A Secret Grave 21: Mercer

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“You don’t remember me, do you?” I said to Lloyd Peterson while Joe was being photographed.

I had him pegged as someone who regularly averted his gaze, but he looked me full in the face, eyes the astringent cutting colorless gray of alcohol. “Ma’am?”

“From Victor’s?”

His mouth was a straight stringy line as those eyes traveled over me. “I’m not quite sure who you mean,” he said after a moment.

Well, that gave me goosebumps. I knew he was lying.

“Dr. Victor Goodlove? Who used to have a practice off South First Street?”

There was recognition in his face. He just wouldn’t give voice to it. Anyway, before he could say more, the photographer had a question for me and then the shoot was over and we never got back to the subject of Victor. But that weird little moment has stayed in my brain for four months now.

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23

Joe’s Photoshoot

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A little later in June, Caroline and Joe’s son, Mercer, came to work for me. By ‘work’ ’I mean he mixed and tubed paint – an art in and of itself – helped around the studio, ran errands at Jerry’s Artorama, tended plants in the studio yard, walked the dogs. In return, I taught him how to measure and draw a face, using my housekeeper, Ramona, as a model.

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Ramona

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He was a sweet-tempered boy, just like his father, sixteen, already done with high school because he was so smart and had skipped grades, but not ready for college. The first time I saw him I knew he reminded me of someone but couldn’t quite figure out who. It wasn’t only his face, which had a lean inward look, but the way he moved his hands and body, gliding as he walked, thrusting himself forward into space as if he had a great eagerness to engage with life, and picking up objects – say a palette knife or jar of turps – respectfully, with the tips of his fingers, as if the object were, I know this sounds funny, but a living being with feelings.

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To watch him mix paint was a dream. I use the Munsell system, which is complicated, but he learned it in what felt like nanoseconds, memorizing the hundreds of chips in a way that told me he could see those rows of hue, value, chroma in his mind, without having to constantly drag out the book – as I do – for reference. In that respect, he was like his father, Joe, who didn’t need to look at a blackboard to work out mathematical formulae; he saw it all in his head.

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So who did Mercer remind me of? Ramona figured it out almost instantly. In fact, she gave a little gasp of breath the first time she saw him. “Mama,” she said (we both address one another as ‘Mama’ in the Latin fashion), “you know who he looks like?”

This was right after he left the house the first day.

“Who? I’ve been trying to figure it out all morning.”

“Victor, Mama. It’s the same face. He looks just like your painting.”

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To be continued…

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Cover photo ~ Intelligence, Azury Lin, https://unsplash.com/collections/205260/intelligence

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