The Painter

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2 months ago
Topics: Fiction, Writing

Thinking the last few weeks over, Daniel couldn’t get over the banal observation about how surprising life could be. Trite or not, he still couldn’t put his head around it.

It all started when his father died.

 

His uncle had called him. Uncle Ben, of all people.

Daniel had been at work. He hated when people interrupted him when he was working. He was working on a very important case. He was always working on an important case. His uncle had called earlier – twice in fact, and he hadn’t taken the call. The third time the office secretary Orit didn’t ring him, but came into his office to rebuke him.

“Your uncle is calling for the third time, Daniel”.

“I can count, Orit.” He looked up and saw her scowling at him. “OK – I will take it, if only to make you feel better”.

She left, rolling her eyes.

 

“Yes, Uncle Ben?” He asked tiredly, expecting the old guy to put some kind of burden on him he wouldn’t want.

“Your father died”, he told him over the phone.

Daniel specialized as a “Forensic Psychologist” and worked for various Israeli security groups. His job was to know the bad guys. To know why they did what they did, how they did it, and most importantly, if they were telling the truth, lying, or something in between.

“Your kidding me”.

“Kidding you?”, his uncle sputtered, “Admitted, he wasn’t my favorite brother, but why would I kid you?”

“Uncle Ben, He was your only brother.”

His uncle went silent for several moments.

“Are you going to argue with me about how many brothers I have or don’t have? Aren’t you going to ask the usual questions? How? When? Where? What is needed to be done? I know he was my only brother!”

Daniel sighed, then he asked the usual questions.

 

Daniel really did not want this burden, but luckily, Ronen, his uncle’s son, and someone who Daniel actually got along with, had called and offered to help. He called his mother, more to inform her than to think she would actually care. She didn’t.

 

Hadar was a young psychologist who had worked several important cases with him.

“I feel terrible!” Hadar exclaimed when he told her. “Do you want me to come to the funeral?”

“Of course not!” he told her and sighed. “I don’t even want to come with me!”

He didn’t notice how she paled at this, because he didn’t look. He just wanted this over with.

 

He parked at the graveyard in Givat Shaul and noticed that the parking lot was quite full. People die all the time, he told himself. He wondered how many would show up for his father’s funeral. Probably just him, his uncle and some of his uncle’s family.

That was the first surprise.

The religious male caretakers who managed funerals led him and uncle Ben and family to the grave. He, Uncle Ben, Ronen and another cousin carried his father’s body, covered, on the stretcher. There was quite a crowd at the grave waiting for them.

“Are we at the right grave?”, he asked Ronen. Ronen nodded, and shrugged.

The caretakers, without any delay, began the service.

Scowling, looking up, Daniel counted at least 30 people he did not know murmuring prayers, or psalms, and in general looking sad, glancing at him. What was going on? Was there some group of people who just liked going to funerals? Like Hadar, for instance?

 

When the service was over, Daniel sighed. He seemed to be doing this a lot lately.

He turned to leave, but he saw the people that had come to the funeral talking something over. Two of them timidly approached him and one grasped his hand.

“You are Shmuel’s son?”

He didn’t answer right away, the question taking him by surprise.

“Yes”.

“We all are so sad about Shmuel. We all knew him, and feel a huge hole in his passing”.

“Are you friends?” he asked, and couldn’t hide his disbelief.

“Friends?” the man repeated and smiled shyly. “No, I wouldn’t say that. I guess I always saw myself as his student, though that may sound silly or even arrogant to you.”

Daniel looked to his uncle and Ronen who both looked like he felt.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”

The two men looked back at the group, both of them ill at ease.

“Your father’s artwork. I am sorry. I am sure you think me trying to get something from you. I assure you, I want nothing of the sort. It’s just that, well, we all loved your father’s art. It inspired us. Changed our lives. We often spoke, or rather, chatted about his work with him online in a forum we built for this. We only came to say goodbye to a man who had touched us all…”

Daniel interrupted him.

“His artwork? You mean his painting?”

The men smiled. “Yes, of course!”

“Uncle Ben. Do you have any idea what this is about?”, Daniel asked, but didn’t wait for a response and turned to the man. “Well, I thank you for this”.

He shook the man’s hand, and the rest of the group approached him.

