The second Steven Stimach story.
8 September 2009
By Steven Stimach
“Where has all the snow gone, Sam?” The moment Clarence asked the question, Sam knew that the older man was beginning to lose his grip on reality. The two of them were sitting on the porch of Clarence’s place, just outside the limits of Durham City, sweating in the early-noon heat which had become so common in recent years. Sam leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and examined the old man staring up to the sky expectantly as if there would be snowfall any moment now. His full head of pale white hair, uncombed and uncut, hung down the chair’s back.
“Clarence, we haven’t got snow down here in a long time, global warming and all that. You only noticing that now?”
Clarence, however, continued to stare upwards, letting a bead of sweat drip down from his forehead and fall away into his gaping mouth before shifting. “Of course I know,” he said, snapping his head back down to examine the easel before him. Sam did not, particularly, believe him, but he let this go without comment. “Don’t you know a rhetorical question when you hear one?” Clarence had been a painter for most of his life, one who had come to Durham back when it was still a name in the painting community, one of little repute, but a name none-the-less. Now, with some degenerative nerve disease whose pronunciation neither of the two men could manage, that talent he had once shown seemed only to be a memory. Barely able to even maintain control of his own hands, his form on the canvas had lost all organization and guidance, wide, uneven strokes merging and mingling the paints together, mixing it all into shades of beige and brown, finally merging into a dark, almost black splotch, at the pale canvas’s center. And this was the man, Sam thought, that first got me wanting to paint, myself when I was a child. It made Sam a little angry, at the disease or Clarence, he couldn’t say. Analyzing his handiwork, Clarence slowly began to chuckle.
“Brown you see, that’s the way to go. Not like this,” Clarence said, tapping the skin of his forearm to point out his own paleness. One of the things that had always mystified Sam about Clarence was how he had maintained such an unbelievably pale exterior. He sat out in the sun all day, painting and repainting over canvases years old, only retreating back inside with the sunset. By all rights, his skin should have been inestimably darker than Sam’s own lightly browned covering, yet the man remained somehow void of either melanin or sunburn, a freak of nature and mystery of science. Maybe, Sam often thought, the sun had bleached him white along with the wood that made up the cabin itself. “This stuff, it’s fine for now, but mark my word, with everything on the horizon, global warming, the ozone layer, malaria, and all that, white is just not fit for survival. Why I married a latina. Got me a daughter lot darker than I am, now, and she’s off and married some black fella. Those grandkids will be set for anything, see things through to the end, not me.”
“Is that right, Clarence?” Sam asked, rubbing his hand along his own arm slowly. He had gotten used by now to Clarence’s meandering, pointless diatribes – they seemed a function of his own unique form of mental degradation – but this had been the first time that the man had ever named any family that wasn’t dead and buried. Sam saw now his one chance to gain some access to the old man’s personal history, maybe even a relative that he could share the burden of caring for Clarence with. “So where is she now, this daughter, I mean.”
“If it makes you feel any better, you should just be dark enough to make it.”
“The daughter, though, Clarence, where’s your daughter?”
“Where is she? Damn, well, let’s see…” Clarence began before noticing the sky with amazement once again. The daughter forgotten, he inspected the lone white cloud that floated in the blue once again. “Where has all the snow gone?”
Sam glared at Clarence’s confused face, wondering if he should try to find out more about this long lost daughter, but realizing it would be a waste of his time, pushed himself up from the stool beside Clarence. “I left the groceries and the usual right here by the front door, alright?” He put his arm on Clarence’s shoulder, remembering what Clarence’s doctor had said about the importance of maintaining human contact for a man in Clarence’s state. “I’ll be back in a couple days, but be sure to call me if you need anything. Anyway, I’ve got to get going now, have some of my own paintings to get to work on.”
“That’s good,” Clarence said, not dropping his gaze from the heavens. “How is Amelia doing?”
Sam paused, wondering if he should answer a question that was clearly just a matter of rote. “She’s fine, Clarence. Still off on her business trip, though,” he said, squeezing Clarence’s shoulder tightly for a few moments before stepping off the porch and walking to his truck parked nearby. As he walked, it occurred to Sam that his wife had been on the trip a long time now, almost an entire week, when most only lasted a day or two, but he placed the thought out of his mind quickly as he turned to wave Clarence goodbye.
Clarence, however, took no notice.
