Since her death he has had trouble speaking although his father had always told him he didn’t know how to talk. He was a mute his father said, something dumb and without worth.
They had taken her to a potter’s field in a wooden box, number 98,761,580, the men hoisting the box unceremoniously unto the truck, and he, concerned with the jostling but unable to speak. Even if speech had been granted him, conscripted pall bearers whose evenings were spent in cells were not habituated to receive that frequency of the human heart. They rode off under the tarp, their cigarette smoke lingered over her body.
Now, years later, he had been commissioned to fashion pictures with sugar water and dyes, a holiday mural. He had risen into something he could do, he had been recognized, and those years spent enduring his father’s impatience seemed far away. He would do it for number 98,761,580, his love whose hand he held, cold as it was, who had lain beside him in the tunnels, in the filth. What had haunted him was the thought of her lovely body wasting away. It had torn at his eyes, his throat. It had taken away his faith.
He painted a band of sugar on the walls of the hotel, the mural reflecting the city back to itself – the deep green park, the holiday windows, lovers under golden angels, flowers spilling out of markets in December, a resurrected skyscraper, a choir of variegated faces singing in front of a red door of a dark church, the homeless – not swept away, not forgotten – their realities on their faces, hands, hair. It was not a Rockwell. There were a few artists, subcontractors, who kept trying to abscond with the project, to make it what it wasn’t for the sake of something they likened to a good make-believe before bed.
“The point of this candy sculpture,” said the man of almost no words, “is to show the city as it is.”
The man knew, of course, there was a time to forget some things, a time not to paint literally everything, but only he could decide how he wanted his thoughts conveyed. A couple of firings became necessary.
At the unveiling, a drift of snow descended, adding movement to the portrayal of of the crush of humanity celebrating traditions among the buildings, streets, trees. There were small handouts distributed that asked you to the long view to appreciate the optical illusion: From two blocks away, one could see a glossy mane of hair framing the large dark eyes and fine lips of a woman.
He spent all the money. He built a marble house. On Christmas he laid her out on a stone.