Until the radio announcer reported her brother’s death, Frances had been resigned to a life of ignobility. Suddenly she had a chance to go for gold.
With the public memorial only a week away (Alfred had acted quickly), it was crucial she develop a strategy to link her poetry to her brother’s art. She also needed to plan what to say when approached, as she’d ensure she was, by reporters. How to meet and greet to her advantage while displaying a respectful solicitude for Vincent’s “untimely death.”
She’d confide to the reporters how she and Vincent had sat at the kitchen table, he drawing and she writing, just like the Austins. In the background her mother’s refrain: “Is this part of your homework?” Of course it wasn’t, they were artists not robots.
She’d explain why Vincent and she hadn’t kept in touch, framing their misunderstanding appropriately. The final dispute, years earlier, had been because of Alfred. Dangerous waters here, it would be fatal to be labeled homophobic but general estrangement shouldn’t be a problem. Celebrities often had long-term disagreements
with family members. It added to their mystic.
“Sadly we let our artistic differences come between us,” she’d confess, (Was that the moment for tears?), “Still family is family and when I heard the news it was like an arrow through my heart.” Maybe that was too strong. In the past, people who didn’t understand a poet’s passion had accused her of being melodramatic.
The moment she’d heard the news, Frances had scrambled to locate her brother’s phone number. According to the announcer Alfred was organizing an event and she was determined to be front and center of any such occasion.It took Alfred, as dotty as ever, a few minutes to even remember who she was.
“Frances. It’s Frances. I’m devastated,” she’d gushed.
“Frances?” he said, his voice raw from talking or crying, who knew.
“Frances, your sis-in-law,” she said. “And by the way congrats.”
“Who else?” She tried for a warm voice, “I called as soon as I could. I had trouble finding your new number.”
“It’s five years since we moved.”
“So, what’s the plan?” she asked.
After a brief pause, his voice with that reedy lisp she hated, Alfred said, “We’re planning a celebration involving artists, poets, local publishers….”
Frances broke in, “It’s important we not focus on Vincent’s past achievements. We need to talk about what he was planning when cancer struck.”
“Frank Petty is going to talk about Vincent’s commission with the Toronto School Board.”
“Sure, okay but I mean our project.”
“A family project?”
“Well beyond that, his art entwined with my poetry, starting from our childhood.”
“I didn’t know you’d been in touch.”
“It was to be a surprise. It’s not finished but I can get something together for the event. I’ll come over and go through Vincent’s early stuff.”
“When we were sitting around the dining room table working together, like the Austens.”
“You mean the Brontes?”
“Yeah, with the tavern down the hill from the parsonage where the son drank.”
“Vincent didn’t drink and he wasn’t a writer.”
Frances sighed. How had Vincent stood this guy? He was so inside the box.
Never mind, she suddenly remembered that there was some of her poetry and Vincent’s artwork in the attic. Their mother had kept all their early efforts not suspecting that some of it would be worth something someday.
On their mother’s death, Vincent had told Frances to dispose of all his early work insisting that it was not worth saving. But that was before his rise. An artist herself, Frances considered it unfair to cheat posterity of early creative efforts.
“I didn’t know anything about a project with you,” Alfred said. “Vincent’s agent didn’t mention it.”
“It was to be a surprise,” Frances insisted. “We’d planned a press conference, everyone there, then instead of macabre talk about Vincent’s cancer, we’d astonish them with a wall of art and poetry.”
“Give me time to think about it.”
“No I insist,” Frances said, suddenly angry.
Having lost an earlier chance of a joint venture when she and Vincent were in their early twenties, Frances had no intention of losing another. The first project—to do a book together—had been her idea. Vincent had reluctantly agreed and even attained a government grant as part of an initiative to celebrate young artists from small towns.
Just as things were underway Sergio, the then love of her life, had headed for Spain. Frances let passion reign and followed him, imaging them Sartre and that woman whose name she’d forgotten. Cold fish Vincent had been furious.
Alfred snorted. “I’m planning the event. I’ll decide.”
“It’s not like you were married.”
“We were married.”
“Not in a church.”
“Vincent was an atheist!”
“The newspaper would lap it up if I told them you turned me from the door.”
“Of my brother’s funeral.”
“For God’s sake Frances, don’t make this another one of your histrionic episodes. This isn’t about you.”
“It’s my brother who’s dead. It is about me.”
“Call me tomorrow but be warned I’m not trusting you to some half assed project on the day we are going to celebrate Vincent’s life. Remember Spain.”
Before she could rebut, she heard the click. That was a low blow. It was so long ago.
She’d been right about Alfred, he was unfeeling and selfish.
Never mind, this was her chance to shine. Better get to it. She grabbed a bottle of wine, a glass and the flashlight and headed up the stairs.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Originally posted in: Six Minute Magazine. Vol.2, Issue 1, Fall 2012