The drive back to his home was not a long one, Durham City bearing a hyperbolic name, in reality being little more than a large town. For a short while, it had become an artist’s community of some note which had failed to ever produce anything of any importance, Sam included. Now, it had begun the slow decline into becoming a suburb for larger, more successful cities, the residents becoming a mish-mash of the old artists that used to inhabit it like termites in wood and the young couples and families that fed nearby businesses. Sam could see the distinction between the two as he drove through the town, a mix of brightly colored homes juxtaposed against light-beige and white confabs approved by the residents’ committee.
Within minutes, he was within a few blocks from his own home, passing Dan Marks’s place, a building Marks had painted over a few months ago to tone the chartreuse down to a more neutral hue. Marks, like Clarence, had been a painter in the old days, since retired from the profession to become a floor salesman at the local auto dealer. As Sam approached in his truck, he could see Marks standing out in the front yard trimming a hedge, incongruously wearing a pressed black suit in the heat of the day. Noticing Sam’s truck, the balding man began to wave excitedly with his shears, the sweat glistening on his bare, deeply tanned forehead. Pulling up beside him, Sam leaned out the window
“Damn hot, isn’t it?” Marks asked, patting the remaining hair on his head back with one hand.
“Something you need, Marks?”
Marks grinned, the aging folds and wrinkles of his skin pressing his eyes near shut. Sam hated that grin. He had always felt the ease with which the man wore it revealed Marks for what he was, an old extrovert. “Clarence, uh, you just came back from seeing him?”
“Yeah, but look, I really just want to get back home. I’m tired, I’ve got work to do. Can we talk about this later?” He leaned back into his car to put it into first, but Marks was already at his side, latching onto his arm. The two were near enough now that Sam could smell Marks’s thick body odor, a mixture of sweat, Old Spice, and weeds.
“Nonsense, only want to check up on an old friend.” He grinned again, and, again, Sam hated it.
“He’s… doing fine. Why don’t you just go see him yourself?”
“Ah, the stubborn old fart doesn’t want me seeing him anymore.” He rubbed the sleeve of his suit across his forehead. “So I give him his space. It’s too bad, though, the two of us have some pretty good stories from the old days, you know.” He came in even closer. “He ever bring that up with you?”
“No, the, uh, conversation never crossed that point… Marks.”
“Ah, you know, you should have seen us back then. There was me, and Clarence, and Golgy, and Mary. We were really trying to make something of ourselves. Most of them are gone now, but I make certain people around here keep up remembering them. Why, did I ever tell you the time that Clarence and Golgy and me got ourselves together on this mural project the church had been talking about? Now, Golgy and myself had always been the more straight-laced sort when it came to commissions, but Clarence –”
“That… that’s great, Marks,” Sam said, pulling his arm out of the older man’s grip and letting his hand fall to hang off the steering wheel. “But I’ve got get going.” He was about to drive off, when it occurred to him that Marks might be the man he could turn to for information he could never get out of Clarence. “About Clarence, actually. Do, do you happen to know about any family he might still have, children or something like that?”
“Well, you’d know that better than me, wouldn’t you? He’s your uncle, after all. Anyway, like I was saying.”
Sam’s grip on the wheel tightened. “Marks, I really need to know, is there, maybe, any possibility that he might have had kids, or anything?”
Marks laughed. “Kids, no, Clarence definitely wasn’t that sort of man. Sam,” he asked, stepping back away from the car to return to carefully leveling the hedge, “why exactly are you asking all this? It’s not like you’re trying to unload him on someone else, are you?”
“No, no. That’s not it at all. I, I was just curious.”
Marks again laughed. That was another thing that Sam disliked about Marx, that he could laugh and grin all the time seemed, somehow, fake. “Calm down, calm down, I was only joking. You’re not the sort of person to do that, I know that much. Responsible, that’s what your are. But, now that you got me thinking about, I think he might have almost settled down, once.” Sam could feel the circulation of blood to his fingers cut off as his grip on the wheel grew even tighter. “Ran off for about a year with this one other painter that used to live here. No idea what happened between the two of them, though. He just picked up one day and came back another, like the year hadn’t happened. It was around then that he first moved up into that cabin. I think he was already starting to have his problems back then, but then, who can say?”
Sam tried to conceal his excitement, but failed. “She, uh, d-didn’t happen to be Hispanic, did she?”
Marks swept his shirt sleeve along his forehead, glaring up at the sky before answering. “Something like that. I think so, yeah. Say, how did you know about that?”
“Oh, nothing, it’s just that Clarence mentioned something about her, I think.”
