana are transmitted through the air 11.7 inches to extinguish five of six candles atop a crème-filled, three-tier, yellow cake. 

It is at this moment, the moment the red boot stomps emphatically down, when the whistle blows onshore, when the sixth and final flame lingers in survival for a very second, mailers begin to be prepared. Emily Steinworth, assistant art director at a gallery in Greenwich Village, draws single cards six by eight inches from a stack on her glass tabletop, and with the care of an aircraft parts machinist, places them in envelopes of the brightest white on the outside, the glossiest red on the inside.

 

Introducing

Damien Ferrar

“Chisel Chasm”

Hans Steinworth Gallery

August 3–18

Reception Friday, August 3rd, 5–9pm

 

Exactly six weeks and three days prior to the show, this day brings color to the art gallery, presently decorated in works of charcoal on all four walls of the main hall. Now there is red. The red inside the envelopes. The matching polish on Emily Steinworth’s considerably long fingernails. Her lipstick, a certain “Cherries in the Snow,” worn in defiance to the season. Each envelope is sealed with a delicate lick while gleaming fingernails, at times, click the glass table. 

Two-hundred-and-fifty specially-selected guests will receive these mailers over the next week. One-hundred-and-sixty-two recipients will look at the mail critically. Eighty-eight of these will immediately discard, burn, or use as scrap paper the unopened envelope. One will insert a stiff corner between two incisors to dislodge a thread of corned beef. Seventy-three recipients will see the gloss red of the inside and extract the card. Every one of these will appreciate the art sample comprising most of the surface: “Eleventeen.” 

Nine individuals will consult their calendars for potential schedule conflicts, as a result of Emily Steinworth’s work on this Wednesday afternoon. 

 

Years before his oils appeared in galleries in Greenwich Village, SoHo, Chelsea, Paris, London, and the Far East, Damien studies the works of Mary Cassatt at a university in Manhattan.

“Most say she was an Impressionist,” he tells colleagues and friends, “but I think more a Realist. She captures the very soul of existence,” Damien says, a tight fist to his breast.

Damien recognizes the renowned painter’s most famous work, “The Bath,” but prefers several others. Cassatt’s “The Mandolin Player,” her first exhibited piece, drives Damien to recreate the dark and consuming brown background. He often tries to imitate it. He is never satisfied. 

And he’s spent many long nights, after drinks in pubs in and around the university, venturing into a library open all night for the few having particular obsessions with mathematics, history, and the flirtatious instinct known to blossom in dimly lit stairwells. In the Room of Art, with a book of illustrated works of Impressionist painters open to page seventy-six, Damien studies a print of “Little Girl Leaning on her Mother’s Knee.”

His critical examination of this painting, which is really little more than a rapturous stare into the eyes of a young girl over the course of an entire school term, will be the single most predominant ingredient propelling him to success years later.

On the page opposite the print, mixed within the text, is a quote from the artist: “I confess that if I did not live to paint, life would be dull here, dreadfully dull, nothing absolutely going on.”

“Yes,” Damien says upon reading this. “Yes.”

 

On August 3rd, opening night of “Chisel Chasm” at the Hans Steinworth Gallery, there are twenty-nine individuals holding flutes of champagne. Damien Ferrar’s first showing, one year after obtaining a fine arts degree from the university in New York, brings interest and curiosity to Greenwich Village. Among those walking about with heels knocking on the hard wooden surface are several art professors and critics, local gallery-goers, a clique of Damien’s colleagues hoping for similar attention, and a short-haired young lady with questions. She approaches Damien in an idle moment.

“I need to ask you about the numbers,” she says.

“One hundred three eighty. Nine million thousand. Twenty ten. Which?” he says.

“All of them. What do they mean? And how are they connected to the title of your show: ‘Chisel Chasm’? There is no painting so titled.”

“The eye color you are wearing around your eyes… its name is Fire Island Orange? Burnt Sienna? Sepia?”

“Coral.”

“You are an Aquarius?” he says.

“Virgo.”

“Your name is Donna?”

“Francesca,” she says, looking in his eyes. “Stick to painting. Your psychic skills need some work.”

“You are twenty-three, born in Baltimore,” he says.

“And you are a little too curious. You could be correct on one of those. Or very close.”

“You like lasagna on late Saturday nights, with red wine.”

“Maybe.”

“You prefer days filled with color and light and everything arithmetic.”

“Possibly.”

