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Joe knocked loudly on the large, antique mahogany door. The ornamental brass door knocker took the prideful shape of a lion’s head and he amused himself as he imagined a roaring lion, in waking the artist’s raptured attention to his presence on the front porch.

After a few moments, the door opened, and Joe was greeted by a warm smile. The man stood, smiling with soft squinty eyes, wrinkled with crow’s feet. Joe noted how his bearded face and white-haired appearance reminded him of Santa Claus or one of the benevolent wisely gentlemen painted on the walls of the Cistern Chapel.

“Hello, Frank,” Joe said earnestly. “How are you? I’ve been trying to call you.”

Frank nodded. “Ah, yes. Apologies, Joe. I’ve been very busy working away in my studio and I disconnected the phone for a few days. I don’t like distraction while I’m working, you understand. Please c’mon in.”

He led Joe along the hallway painted in Terracotta, passing a bohemian styled lounge and dining room and into the artist’s studio. The large room was beautifully decorated, and Joe stood for a moment in admiration of the large space with its sculpted, Victorian architectural moldings and coving around the ceiling’s borders. The magnolia painted walls lightened further with rays of sunshine from a large window looking out onto a beautiful garden with impeccably kept lawn and hedges.

The studio was filled with paintings of every description and the vague scent of distilled turpentine which was undoubtedly used in taking special care of Frank’s brushes. Some canvasses of various sizes were perched on easels while others rested, leaning precariously within a rack against the wall. The quality and variety of artwork was really quite mesmerizing and struck Joe as being an art dealer’s dream.

“Yes. You’ve been very busy indeed, Frank,” he said. His eyes rested on a painting in the center of the room. The scene depicted a small child running towards the open arms of a young woman, presumably his mother. Joe thought how the scene reminded him of something. Something he had read in The Times.

“Frank, did you hear about that poor boy who went missing in town?” he said. “Terrible business. I really do feel for his mother.”

“Yes, I know” Frank replied. “It’s been a few days, I understand. A very difficult time for the family, I’m sure. I dare say, we must hope for good news soon.”

Joe gazed around the room and his eyes rested again on another painting that had caught his eye. A portrait of a strikingly beautiful woman. Her eyes glistening with liquid reflected light and luxurious wavy brown hair, falling in delicately painted ringlets. He could not help but think that she looked familiar.

“This is excellent, Frank. It really takes your breath away. Who is she and how much will you take to part with her?” he asked; dollar signs appearing in his eyes.

“Not for sale, I’m afraid,” Frank replied with a faint smile. But the smile was tinged with a hint of sadness in his eyes. “It’s my wife. In her younger days, of course. When we met.”

Joe looked up at him. “I’m sorry, Frank,” he said apologetically. How long has it been now? Mary was a lovely woman.” He paused. “You were both good friends to me. You know…after my divorce.”

Frank nodded silently and took a deep breath. “Anyway. Let me show you the commission you came here to collect.”

Joe was very pleased with the painting which he was sure would delight his patron. But then he always was surprised and delighted with Frank’s work. He was a very rare and excellent artist. Although Joe thought, he also seemed to be very sad and melancholy behind that warm smile. Ever since his wife had passed.

The next day, Joe awoke early to the sound of his Jack Russell, George barking with great persistence as the paperboy delivered a newspaper through his narrow letterbox. As Joe surveyed the front page, he found himself doing a double take of the headline and photograph. The headline “Missing boy found” was clear enough but the image had a striking resemblance to the painting he had seen just yesterday. A young boy running into the arms of his mother. He stared, wide eyed in disbelief. The photograph seemed eerily almost identical to the painting he had seen in Frank’s studio. He frowned and shook his head. ‘I need a black coffee,’ he thought.

Later that morning, he received a call from his Patron, requesting two further commissions. ‘Maybe this’ll cheer Frank up a bit,’ he thought.

Joe called in on Frank again later that day. This time, to his surprise, a young brunette woman answered the door. “Oh, hello, you must be Joe,” she said. “I’m Maddie, Frank’s daughter. Please come in. We were just leaving.”

“Nice to meet you,” Joe replied, and he followed her along the hallway. As they grew closer, they heard much laughter coming from the artist’s studio and as they entered, they found Frank talking with a red-haired, freckled young boy. The boy was sitting in a wheelchair.

“Hello, Joe,” Frank greeted him. I see you have met my daughter. This is my Grandson, Oliver.” Frank turned to the boy. “You know, Ollie… Joe here, was quite a talented footballer. Played for The Old Georgians Club for a while.” He winked and Joe laughed.

“When I was a lot younger,” Joe admitted, modestly.

“Which reminds me,” Frank continued. I have a gift for you Ollie.” With that, he produced a brand new, leather football and handed it to his grandson. Joe noticed that it appeared to be signed.

“Oh cool! Thanks, Grandpa!” the boy shrieked delightedly. But the boy’s Mother looked slightly unhappy at the implications.

“Well I’m afraid we must go, she said. We have a Doctor’s appointment.”

As they watched them leave from the doorway, Joe’s curiosity got the better of him. “You never mentioned your Grandson before, Frank.”

Frank stared dreamily. “He’s a very special young man. The Doctors say he’ll never walk again. He has a rare condition. But we’ll see.”

They talked for a while in Frank’s studio and Joe discussed the new commissions offered. Frank seemed slightly disinterested, so Joe changed the subject.

“Where is that painting, Frank? You know. The one with the boy running to his mother…”

“I sold two paintings this morning which were collected,” Frank said. “What about it?”

“Well…I mean…” Joe hesitated. Where did you get the photograph to paint that picture?”

“I didn’t copy that one. There was no reference,” Frank replied.

“But then, how did you paint it…? Joe frowned.