“Huh, figures. Can’t recall a thing about his old friend, Marks. But this woman, absolute clarity. Why, all the times I’ve been there for him, all the good times we’ve –”
“Guess I ought to be going Marks, right? Work and things to do. Unless you need anything?” Sam leaned back into his seat and began to move the car into drive.
Marks clung onto the driver side window desperately for a few moments, keeping his eyes fixed on Sam, before releasing it and waving Sam off. “No, that’s about it. Just say hello to Amelia for me, alright?” Marks placed the shears over his shoulder and began to walk back over to his hedge.
“When she gets back from Anderson City, I’ll tell her.”
“Huh, you know, I almost could swear hearing that that was where that woman Clarence had gone off with, ended up, too.” Marks flashed a grin that seemed to speak to some sudden realization over his shoulder at Sam before beginning to methodically clip at his hedge once again. “But you, ah, say hello to her, alright?”
Sam glanced back at Clarence, uncertain of how to take the meaning of that statement, before he pulled the truck away from the curb and continued into the heart of Durham. Even with the AC blasting, he could feel the sweat slowly pool in the small of his back as he pulled into the driveway of the ranch house he and his wife, Amelia, had bought a year ago. He and Amelia had never planned on staying this long. They had originally come to town to help take care of Clarence for the last few months before he died, but the old man had lasted longer than anyone, even his doctor, had expected him to, and the month or two turned into more, and before they knew, they had bought the house and moved in.
In the week since his wife had left on her trip, the living room, already disorganized and cluttered with old junk, the souvenirs of places he and his wife had used to travel to, had become even more so, the only thing free from the clutter, an old painting of Clarence’s the two had had the length of their marriage. Most of the newer items that littered the space were Amelia’s, picked up on travels of which Sam had never been a part. It used to be that he and his wife had traveled everywhere together, but, because of Clarence, she now went on her business trips alone. She had never really liked to settle in one place too long.
As he looked over the mess, his body ached and he wanted only to lie down, maybe catch up on his sleep, but he knew that he would be getting little of that today. There was an empty canvas sitting in the next room, an office converted into a makeshift studio. He had been trying to get started on the painting for the past week, yet another rendition of a snowcapped peak he had painted dozens of times before since moving into the house, but, instead, had been procrastinating, running errands and caring for Clarence. Now, he couldn’t put it off any longer. If he let his output drop any further, he knew that he would be, effectively, unemployed, his output already decreasing in recent months to begin with. Even the four remaining paintings of snowcapped peaks and wintry landscapes he had been saving to decorate his own home were already sold off to cover the expenses of living, and, if he didn’t have something new to sell soon, he was afraid he may not have enough money to eat this week.
Sitting down before the canvas, he flipped on the small electric fan on the end table beside him, letting the breeze flow over his face as he began to prepare his palette. One by one, he squeezed out small globs of paint with one hand while grasping the paintbrush between the fingers of the other. Dabbing the brush’s tip into the white paint, he raised it to the canvas, placing it against its surface. He remained in this static position, brush poised, uncertain of how to proceed, whether to make his stroke wide, or short, free, or controlled, even uncertain quite what he was trying to paint to begin with. He couldn’t tell why he was unable to proceed, the peak was one he knew well, and not simply becomes he had painted so many different times from so many different angles. He had intended it to be a memory painting, from a mental photograph of a snowy mountain peak he had seen with his wife on their honeymoon in the Sierras. He held the picture in his head, yet, like every other time for the past week when he had tried to begin it, could simply not grasp the image of this mountaintop in his head, as if the memory of it could simply no longer exist in real life. Instead, he only let the white paint make an outline of a snowcap barely distinguishable from the canvas itself, holding its tip against the end of the line. Eventually, he returned his brush back down to the palette, letting his hand swirl the paints on it together, until they formed the same pattern of beiges and browns as Clarence often made, finally setting the brush and muddy palette down before exiting back to the living room and throwing himself down on the murky brown couch.
He hated the couch. Well, not hated, it was hard to hate something that wasn’t flesh-and-blood, but the couch was a constant annoyance to his life. It was too soft, deceptively comfortable to sit on, but only revealed for the plush monstrosity it was whenever he tried to sleep on it. It was as if the cushions threatened to absorb him, pulling him slowly through the creases, like a remote control, never to be seen again. He should never have let Amelia buy it, she was entirely unaware of what to look for in a couch. For her, a woman who constantly paced around the house, the block, the town, seating and all the other furniture that filled a home was merely set dressing. For Sam, though, a serial sleeper, a man who could lounge, lie, or relax on any given surface, the deficiencies of the couch were all too apparent. He would have preferred something that offered support, not simply comfort, furniture that could be lives in over the course of months and lives and still remain inviting to both residents and visitors. The only furniture that Amelia ever liked was in hotel rooms, and that was exactly what this couch was, inviting for a while, but eventually evicting anyone who tried to remain on it for too long, a couch for transients.
