The house I did most of my growing up in sits next to a lane that runs past The Trampland, which just was our name for a scraggy patch of unused grass behind my garden. Beyond The Trampland there is a solitary grey house. Morbid creatures that we were, we convinced each other that dead bodies were hidden there or, at the very least, that the house was haunted.
Two teams would sneak toward the grey house: one through its long front garden which was hidden behind a dilapidated gate a few doors down. This team would pause to hide behind the flowerbeds (graves) while checking no one was looking from the dark windows. The second team would creep up the tarmac drive beside my house while co-ordinating the mission via walkie talkies, the screech and squawk of which constantly gave our position away.
The old man who lived in the grey house was in his eighties but would still be seen in the local gym and trotting the streets in running gear. He seemed very ancient to us, especially when he would lean his bike against the wall outside our house and dribble from what must have been exhaustion.
When he died they found paintings all over the grey house, not bodies. His father had been an artist who’d found some success. Over the years, the son had learnt to paint in his father’s style exactly. It was nearly impossible to tell the son’s work from the father’s. I wrote a sonnet about it in 2007.
The Painter’s Son
The rush hour traffic slows beneath the house
belonging to the painter’s son. He passed
this evening, found immaculately dressed
among his father’s better works. No spouse
was there to close his eyes, nor had there been,
but he was spry, pressed fifty on the bench.
At night he’d wait for cars to clear the roads
then totter up the hill, up through the fields
to watch the sun collapse under the dusk.
In later years he’d learnt to reproduce
his father’s style, the old man, who’d been famous
for sunsets. Soon, their work could not be told apart.
Now red explodes above the painter’s house.
His son perfects another subtle art.
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