 

Following his “Chisel Chasm” show at the Steinworth, and after several other exhibits in venerated galleries of New York, Santa Fe, San Diego, and Chicago, in Damien’s twenty-sixth year comes an event which significantly changes his life. A plastic ball bearing a swirl of rainbow colors, twelve inches in diameter, passes under his feet as he walks along Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Approaching him from the rear, in the center of the street, is a cement truck weighing twenty-seven tons. Approaching him, in the wake of the plastic ball, running in the dry grass to his right, is John Gregory, age three. 

At the moment the ball reaches the opposite side of the street, the cement truck is fifty-eight feet behind. At the same time, John Gregory has crossed Damien’s path and is about to set foot off the curb to retrieve his ball of rainbow colors. In this very fraction of a second, Damien instinctively lunges, snatching the collar of the boy’s T-shirt. The boy’s forward momentum is breached and his body snaps back. His feet give way and he lands in the grass inches from the road surface, on his back. Damien, whose footing has been lost as well, lies next to him.

The cry of a horn is heard throughout the southeast of the city, but John Gregory, Damien, the ball, and the truck are unharmed. The blast inspires Mr. Anthony Gregory, the father of the boy and purchaser of the plastic ball, to look out his vast living room window. 

As Mr. Anthony makes his way across the dry grass, a woman neighbor hangs her head from a second story window two stately houses away.

“That man saved his life,” she says, pointing to Damien. “I saw everything.”

Eighty-two feet ahead of the ball, the cement truck has come to a stop. The driver emerges. Though he has not heard the neighbor in the window, he says exactly the same thing, points to the same man.

In addition to his position on the Santa Fe Town Board, Mr. Gregory has been fortunate in his financial investments and has recently begun to take up art collection. He is the owner of several galleries on Canyon Road and has interests in Paris.

Damien does not know, at this moment, that he will never have a need for securing money the rest of his life.

 

A study group has arrived at the entrance to an art gallery on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It is a cloudy Thursday in September and Damien is not in the city. Many years since his first showing at Steinworth in Greenwich Village finds him a bit of the weary traveler, now in his seventies. 

He is at home in New Mexico when the group of art students ascend seven steps of slate and proceed into a hall filled with his works. Some of the students are seeing his paintings for the first time. They remain quiet. Others have done some studying previously, and talk among themselves.

“I can certainly see Hopper here.”

“Yes, I’ve read that he tried to model Hopper. But I think more so, Cassatt.”

“He admitted he studied Cassatt intensely. I am not so sure what he has done with Hopper.”

“It doesn’t matter what he said he did. Just look! The lines. The mysterious dark backgrounds. Like ‘Automat,’ nothing in the window except a reflection of lights.”

“And his characters, so somber.”

“What’s with the numbers?”

“Some say the numbers are what made him famous. He uses them randomly, at times making them hard to see. But a number appears in every painting.”

“It is here in the back of this man’s hat. Fifteen.”

“On this dog’s collar. Twenty-eight.”

“What do the numbers mean?”

The group’s art instructor overhears the question and walks over. He’s studied more watercolors than oils, but appreciates all forms set upon canvas and paper, wood, cardboard even. 

“No one is quite sure what the numbers mean,” he says. “Ferrar has been asked many times. He has never answered the question directly.”

“Twenty-one in this one, barely visible.”

“How did you spot that?”

“Lucky, I guess.”

The study group concludes with the question of what Damien Ferrar’s greatest painting is. Several suggestions are made.

“This one. ‘Trailer Lamps.’”

“No. This one. ‘Walnut Underwater.’”

The professor speaks. “Firstly, he’s painted far more than what you see here. Secondly, a few critics think some of his best works were sold privately and that the art world knows nothing about them. But if you ask him directly, he’ll say he has yet to paint it. He is either extremely modest or excessively self-critical.”

 

Tomas Malik studies modern painters as part of his graduate art program at a major university in New Mexico. His project approach is unique, and controversy rises from the faculty of the school.

Rather than specifically critiquing the works of the artists, Tomas studies interview transcriptions, comments made by painters on their work over the course of many years. At the moment, Tomas is reviewing four interview manuscripts covering the many years Damien Ferrar painted. 

He reads:

Interviewer: Your painting “Walnut Underwater,” in addition to its context–furniture resting at the bottom of a murky, abandoned swimming pool–gives off a haunting air. It is rumored the pool is real and there is a deeper story. Is that true?