It was because of that that, after contorting his body in every imaginable direction, Sam still could not find a position for himself. Finally pushing himself back up to a sitting position once again, he looked up above himself to where Clarence’s painting hung in the room.
Clarence, back when he was still only reclusive and had most of his wits about him, had given it to Sam and Amelia as a wedding gift, and Sam had held onto it since then, even as he sold off every one that he, himself, had painted. It was a mélange of colors, bright and primary, forming, through implication of their shapes against one another, a human face, blazing red hair, a yellow complexion, much like the face Sam remembered of Clarence from his youth, vital and, somehow, veering outside the range of human norms. A green shadow shot across its center in stark contrast to yellow, casting the world of the painting not in shades, but in pure, unmixed color. Taken from below, however, the pieces of color and implied shape fell apart in his inverted gaze, no longer holding the consistency it did from other perspectives. As Sam stared up at the painting, it occurred to him that this was about the only legacy that Clarence had left that he knew of. It seemed that, for an entire lifetime, this would be Clarence’s sole output, an unknown self-portrait that could only be viewed from one perspective.
Feeling an altruistic sentiment enter into him as he looked over the painting, Sam began to revise his reasoning for finding Clarence’s wife and daughter. More than simply trying to find someone else to bear the burden of Clarence, maybe, he thought to himself, maybe he could in some way redeem the old man as well, prove to the world that he actually left something of real significance to it, that his legacy was not simply that of an aging man, living alone in his house, creating paintings he hated.
Sam thought about going back into the studio and working at his own painting once more, but, looking up at the painting above, he didn’t really care to, anymore. Looking at Clarence’s painting always had this mixed effect on him, awe at the man, along with a self-doubting knowledge that he would never come anywhere near to Clarence’s level, even in the state he was in now. He didn’t sell art, he sold memories, because that was what people bought, memories of pristine snow, ice and perfection, before everything got dirty and muddy and not so beautiful to look at any more. They were easier to sell and buy than Clarence’s canvases of mud. He could always just paint over and start something new on the canvas he had now, he decided. Tomorrow, but not right now. Heading into the bedroom, he hoped that, at the very least, he would be able to catch up on his sleep.
Even more oppressive here than in the living room, the sun, just beginning its descent towards the horizon, blazed through the window, throwing a large square of light over the otherwise dark bedroom. He pulled the beige curtains that had come with the house shut and fell onto the bed, beginning to strip off the pieces of his clothes and throwing them at its foot until he lay naked on top of the sun-warmed sheets. Still, the heat permeated the room, making him sweaty and uncomfortable, feeling like a basted turkey in an oven. Tossing back and forth, half-awake and half-asleep, his eyes finally came to rest on the nightstand beside his bed, where a photo from a ski trip he and his wife had taken about five years ago rested. In the alabaster field of snow, his arm was wrapped around her body, which, like some stunningly sculpted figure, managed to hold him tight, yet still arch her back into a curve as she slipped away from him. She was smiling in the photo, something he had rarely seen her do in recent months, but then, she had always enjoyed skiing more than he ever had, flying down the mountain side as he plowed down it at a slow, tentative pace. Because of this habit, he had not gotten much skiing done that day, for, while the day had started out fine, the untouched snow, smooth and just the right balance between dryness and moisture, by the afternoon, the snow had already begun to melt, revealing patches of the muddy earth underneath. The two of them forced to retreat into the ski lodge for the rest of the day, she leaned against him staring at the snow, outwards. It’s a shame, isn’t it, she had said, looking out at the melting snow, how we’re stuck in here as everything falls apart around us. He hadn’t said anything in response to her then, not sure what even to say. He only held her tighter, not really feeling her through the padding of their ski jackets. He held the photo against his body as tightly as he held her then, trying to recall how cold it was that day despite the fact that he knew by now that it was something he could never reclaim and, eventually, began to fall to sleep.
