The walk home was short. He was so lost in thought he couldn’t remember exactly how he’d arrived at his apartment complex. His feelings were overwhelming. He needed to grasp what was happening. Did Lillian Walker really offer to help him find his father? Could this be true?
He had hesitated so long to contact Ms. Walker. Celebrity status aside, what he needed to get from her should not have been easily obtained information. Her break up with Jackson had been very public; his fault, not hers. Kevin knew that she preferred to keep her private life to herself. So much so that shortly after the break up, she removed herself from the spotlight all together. Not an easy task for someone of her status. She stopped working except for the occasional cameo or benefit concert here and there. She did it in that way that indicated she really loved what she did, but didn’t love what came with it.
He’d always thought it was so sad when people would become addicted to the fame and forget what had gotten them into the business in the first place. His mother used to go on and on and on about it. She secretly indulged in celebrity gossip shows on television. It was her one guilty pleasure.
He entered the apartment complex. “Hello Joan.” He said to a passing neighbor. A habit he had acquired in his childhood. His mother used to tell him. “Get to know your neighbors. Life is much more pleasant when you are surrounded by love.” He smiled. She was such a vibrant woman.
The opening of the elevator startled him. He felt happy…and confused. He could feel the impending excitement. His body was alive, his mind racing. This was one of those moments in life and he knew it. He pressed the button for the 5th floor and watched as the brass elevator doors closed. He was engulfed by that older elevator smell. The smell of all the bodies that had passed through subtly mixing with one another, almost canceling each other out, but falling just short. When he was a kid, he used to try to separate them again, to figure out who had been in the elevator. Sometimes it was easy. Like when old Mrs. Johnson had been in the elevator on a Sunday. Her “dress up” day.
Her perfume would linger like the scent of a scared skunk. He would imagine her sitting alone in her corner apartment, taking her time choosing a dress, lying it on the bed while she made sure every hair was in its proper place, then carefully applying her makeup, trying to cover the years of loneliness with mascaraRecent discoveries and lipstick. He’d imagine her putting her dress over her tattered slip and looking in the mirror. He saw her push a smile onto her face, preparing to enter the world she’d spent most of her time avoiding since Mr. Johnson’s death. Then, with a final air of dignity and resign, she would repeatedly spray her perfume in the air and walk into the mist until she felt her presence was strong enough to make up for the lack of soul she felt. With that, she would pick up her purse, lift her head and walk into the hall, leaving a trail of scent for everyone to feel. She was headed to the restaurant Mr. Johnson had proposed to her in. There she would enjoy a quiet meal of simply prepared pasta primavera and soft red wine, the meal they’d shared that night so long ago.
As the elevator doors opened to the 5th floor he laughed. He didn’t feel he’d changed much since those days. He still created the stories for people he couldn’t get to know, either by his fears or theirs. He thought his mother would be pleased by this part. He knew she’d worried that he would somehow lose his creativity as the weight of the world revealed itself to him. She was afraid he would stop trying to find the wonder in it and just accept at face value what was handed to him, without digging to find it’s beauty. His smiled broadened. “See mama, the world is still full of wonder. I am still fully in it.” A small tear traveled down his face as he opened the door to his empty apartment.
He entered the entrance hall, taking a moment to remove his light jacket and hang it in the small closet to his right. As he removed his shoes, he looked across his apartment to see the answering machine blinking its reminder there was an outside world. He sighed as he remembered today was his grandfather’s birthday. He knew the message would be the embittered voice of his grandmother reminding him that dinner would start promptly at 8. She would less than gently remind him too that “proper” dinner attire was expected.
He knew that somewhere deep inside his grandmother loved him. He understood she couldn’t be soft as his mother had been. He just wondered, sometimes, why.
He walked across the living room quietly scooting his feet on the finely polished hard wood floors. He didn’t own a pair of socks that didn’t have discolored bottoms from this habit. He reached the table which held the answering machine and took a moment to look out the window. He didn’t want to hear her voice. He didn’t want to deal with that life right now.