Ferrar: It is true. It happened on the opposite side of the town in which I lived for a short time as a child. The house was in foreclosure and the angry husband had thrown the furniture in the pool. Soon the water became murky, and since the house was abandoned it attracted rambunctious teenagers in the neighborhood. One night, a boy dove into the pool, possibly on a dare, and hit his head on a walnut end table. He could not be recovered. It was the inspiration for the painting.

Interviewer: What was the inspiration for another, the one titled “Trailer Lamps”?

Ferrar: I had visited a woman living in a trailer park in Oklahoma. It was the first time I’d seen living conditions such as this. I had hesitancy entering her trailer, for fear of unseemliness and nightmares on subsequent nights, but once inside, what I saw was astonishing. The lamps themselves, the only things you might perceive in my work at a glance, were beautiful, but more beautiful than that was this concept of such a thing existing inside a trailer, in the great, dusty Oklahoma expanse. You can see a paneled wall in the left corner of the painting. People do not usually ask about that.

Interviewer: Yes, I have seen the paneled wall. In that corner is the number fifty-six. Why the number?

Ferrar: I like that number.

Interviewer: It is believed most of your paintings have never been exhibited in galleries or made known to the public.

Ferrar: That is true.

Interviewer: One can only wonder what those paintings are about, and what they are valued at. Do you track who has them and where they are?

Ferrar: I cannot.

Interviewer: What do you believe to be your greatest work? The one in the White House?

Ferrar: The one in the White House is significant because of the fact that it is in the White House. A year ago I painted a mother pulling a small wagon. Set in the center of the wagon, covered in a blanket, was a little girl. Though sitting, the only visible part of the girl was her face, surrounded by red hair. The piece in the White House, years ago, convinced me that I was a painter. But this recently completed painting, this small and good thing, was really the piece that told me my work was significant.

Interviewer: Have critics seen this painting?

Ferrar: No.

Interviewer: Why do you think the subject of a baby had so much impact on you? You have no children of your own, correct?

Ferrar: That is true. I do not know if the baby herself is what caused me to like this work of mine so much. I am just not sure.    

Interviewer: Where is the painting now?

Ferrar: I don’t know.

But now his project is rejected by a majority of the faculty panel for graduate art study. The student has been asked to take a different approach in his research.

“We cannot accept a report that is not based on published information of the artists,” says the Chairman of the Fine Arts department.

“These are genuine interview transcripts,” says Tomas.

“It is not credible information. It is conjecture, my friend,” the Chairman says.

Tomas flips through pages of his report. He stops at page sixty-one and points to the text.

“Damien Ferrar,” he says. “It is believed over seventy-five percent of his work the public knows nothing about. He said it himself.”

“This is insubstantial,” says the Chairman.

“This means,” says Tomas, “that any credible, published information on this artist can only speak to a portion of his work, and almost all of it in the earlier part of his life.”

“And?”

“Don’t you think there is a lot to be gained in learning of the remainder of this man’s art, the great majority of which was never spoken about?”

“Yes, of course,” says the Chairman. “But how does one go about learning of this other work if it was never open to professional evaluation and critique?”

“An interview was done with this painter by a credible source, sir, and the painter has admitted firsthand that his greatest work was done privately, never appearing in a show or viewing. You cannot map the world without exploring uncharted waters, even if these waters prove to be difficult to navigate.”

The Chairman stops a moment, thinks.

“Give a compelling fact you have learned,” he says, “about this artist. One that does not appear in published textbooks on modern art.”

“It is all in my paper, sir,” says Tomas.

“The page number? Read it to me.”

Tomas reads from page sixty-one. 

Mr. Ferrar believes his finest work is an oil entitled “Girl in Tow,” inspired by a combination of “Little Girl Leaning on her Mother’s Knee” (Cassatt)–a painting he had studied thirty-nine years prior–and techniques used by Hopper during the period of time he painted “Hotel Room” and “Nighthawks.” What makes Ferrar’s painting appealing is inexplicable, the artist says. One must simply see it to appreciate it.

“And this can be proven how?” asks the Chairman. “Where is the painting?”

“No one knows,” says Tomas.

The Chairman folds his arms.

“I am afraid the faculty decision on your project, Mr. Malik, must be upheld. You will approach us with an alternate plan the next time we speak to you. Good day.”

 

At 7:16 on a summer evening in Santa Fe, Damien Ferrar is sitting in The Plaza. He is seventy-nine.

“You are the famous painter,” says Pascal Del Monte, a tourist, visiting the Southwest for one month. He lives in Italy. 

