copyright 2017 by Chris Benedict
I looked down the dark, narrow alley, and then back at the postcard. Surely this couldn’t be the right place. But the address, printed in Jim’s precise, tiny lettering was specific. It had to be there, at the far end of this trash-strewn, urine-stinking, brick-lined passageway. Taking a deep breath, I pressed the button on my keyring flashlight, and plunged ahead before I could think better of the idea and flee for home.
The postcard had arrived on Saturday, just a little slip of a thing that I almost threw out with the junk mail. But the signature caught my eye, and started the tears flowing again. Jim. We’d buried him on Monday, in a fancy, lead-lined coffin with all the frills. The funeral had been well attended – Jim had a lot of contacts in the art world, but few close friends. And Teena the rich young widow, her tears carving canyons through her caked-on makeup, her double-D’s quivering with simulated grief, already drawing a crowd of eager suitors offering solace…
I knew nada about art, but I knew what made Jim happy — it was bleeding little these days, with the fanboys always hounding him, begging for a piece of the Great Man… and certainly not Teena, the drama-queen in spandex.
And now this. “I’m not dead,” the postcard read. “Meet me Tuesday at eight…” and this address. A first-name signature, the famous scrawl with which he signed all his paintings. Jim.
“It’s a hoax,” whispered part of my mind. Jim was dead. I’d seen his body, helped lay it into the cold clay grave. This was someone’s idea of a sick joke. And yet, this seemed exactly like something Jim would do… I’d debated with myself on Sunday, and I’d nearly thrown the damned thing away on Monday.
But Tuesday, here I was. Walking swiftly down an unsavory alley. I had to know. No matter how unlikely it seemed, if there was a chance that the postcard was true, I had to be there. My hand hovered before the nondescript metal door. Is this the place? I tapped softly before doubt could steal my resolve and send me fleeing, mystery unsolved.
The door popped open an inch, and a suspicious eyeball filled the gap, giving me the once-over. Soft music and blue-green light spilled into the alleyway, along with the scent of the sea. “Go away,” growled the unfriendly, unfamiliar voice, and the door started to close again.
“Please,” I called, pressing my body against it to keep it from latching. “I-is Jim here? He asked me to meet him…” Please be true, my heart begged. Jim had always been dear to me, and never dearer than when he’d helped me through my divorce, last year. I had to know if he lived, or if it was just a cruel joke.
“Amandine, you came!” Jim’s mellow baritone was unmistakable, and sent a quiver of arrows through my sorrowing soul. The door burst open wide, and he was there, warm and real, taking me in his arms. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he breathed into my hair, before holding me at arms’ length for examination.
“Oh Jim. You’re alive, it’s true…” my body knew what my mind struggled to accept. He was here, before me.
He pulled me inside of the space, which seemed more like a mad scientist’s loft than the speakeasy lounge I’d been expecting. But I had eyes for only him.
“I wanted to give you this. But with the pre-nup, I didn’t dare leave it for the estate to settle. Teena would have found a way to get it.” Jim presented me with a framed three by five.
It was a genuine Jim Jewell – that much was obvious even to my amateur’s eye – full of all the luminous glory that he was renowned for. The scene was unusual for him – a clean, unpeopled beach, somewhere fabulously exotic, with squarish pink buildings merely suggested in the background, and neat sailboats plying azure waters.
I loved it. “Oh, no… I – I couldn’t…” I stammered.
“But you must!” He had only to smile to melt away all my reservations. “I painted it for you.”
“It’s beautiful,” I told him to watch his face light up again.
“Yes, well… s-so are you,” he replied. Suave gone, today he was like a different person, like a boy who hadn’t quite found his way.
“What will you do now?” I asked, hugging the painting to me to keep myself from reaching for him. Take me with you, I wanted to beg. But I bit my lip instead. I would not cry.
“Oh… move onward I suppose.” He gave me a brave smile. “Goodbye Amandine…” And then he put me back into the alley and shut the door.
At home, I hung my new Jewell on the wall and drank myself numb. Stood before it, taking it in, with all its glorious, wonderful, intoxicating detail. Drunken, maudlin tears swam in my eyes, smearing the colors into an impressionistic swirl.
All the bright spots in what used to be my life had been extinguished, one by one. The future without Jim seemed a cold and bitter place. Except for this. The scene before me, so warm, so inviting that I could almost reach out a hand and touch…
“Amandine! You found the way! I knew you would.” The voice was a mellow baritone and I recognized it. Tropical breezes played through my hair and the lazy sun warmed my skin as I turned. The sea and the sky and the boats…