“I am creative with my imagination.” Frank smiled, mysteriously. “For what a man can conceive, he can perceive.”

“Hmm, I see. Well that is really quite impressive,” Joe said, although he felt quite unconvinced and began to dream that perhaps this man before him were a magician. Perhaps a trick of the mind, he thought. Just a coincidence.

His eyes drifted to a new painting across the studio he hadn’t noticed before. The scene depicted a young boy running across a meadow. Joe thought that the boy in the painting bore a striking resemblance to Frank’s grandson. This boy, he thought, who might never walk, let alone run. He stood up and walked over to the painting, studying it carefully. “Is this…?”

“My Grandson, yes,” Frank smiled proudly.

The room fell silent for a moment.

“Frank. Please forgive me. You’ve been a good friend and it’s none of my business. But don’t you think this would give the boy unfounded hope? Set him up for disappointment, maybe.”

Frank said nothing for a moment. Then he changed the subject. “Ah, I’ve just remembered. I have a gift for you.”

“A gift? You’ve made a Da Vinci copy for me?” Joe joked hoping to lighten the conversation.

Frank reached up, pulled a small blue book from his bookcase and handed it to him. “Just a little treat. An indulgence that might interest you,” he announced.

Frank read the title. ‘Success through the Power of Creative thought.’ The Author – Wallace D. Wattles.

“Hmm… must be the secret to your success, Frank” Joe humoured him. With that, he thanked him and said goodbye.

A month passed and Joe found himself involved in Gallery exhibitions with other clients. He often found himself wondering about Frank and called several times. However, each time he received no reply until one sunny day in Spring when Frank finally picked up the phone. “Frank, I have a few great commissions for you. I really must discuss them with you personally.” he said.

“My daughter is here visiting right now, Joe,” he said. “But you’re welcome to head over around three.”

When Joe arrived at the house, he found to his frustration that despite his persistent knocking nobody seemed to answer the door. But then, he thought he could hear some commotion from the artist’s back garden. He walked around to the back of the house and knocked loudly against the gate. “Is that you, Frank?” he called.

To his surprise, he heard a woman’s voice. “Is that you, Joe? Just a moment!”

The gate opened to reveal Frank’s daughter, Maddie, smiling radiantly and carrying an air of joy that he had not witnessed from her previously. “We’re playing football. Are you feeling fit?”

Joe looked on in complete surprise and wonder at the scene that greeted him. It wasn’t that Frank was wearing shorts, although this was unexpected. ‘Not a pretty sight,’ he thought mischievously. But then his jaw dropped at the sight of Frank’s Grandson... running with the ball. ‘It can’t be,’ he thought.

He looked across at Maddie, who smiled a big smile with a glint in her eye. “But how…?” he gasped. “How did he make such a recovery?”

“We just don’t know. It’s nothing short of a miracle,” she said. “Are you a religious, man, Joe,” she asked.

“Not especially,” Joe replied cautiously. “Why do you ask?”

“Well maybe you might start thinking about believing in magic. I never used to have much faith. But I’m just so grateful for my son’s good fortune.”

Joe’s rational mind was spinning but he recognized and honored the overwhelming happiness in her eyes, and he nodded approvingly.

“Ah, I see the professional’s arrived!” announced Frank as he waved for Joe to join them. So, Joe did, and that young boy sure gave him a run for his money. “Twenty years, too late for me!” he said. But he was very happy to take part in this family celebration.

A few months went by and Joe hadn’t heard from Frank. Despite his persistent calls and messages, there was no reply from the artist. Two commissions languished and Joe began to despair. He began to worry about Frank after a few visits to his house with no reply. Had he gone away without letting him know? Frank was married to his work. He rarely travelled anywhere. Joe called on a neighbor who admitted that he hadn’t seen Frank for a few weeks.

Joe’s imagination began to run away with him. Finally, he called the Police, shared his deep concerns, and waited for them to arrive outside the house. When the two officers arrived, something clicked inside him and he began to fear the worst.

The lock on the mahogany door broke more easily than Joe might have imagined. “Wait here, please Sir,” said the policeman in a concerned yet reassuring voice.

Within a few minutes the officers reappeared, looking grim. One removed his hat and clasped his hands together. “I’m very sorry, Sir. He appears to have passed peacefully. Very sorry to have to ask you this but would you please help us identify Mister Miller.”

Joe choked. “Yes, I will,” he nodded. His head lowered and he felt a flood of shock and deep remorse for his friend. Frank had always seemed so healthy for his years. He remembered how they had laughed and joked together with his grandson before. The crippled boy that had appeared to find a new lease of life. The boy who had received a miracle as if directly from the brush stroke of a master magician. An artist, who he now considered to have the ability to paint the future. To conceive and perceive, as Frank had put it. Though surely, he really couldn’t have conceived this.

He found the artist lying peacefully in his bed. “Yes, that’s Frank,” he uttered. “He was a good man. A wonderful artist.”

As he walked back through the studio he looked up for a moment and stopped dead in his tracks. One large portrait, sitting on an easel caught his eye. It appeared freshly painted.

A landscape, which appeared other-worldly. Mysterious. In the foreground was the portrait of two unmistakable figures. He immediately recognized them. It was the undoubted likeness of Frank himself, sitting next to his wife, Mary. The painting was startling. Deeply beautiful.

Joe thought how Frank had outdone himself this time. He had painted his ultimate dreamscape. He was finally with his wife again.

A few weeks later, Joe accidentally came across the little blue book that Frank had gifted to him weeks earlier. He flicked to a page that had been clearly highlighted.

“There is a thinking stuff from which all things are made, and which, in its original state, permeates, penetrates and fills the interspaces of the Universe. A thought in this substance produces the thing that is imaged by the thought.”

Wallace D. Wattles

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22 Jan, 2021
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