Tom Chapman’s Short Stories
It's funny how something seemingly out of place has a surprising effect. Sarah was not an outdoors type and not only did she not like horses, she was clearly scared of them. And yet the picture of a stockman is a constant reminder of her.
It was some years since that picture—an original, and worth a few bucks, quite a few to Alf and Sarah—had taken its place on the wall of his study. They had seen it at an art show in a nearby town, and he had gone back to it two or three times just to absorb its atmosphere. It was the sort of subject that was close to his heart: the Australian bush and a stock horse and its rider.
It was for sale but priced out of their reach just for a decoration, just for a luxury. So they never did anything about it, but the image of it was firmly imprinted on Alf's mind, and in the next few months he mentioned it from time to time. He even wrote a poem about it, and had sent a copy of the poem to the artist, via the art show organisers.
Eventually it was forgotten and life moved on. Their fiftieth wedding anniversary was coming up and they had put aside some savings for a brief holiday, and had booked a motel. Then a week or so before they were due to go away, Sarah had fallen ill and then, soon after, complications developed. Things seemed to be coming one on top of the other, and the much anticipated anniversary get-away had to be cancelled.
Then, some months later, a thankyou note came from the artist for the poem. She had been overseas and was now catching up on a few things. Sarah immediately got in touch with her asking after that picture. It was still available.
"You really liked that, didn't you?" she asked Alf.
"Yes, it just touches a spot."
"We'll get it then. We have the holiday money we didn't use, and an original should be a good investment." Her mind was made up.
The holiday money put aside for them both to enjoy, was suddenly allocated to something more individually personal. Mixed feelings of excitement and selfishness filled Alf's mind. He would love to have such a picture but felt couldn't do it. His protesting was ignored.
"You still like it, don't you?" she asked.
"Of course, but what about you too?"
"If you're happy, that will make me happy too," came the reply with all the love and selflessness that is typical of so many wives and mothers. In due time "The Stockman" had pride of place on the study wall.
A few years passed and Sarah needed quite a bit of dental work done, which would be more expense, and a considerable financial burden to two aging pensioners. There was money tied up in "The Stockman", and its sale would finance the immediate need, but there was now an emotional value to it as well. Alf saw it as not only the much appreciated work of art that he first knew, but now it stood as a symbol of the deep relationship between them that had grown from more than fifty years of loving union. Alf had been a performing musician, but age had by now taken its toll on the dexterity of his fingers, and although he still enjoyed hearing its music, he could no longer play his bassoon satisfactorily. It was just standing in the corner, hardly ever being handled. His beloved bassoon would finance the dental work. He found a ready buyer, for bassoons are not very common, and are hard to come by.
It was now Sarah's turn to feel guilty about receiving the benefit from such an offer, but Alf was insistent, and he considered it all worthwhile to see the difference when Sarah's discomfort was gone.
Alf now often sits in his room in the nursing home and gets lost in that painting, riding with the stockman on imaginary journeys and tasks. It's one of the few possessions he was able to retain when the old family home was sold. But he sits alone, for the insidious illness that Sarah had contracted eventually took her life. He sips his tea from the Antique Blue cup—one of her favourite cups—as his eyes, yet again, scan every detail of the painting, which speaks of the horses and Australian bush that he loved so much, but greater than that, reminds him of a loving little woman, who didn't have much time for the bush or horses, but did have a lot of time for him.