There was a heavy snowfall that evening and it made the trip for Wendy, looking out the window of the car, all the more beautiful. They arrived at the garret around midnight and walked up three flights of stairs in the dark. It was good that Henry had brought his flashlight. He used three keys on a long silver chain to open three locks on the steel door. Once inside the garret, Henry turned on the light with triumph.
"Voila!" he said as he turned slowly in a circle with arms outstretched.
Wendy was certainly surprised. There were paintings all over the walls. Other paintings, half completed, sat on their easels waiting for Henry. He explained to Wendy that she was the first person to see his work--his work of a lifetime. He had never shown his work to anyone before but now that they were married, he felt she had a right to see it.
"Wendy, you are the one person I know who is qualified to see my work and I am very happy about that."
Wendy had been curator of several art collections at prestigious museums in a number of cities. As soon as she was settled in her new home, she planned to seek similar employment in Chicago, perhaps at a small private gallery so she would have less pressure and more time to make a nice home for Henry who had been a bachelor for a long time.
Wendy was an expert in watercolors, Henry's medium of choice. With his encouragement, she walked around the garret slowly, looking at every painting on the walls and even those on the easels before she said anything.
Finally, choosing her words carefully, she told Henry his work was "interesting." She did not praise or condemn any particular painting. She spoke quietly, trying her best to say something nice when her professional assessment told her just the opposite--the work was mediocre, mundane at best. Later on, Henry thought to himself that Wendy had looked bemused after reviewing his life's work.
Henry Throckmorton earned his living as an attorney but that was simply to buy the time necessary to paint. Before marrying Wendy he had spent weekends, holidays and vacations at his garret, painting night and day for many years. He had done well as an attorney but painting was his passion. He knew now, however, that the canvases he thought so highly of had failed to impress his young wife.
Henry drove home alone that night and told everyone at work the next day that Wendy had left him without notice. He called her parents and cried on the telephone about her sudden departure. He begged them to ask Wendy to call him if they heard from her and he said he would call them if she called him. He asked her mother if Wendy had ever gone off on her own before and she assured him that Wendy had not.
No one ever saw Wendy Throckmorton again. Over the years, her parents had died, still worried about Wendy. Since she had been an only child, there were no siblings to ask about her. It was obvious to the staff in Henry's office that he was in no mood to discuss her. They felt the man was brokenhearted.
Once again, Henry was spending weekends, holidays and vacations at his garret painting in watercolors. No one since Wendy had seen his work nor had anyone else visited his garret. Paintings were still everywhere, their number increasing as a result of Henry's ever-increasing frenzy for painting.
A wonderful cook, Henry still stored a few steaks in a small refrigerator in the kitchen but he no longer hung big cuts of beef from hooks in the walk-in freezer at the back of the garret. That freezer had been a selling point when Henry bought the place from a retired butcher many years ago. But now Henry never went into the freezer. In fact, he didn't know where he had put the keys to the locks he himself had installed on the freezer door after Wendy had disappeared.
In addition to being good at the law and enjoying painting, Henry Throckmorton had always been handy with tools. He had hoped some day to try his hand at ice sculpture but he would have to do that outside now and not in the freezer as he had once planned.
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has had fiction and poetry published in various publications in the U.S. and elsewhere. Among them are The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Commonweal, The Galway Review (Ireland), Bluepepper (Australia), The Osprey Journal (Wales), Public Republic (Bulgaria), and The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey).