would you care to move on?

you go on with the girls I’m going to stay for a minute he says staring at the painting

the old man giving the tour opens the door from the parlor and the woman and two girls enter the cellblock the actual interior of the jailhouse not in use now for some thirty years but the graffiti is still there the blackened engravings etched in the metal chipping away at the paint names and years all of it smelling metallic and of old concrete dank and moist the prisoners long gone some of the empty cells used for storage now and some still with the old cots the lined mattresses spilling straw rolled up revealing the sagging springs beneath and like an all-seeing eye the hole in the wall opened and closed with a sliding door so that those outside can see in can see all that is happening inside safely beyond the wall beyond the corridors of iron bars and yes he was here once Charlie Birger was here

you’s two married?

divorced I’m his ex-wife I’m here to drive him crazy

well you sure got two pretty little girls

Yes Delilah is seven Bell is four

well they’re well-behaved… how come you’s two?

we had a house once maybe we’ll buy a house here again

oh you’re looking to purchase a home here in Marion?

there’s land and a house out near Devil’s Kitchen—twenty acres… he works at the VA

you gonna remarry and buy it?

Oh hell no… but I was hopin’ he would give it to me…

the old man doesn’t know whether to smile until he sees her eyes he looks back to where the man is still studying the painting

say Bud? You ready to see the rest of it?

and I saw pain while the rest saw consequences you try and then you try again and so you think you’ll keep on trying but the other has stopped and instead of pity you’re faced with justice you’re faced with someone’s happy ending even if it only leads to your sadness but they do not say Why are you sad? because they do not care

a photographer from Goreville you say?

Yes

Hancock was his name?

Yes

my grandmother my mother’s mother—she was from Goreville—her maiden name was Hancock

she must have played with him played with him for hours that’s what you gotta do you gotta wear a cat out if’n you don’t want him prowlin’ at night—gotta give’m somethin’ to pounce on—a cat loves to pounce

and he looks underneath he looks beneath the painting behind it the old man following his children his ex-wife since they exited the parlor the rest of the Society a group that day of three men and two women on the other side of the hall across from the staircase sitting at the conference table in what’s been made the office and from the stacks and filing cabinets paperwork is still believed in—septuagenarians eating their left-over stews from Tupperware bowls—they cannot see him

and there it was

it was as the old man said beneath it was the Van Gogh underneath the painting of the woman and the cat both from the brush of an amateur but somehow fitting in this place in this parlor room to a jailhouse with all its other collectables but it wasn’t what was underneath it was what was behind

he knew his master by who fed him… and as to us? if we could only imagine? Forever worshipping You?

it is Man’s chief end what gives us our equality so many broken hearts so many broken souls our greatest fear being alone with no one to love us—does this sound like it? does this sound like worship? No it’s frustration and restlessness—frustrated desire… we were afraid then we became angry… and worship? Well, it has been relegated its place… to be coveted and defiled by the impure impulses of the artist—can’t you see?

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