Discover more from Jimmy Doom's Roulette Weal
Art and Secrets
The thought of art as contest made Marsha Ellethe want to put out cigarettes on her wrist.
Her own son’s work gave her strange shivers, her body reacting to tamping down the negative comments that scratched at the fence of her lips.
Undoubtedly his work was better than the other students, but misaligned with who Marsha felt her son to be.
And the larger matter, as Terrance clutched his plaque proudly, was that this night had presented itself as the time to tell the truth.
They walked to the car, a trickle of Terrance’s classmates calling out congratulations.
Marsha gauged her son’s face.
Was what she wanted to say going to demolish the good time beyond repair, or was this going to open an avenue to more happiness, more self discovery?
“Do you remember your toy train?” Marsha asked.
Her conscience and intellect screamed at her all at once.
How dare you start this conversation so obtusely, woman.
Her son’s blank look invited an explanation.
“Poppa Frank made you a wooden toy locomotive when you were very young. It had a face, a personality even. You liked it in bed with you even more than the cuddly things Nana Jen made for you.”
“I do. I can’t really picture it, but I remember loving the spin of the wheels, the little…I don’t know, rumble they made. Yeah, mom. Yeah. Why?”
“Your father wasn’t just a truck driver.”
Marsha twisted her heel into the soft gap between blocks of sidewalk cement.
She had said two things now, neither of which were what she meant, or needed to say.
Marsha made sure all the cars had passed, looked over her shoulder for any stray students or faculty.
Maybe they should go up north, discuss this there. But, no, it needed to be now. She wasn’t sure why, other than the plaque, the beginning of the real accolades for artistic merit.
“Weird segue, Marsha,” Terrance said, always calling his mom by her first name when he was annoyed.
“ Did he sell weed before it was legal? Kendra Conway’s dad is in prison for selling weed, and it’s like, available now, legal.”
Marsha clenched her butt, licked the back of her teeth, inhaled.
“Your father is Anson Van Fowlen.”
Marsha bit her lip.
“I wish my dad was Basquiat. But he was too dead too soon to be my dad. Are you stoned, Marsha?”
The accusation caught Marsha, the tears that felt like they were coming temporarily halted.
“No, Terrance. Anson did really drive a truck when we first met. Art was part time then.”
“Winnie told me you knew him once,” Terrance said.
Marsha’s skin tingled. She was going to rip her sister to shreds. It was just too close.
She nodded. “I knew him. He’s…”
“He blows mom. What did they say about him? If Calder owned a thrift store.”
“He does “blow,” Terrance. I guess. I don’t know…but…he’s your…he fathered…he’s your…”
Terrance’s eyes were slits.
“Shutub,” he said, his voice catching.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
“You said he was a truck driver, you crazy bitch!”
“He did, he did drive a… Terrance, but…”
Terrance composed himself. In the split second Marsha had to be proud, she was proud of her son. Furious at herself, but proud of her son.
Terrance took a step toward her.
His shoulders were trembling.
“My father is not Van Fowlen. No. No way. You’re having a nervous breakdown or…or…”
Marsha took her son by the forearm, awkwardly.
Terrance looked down as if he might swat it, then reconsidered and leaned in.
“Mom, why are you doing this to me?”
“Because Anson has had years and resources to contact you and tell you himself. And he hasn’t. And now that your own work is winning awards, I wanted to be the one to tell you. I was the idiot who…I was wrong to…I didn’t handle it correctly.”
Terrance hung his head, lifted it, shook it like a wet dog, laughed, the kind of laugh that’s just an exhaust fan.
“My father is Anson Van Fowlen?”
Terrance pulled his phone from his pocket and searched images of Anson Van Fowlen.
The first hits were his multimedia sculpture in front of Continental Bank Headquarters in Memphis.
Scrolling, Terrance found images of the artist himself.
He stared. They weren’t twins, but it was plausible that the man in the photos could be his father.
“Are you serious, Mom?” His voice was pleading. He had gone past annoyed. Confused, freaked out.
Marsha knew she had picked the wrong time. The award would be tainted forever.
“I’m serious. And I’m sorry. And I love you. And whatever you choose to do with this information I will…”
“Do what, mom? Go to New York and be his best friend?”
The anger was rising.
Marsha reached for Terrance’s arm again.
“May I tell you a story?”
“When Anson got his first gallery show, the gallery owner returned a piece, said it needed more, it was flat. It was my favorite piece of all of them. I told Anson to just remove it from the show entirely. He said he couldn’t, wouldn’t.”
Terrance looked at Marsha blankly.
“He took the sculpture–Liberty, it was called– moved some elements, then made your toy locomotive, the one my father made for you, the centerpiece.”
“That’s weak,” he said, flat, unemotional.
“You screamed and cried all night. You were too young for me to explain it to you. I…I have a hard time even understanding now.
“The piece sold for 400 dollars at the opening. We fought about it. Anson behaved terribly. I kicked him out. He moved to New York. When I thought maybe we could reconcile, co-parent you, he and the gallery owner were already lovers and he didn’t…”
Marsha’s voice caught, for her son… “he just…wasn’t…going to be a father…anymore.”
Marsha’s lips said “I’m sorry,” but no sound came out.
“Can I contact him, tell him I’m his son?”
“He knows you’re his son, Terrance. He won’t deny it.I’m almost positive.”
“So I can email him?”
Marsha held her son’s arm firmly and lasered in on his eyes with hers.
“You can do whatever you want. I will support you in any way I can, whatever your decision.”
Terrance smiled. It was an unsure smile, but there was some strength behind it.
“I’m gonna tell him I want 400 bucks for my toy train.”
Marsha said “Okay.”
Terrance scrolled more pictures of Anson, his thumbs hopscotching the screen.
Inhaling deeply, Marsha considered telling her son that Liberty had sold at auction in 2021 for 33,000 dollars, but there was absolutely no way she could make sense of that.
Jimmy Doom's Roulette Weal is a reader-supported publication. You gain access to the entire (almost) 1000 story archive as a paid subscriber.