Jeremy never did understand funerals, and he certainly did not
want to understand this one.
He only knew that inside,
he felt lost and empty.
Old Bart was dead.
The only friend Jeremy
ever had was now cold, stiff, and about to be buried.
Just like that, Old Bart
A multitude of emotions
and memories coursed through him as he stood beside his mother
at the gravesite. The cold grey day added to his misery.
Old Bart had been the
only one in town who had treated him like a real person. People
didn't like Old Bart much, either. The kids teased him, calling
him 'Monster', due to all the burn scars on his face and hands.
People didn't know, (or had forgotten), how he had tried to save
his family from the fire. Jeremy had listened to the story many
times, watching Old Bart's hands clawing the air as he relived
the awful memory.
The hands. It was Old Bart's hands
that had fascinated Jeremy. He could never understand how
fingers, so bent and stiff, could paint scenes that seemed to
vibrate with quiet internal life of their own.
Tears blurred his eyes. He
remembered it was only a couple of days ago, when, as usual, he
had gone to visit Ol' Bart at their special painting spot, and
had found him lying beside his easel.
He knew Old Bart was dead.
There wasn't any point running
home to tell his Mom, so Jeremy just sat beside Bart for a long
time. That was where the two of them had relaxed for hours,
painting and talking, talking and painting. While Old Bart's
hands captured another piece of the world, he had answered
Jeremy's many questions about life, attitudes, school,
practically everything his mom wouldn't talk about.
He peered at the faces of
the people standing around the coffin. He had heard someone call
it Bart's Box. It hurt him inside. He wondered if they had come
because they wanted to or just wanted to socialize.
Jeremy's brow furled as
he gazed around.
"Stop staring." His
"I wasn't." he protested,
perhaps a little too loudly. "I was just lookin'.
"Well, don't look
"Well, how am I
supposed to look?"
later." She face went stiff. This meant: be quiet.
She never did
explain things 'later'.
your tongue in." she ordered in his ear. "It's embarrassing me."
He tried to,
but it was difficult.
deepened. His teachers were the same, too. They never explained
anything. They always told him things were too hard for him. And
some things were; things like reading and arithmetic and
Jeremy chewed on
his lip. He knew he was not smart at school stuff. School was
difficult. He could never understand how the same numbers gave
different answers. Anyway, after math and reading times were
over, he was allowed to paint and colour all he wanted. He just
had to stay out of the teacher's way.
This went on for years.
But, Jeremy could
read. He could 'read' people. He could tell when someone was
He found himself glancing
sideways to look at the faces.
He glared at the crinkly
old Miss Tweed hiding under the black net. He never did like
her; her and her dried-apple face. She had a sort of skinny
deathly look. But, she never died! She always seemed to go to
everyone else's funeral.
Right now, there
was something unfair about that.
Every so often she would drive down to Old Bart's to buy some of
his pictures. Jeremy noticed that Old Bart would hide the
'really good ones'. He had often watched Old Bart carefully
bundle these special paintings into a large box and send them to
a place called Gallery. They must have liked them, because they
never returned the pictures.
Jeremy would watch as Old
Bart explained the deeper 'meaning' behind his paintings.
Squinting over her nose-glasses, Miss Tweed would nod and
mumble, "Yes, I see." Jeremy knew she didn't. Finally, she would
choose a few and pay Old Bart, who would help load them into her
Jeremy remembered asking Old
Bart why he did not charge her very much.
"She's got lots of money, you
"I don't need her money,
Jeremy," he had answered. "She bought what she wanted. I ask
enough so that she thinks she is keeping me in paints, brushes
He had paused, and then had
smiled. "And a little for food, of course."
Jeremy recalled how
Bart's cracked smiles warmed up the whole cabin.
"It gives her some
purpose in life." Then, thought-fully stroking his patchy
whiskers, he had added, "You know, Jeremy. She may be rich and
have a fancy house and car and things. But inside, she is
hurting. Something must have happened long time ago to cause her
to shut people out. One should always strive to do good in this
One day, when Jeremy had
asked why the kids called him 'Downsie' and 'Dopey', Old Bart
very gently explained how Mother Nature doesn't make everyone
"It is the human
adventure to discover the talent lying hidden inside each one of
It helped, somewhat.
It was beside the lake
and under the trees that Old Bart patiently explained how the
horizon was the main focus of any picture, and how each section
steps in front of the area behind.
Jeremy remembered the first
time he had used some of Old Bart's oils to make a picture. When
he had proudly shown his mom, she laughed. From then on, he kept
his paintings under Old Bart's counter.
Jeremy never told his mom how
much he loved to paint. He had a feeling he was getting better,
because Old Bart became more and more specific with his
"I like the way you capture the
elementary characteristics in your paintings, Jeremy." Old Bart
commented one day. "There is an basic honesty about them."