“It is he,” Anna Del Monte says, Pascal’s companion of forty-eight years and bearer of his six children. 

“Non posso crederlo!” Pascal cries, I cannot believe it! His eyes dart about and settle on another person near him, a passing old man with clouded glasses, carrying a sack of apples. “It is him, the painter!” Pascal says to this man.

The man looks into his sack and removes a shining red globe, a prize beyond question. 

“You will need to remind him who he is,” replies the man, pointing to Damien Ferrar, placing the apple in the hand of Pascal Del Monte, his wife at his shoulder. Upon seeing the woman, the man plunges his hand in the sack to retrieve another apple, brighter than the first.

“Ciao,” says the couple as the generous man turns and walks away.

“Girl in Tow?” Damien says to Pascal and Anna.

The Italian travelers stare at him blankly.

“May I have one of those?” he asks, his eyes locking on the fruit the Italian tourists hold. 

“Ho dato al pittore la mia mela,” says Pascal, precisely the same time his wife does, several minutes later as they wait to enter an ice cream shop. I have given the painter my apple.  

Moments later, Pascal Del Monte is enjoying a cup of soft vanilla ice cream, melting rapidly in the twilight hour. Anna is consuming the bottom of a brown sugar cone, having been served first. They have given their apples to the painter.

“He asked us something very strange,” says Pascal to another shop patron, a resident of the city. “Something about a girl’s toes.”

“I am Mucha,” says the resident, a man of seventy-two with thin, gray hair and tanned, weathered skin.

“Hello,” Pascal and Anna say. 

Girl in Tow is what the painter said,” says Mucha.

“Yes, that was it,” Anna says.

“Girl in Tow,” Mucha says again.

“What does it mean?” Pascal says.

Mucha looks down at the clay brick of The Plaza.

“You know what happens when great and famous people get old, yes?” Mucha says. He taps the side of his head and leans toward the Italian couple. “The mind starts to play games, the memory goes, the dreams fade, the honor and glory once received are questioned, doubted.”

“A man carrying apples said the painter needs to be reminded who he is,” Anna says.

Mucha nods.

“Yes, but even if you did, even if you would have stood in front of him and shouted Damien Ferrar! Damien Ferrar! he may not have made a connection. Some say he cannot recognize his own paintings anymore. He thinks they are the works of other artists. Most of the people in this city are aware of him and his condition. They know where he lives; for a famous man he has not made his whereabouts very secretive. People try to leave him alone, though. It seems to be what he appreciates.”

“Will the painter be all right?” Anna says, concerned.

“He has been like this for some years now. We pray for him at Mass. You pray for him as well.” Mucha retrieves black rosary beads from one of his pockets. He points to the center of it, a sterling silver image of the Blessed Mother. “Say the Hail Holy Queen devoutly,” Mucha says. “It will save him.”

Pascal and Anna stare into the silver medal.

“Take it,” says Mucha. He gives the beads to them. “Pray,” he says. And then the man is on his way.

 

Damien shares his modest home on West San Francisco Street with a friend, a cockatiel named Flip. The bird earned the name from its ability to hang by claws upside-down and slowly roll open wide, yellow wings. At the time the bird was named, Damien’s wife, Francesca, was turning an omelet in the kitchen. 

Years after the omelet, Francesca left the painter for a writer.

“I am not me anymore, Flip,” Damien said last night before nodding off, the bird already asleep, his hook bill tucked deeply in the back of his neck. “There is nothing more terrifying than the sound of my own voice. Who are you? it asks. What have I done?” he said, his room dark, quiet, peaceful, dead. 

In the morning, he is out of bed. Flip awakens with him, though having opened its eyes and fallen back asleep twice during the night. 

There is a knock on the door.

“Mr. Ferrar,” says a Hispanic woman with fine, slipshod hair, wearing a housecoat in a Navajo print, pulling a cart of groceries. “Your work is beautiful.”

“Girl in Tow?” Damien says.

“Your work has saved me,” she says.

“Muchacha en remolque?” he says, the Spanish equivalent.

“It is my hope you are not bothered by me stopping to tell you this,” says the woman. “I will be going now.”

“Ragazza nel rimorchio?” he says. Italian.

The woman walks away, waving.

Fille dans le remorquage?” French.

Damien returns to Flip who greets him with a happy trill.

“She has not seen it either,” he says.

 

On a balmy Monday night in Santa Fe, Damien has dessert in a pastry shop. He is seated outside at a white bistro table. Bright red and white umbrellas hover overhead, but not over Damien. He looks up, and although the city alley has light, he can see a waxing moon to the north. It does not make him optimistic. Damien is seventy-eight.