 

The Shiva was at his father’s apartment in Jerusalem. Daniel originally had thought to just have the family and go back to Tel Aviv and their lives the next day, but again he was surprised. It seemed the whole city heard about the Shiva and came to sit with them. A steady stream came during the hours of the day, and in the end, he called the office to tell them he would be staying the whole seven days. Ronen and Uncle Ben stayed most of the time, Ronen going out and buying cakes and drinks for the many visitors.

 

“I knew my father spent his last years painting,” he told more than one group of visitors, “But I never thought it was any good”. When he saw the shock this made, he added, “I apologize. I am a psychologist. I really have no artistic knowledge. I just thought he was fed up with his life and spent his time painting.”

“Your father was a very gifted artist.” One of them said, and another phrase that was repeated during the Shiva several times.

“He was very discrete, but very dedicated.” Some others remarked.

“He didn’t want his art to define who he was, so he kept it to himself. Perhaps that is why you never knew”, was another sentence he heard time and again.

The river of surprises seemed to flow without end. It seemed that his personal email had been leaked to the public and when he first went to check his mail on his mobile, he thought there was some bug, and he had to refresh his screen. No, it was not a bug. His mailbox had over 4,000 new emails.

He looked through several, which came from all over the world from people who had been moved by his father’s art, and wanted to tell personal stories connected to this.

 

One of the many visitors to the Shiva was a Mr. Sam Heder who turned out to be his father’s attorney.

“Your father”, Heder told him quietly, “Was not a wealthy man. He left you this apartment, of course, and some cash. Not much”.

Daniel nodded and sighed. “I really do not need it. He knew that.”

“There is also one painting he has left you. All the rest will be given – for free, I am sorry to say – as he requested, to certain museums here in Israel.”

Again, Daniel nodded, too overwhelmed to speak. He was used to being overwhelmed by now.

“Come by my office whenever you wish”, The lawyer concluded and got up to leave. “The painting is in a bank vault close to the office”.

 

Hadar, of course he couldn’t help but think, also came to the Shiva. A group of his father’s admirers were sitting near him, so she took a small chair. It was some time before he noticed her, but she didn’t mind.

“This is all so overwhelming”, he told her, and immediately swore to himself he would never use that word again. “I knew my father painted, but I always figured he painted for fun, to pass the time.”

“That is so strange” she said and looked at him. It seemed she was smirking at him, somehow making fun of him.

“What? Because he never told me?” he asked.

“No”.

“Then what?”

“No”, she shook her head, “It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Nu?” he said and surprised himself that he was smiling at her sudden embarrassment.

Hadar took a long look at him, as if thinking what to say, or even to say it at all, and then shook her head, a movement he realized he knew, meaning she was determined.

“Well, its just that you are what you are. And you are very good at it. You are the best, in fact. I am not sure, but people around your cases talk about you in awe. So much so, you make me look bad”.

“You? Bad? No way!” Hadar raised a determined eyebrow.

“Well, in any case, one would think, a great Forensic Psyc like you would have known your own father better, even if you didn’t get along. I mean you sit with some terrorist or white-collar criminal for five minutes and know that his mother was insecure and passed it on to him. How much would it take you to know your own father?”

“It’s complicated”. He told her and didn’t offer any explanation.

 

Daniel never dreamed. Of course, he knew, as a psychologist, that he did dream, just like everyone, but he never remembered his dreams when waking. Not even a feeling of a dream.

That morning he woke early, and in a panic. He had dreamt. He remembered every detail, and in remembering, it became something important. So much so that he was afraid he would forget. He didn’t.

 

He was in a vast forest. Trees of all sizes and types were there, and even animals, small, like squirrels and such. He was looking at all this when his father walked through the trees and approached him.

“Hello Daniel!” he smiled.

Daniel looked around and said, “What is all this? And what are you doing here? You’re dead!”

His father smiled. “Yes, I am”.

“What is this?” he asked, his voice coming out somewhat excited, filled with dread.

“Oh, this is one of the places you go when you die”.

“Am I dead, too?”

“No. You aren’t.”

“So – what am I doing here?”

“I asked you to come, and you have. Don’t ask me how.”

“God?”

