Edouard sat in his armchair, his face obscured by the crimson pillow he held to it. The pillow smelled of lavender, an oddity since he possessed no lavender or anything that carried the lavender essence. Indeed, he hadn’t smelled lavender since his mother was alive.
Behind him stood a table, draped with a heavy green-patterned cloth and surrounded by bridge chairs. Just the night before he had hosted a poker game at that table. Men had sat around it, smoking and cursing. Many smells arose through the course of the evening and into the wee hours of the morning, nothing remotely like lavender. He threw the pillow across the room. It landed near a pile of old books that had belonged to his mother.
He stood up and looked out the window. A bleak and wintry landscape greeted him. The dull colours and harsh surfaces looked like broken glass. The fleeting nature of the afternoon light did little to relieve the gloom. Edouard traced his finger on the frosted windowpane. He drew a happy face and headed off to the kitchen. On his way there, his phone buzzed. It was Maria-Elena. She was back from her Cancun vacation.
“Eddie, you didn’t answer earlier.”
“I was sleeping. Had the boys over for a card game. My head.”
“Eddie, you want me to come over later? I bought some trinkets back for you from Cancun.”
“You know I don’t like trinkets.”
“Liar. I know you do like them. I’ll come over after supper. I’m eating with my grandmother this evening.”
“Say hello to her.” Edouard keyed off and went into the kitchen. He liked Maria-Elena, he did. But sometimes she made him feel like he was submerged under water, floating in a state of limbo, alternately still, then moving in a turbulent manner. It was hard to explain. He prepared his tea. He liked a strong pekoe in the afternoon, with lemon, a habit he’d picked up from his mother. He found it an enlightening
beverage. He always thought better after he drank one.
A knock at his door provoked the slightest irritation in his breast. Who could it be now? Who could be bothering me now? Indeed, it was Tamayo, the
Peruvian sculptor who lived two units down from his. Tamayo was a good soul, if a strange one.
“Eddie, baby. Poppy is here to see you. That’s right. Sur-prise!”
Edouard saw that Tamayo held something in his hand, a figurine.
“Yes, Eddie,” he said, “I have a gift for you. It is special.”
The figurine was a miniature horse in bronze with a brown patina. At least Edouard thought it was a horse, though the head, a tiny triangle, seemed out of proportion with the rest of the figure. Lines incised into the surface of the bronze evoked the horse’s rough coat. It looked at once primitive and futuristic.
“You like it?’ Tamayo asked.
“It is unique,” Edouard said. He took out his bankroll and peeled a few hundreds off.
“No, no, signor. At this time I will not take your money. I am giving it as a gift of friendship. From the heart.”
“But you must’ve spent many hours crafting it.”
“That is not important. What’s important is for you to have a memory of me when I am gone. The caballo* will endure.”
“Would you like some tea?” Edouard asked, placing the figurine on the mantlepiece.
Tamayo made a face. He detested tea. He only drank coffee and liquor. Edouard offered him a shot of anisette. He readily agreed and Edouard went to the side table, poured him a shot and one for himself. They toasted and drank. Tamayo shook his head and held out the shot glass. Edouard poured him another.
“It is sweet,” Tamayo said. “If I drink too much sweet stuff I get a headache.”
“Yes, it happens. Tell me, Tamayo, does the horse carry any personal significance for you? Is there a reason why you chose a horse and not, say, a cow or a bird?”
“Can you ride a cow? Can you ride on the back of a bird? No. But you can ride a horse.”
Edouard glanced at the unusual figurine. Why such a small head? he wanted to ask him, but artists can be so touchy.
Tamayo had another drink and departed. Edouard picked up the figurine and sat in his armchair. He held it up to his eyes and studied it. Fine work. The guy was a real artist. He deserved greater recognition. His talents were going ignored. The figurine felt warm in his hand, like a living thing. He stared in its eyes. It emanated a sense of calm that actually unsettled him a bit. He found himself choking back tears. This took him by surprise.
When Maria-Elena came over, Edouard was in an agitated state. She had worn her prettiest dress to please him, but he made no comment about it. Then she thought her gifts would mollify him. She had brought him a small elephant carved in white marble, and a cobalt blue drinking cup. But he scarcely looked at her gifts. He sat in his armchair and sulked like a schoolboy.
“I’m a little offended, Edouard. I thought your reaction would be more excited and grateful. Instead you look like you have swallowed a bad fig.”
“I appreciate your efforts bringing the gifts to me. But in truth, today I was given something that surpasses all my desires.”
“Whatever could that be?” Maria-Elena asked.
He held up the horse figurine in his outstretched hand. His face lit up as he gazed at it.
“It is quite ugly,” Maria-Elena said, speaking her mind as was her wont.
Edouard burst into tears. It was quite unusual, for he was never one to weep about anyone or anything. Why, even when his mother died, just one year ago—indeed, exactly one year ago—he barely shed a tear.
Salvatore Difalco's work has appeared in many print and online journals. He splits time between Toronto and Sicily.
*Spanish for male horse.