Tuesday 25 Oct 2016

The Picture on the Wall
AJ Robinson

It hung next to my bed in the cottage. Year in, year out, it was always there. It was the last thing I saw when I went to sleep and the first thing I saw in the morning. It was quite the comfort item.

Strange the things we cling to and remember, isn't it? The cottage was our summer retreat; a simple little place sitting in the Campgrounds of Oak Bluffs, on the Island of Martha's Vineyard, off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

The name might be confusing - Campgrounds. It was the connotation of a campsite, some place where people pitch tents. Well, that was long ago, more than a century back. Then, over time, the people built small gingerbread cottages on the campsites. This meant that the places were real tiny, and real close together. There was even a joke in the Campgrounds: if you run out of sugar at breakfast, just knock on your neighbor's window and borrow theirs off their table!

The painting over my bed was called "Pals," and it had a soft haze to it, giving it an almost dream-like look. I would often lie in bed and stare at it, and wonder about the little boy sitting on the pier. At least I thought it was a boy; as you only saw him from the back, it was hard to tell. Around him were pretty flowers and greenery. Where was he, a park, a pond off in the forest? And, more importantly, where were his clothes? Why did he sit there naked? When I was little-well, young, I was never little; I didn't think anything of that. As I got older, it kind of embarrassed me. Then, I got old enough to appreciate it as art.

Then there was the little Labrador puppy sitting next to him. His black fur was quite the contrast to the boy's bleach-white back. I started to wonder: what did the boy look like? He had a big mop of black hair, but, what about his face? When I was young, I was sure he looked like me!

What were he and the puppy looking at? They seemed to be gazing at something off in the pond. Over the years, I began to create stories to fill in the blanks of their lives; how had they come to the pond, and why. Had the boy fallen in, or gone skinny-dipping? Where did they go after their swim? What did his mother say when he got home? Did he put his clothes on or carry them home?

I decided, the boy and his dog had gone to the little pond for a swim. Afterward, they sat upon the pier to dry off while they bird-watched; the puppy staying close by, so as to protect his young master. Then they scampered home, the boy little caring for his lack of proper attire, much to the consternation of his mother.

It was then that I realized, the picture had been the start, the "seed" upon which my storytelling had begun. I still see it from time to time; it hangs in my brother's house. I look at it, and I remember.

I remember lying in my bed, that musty, dusty odor of old wood, bleached sheets, and mothballs hanging in the air.

I remember looking up at the vaulted ceiling of my room, being lulled to sleep on rainy nights by the soft pitter-patter of the falling rain.

I remember the day I broke my wrist. I was very young and it was the worst pain I'd ever known. That night, my mother was there to comfort me, and strangely, so did the picture. She sat with me late into the night and checked on me often. When she wasn't there, I lay in bed and looked at the picture, and got lost in it.

I stepped into the picture, and I was the boy. I felt the warm softness of the puppy, my puppy, sitting next to me. The rough boards against my wet tushie were a bit much, but I didn't mind; for a few brief minutes, the pain in my arm ebbed. And, at last, I saw out into the pond, and beyond the edges of the picture, I saw what the boy was looking at. It was then that I realized, he wasn't looking at any thing, it was the place, the area around the pond. This was his - their - special place, a place they alone knew about and shared.

At that moment, I understood the bond that could exist between a boy and his dog. Not master and pet, not brotherly love. Was a boy a dog with two legs, or was a dog a boy with four legs? Perhaps a little of both, and that's what makes their friendship unlike any other. The sadness I felt at being pushed out of the picture was infinitely worse than the pain in my wrist. It was an emptiness that came from so deep inside me; I didn't know my soul reached that far into the universe.

I wept. And, my mother was there to comfort me. She thought the tears were because of my wrist. How could I tell her the truth?

It was then that I made up my mind: I would have a dog someday, and before I was grown up! Man and dog, that's master and pet. Boy and dog, now that, that is something truly special.

And all of it came from one simple picture.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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