A waitress in white, black, and red approaches. A nametag in imitation gold plating, below her left shoulder, reads “Rita.” She places a small white serving dish in front of Damien. Upon it rests a towering sfogliatelle.

“Coffee too?” she says. “Do you not always have coffee? Black?”

Damien looks to the waitress, first her apron, then her collar, then the pencil tucked above one ear. The waitress can see Damien’s green-brown eyes. 

“Someone in this city has it,” he says.

“Someone in this city has your coffee?” the waitress says.

Damien looks around, at the other diners under umbrellas, at the patrons inside the shop, at the few pedestrians crossing San Francisco Street up the block.

“My painting,” he says.

“And you want it back?” she says.

“I want to see it.” Damien brings his eyes down to the sfogliatelle.

“And you think I have it?” she says.

He looks up once more, slowly, this time into her eyes.

“No,” he says, and waves her away.

The manager of the pastry shop, a man with heritage rooted outside of Naples, Italy and transplanted to an array of cities in the United States over many years, calls Rita aside.

“That man will want coffee. Black,” he tells her.

“Yes, I know,” she says. “I have served him before. He has not asked for it, though.”

The manager walks over to a coffee carafe in the kitchen. Rita follows. He pours into a cup and saucer matching that upon which sits Damien’s sfogliatelle.

“Take this to him,” he tells her.

 

At the ages of fifty-five and fifty-four, Damien and Francesca celebrate a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in Bermuda. It will be their last vacation together. The couple has not had major disagreements over the years; their lives have simply traveled in different directions. Damien grows deeper within himself, his mind, and his work, and Francesca extends herself to community benefits, youth auxiliaries, and the twenty-second seed of the indoor tennis league for women. She meets Simeon Sparrow at a charity event, a writer published in Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker

While Francesca and Simeon met for lunches, dinners, and other activities at varying hours of the day, Damien revisited the works of Edward Hopper, another painter he studied in depth at the university. Art critics have said Damien’s work most closely resembled Hopper’s. 

“I enjoy this element of solitude that radiates in his work,” Damien said in interviews and conversations, speaking about Hopper’s paintings. “Ominous backgrounds, cultivation of loneliness, vacancy. Characters that do not look each other in the eye. Like Cassatt, he is a Realist.”

Much of Damien’s work consists of straight lines, light placed in precise confinement, gloomy oils that may give away a bit of his own life. He modeled several paintings of urban settings based on Hopper’s style shown in the famous work, “Nighthawks.” Much of Damien’s painting is done by memory.

One quote of Hopper’s echoed in Damien’s mind over the years: “Painting seems to be a good enough refuge from all of this.” He recalls the quote now, in the heat of the beach on the island, while Francesca discusses several sponsorship opportunities in the Santa Fe community. 

“I do think Leukemia is the most unfortunate disease and needs more attention,” she says.

“I want to capture the ordinary, the everyday, yet still make it special,” he says.

“A critically ill child is truly the world’s worst punishment.”

“I should most certainly sketch some studies of children. I need to, at some point. I think I have it in me to complete a full work when it strikes me,” Damien says, dreamily. 

“Have you wondered what it would have been like to have a son or daughter?” Francesca asks.

“A little bit. I have not dwelled on it.”

Perhaps ten years ago Damien would have had the same question for his wife.

 

Damien is cleaning a hallway closet in his home. He is eighty. Strewn about his living room are newspaper and magazine articles up to fifty years old. A sickly Flip looks on.

From one of the older clippings, he reads about the painting that had been selected by the First Lady to be mounted in the White House. There is no image of the work in the article, but it is described as a cheerful assemblage of color and light, a bit Rockwell-like. Entitled “The Next Grade,” an oil on canvas, twenty-four by thirty-six inches, it depicts a student looking into a classroom through a window in a hallway door. Via the title, viewers are led to believe the class is a grade higher than the one the boy is currently in, and the student is trying to see what this next grade brings, as the teacher draws a sweeping line in chalk across a large blackboard. The subject is math.

“I did not paint that,” he says, Flip his only audience. “I would not have been interested in class material of a school boy’s subsequent grade.”

An older magazine article discusses the works comprising a show in a Chicago art gallery. Though the critic has made favorable comments, he cites the use of numbers included in many of the works as mysterious and uncommon, something possibly contributing to the artist’s success.

