Linney Carries the Boys
by James Patrick Morrow
“Look, we won’t stay too long,” Snowdon said, “But I really think you’ll find him an interesting sort.”
“Are you sure I haven’t met him before, Adrian?” I asked with a stifled yawn, “It’s always been in my mind that he bought one or two of my pieces.”
“You may well have done, of course,” Snowdon replied, “But I don’t think it was in the gallery. I certainly don’t remember introducing you.”
I looked straight ahead as the road narrowed further and the fuchsia hedges brushed the sides of Snowdon’s black Volvo. It was early for a Sunday. I’d slipped into sleep on the motorway leaving Belfast.
“You aren’t looking forward to this, are you?” Snowdon said with a smile.
“No. Not really.”
It was always the same whenever I was invited to go and see one of my pieces. Someone would have handed over a fair amount of money and then plonked their new purchase in completely the wrong place. When asked my opinion, I usually relied on my preferred non-committal answer, something facile about works taking on a life of their own after they’d left the artist’s studio.
This carving had greater significance for me, however. I’d made it as an anniversary present for my wife. Those were our sons she was carrying, struggling across a burn with them during a wintry visit to the beach. The photograph that had inspired the piece was still framed in my studio. I loved her and always admired her fortitude and determination. I thought she would die for those boys. I never imagined she would leave us. She’d told me she was happy and I’d believed her.
That was thirty years ago, and even now, if the newspapers write about me when a new exhibition opens, they still make reference to my muse disappearing. They highlight some kind of morbid glamour, embellishing the truth and making light of my torment and depression. I pleaded with her to come home and she refused. I even suggested that she take the boys away to her new life. They were heartbroken and never stopped missing her.
Ben was fourteen, Christopher ten, when she phoned out of the blue with news of illness. I took them to Scotland several times to see her. There was no awkwardness. We were comfortable with each other and I only wanted to help. When she had recovered enough to manage on her own again, despite the love and attention the boys had given her, she asked us to stay away.
“Not far to go now,” Snowdon said.
“Oh? Good. I wouldn’t fancy this road in winter.”
“It’s not the best, is it? Seems a terribly lonely place.”
“Has he decided to move? Is that why he’s selling the carving?”
Snowdon puffed out his cheeks and exhaled carefully.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said at last, “Absolutely heartbreaking. You remember he had children who died?”
“Vaguely. I remember it being on the news for a lot of days. That was a long time ago.”
“Yes. Mid-eighties. It happened not long after he bought your carving, a few weeks perhaps. They drowned in the river that flows past the end of his garden.”
“That’s right. I remember now. It was quite upsetting seeing the television reports. It touched a chord with me. Linney would have left us by then. I’d probably drifted off the scene a bit. Maybe that’s why I never met him.”
“It could well be. He called in to the gallery quite often until his troubles. He was one of that type, cheque book in one hand and a copy of Art in Ulster in the other. Sometimes it was hard to know if he was buying because he liked a particular piece or because he thought it was a good investment. His wife had an eye for it, though.”
We were silent for a minute or two before Snowdon guided the vehicle onto a concrete driveway that fell sharply away from the road. I could see a peaty river beyond an imposing white-rendered manor house. As we drew closer, a man with shoulder-length grey hair waved from the door of an old stable block. Snowdon returned the greeting.
“Is that him?” I asked.
“It is. God, he’s got old.”
A matter of moments later we were standing inside the stable block. My carving was there, hidden beneath an aged-looking red-flocked throw.
“I’m amazed to think you’re here,” Pierson said to me, “Adrian didn’t tell me he was bringing you with him. I’ve always admired your work. I don’t always understand it, but I do like it.”
“Well, thank you,” I said with a touch of embarrassment, “That’s very kind of you. I suspect Adrian asked me along because he remembered this piece was very special to me.”
“Yes,” Pierson said quietly, “He told me when I bought it. ‘Linney Carries the Boys.’ It had some meaning for me because they were real people. Your family. When we brought it here first, I changed the name, unofficially of course, to ‘Lucy Carries Katie and David.' They were my kids. Our first two.”
We were all quiet, Snowdon and I watching with reverence as Pierson carefully removed the throw from the carving.
“You’ve looked after it, Ian,” said Snowdon, his fingers drawn to the wood.
“Aye. It’s been in here most of its life. Lucy made me put it out of sight after the children died. I would put teak oil on it sometimes.”
“And now the time has come to sell? I’m sure I’d have no difficulty moving it on for you.”
“No, no,” Pierson said shyly, “I thought perhaps you might have been able to return it to the artist.”
“Me?” The surprise was evident in my voice. “I’m sorry, Mr. Pierson. I couldn’t afford to buy it back.”
“No. I’ll give it to you. I mean, it’s not about the money, is it?”
James Patrick Morrow lives in Northern Ireland and divides his time between Armagh City and the Glens of Antrim.
He has written for a living since the late 1990s. He has completed a critical biography of the poet John Hewitt and is currently trying to find time to finish his first novel.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'A Mother's Burden'
'The Journey '