- - -
The next morning, he made his way back out to Clarence’s place, wanting to get out there as soon as he could now that he knew that this woman and his daughter were not just delusions created by a mad old man’s memory. The day was no less hot than the previous one, but, by the time he got there, Clarence was already sitting on his porch, staring upwards into the sky, just as he was the previous day. A faint scent lingered in the air, and a new painting, apparently just finished, was set before Clarence.
“Clarence, I wanted to talk to you about this daughter.”
Clarence said nothing, keeping his gaze upwards.
“I think I might have an idea as to where she might be. Anderson City, you know, where my wife went off to on business,” he said, walking up to the stool he usually sat at. “She is the closest family you’ve got, after all, and maybe you’d like to move and be nearer to her. You know, get to know who’s going to carry on things after you.”
Clarence said nothing. It was impossible to put the man in a receptive mood, no matter how good the idea might be. Hoping to put Clarence at ease, he fell into one of their usual subjects of conversation.
“So, what are you painting today? Looks, like… a crowd… sort of? It’s pretty good, if you ask me.”
Clarence said nothing and, as Sam examined the painting more closely, he had to admit that he was right. This was one of the best things he had seen come from Clarence since he had begun the decay into the total lack of fine motor skills. It had a sort of impressionist appeal to it, the mixture of brown and beige blobs forming what looked like the idea of the crowd, not really the actual persons that made it up themselves, but lines and strips that, through some trick of perspective, seemed to rise and spiral up out of the painting, looking expectantly up at the out of the canvas at the viewer as if waiting for something marvelous to happen against the field of white. The strange perspective, combined with that faint aroma in the air, made the painting seemed uncannily alive. As he stared at the spiraling of the figures, he could feel his stomach lining swirl along with them.
“Pretty good,” he repeated. “Bet you’d love to show it to that daughter of yours, hey?” He said, patting Clarence on the back.
Clarence’s head fell forward, facing down to the painting. Still, Clarence said nothing.
Clarence was dead. As this connection was made in his mind, Sam began to feel the heat of the day, finally realized what he was smelling. Any number of stomach acids and chemicals were beginning to rise in his throat, but, shutting his eyes closed and all thought out of his mind, he managed to keep it down. Not certain where things were to proceed from here and feeling an enormous sense of anticlimax, he remained in his seat for a few minutes beside the dead Clarence, eyes closed and thoughtless, before returning to town to contact the authorities.
They held the service for Clarence a few days later, and Sam’s wife, Amelia, had still not returned from her business trip. Sam had ceased keeping track of the days that she was gone, a final recognition of the truth only now beginning to form in his mind. It was uncomfortably cool in the church, cold as ice Sam thought, turning the hyperbole over in his head. The only evidence of the heat outside was the thick collected reeking of the attendees. The priest was speaking at the podium, but Sam was not paying attention, instead looking around the room for a brown, feminine face among the pale old persons. Marks had told him he had tried to get into contact with her, after Clarence died. He still had some contacts in the art business who might have known where this mysterious lover of Clarence from the old days was. Still, it seemed that she couldn’t make it.
As the priest’s droning came to an end, Marks nudged Sam’s back, urging him to give a eulogy for his uncle. Not knowing, really, what he was going to say, but knowing that he was obliged, as the only family, to speak, he made his way to the front of Clarence’s coffin, glancing down at Clarence, who was little more pale dead than alive, before turning to face the aged attendees. He supposed he could have told them about what Clarence meant to him as a child or something along those lines, but he didn’t want to. That was a different man from the one he knew when he died. Instead, he said, “My Uncle Clarence was a very… kind man, a very… very… old man when he died… He will be missed.” An unspoken murmur passed through the room, glances and odd looks exchanged among the attendees as Sam returned to his seat.
“A good thing to say, Sam. Good speech, indeed.” Sam glanced over at Clarence, uncertain of how much sarcasm versus comfort lurked in his voice. At the very least, he supposed, the man had managed to wear a somber grin for the occasion. Other mourners followed after him, although he had ceased paying attention at this point as they all reflected back on the old days when this town still stood for something or something along the lines.