His father laughed and looked at him proudly. “Good question, for a dream! Well, there is a God, but let’s say he is so disconnected from us, that it is as if there is no God”.

Daniel thought about this for a minute.

“Wow. So, all those questions about God can be answered in one short answer?”

“I could make something up for you, if you’d like”.

Daniel looked up at the tree tops.

“I asked you to come. I wanted to tell you how sorry I am.”

Daniel looked at his and he felt his anger rise.

“I know what a terrible father I was. To you, and as a husband to your mother. I was angry. I took it out on you both, but the truth is – I was angry at myself. I wanted the world, my life, to be different. It wasn’t and I couldn’t make it change, and I couldn’t accept that.”

“Is that why you “asked me” to come here? If so, it didn’t work. You’ve told me this when we – when you were alive.”

They looked at each other, and his father sighed.

 “I see”, his father said, “Even after life, words are only words”.

“Yes”, Daniel said angrily.

“Well, actually, that is not what I asked you to come to hear, but I tried anyway. I wanted to tell you two things. First, I want you to start paying attention to people”.

“I do that. I mean, that is what I do. That’s my work.”

“I know, but I am talking about the people near you. Pay more attention. It may just surprise you how much you miss.”

Daniel was beginning to regret this dream. He actually tried to wake up, but couldn’t.

“Secondly”, the dead man asked, “Do you remember, when you were in Kindergarten that each boy and girl had a drawer, for his or her paintings, and things they made during the week?”

“Yes, father”, Daniel said tiredly, I remember. And yes, I remember how you would sneak into the Kindergarten at night and make a small animal of clay and put it there for me to find in the mornings.”

“Of course, you do. Well, that was me, trying to be a good father.”

 

A couple of weeks later, after a special case that he and Hadar had worked on together, they were writing up their reports. Hadar walked into his office and laid her report on his desk and sat down, tired.

Daniel didn’t know how or why, but out of the blue, he told her of this dream. She just listened. He told her of his anger. The terrible things he remembered, which were all so real and pained him to this very day. He wanted to cry, to let this out, but somehow couldn’t. He looked at Hadar and was again surprised.

“We’ve worked together for a long time, haven’t we?” He asked. She smiled.

Then he added something he never would believe he would say. “How is it I have never asked you out?”

Hadar just smiled. “Yes. Strange. Isn’t it?”

 

Some months later, their telephone rang.

“It’s your Uncle Ben” Hadar told him. He took the phone and smiled.

“Uncle Ben?  How are you?”

“No one has died, so stop worrying.”

“Well, that’s an improvement! How are you?”

“Oh, just grouchy as ever!” his uncle told him. “You know? We old men are not really grouchy.”

“No?”, Daniel laughed. “Then why does it seem that way?”

“It’s just that all these years, we learned what we like, and what don’t like, and we’re pissed that we can’t have it!”

“Isn’t that what being grouchy is all about?”

“Hmmm … maybe. In any case, this lawyer called me. He says you never came to pick up the painting my famous brother left you!”

 

Hadar and Daniel, “the two psycs” as they were now known by all sorts of secret people in all sorts of secret places, went together to the lawyer’s office. In fact, they had been together just about 24/7 these last months. Daniel was surprised at how much he enjoyed being with her, and she didn’t seem to mind either.

They entered the office and the lawyer came out to meet them. He shook their hands and joked that if he had known how famous Daniel’s father was, he would have charged him a lot more. They all laughed. Lawyers always joked about money, it seemed.

“I was amazed that you never came to get the painting. I was even more amazed that I didn’t have your phone number! I finally got your uncle’s phone. No matter - come see the painting!”

There is was, set up against the wall, covered over. Gingerly, Daniel approached and took off the cover. He and Hadar just stood and gawked.

Put into an old heavy wooden frame, it was the coloring at first which caught the eye. The texture. They manner in which some areas were rough, and some smooth. Hadar gasped and took hold of his hand, which shook. Was she crying? Was he?

A picture so banal, it should not have been a subject of any serious artwork. But it was. Even to Daniel who had no art appreciation, it was obvious that this painting was of a special quality. It showed a small, joyful boy, standing in front of an open drawer, his small hands holding a small clay animal.

 

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2 months ago
Topics: Fiction, Writing
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