Mercer didn’t want to come home with us, but Ramona insisted. She made him a cup of coffee and helped him pack a few things. Unsure how I felt about having a teenage boy in my house for the unseeable future, I wasn’t quite as proactive. What was I going to do with him? But I needn’t have worried. Mercer made an excellent guest. He took the dogs on walks, washed my car, mixed paint for me, watered plants in the studio yard, ran errands. We had no idea when Joe would be back or what was going on with Caroline, who apparently was still in Bolivia with her father. I didn’t get the feeling Mercer was particularly worried about either parent, but it was hard to tell with him: he was a shy kid who kept his thoughts to himself. “Does your father often go off without a word like this?” I asked one afternoon a few days later when we were in my studio unloading a box of supplies.
“It’s happened before,” Mercer said. “He has to travel for work sometimes and can’t always let me know where he is.”
That sounded strange – a blind mathematician on business trips he couldn’t tell his son about. I thought of Joe with his sweet face and mild manner. Somehow this wasn’t adding up. “How about your father’s assistant, what’s his name, who drives him everywhere?”
“Lloyd? He always travels with my father. They’ve known each other a long time. They met in the army years ago.”
“Your dad was in the army?”
Mercer lifted a can of mineral spirits out of the box. “Yeah, before he lost his sight.”
“Somehow I can’t picture your father in the army.” I was silent a moment. “How’d he meet your mom?”
Mercer had his back to me as he hoisted the mineral spirits onto a shelf. “Through a project she was doing at UT,” he muttered. When he turned around I saw a slight sheen of tears in his eyes. He quickly busied himself removing brushes, pencils, bottles of medium from the box of supplies.
“They have a happy marriage, right?” The question popped out of my mouth without my thinking. I could have slapped myself. Mercer’s face did this odd contortion like I’d asked him to swallow a bunch of razor blades. And then, before he could wipe them away, the hint of tears in his eyes developed into big drops that began to roll unstoppably down his cheeks. “Oh honey,” I said. “Come over here and sit down for a minute.” I patted the couch next to me and handed him a piece of paper towel to staunch the tears. My dog Lucille, who’d been lying by the easel, got up and made her way across the studio to place her head in Mercer’s lap. That made the kid cry even harder, but in a good way. After a minute, he leaned down and kissed Lucille. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on,” I said.
To be continued…
Cover photo ~ http://www.ufunk.net/en/artistes/aldo-tolino/