Miss Mabel rolled her chair down a long dark hallway, and reached for the light switch. When the light came on, I stood in frozen silence as I looked at this wall, painted to look like the beach.
Hammocks were tied between palm trees and I expected them to start swaying at any given moment. Coconuts lay on the ground that seemed real enough to pick up, and I was almost certain that if I put my ear to the wall, I could actually hear the ocean.
“Katy painted this?” I asked, incredulously. Miss Mabels’ joviality seemed to turn nostalgic as she said, “yes. She painted this for me because she knew how much I loved the beach, and she knew that I’d never get to see one.”
I stared at this remarkable mural and all I could manage to say was, “this is just stunning. This is just absolutely stunning.” I asked Miss Mabel when she painted it. Miss Mabel said, “Katy painted this in 1965.”
I was scrutinizing the corners for a signature and Miss Mable, being the sharp cookie that she was, said “you’ll not find one.” Trying to act innocent, but not for one minute fooling Miss Mabel, I asked, “not find what?”
“You’re looking for a signature” she said, “but you’ll not find one. Katy never signed her work.”
I wondered why but before I could ask, Miss Mabel cut the conversation short. “Come on in here,” she said. “I have a lemon meringue pie that is so good, it will make you want to slap your mama.”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. As I said, Miss Mabel was a real hoot. She cut two rather large slices and handed me one on a little plate that had to have been made the year she was born. I was thinking, “first the caffeinated sugar-filled Coca-Cola, and now a slice of pie that makes my teeth hurt just looking at it.”
I felt sure that I would be in a diabetic coma before I got back home, but I indulged and it was just as Miss Mabel said. It didn’t necessarily make me want to slap my mama, but it made me want to slap myself for the sugar high I was going to be experiencing pretty soon, not to mention the two hundred pounds I was sure to gain.
I wanted to know more about Katy, but Miss Mabel abruptly said, “it’s time for my afternoon nap. Run along now. You can take the plate and return it tomorrow.”
I felt like a delinquent child being sent home after being caught with my hand in the cookie jar, but I wasn’t angry. I hoped to live long enough to someday be delightfully curmudgeonly and need afternoon naps.
As I walked back home, I couldn’t get the image of that mural out of my head. It seemed to have been burned into the retinas of my eyes. Then I wondered if Katy had painted murals for other neighbors, or dare I hope that she had painted one in my house.
I decided to visit Dawn, small plate still in hand. I knocked on her door, and she answered wearing nothing but a t-shirt, a pair of panties and a smile. One of the fattest cigars I had ever seen was clenched between her teeth, and it bobbed up and down as she asked, “is that for me?”
I laughed and said that it belonged to Miss Mabel. “She gave me a piece of pie,” I said. “I was on my way home and decided to stop by your house first.” Dawn said, “hmm, so you come to visit and you bring an empty plate? That’s not very neighborly.”
I wasn’t sure if she was joking but she laughed and asked if I had decided to let her cleanse my house. I told her that I was actually wondering if she had any paintings, like a mural or something on one of her walls.
She looked at me and said, “that’s a strange question to ask someone the first time you visit, especially since you didn’t bring pie.” Then she laughed and said, “actually, I do.”
I wondered if she could see my excitement as I asked if I could see it. She said “sure. It’s over here.” She led me to a fireplace in her front room. It had been enclosed with layers of plaster, and on the plaster was a painting of a white stallion against a sky that looked like it was on fire. It was in mid-flight as if trying to escape the bonds of captivity and soar to freedom. Like Miss Mabels’ mural, this was a breath-taking piece of work.
Dawn bent down, looked at it and said, “I’d like to open the fireplace, but I would have to destroy this wonderful piece. It is truly remarkable, don’t you think? I mean, look at it. Every muscle is clearly defined, and the eyes. The eyes are full of fear.” She sighed and said, “it was painted in 1964, but there is no indication of who painted it.”
I said, “Katy Engle. Katy Engle painted it.” Dawn plopped down in an overstuffed chair and said, “cool. Who’s Katy Engle?”
I told her that she was the little girl who used to live in my house and was a phenomenal artist. I asked if she had ever seen the mural in Miss Mabels’ house. She said she hadn’t but I might want to walk up the street and talk to “Samwell.”
“Samwell?” I asked. She said “well, his real name is Samuel but when he was little he couldn’t pronounce it right, thus Samwell, and…well, it stuck. After I moved here, I heard someone talking about ‘Samwells’ dilemma’ as they called it.”
I asked her what that meant. She said “he bought the house and apparently there was a painting in the basement. He wanted to freshen things up but was wavering about whether or not to cover up the painting. Now, understand that I have no idea if it’s true. It was just the gossip around the neighborhood, and you know how people in the neighborhood love to gossip, but if there was a painting, and he covered it up, maybe he took a picture of it before he did.”
“Just walk up the street?” I asked. “Is there any particular house I should look for?” Dawn laughed and said, “it’s at the top of the hill and has a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign on the front door.”
As I was leaving, she said “do you think something happened to her?” I said that I was surprised she asked. She said, “I told you. Your house holds a lot of grief and sorrow.”
I liked her more and more. She appreciated beauty and had a depth that was not clearly evident at first, and I had unfairly judged her as nothing more than a strange, pretend-to-be-seer, air headed hippy.
I was thinking that maybe it was time to get my house cleansed but not before I had a visit with Samwell.
It was still early afternoon, so I walked up the hill and saw the house with the sign on the front door. A man, who I suspected was Samwell, was sitting on the front porch. I slowly walked up the sidewalk, trying my best to not look like a salesperson selling out of date encyclopedias or the Brooklyn bridge.
“Afternoon,” he said. “You lost?” I laughed and said, “no. I lived down the street and I was wondering if you could give me a moment of your time.”
He said, “I’m not buying anything.” It was apparent that I hadn’t succeeded in not looking like a peddler, and I assured him that I wasn’t selling anything.
He looked at the little plate and said, “I thought maybe you were selling dishes.” I laughed and said, “no. Miss Mabel gave me a piece of pie.”
“Ah, yes,” he said. “Miss Mabel. She’s quite a character. Doesn’t get around much. Doesn’t much care for the male species either, if you know what I mean.”
I nodded like I was agreeing with him and got right to the point. I told him I heard that there might have once been a painting in his basement.
“Still is,” he said.
I gasped. I was feeling like a child on Christmas morning. I was so afraid that he had painted over it, and when he said it was still there, I felt like I had been given a gift.
To be continued________________________________