Mary Paddock is such a talented writer. When I was introduced to her work, I wanted to share. So, today we are fortunate enough to have an excerpt from “Chroma,” one of the short stories in her collection entitled Sing, which is available on Amazon.com. You can also learn about Mary on her HOPress-ShorehouseBooks.com author page.
“So did she say why she wanted to go to New Jersey?”
“No. Just asked and got angry when we answered.”
“What was your response?”
“I said we couldn’t go anywhere this year—it’s been a hard season—barely enough guests to make the bills” Tom sighed. “Actually it’s been years since we’ve been anywhere—this place was old when we bought it and it barely breaks even most of the time with all the repairs. But I told her maybe next fall.”
“And then what?”
“She said she couldn’t believe we were saying no to this one thing. That she might not even be around next year. When I pointed out how she was in pretty good health, she called me— “Tom’s mouth twitched—”an ungrateful child. Then Jenny—”He stopped—his eyes again tracking to his wife’s still form across the table from him.
Jenny stared straight ahead.
“What did you say Mrs. Peters?”
Jenny’s hands twisted in her lap.
Mole Man spoke sharply. “Mrs. Peters?”
“I told her she was the ungrateful one. That we’d taken her in, built her a house of her own. I clean up after her and take her places and it’s not like I’m not busy enough already—” She stopped. She would not cry in front of the Mole. “And then she told me I was the reason Tom was refusing. That I’d changed him. Then she stormed out of the house and that’s the last time we saw her.”
The deputy leaned back the few inches. “So it’s possible she’s run off.”
Tom’s face reddened. “You make it sound like she’s teenager. The woman is in her eighties and has arthritis. Where ever she went, she sure didn’t go there in a hurry.”
“Are you sure she didn’t know anyone who might take her where she wants to go?”
“No. At least—”Tom stopped. Jenny could see him thinking the same thing she had earlier.
“—Not that we know of,” she finished for him.
“Does she have any money of her own? A social security check, a pension, or something like that?”
Tom answered. “She gets a couple of checks—one’s a social security check—I don’t know what the other one is. We take her to town to deposit it and take her shopping when she wants to go.”
“So you don’t have any access to her accounts?”
“And you don’t have power of attorney?”
“No. Her judgment—as far as we know—isn’t impaired.”
“And you don’t know if she has life insurance or anything?”
Jenny decided to save Tom an angry reply. “We don’t know. We haven’t worried about it. Her finances are her business.”
Tom interrupted her. “Look—not that it matters, but we invited Mom to come live with us because they took away her license after she hit a telephone pole. Her reflexes might be slow, but until now there’s been no sign there was anything wrong with her mind. We didn’t want to run her life, just keep her close in case she needed us.”
The deputy changed tactics. “You mentioned something about her artwork earlier, that it disturbed you. Can you tell me why?”
“I’ll do better than that, I’ll show you,” she said, actually grateful for the opportunity to both get the deputy out of her house and get someone else’s take on what she’d seen.
They walked over to the cottage and Jenny let them all in.
Jenny pointed at the large picture on the wall. The deputy stood back, his arms crossed, and studied it for about thirty seconds. His face went from the kind of blank he attempted to wear when listening to their replies to a clueless variety. “Why did this upset you?”
“You’re kidding right?” She motioned to the art work around them—”look at all these. Any idiot can see these are all different than that one. Why would an eighty-seven year old woman who’s only been painting for five years go from still-lifes of fruit and sea shells to—that.”
Both the men were clueless, she decided. Tom, who hadn’t seen any of his mother’s art since the day she moved in two years before, was confused by everything in the room—even the innocuous images that lined the baseboards. Mole Man was just clueless in general and as he stood there looking from the picture to her and back again she went from afraid of what he might know to what he didn’t.
“I might not know much about art, but I do know artists experiment with different subjects,’ said the deputy.
Resisting the urge to shake him like he was a child, Jenny placed a hand on his arm, and turned him face on to look at the picture. “At this point, I’d dare say I know Lily better than either of you—
Tom looked like he might protest but closed his mouth when her eyes widened in his direction.
“—But this—THIS is not her. And this—THIS—”she turned Mole Man so he could look at the picture on the easel “isn’t like anything else she’s painted either. And now she’s missing and you’re going to tell me I am worried about nothing.”
The deputy disengaged himself from her grip and did finally seem to see the picture on the wall versus the company it was keeping. His eyes traveled from the picture on the wall to the easel to the others.
Jenny turned beseechingly to Tom who was staring at the image of the little girl on the easel, his fingers lightly touching the canvas.
“Tom? Do you know something about that picture?”
He cleared his throat. “That’s my mom.”
“I thought it looked like her.”
“Those are her eyes. And that’s her doll. But I don’t know why she’d have painted herself in a place like that. She grew up in Newark in a brownstone. They didn’t have a yard. And the only dog they ever had was schnauzer and it didn’t like her.”
“Maybe that’s where she wished she grew up,” Jenny said.
“That’s what I thought too. Then I saw the bloody handprint on the window,” Tom said mildly.
She joined him in front of the canvas and peered closely at the picture. The house in the background had picture-perfect four paned windows with lace curtains tied back on either side. At first glance the whole scene was one of innocence—a small child playing in a hide out with her toys and her faithful dog. But when Jenny leaned she could make out a faint red hand print on the window—faint trickles of red ran down the glass.
Jenny couldn’t remember the last time Tom had held her hand, much less tucked it under his arm. But in that second, he did both and they stood together, arm in arm, staring silently at Lily’s self-portrait, trying to understand.