As she strained to open the door, she said, “this is where they keep the overflow of beer and chips and stuff like that.”
I asked how she knew about the building and more importantly, how she knew the manager. She said, “I came uptown yesterday to do a little shopping, and after walking around for what seemed like hours, I stopped here. They weren’t open yet, but Mark, the manager graciously let me come inside and offered me a glass of water.”
“He’s a real nice man and we started talking. I offered to cleanse his bar, even though I didn’t get any bad vibes from the place.” Wryly smiling she said, “of course, like ‘someone else’ I know, he declined.”
“Anyway,” she said, “he took me around and showed me everything he had done to restore the old building, and what he had salvaged in the way of keeping a bit of the nostalgia from the past. Then…he said, ‘let me show you something’.”
As she opened the door, she said, “he looked at me and said, ‘have you ever before seen anything like this in your life’?”
I was absolutely dumbstruck. On the back wall of the building was a life-sized Knight, sitting on a gold colored steed. It was dated 1967. I remembered the note Katy had written, asking God to send her a Knight in Shining armor. I imagine her prayer had gone unanswered, as had so many, so she had painted one. Maybe she prayed once more to the God she had forsaken, asking Him to touch her rescuer and bring him to life.
This painting took my breath away. A horse bearing full barding stood as if ready to bolt at any second. What looked to be an elaborately decorated red velvet caparison was draped over its back, covering both flanks. The shimmering gold suit of armor was like nothing I had ever seen in any depictions, and as with the other paintings, it was so realistic, I felt if I touched the horse, it would feel warm. The Knight looked as if he was ready to sweep me off my feet, just as any young or old girl, has at one time, secretly wished.
While still mesmerized, Mark came out and startled me when he said, “this is absolutely glorious, isn’t it?” I weakly said, “Yes it is.”
“Look at the horses’ eyes,” he said. “They look uneasy and determined…and so very fearful.”
He said he had thought about trying to have it removed and brought inside but, it would require the destruction of the little building. “On second thought,” he said, “I felt that it should stay where it is.” There’s something about it,” he said. “It’s been hidden in this little building since 1967, and I think it would almost be sacrilegious to disturb it, not to mention the risk of damaging it.”
“Only a handful of people have seen it,” he said. “Dawn, you, me, my wife, and a few of my stock boys.” He let out a hearty laugh and said, “a young man, who had just started working here, came running out of the building, like he had just seen a ghost. It literally scared him to death, and as he put it, ‘there’s a man on a horse in there’!”
I asked if he knew who the original owner of the service station was. He said, “I don’t have any idea. It had been sitting empty for years when I bought it. I remember walking by it when I was younger. I used to sneak over and try to get the gas pumps to work, but they never did. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to find out who used to own it.”
I told Dawn I wanted to go uptown and search property records. With not much effort, I found the previous owner. His name was Earl Rice. He died in 1967, the same year Katy painted the knight. Nothing showed that the service station had been sold after his death. I imagine it went to the state, just as so many houses had. He had a wife, but no children according to the records. She died in 1982. After that, there was no information.
There were so many mysteries and so few answers, when it came to Katy.
I really wanted to go tell Sally, but I didn’t want it to be a big hoopla or cause any trouble for Mark. After all, what could she do, other than come look at it?
I looked at Dawn and said, “do you think there are others out there?” She said she didn’t know, but she thought it was strange that the one place she happened to stop by, had one of Katy’s pictures. My mind went to Miss Mabel. Has she somehow reached from the grave and guided Dawn to that place, knowing that she would in return, guide me?
I never told Sally about the painting at the service station, but I continued to visit Katy’s paintings and always stopped by to tell Miss Mabel about my day.
A good six months passed and almost with the same urgency of Dawn’s call, Sally called and said, “how quickly can you get up here?”
I said, “I can walk up there in about thirty minutes.” Almost commandingly, she said, “drive.” I asked her if she had gotten robbed, or if had there been a fire, or my fondest wish, if had she found the artist. “Just get up here,” she said, and abruptly hung up.
I grabbed my car keys and headed up the street. I was nervous, excited, worried and a little hopeful that when I got to the gallery, I didn’t even remember how I got there. I walked in, and Sally grabbed my arm. “Come here,” she said.
We walked to the area where Katy’s paintings were. A gentleman was standing there, and she excitedly introduced us. “What’s going on?” I asked. She said, “this gentleman was looking at The Journey of Life, and when I was lowering the shades, he yelled ‘hold it…hold it…hold it’.” She leaned over and whispered, “I didn’t know what was wrong with him. I thought maybe he was having some kind of episode or something, so I ran over to see about him.”
He said, “look. You can see just the faintest difference in the colors here, and I think I can see a word. I noticed when the sun hit it in a certain way.”
“He asked if I had a black light,” Sally said, “which of course I did, so we lowered all the shades, turned off the lights and shined the black light on the paintings.”
She smiled and said, “And there it was; on all of them. One word. It was in a foreign language and I didn’t know what it meant, but this man did.”
The gentleman scratched his head, and said it was a strange word to be on paintings, and that it really didn’t make any sense to him. But when Sally told me what the word meant, I understood why it was there. I immediately knew that my suspicions had been right all along. There was no doubt in my mind that all of those paintings were Katys’.
I believed that Miss Mabel somehow had a hand in this particular gentleman showing up on this particular day, at this particular time, looking at this particular painting. Again, I wrestled with the idea of telling Sally that I knew who the artist was, but ultimately, the secret remained with me.
I think Katy’s intent was to have a certain, mysterious je ne sais quoi attached to her paintings, and I would not take that away from her.
I would like to say that once again, paintings mysteriously began to arrive at the gallery. I would like to say that I was eventually able to purchase one of Katy’s masterpieces. I would like to say that I found her, and discovered that she had finally found peace and happiness. I would like to say all of those things, but I can’t.
I have no idea what happened to Katy. She just might be on that island as I hoped, or she might be resting in the cemetery near Miss Mabel, having been reduced to nothing more than a forgotten name and number.
I did know one thing. I had been witness to extraordinary work, the likes of which I was sure I would never see again. Katy had touched me in a way that no other ever had, or ever would. I wanted her to somehow feel the warmth of my affection as if it were a loving touch. As long as I lived, she would never be forgotten.
Some of the notes she left had almost ripped my heart out, but the paintings she left made it sing with joy.
We all deserve a standing ovation at least once in our lives, and I think we all want to leave a mark. I don’t know if Katy ever got her ovation, nor do I know whether or not she realized that she had left a mark. But she had indeed left her hallmark on many lives; Miss Mabel’s, mine, Samwell’s, Dawn’s, Sally’s and every person who gazed in awe at her exquisite work.
I think about the word she hid in all of her paintings. The wounds left by her fathers’ hands had never healed, nor had the brutality of his words.
I kept repeating the word over and over. I will never forget the gentleman at the gallery cavalierly saying, “the word is WORTLOS. It’s German. Translated, it means…’worthless’.”
With a word that she believed defined her, Katy had indeed signed her paintings.