The light continued flashing in his peripheral vision. “OK. OK. You win!” he said to the machine.
He reached his left hand and pressed the play button. He heard the familiar winding noise of the tape rewinding and thought to himself that he should get a digital machine or subscribe to one of those electronic services with the phone company.
The machine clicked to a stop and clicked again as it prepared to present Kevin his messages.
“Kevin,” the message began. “Kevin Price? I hope that I’ve gotten the correct phone number. It’s hard to tell from your message.” This was not his grandmother’s voice. In fact, this was not even the voice of a woman. Kevin turned his attention more fully to this antiquated deliverer of messages.
At its completion, Kevin stood staring at the machine in disbelief. He pressed the play button and listened to the message again. “This is Martin Ellison with Ellison and Masterson, the firm your mother left her collection with. We have an interesting proposal and need to discuss this with you. You can reach us at…”
He couldn’t believe his ears. He thought that his mother’s works had disappeared. He had fond memories of watching her paint when he was a child. He was greatly saddened over the years at the thought that he was unable to look at them any longer. There wasn’t a single piece of art in their house that his mother hadn’t created either specifically for a space that needed decoration or because, as she would say, “the piece just needed to be.” He’d often asked his grandparents if they’d knew what had happened, but they had no information. All they could tell him was that they’d taken “a good deal of her personal possessions to good will, but there was no artwork among those possessions.” Their distance from their daughter shocked him even at 8. It was something he could never quite reconcile within himself.
Kevin reached down and picked up the telephone, dialing the numbers very carefully. “Yes, My name is Kevin Price, I am trying to return the call of a Mr. Martin Ellison. Is he available?” He listened as the woman on the other end of the line explained that Mr. Ellison was currently in a meeting, but really wanted to talk with Kevin. She asked if he would be available this week to come into the office to speak with Mr. Ellison in person. “Yes, I have a fairly flexible schedule.” He could hear papers turning through the telephone. He imagined a very thin, severe woman looking intently through a huge black appointment book, thinking about the thousand variables that could affect the appointment and how best to accommodate each of them.
“Yes, Thursday at 2 would be good for me. Do you have directions to your offices?” He wrote the directions as she slowly and articulately delivered them. “Thank you very much. There is just one more thing. Do you have any more details about the subject of this meeting? In Mr. Ellison’s message, he only vaguely mentioned an interesting proposal concerning my mother’s works.” He listened as she offered the response he expected. “That’s ok. I understand. I can wait until I meet with Mr. Ellison. Thank you again for your help. I will see you on Thursday.”
He placed the phone back in its cradle. His head was tingling. He thought his mother’s works had been destroyed or lost after her death. His grandparents repeatedly told him they had no idea what works he was talking about when he would ask. Was it possible that his mother had placed her works with an agent before entering the hospital? Had she known that far in advance? He had so many questions. He wondered if he’d ever find the answers to them. For now…he simply needed to take care of the details of his life.
Kevin picked up the receiver again. “Hello grandma. No I haven’t forgotten. I am just running a little bit late.” He heard her heavy disappointed sigh and cut her off before the lecture could begin. “I am walking out the door right now and yes I remembered the gift. I will see you in an hour.” He hung up before she could say anything.
He ran into his bedroom and picked the closest thing he had to a suit and put it on. He knew that the wrinkled worn appearance of the cloth would drive his grandparents crazy, but in light of what he might be finding out on Thursday, a little disturbance to their delicate nature was the least he could do for them.
Kevin grabbed his keys and his grandfather’s gift and headed out the door again. His mind raced with thoughts of his mother, his father and the wonderful Lillian Walker. His boring life was definitely taking a more interesting turn these days. The door closed and he turned the lock before heading back to the elevator. He laughed to himself as he thought about the events of the day. “Mom…it’s the kind of day you always loved.”