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The Painter

Mercy Bay is calm this April morning, the fog in no hurry to move offshore, the air chill, though not terribly so, and the only person on the beach at the mouth of the Mercy River is the painter Lorenzo Vinciguerra.

Handsome and broad-shouldered, his wavy brown hair romantically long, Lorenzo was born here in Mercy fifty-seven years ago. His mother Luisa was sixteen and working as a maid at the Mercy Hotel when she was seduced by Aldo Vinciguerra, the Sicilian hotel manager, who only agreed to marry Luisa when she gave birth to a boy because and Aldo didn’t want his son to be a bastard.

When Lorenzo was a year old, Luisa gave birth to Lorenzo’s sister Magdalena, and shortly thereafter Aldo divorced Luisa and returned to Sicily where he died in a brawl following a soccer match.

*

Lorenzo is making large paintings these days necessitating an enormous easel, which is why he hires brawny Jeff Spitzer to meet him in the beach parking lot and help him transport his painter’s kit a half-mile along the shore to a dune overlooking the confluence of the Mercy River and Mercy Bay.

Lorenzo’s kit includes a suitcase full of tubes of oil paint, his mighty easel, two large canvases stretched on wooden frames, many brushes, three large palettes, a sketch pad, a red madras blanket, a big blue beach umbrella, and a cooler replete with food and drink.

This is Lorenzo’s fourth morning of painting here and he is pleased with what he has captured so far – tendrils of fog creeping over the expanse of sand, a jumble of driftwood logs, Medusa-like tangles of kelp, the wide river meeting the sea, and white-capped breakers overhung by a cloudy sky.

“Something is missing,” says Lorenzo, standing back from his painting. “Those black and white angels.”

 He is referring to the two nuns who walk by on the beach every morning, their black frocks crowned by snowy white wimples and white caps beneath black bandeaus.

“This morning I will ask them to pose for me,” he says, touching the heart of the painting where he wants the nuns to be.

*

The nuns appear as the fog is withdrawing, and Lorenzo greets them with a gracious bow.

“Good morning, Sisters. My name is Lorenzo Vinciguerra. I am making a painting of this scene and wonder if I may ask you to pose for me for a few minutes so I can sketch you and include you in my painting.”

The nuns, both middle-aged and full of joie de vivre, are delighted by Lorenzo’s accosting them so gallantly.

“Would you like us to freeze mid-stride?” asks one of the nuns. “Or shall we pose like those two in American Gothic? The dour woman and her grim husband holding the pitchfork?”

“How Satanic of you, Sister Jean,” says the other nun, laughing. “We can make a tall skinny crucifix out of driftwood to replace the pitchfork.”

“Orla?” says Lorenzo, startled by the sound of the nun’s voice and laughter. “Is it you? Orla Gallagher?”

“How did you know it was me under this disguise, Lorrie?” she says, her voice the same soothing tonic it was to him when he adored her from First Grade to Twelfth, and she broke his heart again and again until their senior year at Mercy High when they went steady for seven glorious months, and the night of the Senior Ball they kissed madly in Lorenzo’s car and then came down to this very beach to make love for their first time, but she stopped him on the verge and cried, “Oh Lorrie, I love you, I do, but I want to wait until I’m married. Maybe it’ll be you I marry. I don’t know. I’m so sorry to disappoint you, but I want to go to college before I have a baby.”

“I’ve got condoms,” Lorenzo gasped, desperate to be inside her.

“Tis a sin,” she said, kissing him for what would be the very last time. “I do love you, Lorrie. You know I do. I’m just not ready. I’m sorry.”

*

In the evening of the day he sketched the nuns, Lorenzo meets his old pal Jack Spence for booze and nibbles in the bar of the Mercy Hotel, and Lorenzo tells Jack about meeting Sister Orla on the beach this morning – how she and Sister Jean posed for him and he fell in love with Orla all over again.

“When they were gone,” says Lorenzo with a sigh, “I realized the reason I’ve never married is that I’ve never loved anyone as much as I loved Orla.”

“Are you serious?” says Jack, who is very drunk. “Orla I’m-too-good-for-anybody Gallagher?” He winces. “And here I thought you never got married because… why would you get married when you have all those gorgeous movie stars crazy about you? Lorenzo Vinciguerra, the famous artist with paintings in museums all over the world. And I gotta tell you, Lo, I’m always amazed when you come back to see your mother, and you want to see me and Beth and the kids. I mean… who am I? Some schmuck who worked at Mercy Hardware for thirty-eight years and never went anywhere.” He fights his tears. “I thought I was so cool in high school with my long hair and my motorcycle and my one little tattoo, and you were my nerdy friend who liked to draw. And now you live in New York and Paris and hang out with movie stars, and your paintings sell for millions, and you’re telling me you’re still in love with Orla?” He grimaces. “That is so messed up, Lo. I can’t tell you how messed up that is.”

“Is it messed up?” asks Lorenzo, gazing around the bar of the hotel where he was conceived fifty-eight years ago when his young mother, an illegal alien, succumbed to the amorous hotel manager for fear of being sent back to Mexico if she refused him.

“It’s totally messed up,” says Jack, grimacing. “You’re the king of the world. And you’re still hung up on Orla who dropped out of St. Mary’s and lived in a hippy commune in Berkeley and sold tie-dyed T-shirts on Telegraph Avenue until she got busted for selling pot, and they gave her a choice of going to prison or joining the Army or becoming a nun. That Orla? Are you insane?”

“I never knew that’s when she became a nun,” says Lorenzo, wishing he could be with Orla now, talking about their lives. “And last I heard… twenty years ago… she was in a convent in Carmel. I had no idea she’d moved to the convent here.”

“She came back three years ago to take care of her mother when she was dying,” says Jack, smiling sadly. “Hey I’m sorry, Lo. I know you were crazy about her in high school and… I guess we can’t help who we love.”

“Well said,” says Lorenzo, laughing at the double meaning. “And you needn’t envy me, Jack. You have a wonderful wife and marvelous children, and you do good work every day. And you live in the most beautiful place on earth.”

*

The next morning on the beach, Lorenzo dabs more white on the wimples of the nuns’ habits, and though their faces are not discernible, he knows by the beguiling tilt of her head and the way she is gesturing with her left hand as if in dance, that the nun on the right is Orla, the love of his life.

fin

Impulsos Olvidados from Todd and Marcia’s album Ahora Entras Tu

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