Red and green, the colors were. Blood and grass, I thought. The crayons moved staccato-like across the page. Up-down-up-down-left-right-across-the-lines. Green legs, red skies, green hair, red face. Indiscriminately colored but who cared. My sons were happy; happier than I’ve seen them in a long time. There was a time they would have cried not to have shared the box of crayons. Now that they had more than enough, they chose to play with only two anyway. Red and green. Perhaps tomorrow the colors will change.
It was way after dark when I returned home from the gallery that night; perhaps ten already. I worked late far too many nights. It had been raining earlier and the air smelled fresh and carefree. I was tired. Pablo was just too much that night and I left him and his exhibition in the care of my assistant Mandy. Good girl, Mandy; knew the difference between the painters and the sculptors. A light-year-and-a-half ahead of that previous one I had…what was her name again? Beulah? Something like that. Anyway, she’d been gone for longer than what she lasted; so I guess I was allowed to have forgotten her name.
The lights were on in the house. I pressed the garage door remote and watched the door creak its way to the top. The headlights of the Cherokee flooded the interior of the dark cavern in front of me and it took me a while to realize that Gracie’s sporty little red Mercedes was not in its place. Its space was filled with emptiness and shadows of stuff stored against the walls. I looked towards the house again. It was a big one. Old and dark outside but gay and bright inside thanks to Gracie’s decorating prowess. She had a real flair for interior decorating that I believed stemmed from the beauty she carried within. Always smiling, no task ever to big and her children were the embodiment of her love. Yes, there was no doubt that we were the perfect family.
I still remember Gracie’s face the first time the estate agent showed us the manor. She ran through the corridors and her giggles rang through the empty rooms. She oohed and aahed at everything, noticing the finely crafted ceilings but not the mould on the walls. She loved it. Loved it all from the moment she laid eyes on it; all of the forty-six rooms and all of the sixty acres that came with it. This place was hers. Hers, as if she owned it for the past six lifetimes. We moved in two weeks later, the furniture from our downtown apartment barely filling a single room. But that did not perturb Gracie. Everywhere she touched it the manor changed its colors replacing mould for gold and drab for spectacular. Truck after burdened truck brought couches and curtains, beds and wallpaper, paintings and sculptures, some her own, and some from the gallery. She held her first party two months after and the estate agent could not believe her eyes for the wonders Gracie created.
Now her car was gone. The lights were on in the house, but the car was gone. A cold clammy hand reached out for my heart but instead clamped around my throat. I reversed the Cherokee and sped off to the main entrance. The door was open; the house was devoid of life. I called her name but somehow knew it was in vain. Gracie and my children were gone.
In the music room on the piano, was her note. It started with Dear John; it ended with Goodbye, Gracie. Just like that; no frills; like she always was. There was no indication of where she went. I sank into a bundle of despair and disheveled tuxedo.
Hours later I dragged myself off the floor. A week later the divorce papers were delivered.
It was Jack who told me there was another man; a racehorse breeder from up north who had a large place on the other side of town, which he used when he was here on business. His other passion was art; collecting not dealing. So Gracie met him at the gallery then.
Does it make her infidelity my fault then? Because she met him on my turf? I guess deep down I knew the answer to that question. There were other reasons. Other contributing factors to the breakdown of my marriage, my lawyer called it. Breakdown? There was no breakdown. At least not any that I noticed. It just disappeared one night. Like the taillights of a car in the dark.
Friends ‘shame-d’ and good luck-ed’ and ‘life’s a bitch-ed’ along the way, their eyes blabbing the fact that they knew all along what was coming. I felt like I was the last to know and cut them off. I cut them off, the bastards, the lot of them.
The erstwhile dullness that possessed the house before Gracie did, returned. Gay turned to grey and I didn’t like it anymore. I missed my Gracie; I missed her a lot. I missed my sons the most. So I called the real estate agent and moved out of the house and into a small but cozy apartment on the Westside. I took only a few personal belongings and let Gracie know through the lawyers that she could have the weekend to remove whatever personal stuff she wanted. The Monday after, I handed the rest over to the auctioneers for cataloguing and disposal.
When Gracie and I started out, we had to borrow money to pay our electricity bills and telephones were things in booths on street corners. So it was just fair that she got half of everything. And the guilt I carried around, surely I had to pay for that. So the Gallery had to go too. I couldn’t bear the quietness it stored in its echoing halls, anyway. The echoes called out her name and at night, I could hear her and her lover frolicking amongst the art, giggling, laughing, mocking me to catch-them-if-I-could. But even after I tore my life’s work from my heart, I had not found the source of that guilt; but she left me, so I was sure it was mine. It had to be mine.
Then there were my sons; I would care for them; so a trust fund took most of what was left after I paid Gracie and the guilt. I had no house, I had no car, I had no gallery, I had no children, I had no life.
No life. Many a day while walking the streets and riding the subway looking for a job, I dreamt of putting an end to it all; an abrupt end. But there was no time for that; I needed all the time I had to run away from the guilt that still rode the crests of my sleepless nights. Running consumed all of my time and alas I was too poor to afford putting myself out of my misery. My misery; it became an obsession when I realized it was all that I had. No gun, no drugs, no nothing.
