The Old Man and the Pearl Necklace

It's like hauling my old pickup truck up and over the stairs. I stop lugging it for a second just so I can catch my breath. I feel the side door against my backside. I'd been holding it open while I struggled to pull this thing into the house. A light breeze drifts into the home from outside. My back creaks behind me, and I hold my spine as I try to stretch up. I can feel the pain in my knees, too. I must be getting too old for this. I groan and look down at bagged pile. I don't know what I was thinking earlier when I decided to do this. Oh, I knew already. I didn't want to leave it out in the shed out back too long.

I shake my own head and roll my shoulders. Something else cracks in my neck. Just a little more, I tell myself. Just a bit. I take hold of the bag and begin pulling again. I've gotten it over the step and into the door frame. It won't be so bad, I think. At least it's inside now. The door automatically shuts behind me, the sound of it closing loader than I hoped for. Ah. It's not like anyone will come and check on an old man. Nah, they've never cared about this old thing, not since I've retired. How long ago was that? I think almost ten years now. Yeah, I suppose that sounds right. Better now, I think, than back then. It was too much work back in those days, going to the job and back home to do this. Nah, I don't miss all the running around. The muscles would be useful now, though, but that's okay. I'll make do. Always have.

I reach the stairs, a narrow set that curves to the left. I stop and stand there, staring up at them. I remember when these hands installed the damn things, but now I'm wondering why I ever thought a second story would be a good idea. I glance back at my feet. Well, it's not going to move itself. I grab it and begin pulling it up the stairs. Thump. Thump.

I pass the old pictures that are strewn up on the walls on either side of the staircase. Mismatched frames of faces long since gone. My old wife, my old brothers, all of them with smiling faces staring back at me from the wall. If they could see me now. I look down at the bag in my hands. Nah, they probably still wouldn't smile like that ever again. Those pictures were taken long ago, nearly four decades. In their last few months, they were all the same. Not worth anything but to stand in pictures on my walls. I grunt and pull. Thump. Thump.

Mother knew and she understood. She didn't question me, not once. But I didn't have any of her pictures on the wall. They wouldn't let me keep any of her things after she'd gone. They were given to my brothers. Humph. What good did it do for any of them? They all died, and here I am, the only one of 'em left. Should have given me the old house. But that's fine. I made this one all by myself, and it has stood all this time.

I pause for a moment. I wonder if I'd forgotten to water the plants outside. My tulips needed it, last I checked. Oh, I'll have to check after. I reach the top of the stairs. One large heave that leaves me incredibly breathless. I stop for a solid minute while I catch my breath. My eyes wander of the patterned carpet that runs up the stairs. I could have sworn long ago I'd installed white carpet. Seems every time I look at the thing, its colors have changed. I laugh. I must be losing my damn mind.

I take the bag and haul it down the hall towards the one awaiting room. I'd already prepared the basics before any of this happened, though I hadn't been expecting for it to be today. I thought I was going to wait another few days, but I decided to take the chance right away. I couldn't help myself. This old body must hold a boy's heart, always pumping away with excitement. It's always been like that, though. Good for the soul, I think. What would have happened? Where would I be now if I let myself rot like all the others? No, I dedicated all of my free life towards this and now I get to do it whenever I damn well please. Ah, life really has shined her beautiful light on this one.

I've made it into the room. Thank the stars. Guess I'm not too old for this yet. I place the bag into its spot and I pull up the old wooden chair to sit. I light my cigarette and stare forward. I remember when I started smoking. I was twelve, and my old man found out and beat me with a pipe. Had to be hospitalized for a few days. He told the doc I fell down the stairs. Things were different back then. Didn't have police digging into family business. No, he made me a man after that. A real man.

Ah, but sittin' here won't get things done. I move my cigarette to the edge of my mouth while I lean over to grab at the bag. I open it open and take out all the parts and set them down carefully on the floor. I've don't this so many times before I don't even need to look. They always go in the same spot, laid in the same direction. I throw out the bag and then move to get the paints. I'd collected a lot of different tubes over the years. I'm quite proud of the collection I've amassed. Five containers full. I got into painting in high school, only class I ever did well in, art. The rest seemed pointless to me. No one ever used geometry or history. I aint done any traveling, so what's the point in learning where Paris is? But art. Art seemed to have all the words I could never think, all the sounds I could never make, and the cords in which to speak 'em. Mother used to put my paintings on the old fridge, but that was after the old man died.

I shake the paint and apply them to the palette. I reach for the brushes and the strip of cloth. I set them down and then go to my record player and slip in one of my oldest records. The music begins to play, and all the aches in my body begin to melt away. I move to sit back in my chair and take up the brushes.

My eyesight is still just as good as it ever was. I can paint each and every little detail. I already know what I've got in mind for this one. Yeah, I can still picture it. Mother's old apron, the patterned one she wore in summer. The process takes hours, painting on each layer and letting it sit to dry. I never rush these things. I don't care how long it takes.

I spend three days cooped up in that room. Only ate once and drank some gin on the side. A real man can survive without anything. All he needs is a brush in one hand, a palette in the other, and a dreams of the past. I stand back and eye my beautiful creation. The pile of flowers and flowers, each carefully painted onto the tanned hide. Splendid. All topped with a twisted face with painted lips. Just like Mother. I smile. There's only one more small touch and then it'll be complete.

I keep a small box on the counter. I made the box by hand in the 8th grade, and I've managed to keep it all this time. I open its lid and take out a single smooth pearl from a string. They were heirlooms, she's told me. I take it over to my latest art piece, pry open those lips and place the pearl inside.

My brothers couldn't ever keep anything from me, you know. They thought they were the best at hiding everything. But I always found their comics, their playboys, their old piles of money. I found everything they tried to hide. And I got good at learning how to hide things from them. They never would have seen me take 'em from the grave. Too busy crying. But she never wanted us to cry. I never cried.

Nah, there was too much to live for, to hope for, to dream for. I think she'd be proud. I caress the twisted face, and then move to kiss its dry lips. When I pull away, I whisper to her, "So nice of you to visit dear Mother."

And grey eyes looked at me like Mother's would because, you see, an artist can take any old part and create any kind of illusion.