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An Unfinished Painting
FISHERMAN Isaac Jones was lost at sea. He had been for two months already. He had a diminished supply of food and water. His only hope was that a storm didn’t strike, but the clouds in the distance looked threatening.
Back at home sat Florence Monroe. She and Isaac were married eight months ago, but she wasn’t willing to change her maiden name. She begged and pleaded for Isaac to let her come with him on this treacherous voyage, but he insisted she stay safe at home.
All Isaac ever wanted out of life was to catch some nice fish, make a profit, and still have enough leftovers to bring home to his wife. He was out on a one-month fishing expedition, for he had heard tell of a good fish season down at Cape Cod. He would have to travel down the coast from his house in Maine, and he promised Florence that when he got to the Cape, he would send her a letter.
Florence received one letter a few days after Isaac arrived at Cape Cod. He said that he missed Florence very much and that he should be home in three weeks without further ado.
Unfortunately, Florence received only one other letter from Isaac. This was dated July 8th. He said that the fishing down at Cape Cod was excellent, the best he’d ever seen. He apologized for not writing daily. Things were just too busy and exciting, he said.
And the letters stopped coming. At first, Florence figured that things were just too busy and exciting, and that a fisherman like Isaac couldn’t get around to writing letters to his wife. Florence sent letters to him at the inn address that he had given her, but no further response came. It was after those three weeks had passed without him that she really began to worry.
To entertain Florence while she waited distraught at her house for the love of her life to come home, Mario Christopho, a local painter, painted pictures for her. He painted one picture of Florence sitting alone by the eastern window of her house, overlooking the ocean, The savage sea was gnawing away at the beach, only a few steps from Florence’s own front yard. She sat, head down, on the weather-worn flowered sofa of her living room, her wavy golden hair covering her soft amber eyes. She wore a lovely black evening gown. She was wondering why she was dressed so nicely. All she knew was that it felt right.
This picture was strange, though. It seemed to have an odd, empty white space in one of the corners. Florence just guessed that Mario didn’t know enough about her to draw a completely detailed picture.
Another picture was of Florence’s husband lost at sea in a rude old boat, holding up a glowing yellow lantern, squinting fruitlessly through the pouring rain, only praying that the deadly clouds above would part and that he might catch a glimpse of shore, a lighthouse, maybe. This picture was the one most effective on Florence’s emotions.
At times, it made her sad, other times happy, and on occasion, it brought back memories that sent her into hysterical laughing fits.
What bothered Florence was that this picture was completed. Surely, Mario knew more about Florence than he did about Isaac. Then why was Isaac’s painting finished? Isaac’s life was almost definitely finished, and perhaps Mario wanted to pay a tribute to the fisherman.
Now that two months had passed, two grueling, petrifying months, Mario was setting out to search for Isaac. He asked to speak with Florence.
“Florence, my curiosity is killing me. I have to find Isaac,” he cried, only wanting to please such a nice woman as Florence.
“Exactly,” retorted Florence. “Curiosity killed the cat, and now it’s going to kill you.”
“Ahh,” he realized, “Yes, curiosity did kill the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.” Mario was secretly satisfied with her fear of his death. This meant she cared about his actions.
“Any boat you could afford would be pathetic and sink in no time. I always told Isaac that he needed a better boat, but he never took my word for it, and now look what’s happened. There’s no telling when a storm will hit. One might be out there right now. Maybe your pictures can tell the future. Like in one of those mystery books or something. My husband is out there in some hurricane.” Florence had only the slightest hope that her little speech would be persuasive. She stared into his deep black eyes and knew in her heart that he was going out to sea. And he would get struck by a storm. Why else would her husband not have come back? The thought was too much for her; she couldn’t escape that inevitable tear rolling down her cheek.
In spite of her failed attempts at Mario not making the trip, Florence managed to get him to take the train down to Provincetown, for it was there that Isaac had docked his boat. Isaac had wanted to be out on the ocean on the way down, just for fun. He didn’t want to waste his time on some smelly train. But Mario’s passion was painting, not sailing, and he didn’t want to worry Florence for no reason. Florence supplied Mario with the money to ride to Massachusetts and get a rental boat, because Mario was just a poor painter and she had a bit of money from what her husband reeled in. Mario insisted that he could pay the expenses, and when it became clear that Florence was going to be the commuter rail’s patron, he thanked her profusely for all she had done, although it was not much in her view.
Florence saw Mario off at the train station. It was pouring rain, and Mario promised that he would not set out in his boat until the skies cleared up. The two hid underneath a large blue umbrella, moving along in perfect harmony, neither bumping into the other, both walking on the same foot. It takes only the most perfect balance to do that.
They were a beautiful sight, the two of them, and many spectators mistook them for husband and wife. Mario handed Florence a marvelous bouquet of soft pink roses. Florence gave a half-hearted smile, knowing that it was nothing more than a good-bye present, but she was bawling when he left. Mario kept looking back so many times that Florence thought he might not go after all.
Mario never returned.
The body of Isaac Jones was found at 3:47 A.M., September 16.
After Mario’s remains were found, not more than two miles away from Isaac’s, Florence was looking through his gallery. She was surprised to see that Mario’s will stated that she was the rightful owner of all his artwork. She was his only friend, apparently. She found dozens of completed pictures of Isaac, depicting the many events of his life, dozens of completed pictures of Mario, showing the scenes of his life as a painter, and that one, lone, unfinished painting of herself.