Sunday, August 01, 2010


"Life after 55 is defined by taking inventory," Hugo's mother, Isabel, said as she pushed the small key across the table. "And after 20 years of doing you the favor of being so meticulous I hope you will at least do me the favor of checking it out."

Hugo smiled but had no intention of going out to the little cottage at the back of the yard behind the pussy willows and Japanese maples. Its barn hinged doors fascinated him as a child, but now he dreaded what was inside, too much Biedermeier and eiderdown and the heavy scent of family dysfunction passed down through half a dozen generations going back to ancestors in Provence.

As he thumbed through the Courier-Gazette in an attempt to ignore her, Hugo saw the police report from Thursday about a break-in at the chemistry lab of his former employer, making him wonder if Yvette had actually gone through with those long ago iterated threats that he never reported to HR. He hadn't worked there in five years, but he knew Yvette was still there and bitter as ever. This was by no means his first time to ignore impending doom.

"Really, Hugo, just take a glance inside so you know what in there. Not that I'm saying you'll need to anytime in the foreseeable future, but it's just wise..." Isabel pushed her hair back, the way she had for years, revealing deep lines in her neck Hugo had never noticed. These ravines of aging flesh frightened Hugo, knowing that this woman whom he felt had for too long imprisoned him in a role that did not suit him yet could look so vulnerable. Her skin seemed so fragile, crumpled onion skin paper intended for another charcoal sketch but suddenly discarded in anger.

Finally relenting, Hugo took the key and let it slip slowly into the colorful lock that embodied everything he hated about that tiny little house and the larger estate -- every door knob, each inch of hand-crafted molding, the artisan tin paneled ceiling, the paintings that were already bequeathed to the Nelson-Atkins Museum -- had too much meaning and intent. Stepping inside Hugo saw the stacks and stacks of his Isabel's sketch books and journals. He didn't bother opening any of them since he knew so many were filled with the drawings she had made of him through the years, each with an exaggerated depiction of his leftward swaying eye, the slight downward crook of his nose, a thickened interpretation of his pouting lips. It was only in her sketches and oils that Isabel looked at Hugo, a caricature of who he was but the blurred image that she carried at her breast from the time he emerged from the womb.

Hugo sneered at the spine of the tower of journals in the bookcases just past the French doors, each dated precisely with the exact dot between each month and year, like a beauty spot applied with the manic precision Isabel invested in each of her creative endeavors, all technique and no passion.

He stepped into the tiny kitchen and regarded the dozens of emerald green tea sets on the bank of shelves -- some ceramic, some glass, a couple of painted metal. Each was of the same precise color, and a hand lettered card was attached to every one with the provenance of its purchase date, location of origin and value at the time of the last appraisal.

Stepping towards the back door, Hugo took certain delight in discovering a stray, blank canvas. He touched it with relief. Its absolute lack of history or ornament was cleansing. He stepped out the back door, through the tiny gate and into the service alley, simultaneously aware and oblivious of the key dropping into the gutter as he walked westward until he merged with Archer Avenue.



At 12:12 AM, Blogger RA said...

I like the way you take the idea of being locked and then opening the lock to another level with Hugo. Great job! :)

At 8:46 AM, Blogger kathew said...

perfect! Good story and lesson to be learned!

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Helen said...

Love the way you painted Isabel ... all technique, no passion. Your Magpie is intense and beautifully written.

At 10:11 PM, Anonymous one more believer said...

oh i like that ending.... drop of the key lee, set yourself free... paul simon song...

At 10:28 PM, Blogger Stafford Ray said...

Yes! See the blank canvas that is your life and turn your back on whatever others have decided you are. Masterfully expressed.

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

A nicely crafted story - well done. I love Hugo's response to the blank canvas - not for what it was to him, but my ability to identify with his relief. Excellent magpie.

At 8:31 PM, Blogger Tumblewords: said...

Marvelous Magpie!

At 2:50 AM, Anonymous ninotaziz said...

Aware and oblivious...that caught me.

Isabel and Hugo come alive in this magpie.


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