When I had jobs and was able to hold them for longer than a fortnight, time turned into a haze of booze and numbness. Booze turned into drugs, drugs turned into warped visions of prostitutes, brawls and bars. Inevitably, I would surface when I lost the job and the money ran out. Down-and-out was a nice phrase. A right-mess was a laugh. When I was low I trawled the streets for what I could find; when I was high, I dished out what I could not afford; I had turned into a jack-in-a-box – just sometimes, the box was too expensive and I had to find alternative means. Only my tattered dignity keeps me from telling you about the inner workings of the soup houses and the night shelters.
I continued living the haze until that night that I met him. I was drunk; just a little as I was out of a job again. Who wants an ex-art-gallery-owner anyway? What skills have I got? All I ever did was buying and selling odd-looking-expensive-pieces-of-shit that interested nobody but pumped-up-bored-stiff housewives with too much money and too little husband and pumped-up-bored-stiff-husbands with too many lovers and too few escape routes. I also gave orders; and that’s the last thing you want to do when you need money for booze.
That night I was trawling 57th. He was getting out of his car in front of the fancy restaurant. I was on the street-side instead of on the pavement - bums like me weren’t allowed under the canopies of the fancy restaurants. His body guard stood on the other side of the car, waiting for his boss to come to him. Slacker. I should have popped him one then. I looked at his fancy coat, the tux and the bow tie. I wondered who was wearing mine and then I saw the truck. He stood with his back to it; too hungry and in too much of a hurry to notice. Instinctively I dove and flattened him onto the shiny hood of his slinky black car. The booze dulled my senses just a little too much; made me slow and the truck caught me on the knee, snapping it neatly with a crunching sound that you could hear a mile away.
My lower leg flapping aimlessly, the body guard yanked me off his boss while two more crawled from the limo. Black leather shoes ground into my ribs and guns cocked in my ear. But a gruff voice called off the dogs and fired the lot of them, right there on the spot and sent them home. All but Joey. Joey’s his boy and he needed him to drive the car. He drove me to the hospital where I spent two weeks with my leg in a sling. He came to visit nine times. Every time he came, he brought flowers and chocolates and conjured booze from hidden pockets. He towered over the bed while he thanked me over and over again for saving his life. His life obviously meant a lot more to him than mine did to me.
When they let me out of the hospital, he sent a limo to pick me up. The driver took me to an apartment in an old but nice neighborhood. It had everything a man could want; TV, VCR, cable, food – good food, booze in the bar and cigars on the counter. It was mine and I still did not know his name. I asked and was told to be ready at six. I was to meet Sonny. So that was his name. What an odd name for such a big fellow, I thought, staring at the Jack Daniels hanging upside down from the bar’s back panel.
. Six I was ready and so was the limo. It was party-time. Many people, sexy girls that let it all hang out and enough booze to inebriate the entire senate. The big man Sonny took me by the arm and introduced me to his friends. I heard my own name, John, and smiled sheepishly; eyes darting to the half bottle of Jack Daniels I had to leave on the table. From then on I was his man. Joey was his boy, but I was Sonny’s man.
I dried out, shaped up, Sonny bought me suits and I carried out his orders. There were parties with booze for the boys and girls for the associates. I indulged in neither. I had worked to do. I watched the crowds when he wasn’t looking and I checked the boxes when he had more important things to do. I checked the files and the figures, the facts and the lies and I specialized in fidelity. I looked after Sonny’s business and he was happy. He trusted me and I knew I would always be able to trust Sonny. Of his generosity, I could not complain. With the money he paid me, I bought back my gallery and an ex-friend to run it.
Some nights when we had the time, we’d spend it alone in his library, sipping strong spirits and blowing blue billows of smoke. There I told him all my secrets and he told me some of his. Learning his secrets made me a better man. I felt larger-than-life; I could stand on my own again; for that I was thankful; no, I loved him for it. Many people loved him, none as much as I. Many also hated him and those I disposed of like the garbage they were.
Then one afternoon, he called for me. Joey was sent on an errant and Sonny and I took the limo. I took the wheel, he gave directions. He took me to the manor; my house; Gracie’s house. The gates were open and we drove straight up to the double front doors. I’m sure they were still as huge as ever; only with him next to me I felt a little bigger than the last time I walked through them.
Inside, the house was gay and colorful. Rich carpets and exquisite paintings covered the floors and walls. Different though to Gracie’s style. This was his style. My style. This was mine. He waved me upstairs from where I heard voices. Children’s voices. They became louder as I raced up the last few steps. The door to the nursery flew open to expose a stunned silence. Then shouts of ‘Daddy!’ shattered the moment and I could not believe my eyes. My sons, my two beautiful boys!
They were here, in my house, on my carpet, playing! The nanny smiled at me and I vaguely recognized her from before. But she did not matter. At that moment, even he did not matter. All that mattered was the two little faces of my boys. They ran towards me, flinging their little arms around my neck and showering me with little wet kisses. He showed me a photograph; Gracie; somewhere on the grass. I recognized it for what it was; a life for a life; then the photograph was gone. The score was settled. But I did not care. I did not care how he did it. All that mattered were my sons and our future together. Over the tiny shoulders of my two little boys I saw a box of crayons and a coloring book on the floor. Red and green, the colors were; green legs, red skies, green hair, red face. Blood and grass, I thought. Perhaps tomorrow the colors will change.