He’d get angry if I didn’t recognize him in his pictures. He said he was painting who he was, and if I didn’t see that, then I was the one who was blind. A few days later and he’d be excited to show me his next one, completely forgetting that the last one even existed at all.
“When is your mom going to come see? I’ve been calling her all week.”
He even forgot that she hates him too. Every time he’d ask, and every time I’d make a vague excuse and promise she’d be there next time.
He was 86 when he had his stroke. He didn’t paint again after that, and within the year he was gone. Dad and I went to the funeral, but mom just locked herself in her room. Grandfather still left everything to her anyhow, saying in the will that “I may not be able to give her a home, but at least I can give her my house.” She didn’t want to even set foot in the place though, so a week or so later I went to start boxing up the stuff for her.
That’s when I saw his final painting. I was dreading even going into his studio, and not just because I knew it was going to be the biggest job. I started stacking the abominable canvases face down so I wouldn’t have to look at them, but I couldn’t help but notice this one was different.
It was so perfect that it could have been a photograph. The self-portrait showed Jack lying peacefully in his casket, hands crossed over his chest, eyes closed. It was strange that he’d been able to paint it so precisely though, considering the rest of his recent work littering the room. I sat there for awhile thinking how heartbreaking it was for him to predict his own death like that.
I left the painting out while packing, thinking of hanging it in my apartment to honor him. There were plenty of less morbid pictures to choose from, but this one felt like it was really him who painted it, not the disease which had ravaged his mind. It made me think that his spirit was at rest somewhere, and that made me glad. I hung it in my bedroom that night, saying goodnight to him just as I’d done on the dozens of sleepovers where I’d lay my sleeping bag at the foot of his bed.