ÂŠ 2012 Michael D. Brown These pieces first appeared individually on the Six Sentences Social Network.
Six to One “I can’t pay for the food,” she said, “but I didn’t eat a lot of it.” The little blond girl with Keane-like large sad eyes had sat by herself in front of a half-eaten plate of spaghetti Bolognese and stared at the cup of black coffee on the other side of the table for nearly ninety minutes before slipping out of the booth and ambling over to the waitress behind the counter. She watched her mother leaving by the side exit, walking across the parking lot, and boarding the big silver bus. When her mother twisted the cup around on the saucer twice then said she had to go to the ladies’ room, and would be back in a jiff, Laurie knew she was about to be deserted, but this third time, she was not afraid, as she had been what seemed like a year ago in Laredo. As she entered the Sip ‘n’ Sup diner that looked just like a trailer home, while holding her mother’s hand, Laurie thought of the long walk alone back into town, and how they would soon have enough money to be traveling again. The little girl knew they were broke when the woman she had taken to calling Mama said, “Let’s go get something to eat at that nice place we saw a couple of weeks ago when we got off the bus.”
Sparsely Furnished Dream When the light roused Tess from her reverie, she was sitting half-naked in a squarely upholstered chair in a sun-shaft streaming through a paneless window, the rest of the sparsely furnished room being cast in deep gray shadow, and it took less time than a secretaryâ€™s dream to realize that she was now residing in one of Edward Hopperâ€™s lesser known paintings. Her own Edward must have come to in the middle of a passenger bridge and because he could not make out any of the village around him but a lake which appeared to be on fire under a searing orange sky, put his hands to his face and screamed in confusion. Tess, who had always been quick on the uptake, heard the agonized screaming in the distance, and having already adapted to a barren cityscape, glided to the conclusion that Edward, had likewise been subsumed into a piece of art, knowing beyond doubt the scenario in which he was now taking part. Served him right, the philistine, for it was he who had brought home the seven DVD collection of The History of Art, and laughed through three discs while she wept silently for Christina in her field so far from the Olson house.
Tess knew if she could only work her way out of ennui, she would be witness to melting clocks, lines of men with appled faces and wearing bowlers falling like sheeting rain, soup cans and multiples of celebrities minor and major, but icons all, yet she was as well and truly fixed in her Hopper home as she might have been in the Wyeth, so ensconced that she could never dream of waking, nor walking. In this moment, crying without tears felt absolutely right, as she put the screams of Edward out of her mind, and heard naught but the sound of closing doors.
As Night and Day Laurie had been clean for six months when she decided she would try to find the woman she knew as Mama, for although she had recurring dreams of Tess waking in madness, imagining she was trapped in a painting, in her gut, Laurie believed somehow, somewhere Tess still managed to survive, living off the kindness of
strangers. Abandoned repeatedly in diners and coffee-shops throughout seven states, Laurie continually found her way back to her mother, nursing her into something resembling health, which might last anywhere from three weeks to eighteen months. When she was sitting alone in a greasy spoon called Chippyâ€™s on Route 40, twelve days after her fifteenth birthday, Laurie did her numbers, and calculated there was no longer any percentage in attaching herself to a sporadically happy home, and hitchhiked her way to Los Angeles to see how she could fare on her own. Only twice along the way, did she suffer doubts about her decision, then reveled in her new found freedom for five months before succumbing to what seemed inevitable on the short list of opportunities for homeless, undereducated, attractive young women. She developed an expensive coke habit to take her mind off what she was doing for a living, but still managed to save up some money for the time she would quit working nights, locate her peripatetic mother, and the two of them could move to Florida because she knew the old girl had to give up the life one day. As she placed the magazine cutting of Edward Hopperâ€™s Nighthawks on top of her meager belongings in her small gray suitcase, she smiled, thinking she had a pretty good idea where to start looking.
Shot in the Dark Laurie had held onto the dream of Tess and herself retiring from a road life to a neighborhood of pink and lavender houses where a woman could feel like a woman and not a commodity, and though her prayer was now cast toward a starless dusky sky, she was thankful both of them had survived long enough to be able to move into one of the paintings they loved so much where nothing more occurred than the occasional change of light. She remembered that on Sunday she would have to drive her mother up to the nursing home to visit old Edward, which was in the offing more frequently since Tess, after her absentmindedness had cleared had had a change of heart, and claimed she could not carry the thought of his screaming into a void, and â€œwho knew best how to console a man in such a situation?â€? Visiting would have to suffice as Laurie could not bear finding more than two pairs of slippers on the deck. Now and again, she regretted her persistent need to locate Tess after having been abandoned by her so many times, but also recalled her life had not gone right, and, yes, roughing it had proven a lonely existence. Though now, it might be nice to
continue without obligations, living in a Hopper-scape, like sitting in a cinema, was best if some likeminded somebody was around with whom the experience could be shared. When the sound of gunshots shook her from her reverie, she stepped back inside, closed the door, and turned the radio up a bit to mask her discomfort.
Removal She had grown so used to having the expanse of an over-sized mattress to herself, she could not fall asleep for the longest time and regretted having allowed Tess, in her frightened, semidelirium, to snuggle in and share her night. Laurie soon enough became aware that it was her own stomach producing the gurgling noises and not her motherâ€™s indisposition. She had never known her body to be so uncompromising while lying alone. The therapist had offered that art was born to help people negotiate the world not to hide in, and when Tess claimed he was trying to drive a wedge between them, and she was thinking of quitting the sessions, Laurie thought he must have struck a nerve, but kept this observation to herself. As Tess was
learning to accept that Edward was indeed gone beyond the threads of the slight companionship he had formerly provided, had once or twice wept in twinges of guilt over his demise, and forlorn, was framed more frequently in the black rectangle of Laurieâ€™s bedroom doorway, the younger woman considered she might never sleep alone again, which was in blank opposition to the scheme of her retirement. She was being sucked into a vacuum wherein she could gain no leverage, with its blunted pastel walls mirrored into eternity.
Limned in Smoke and Ashes Now that she lived by herself, though not really alone, Laurie had taken up smoking again, clove cigarettes, but still enjoyably free from complaint, and rereading passages from favorite novels, where solutions to quandaries were always forthcoming. She had put years into finding herself in the position she now occupied, brimming in self-reliance, fairly unconcerned over the welfare of any living person, and comfortable in quiet moments.
On the afternoon the nursing home administrator had advised them of Edward’s death, Tess exclaimed, “Now what am I going to do?” as if her sense of responsibility outweighed Laurie’s, as if that were possible. Laurie had to handle all the funeral arrangements then, and did so again with more awareness of her duties when Tess passed three years later. In her only moment of guilt, Laurie breathed an audible sigh of relief on her second and last return from the parlor. Eating a peach, something else she had not done in years, she looked up at Tess’s portrait hanging in the stairwell, knowing her mother was finally where she had always wanted to be, her ashes adding a touch of iridescence to her complexion making her appear as radiant as Laurie recalled from her youth, and reassured herself, that, yes, she had chosen the right colors.