Instead, Sam stared up at the mural that loomed over Clarence’s body on the back wall of the church, perhaps the one that Marks had tried to tell him about earlier in the week. The signs of the two old painters, Marks and this Golgy he had never met were certainly in much of the mural. A typical piece of the crucifixion, Sam thought, with onlookers arrayed all around in two rows leading to center of the piece, Christ on the cross. It seemed to him a piece rough and done with too much improvisation, the figures and onlookers of the crucifixion all off or flawed in some way. A neck craned too high, a hand twisted almost around on itself, these figures struck Sam immediately as a product of Marks’s rushed imagination, fiery quick, but lacking technical talent to support it. But, standing out against this, the Mary figure, oddly sensualised in its handling, was something that Sam knew could only be a product of Clarence’s mind. The lines of her face, indeed her entire body, which could be seen clearly from the way the robe clung against her it in the faint breeze that moved through the mural, were smooth and simplified, less those of a real person, and more, an idealized figure in impression. The pure blue robe framed an unusually brown face, a face that seemed, to Sam, had already been done grieving, done forgetting, but had simply moved on. For all that life and energy he could see in the painting of Mary, however, it, along with the rest of the portrait, had already begun to fade and crack from heat and humidity, and the newer residents of the town had instead bought a shining new lacquered cross, at its base, to detract from the defects of the painting itself.
As the last of the mourners were making their farewell speeches, Sam’s scanned the room a final time, realizing that the only place he could see the Hispanic he looked for was in the figure above, painted from memory. As the farewells to Clarence continued, Sam stood, making his way to the outside of the pews and down the outer aisle to the entrance of the church. Marks followed after him, continuing to keep his ear to the podium.
“Leaving already?” he asked. “People won’t like that, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sam replied, looking down at his shoes.
“Not that really matters, in the end, anyway,” Marks said, pulling a flask out of his coat pocket. “We all mourn in our own way.” He held the flask out to Sam, and the smell of Jack Daniels rose to his nose. Sam shook his head, so, shrugging, Marks drew back his offer and took a mouthful from the flask himself. “Ah, it always hurts to see one of the old guard go. Seems that there are fewer and fewer left every day now. You know, your uncle was just about the closest that any of us ever came to fame.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sam said again.
“Didn’t make it, though. Not a single one of us did.” The melancholy was unusual for Marks, but the alcohol and thoughts of death had apparently brought his mood down. Sam repeated that he knew, but Marks continued, regardless. “But he got the closest, back when he was young and before he started going all crazy in the head. Ah! Did you see the mural in there? Pretty good, wasn’t it?” Sam smiled in recognition, but decided that he would rather remain silent than lie. “Course, the only thing Clarence did on that was Mary. The rest of us had to rush through the whole thing to pick up for his slack, then he refuses to change it even that when the preacher sees it and goes bat-shit. Screwed the rest of us out of a good commission. But then, that was the kind of crazy Clarence was, and look what it got him, died alone and the one woman he ever loved refuses to even acknowledge his death.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ah, I got a letter from her yesterday, postcard really. Can you believe that? Run off for a year with a man, can’t even write a full letter for him when he dies.”
“Could I see it?”
Marks reached into his pocket and pulled out a densely folded up piece of paper, placing it into Sam’s hand. “Take it.”
Slowly, Sam unfolded the postcard, until the writing, in a wide, unsteady script, was visible, saying, “Sorry. Can’t come. Can’t look back.” Sam read over the message several times before finally flipping it over, revealing a scenic shot of a city that claimed to be “Anderson City, Center of Industry.” As Sam thought over the message, it almost seemed, for a moment, that it might be for him. It was then that he finally began to realize that there was no daughter in Anderson City to carry on for Clarence, just as there was no wife waiting for him there, either.
“You know,” Marks said, interrupting Sam’s thoughts, “you’re all any of us have left, Sam. The last of the painters of Durham. You get it all.” He waved around himself, trying to indicate the whole town to Sam, or maybe just the air above his head.
“I know, Marks,” Sam repeated a final time. The church doors opened then, releasing a group of the elderly who all seemed to have taken it on themselves to snub Sam for his unforgivable faux pas. Pushing himself from the wall, Marx patted Sam on the back and began to walk over to this mass of people, but stopped, staring up into the orange afternoon sky.
“You know,” he said. “It would have been really magical… or… something, if it had started to snow today, you know?”
“Yeah,” Sam said “magical… but… stupid.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he said, joining a group of his more sober friends, entering with them into a minivan, not looking back at Sam as he climbed in. Sam stepped through the crowd slowly dispersing to attend the burial and into his own truck, not intending on joining them. It was a stupid idea, Sam thought as made his way to his own truck. The snow was gone, global warming and all that, melting away and leaving only mud. It would never come again, at least not in his lifetime. The world was different now, not better, not worse, but different, and all there was left was to continue with living. He thought this as he got in his car, not to go to the burial, but to leave Durham for the final time.