It was just a little
while ago, when he had gone for his lesson, Old Bart had asked
Jeremy to come into the cabin. He had seemed a little different,
because the customary twinkle in his eyes was missing. From the
kitchen drawer, he had taken out a big letter with fancy writing
on it. Jeremy wondered who the speller was, because he knew
L.L.D. wasn't a real word.
"Sit down, Jeremy," Old Bart
had said seriously. "I want to talk to you about something."
Jeremy had plunked into a
chair across from Old Bart. It was always great being with Old
Old Bart had taken a deep
"This," he had said,
putting the white envelope on the table, "Is a very important
document. It directs a lawyer to leave all this," his gnarled
fingers moved slowly around the room, "To you, when I'm gone."
panicked. "Are you leaving?"
"No. No. Jeremy."
Old Bart had laughed. "It's not that kind of leaving."
Jeremy had smiled
and relaxed again.
Old Bart had taken
another deep breath.
Jeremy, nobody lives forever."
have looked puzzled, but nodded anyway.
I'm going to die, Jeremy."
Old Bart had
chuckled. "Well, not for a while, I hope. But a person has to
"Are you planning
"No, I'm not
planning to die!" It had been one of those rare times he
had seen Old Bart irritated.
people like to do something good for friends before they die."
"Good idea, 'cause
you can't do them no good when they're dead." Jeremy had
He had been
proud of himself for that deduction.
Old Bart had
squeezed his lips together and had taken another long breath
through his nose.
began again. "You have been coming to visit me for years. We
have shared a lot of good times. In the mean time, you have
become quite the artist."
Jeremy had smiled.
"You mean, I'm an
"Yes. But right now, let
Jeremy had nodded, and
squinted forward to listen.
"You are more than
an artist. You have become my friend, a true friend that I would
like to leave my cabin to."
"But, Bart, how can you
leave it and still be here?"
Jeremy could see
Old Bart was becoming irritated again.
started again. "I lost my family many years ago. You have become
the closest thing to family I have had since. When I die, I have
arranged for this cabin, the land and my paintings to become
He had stopped
talking, to let the words sink in.
"You would own it."
Old Bart stared
right at him. "Do you understand what I'm telling you?"
Jeremy had nodded,
although the intensity had begun to worry him.
Old Bart had continued.
"I have seen to all the technicalities. A man, called a trustee,
will see that my wishes are carried out."
Old Bart had paused
Jeremy had stopped
nodding, because he wasn't happy about Old Bart was telling him.
"I have also set up
a trust fund, which will look after you as long as you live
here." Bart emphasizes the word 'here'.
"Was that what those
papers are for?"
the day a man with a small suitcase had come to see Old Bart.
Jeremy had to put his name beside Old Bart's on some special
"Yes. That was all part of it."
Old Bart had leaned back. "Now,
Jeremy, tell me what I just told you."
Jeremy had stared at the
table and had shaken his head.
"Come on." Old Bart had
Not wanting to face the
facts, Jeremy had shaken his head harder.
"Jeremy. It's hard, I
know, but you must tell me what I told you."
As if seeking to escape
the mental onslaught, Jeremy had buried his face in his hands.
"Come on." Old Bart had
persisted. "I must know that you understand."
With tears streaming down
his face, and gentle urging from Old Bart, Jeremy had related
what Old Bart had told him, more or less.
Suddenly, he had yelled
"I don't want you to die!"
Old Bart had smiled and
said, "Well, I hope to be around for a while yet."
Jeremy had snuffled a
smile, which did not lessen the strangeness he felt in the word
With that, Old Bart had
stood up, walked to the door, and called out, "Come on, Jeremy.
We're burning daylight."
Reluctantly, Jeremy had
followed Old Bart to their painting spot.
Painting had not gone well that day.
Jeremy's mind snapped
back to the present. He tugged on his mom's sleeve.
"Mom! Mom! There's a
His mom scowled at
"Not now, Jeremy."
She turned back to the service.
"Bart had big
important letter made for me."
she spit through clenched teeth.
Jeremy brooded. He would have to wait until the minister was
It seemed to take
Finally, the people
relaxed, spoke normally and began walking towards their cars.
Suddenly, a man
appeared beside them.
It was the suitcase
"Are you Mrs.
"Yes." said his
"Let me introduce
they shook hands, he said, "I am Brian Stevens, from Stevens,
Stevens, and Brock."
His mom smiled
weakly, but looked worried and curious at the same time.
"I wonder if I might have
a few minutes of your time to discuss a rather important matter
regarding the estate of the late Mr. Bart Lawrence."
He turned and
smiled at Jeremy.
"It concerns Jeremy."
Jeremy smiled back.