“Wow,” said Bucky, “Hilary really has a great system. She gets those lights right into the tree. She fills it up.” By now he had retired to the sofa, with Mark and Nathan taking over the work. It turned out that more strings were needed, and Mark got them up from the cellar. One string was a bit recalcitrant, needing a bulb to be jiggled just so, but Mark was equal to the occasion, and all was well as he and Hilary and Nathan worked placing the lights.
“They think this is their treat,” said Mark, as he and Bucky spread the Christmas tree skirt around the tree stand. And sure enough, first one, then another cat took their turns making a nest and purring among the folds of the tree skirt under Hilary and Mark’s perfect Christmas tree. Nathan unpacked each ornament, exclaiming over its history, with the occasional correction from one or the other of his parents. All too soon, the evening was drawing to an end, and Loie and Bucky were putting on their coats and standing by the door, taking their Christmas Tree leave.
“Oh,” said Mark, “don’t you want to take your new painting?”
There’s a whole story in itself in this, but for now it will suffice to say that some time earlier, Loie and Bucky had been amongst the crowd at the opening of an exhibit of Mark’s paintings at McDaniel College. They walked about, enjoying the paintings, until they saw two, mounted on the same partition.
“Hang on,” said Bucky, “these are new.” He buttonholed poor Mark, who was trying to speak to many friends all at once, and dragged him over to the two new paintings.
“Oh, yes,” said Mark, “these new. I did these after my dad passed away. You know, he showed me so many things with his passing, he taught me so much, I tried to put all of it in these two things. That one’s called ‘The House of Mystery.’ ”
“But it’s a landscape,” said Bucky. “Look at the sky, with the black and white clouds, and the architectural elements along the bottom.” Mark smiled.
“Well, maybe so,” he said. “I just know it’s all mixed up, with our trips to Italy, and Dad’s passing, and all the things we’ve been going through for the last couple of years. And I was thinking of that house we were in, in Pompeii, way out at the end of our walk.”
“Well,” said Bucky, “I knew going to Italy would do something to your paintings. Hah, Nathan was such a trouper that day.” Mark smiled.
“He really was, wasn’t he? He went all the way out to that place, and we had to walk all the way back. You know, he still talks about the poor dog we saw.”
“Oh lordy,” said Bucky, “that dog who was chained up in the closed restaurant?”
“Yeah, exactly,” said Mark. “The dog we said had no water, in all that heat.” Bucky shook his head in wonder.
“Well, that’s some remembery he’s got. All right, that last house we saw wasn’t the Villa of the Mysteries, we didn’t get out that far. It was the house of the columns, with the wooden doors in one place we were wondering might have been real burned original doors. But then we saw the mosaic columns from that house in the museum in Naples. And there was a plaster cast of a body in one dark room.”
“Oh, right,” said Mark. “Well, I thought that place was the House of Mysteries, so that’s what the painting is called.”
“That’s it,” said Bucky. “I’m sorry, but I need this painting. How much are you guys asking for it?” Mark, of course always the gentleman, mentioned that there might be something owing, or something yet to do, on his web site.
“You got that one little work,” he said.
“Oh, yeah,” said Bucky, “That ‘Not All Great Cities Are True.’ I love the compositional aspect of that. And these two guys remind me of that little one. These are so much more like pictures, much more so than the graphic abstracts you’ve been doing.”
“Well, OK,” said Mark, “I think this one is yours, too. We need to mark it ‘sold.’ ” And he was true to his good word: he asked Loie to find a red pen at the docent’s desk, and she put a little red dot on the painting’s label. Now, weeks later, when the painting was home again, he was reminding Bucky he had promised it to him. No one ever had better friends than are Hilary and Mark!
Now, the “House of Mystery” is hanging in Loie’s and Bucky’s bedroom. The Rescue Tree is waiting to be added to the Christmas Tree Windbreak as part of the environmental art project Bucky calls “New Year’s Day.” Bucky has, with Loie’s help, emailed their friends and relations about the new Bird’s Christmas Tree tradition, letting them know they might, if it seems congenial, bring an ornament to decorate the Bird’s Christmas Tree. And Loie and Bucky are looking forward to seeing everyone on New Year’s Day.
Bucky especially hopes to have someone check the Christmas Tree hole. Loie wonders if it’s big enough.