A walk by the sea (73)

-In the charges of contract breach and violation, the jury rules in favour of the plaintiff, with a penalty fee fixed at thirty thousand dollars to be paid by plaintiff within twenty days. The defendant is hereby ruled to relinquish all rights over the property of the plaintiff, including all non-material property such as composed music.

The hammer fell with a bang, followed by a murmur sweeping across the tiny audience assembled in the courthouse. Someone was shaking Joshua’s hand, someone else was patting him on the back, and his mother was holding him tight against her bosom, sobbing shamelessly. Andrew watched the scene from two rows behind, nodding with satisfaction at his old friend, Daniel. Again, Daniel mercilessly drove the points across the defence, using Joshua’s medical state as excuse for his breaking the contract. Capitol had nothing better to do but bow to the judge’s final word and their executive, that greedy ass Ferguson stormed out of the room with a wind behind him that could have upset a whole vegetable cart.

-Mr Burrows, we cannot thank you enough for what you did to our son –Jack Morgan was standing before him, his honest eyes moist from happy tears.

-Don’t thank me, thank Daniel. Even I had forgotten what a master of law he is –Andrew smiled and signalled to Daniel who approached, beaming. –You did well, my friend.

-I’ve had worse cases –the young blond attorney modestly smiled, but his shining eyes betrayed his exhilaration. –I think Mr Morgan’s condition, sad as it makes us, helped win the jury over. There is no American in this world who would rule against a man in such a physical state.

-We will make sure to change that as fast as possible –Lindy interjected, shaking the hand of Daniel Holgers, then without further ado, embracing Andrew, who looked over to Jack in surprise, but hugged her in the end.

-I’m happy it’s all settled –his smile was so genuine that everyone watching the interaction could have sworn he was the oldest friend of the family. –Thirty grand is nothing, and your son got to keep his babies too.

Joshua was slowly approaching the group of people, shily gazing from one to another, as if scared to interrupt an important discussion. Lindy noticed him first and she squeezed his hand affectionately, smiling at him with tears in her eyes. He felt compelled to smile back at her, although his soul was everything but peaceful.

And then, from the corner of his eye, he noticed someone standing by the door, veiled by shadows. The figure was far, and his eyesight was not the best, but he could have sworn the person was smiling at him before she disappeared. While his brain registered the familiar features and added them up, making him realize it was Angela he saw.

But his mother was gently holding his hand, and everyone fromt the small group of people was looking at him expectantly.

-I guess thank you does no justice to what I should be saying right now –he muttered, extending his hand at Daniel whose grip was significantly more powerful than his.

-Your check will suffice –Daniel joked, and their laughter rose, liberated, from all but Joshua who merely smiled, albeit kindly.

-Thank you too for introducing me to your amazing friend –he looked over at Andrew who seemed to be struggling with words, merely nodding and shaking the young man’s hand.

He was as shocked as Joshua to see himself helping the young singer who looked infinitely better shaven and properly dressed in a dark suit. There were circles under his eyes and a nervous twitch in his right hand no one but he noticed, but the fact that he was finally free from obligations to a contract he had been entrapped by was the first step on a clean new path.

-Unless you have better things to do, please accept our invitation to dinner tonight –Jack spoke, and was met with profuse apologies from Daniel, whose schedule was tighter than that of the president. –What about you, Mr Burrows?

-Please call me Andrew… –the latter smiled politely, lifting his eyebrows in expectation of his own reply. –I… I wouldn’t like to be a burden… you obviously have so much to discuss and plan with your son…

-A great deal of the planning will involve the re-building of his career –Jack stated in a serious tone. –We are forever indebted to you as it is, but we would like to ask you whether you could spare a little more time and advice.

-I’m not sure if… now is the best time to start him on a strenuous schedule –Andrew cautiously replied, searching Joshua’s eyes, fully aware that it was his reply he was awaiting. Even if the business issues were ignored, he knew that the biggest question of them all was- were either of them ready to deal with a situation that only they knew about, were either of them ready to put the past behind them? He could not answer for the seemingly undecided young man, just as he wasn’t any more certain about his own fears, either.

-I would like you to come -Joshua slowly spoke, holding Andrew’s gaze, his eyes transmitting all kinds of emotions Andrew could not decipher.

-On one condition. That we don’t talk business tonight -he decided, sending smiles to Jack and Lindy who both looked very happy.

-We just want to celebrate -Lindy said.

Andrew kept them busy for a few more minutes with small talk, then excused himself and told them he would be at their house at seven later on that evening.

Walking away he couldn’t help but notice the emptiness in the eyes of Joshua. He should have been happy for his freedom, and his smile seemed to be permanent, but Andrew suspected it was meant to keep his parents happy.

Driving to his office, he knew the day was basically a wasted one. He found himself unable to think of his meetings and business proposals. All he could think of was the strange circumstances under which he and Joshua had met, and the even stranger events that followed.