“Numbers have been around since the age of antiquity,” Damien says aloud. “This is nothing new.”

In one of his more controversial pieces, another article goes on to say, a nude girl of ten is being washed by her mother using a dry sink while the father laces a pair of dress shoes in another part of the same room. The girl is trying to make portions of her body accessible to the mother to be cleaned, while trying to keep the same portions out of view of the father. The piece is entitled “One Room Home” and was rejected as part of a proposed set of oils to be placed on display at a show in Miami. The painting was subsequently sold to an anonymous buyer.

“I have never set foot in Miami,” Damien says. “Too humid.”

Further articles are splayed about, read, displaced. More than just the living room fills with them. As compact and stored as they were in the closet for many years, they begin to dominate multiple rooms of Damien’s home. He reads one after the next and tosses them aside, critical reviews of his work, small, color-illustrated books and gallery fliers, reports on shows, interviews, college talk transcripts, white papers covering in-depth analyses of his work. Articles on similarities to Cassatt, Hopper, techniques he has used in his dark emboldened backgrounds, his mysterious use of numbers.

“None of that, none of this, inaccurate, conjecture, completely mistaken,” Damien’s words resonate as he reads and tosses papers aside. They begin to take flight. They crease, fold, separate, rip. 

The bird is alarmed. The little cockatiel heart begins to race.

Damien’s brow is furrowed, sweaty. He hums melodramatically, he pants. It is 7:42 in the evening and no one outside along West San Francisco Street knows of this disassembly, this evolving convulsion that may have been brewing for years. What specifically has triggered it?

Damien’s voice becomes louder and the sound of ruffling papers emerges, bulk copy hitting walls, and soon, an upturned coffee table. Reports and accounts of some of the shows that had disseminated complimentary words about the painter throughout the art world are no more. The sound is loud enough, now, for those in adjacent houses to hear. Several neighbors’ doorsteps and windows alight. Finally, the painter, out of breath, recedes deep into a living room chair, his hair disheveled, his shirt-tail fluttering, and he falls asleep. 

Over the next hour, a small crowd forms on Damien’s front lawn. Several of the group peer into his window at times, but do not enter the painter’s home.

 

There is a knock on Damien’s door. He hears it from the couch where he slept the entire night. It is 8:14, the morning after the tirade. A younger Flip would be up and about, fluttering wings, chirping, whistling, bobbing his head, but the bird is old and tired. He opens his eyes as Damien does and looks out the window. Neither sees anything.

Another knock.

Damien is up to answer it, walking over torn articles ankle-deep on the carpet. He is dizzy as if drunk, disoriented.

On a cliff over Montego Bay, a grandmother of twenty-three children, fully harnessed in professional hang-gliding apparatus, leaps outward and lets the heavy air gently buoy her down to the beach. At this same time, soldiers of an army artillery unit stationed close to an overseas de-militarization zone learn their period of service has been acceptably filled and they are to be immediately relieved. Men and women of varying ages wake with the morning sunlight in this moment and notice that their lovers are still sleeping beside them. 

And, of course, also occurring at this time is the click of a doorknob lock at the front entrance of a painter’s house. A woman of twenty stands straight, outside, holding a large, flat package wrapped in unsightly black plastic.

To Damien she is not a woman, but someone much younger. He looks into her eyes and sees the child in this girl, wrapped in a blanket, sitting in a wagon.

“There was a lot of commotion here last night,” the girl says. “Your neighbors, your friends told me. Word travels quickly in this town, especially when it is about a famous resident.”

He continues to look at her, studying her.

“I thought it was time I show you something.” She motions to the package.

Damien moves his eyes onto the black plastic.

“You will remember it,” she says. “I am hoping you will also remember you painted it for my mother. She died young, terribly so. On her deathbed she gave it to me, moments before passing.”

Damien extends his arm. To those in neighboring houses peering through window curtains and those who have ventured their way outside to watch, it is unclear if he is reaching out to the girl or the package.

“I am not here to give it back to you,” the girl says, and she extends her arm as well, the one holding the very life of this man, Damien Ferrar, the painter.

 

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author Joseph Levens stands in front of a snowy archJoseph Levens’ story is the first chapter in the first of two linked novels in progress. They are currently being adapted for the screen. Many of his short stories have been published in literary journals such as The Gettysburg Review, AGNI, and The Florida Review. See what some of his characters are saying about him at josephlevens.com.  

Joseph Levens was a contributor in TLR’s Encyclopedia Britannica issue.