Smiling at Tracy for keeping a cup of hot coffee on her desk for him to pick up, he closed his office door and checked his schedule. There were phonecalls to make, meetings to settle, sums to calculate and negotiate. There was also the matter of Mary’s paintings he had still not mailed back to her. The gallery was happy to keep them for two weeks, but when visitors seemed to decrease in number, they refused to deal with the paintings any more. For the time being, Andrew had offered to keep them in his own flat, carefully stacked against the wall, covered with a linen cloth to protect them from dust and sunlight. Had she not contacted him with her letter, he would not have even known her postal address. Of course, he could have resorted to contacting her through her son Joseph, but Andrew always preferred the direct way.

He sipped his coffee, staring at a name and phone number he was supposed to call regarding a possible Matisse painting, found in an attic of an old lady without any relatives. The concierge was only happy to negotiate about a price, but Andrew couldn’t have been more certain the whole deal was a scam. There were no Matisse frames lying around just like that.

-Tracy, I’ll go home, I have dinner plans. If Dickson calls, tell him to call back tomorrow. Any new names, I’ll get back to them.

With that, he took the rest of his day off, his mind loaded with things he wanted to ruminate in the quiet of his home. The bad conscience that kept nagging at him on account of a relationship with his son that ended too abruptly and the sense of duty he felt for someone he should have hated struggled within him, pulling him apart. Joshua was the living reminder of what a terrible job he had done as a father; the disturbing memories of angry admonishing on his part, rebellious denial on his son’s, then later, fewer and fewer words spoken to each other, and those merely to preserve a superficial peace inside the family home. Rilla would not have it otherwise, and to protect her weak heart, the two men in the house were ready to swallow their grudges and take it out on each other when she was not around.

Things he had been sweeping under the carpet of his consciousness were surfacing unstoppably. Flashbacks of Richard on the last week, walking about like a bull ready to ram his head against the first moving object. Rilla, terrified, not brave enough to speak to her own son. The atmosphere of denial and anger in the house was too much for Andrew to bear and he preferred to shoulder more responsibility at work, choosing to stay the evenings to avoid seeing his son in a half-awake state. By the time he reached home, Richard was usually passed out in his bed, and Rilla fast asleep. In the moonlight, he could trace with his eyes the wet stains of tears on her face and pillow. And yet, the remorse he felt for leaving her alone the whole day was so much better than the certainty that if he stayed, Richard would get irritated over trivialities and hurt her with his callousness.

Looking back now, he wondered how he could have been so certain about anything without making sure. He chose to believe in a truth he had picked, because simply put, it was the most convenient. It was he who didn’t want to spend time with his drunkard son, and conditioned his mind to accept that what he was doing, for Rilla, for Richard, was actually a good thing.

His breath was ragged as he hung his coat in the hallway. On the kitchen cooker, there was a plate with a slice of pizza from last night; he nibbled on it just to save it from wasting, then washed his hand from the grease and walked into his study where Mary’s paintings stood carefully propped against the wall. They were many in number and if he wanted to be honest, he would have needed the space, but for some obscure reason, he kept postponing the returning of the frames to their owner.

The first one was one of his favourites, a peaceful sea-scape lit by a late sunset, the metallic blue of waves reverberating the golden sheen of sun. Here and there, patches of unjustified, yet almost palpable crimson broke the monotony of an otherwise boring sea. As if she wanted to express how even though things are not actually visible, they can be seen with an inner eye. He stared at the painting for a long time, making an effort to see what she saw, and think the way she thought when making the piece of art. He had always admired artists for the unequivocal imagination they owned; above that, Mary also possessed something within her that he could, if he wanted to, describe as a longing for pain, in order to feel more clearly. Perhaps she instinctively knew what hermits and those looking for the meaning of life only discovered after decades of ascetics: that clarity and meaning are mrely possible through hardships and struggle. Perhaps she, like all artists, took it upon themselves to suffer not only their own pain, but the pain of others, in order to exert answers from the universe they could, then, pass onto people through their art. All her paintings, as he examined them one by one, had gloominess as the general mood, permeating even the more lively colours. Perhaps her paintings were an invitation, directed at whoever was willing to look, to see through hardships and discover the ultimate meaning.

The last paintings, the ones he was not ready to face yet, he left turned to the wall. Carefully, he arranged the others back as they had been, covering them gingerly with the cloth, the fleeting thought of having to send them to England coming and going, all in a moment’s time. Later. He had more important things to see to first.

He knew that the evening would be awkward, despite the obvious and innocent efforts of both Jack and Lindy, who were the role models for every parent alive. Seeing them display such infinite affection for their son, shame added to Andrew’s guilt: they were everything he never was as a parent, and his pathetic endeavours to save Joshua would never make up for all the sins he had committed against Richard.

On top of having to face his own guilt, he would have to face the eyes of that who had loved the same woman, had held the same woman, had fallen for the same soft sadness in her. Up till now, they had met under circumstances that did not allow for much intimacy; but in their home, he would be forced to see Joshua for who he really was.

For who Mary saw him.

A hair’s breadth from calling the Morgans and excusing himself, he decided to take a long ride, go to the beach, visit the water Mary loved so much, spend time with his intersecting memories. He knew the time had come to face his demons he had been so successful in defeating for years; there was no use backing down, that had never been an option.

Only for cowards, he concluded bitterly.