“Didn’t Macy tell you he was an artist?” Caroline said.
My mother glanced at me, but I looked away. Both of us knew it wouldn’t have mattered, at the time. “No,” she said quietly. “She didn’t.”
“Oh, he’s fantastic,” Caroline said, pushing a piece of hair out of her face. “I’ve been out at his studio for hours, looking at his pieces. Do you know he learned to weld in reform school?”
My mother was still watching me. She said, “You don’t say.”
“It’s just the coolest story.” Caroline squatted down, pushing one of the tiny wheels to make it spin. “They have professors from the university do volunteer outreach at the Myers School, and one of the heads of the art department came in and taught a class. He was so impressed with Wes he’s been having him take college level art classes for the last two years. He showed at the university gallery a couple of months ago.”
“He did?” I said. “He never told me that.”
“Oh,” Caroline said, “he didn’t tell me either. His aunt was there, I can’t remember her name—”
“Delia,” I said.
“Right!” She started back toward the truck. “So anyway, we got to talking while he was loading up the truck. She also said he’s had offers from several art schools for college, but he’s not even sure he wants to go. As it is, his stuff is selling in a few galleries and garden art places so well he’s on back order. And he was a winner of the Emblem Prize last year.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It’s a state arts award,” my mother said to me, looking down at the small angel near her feet, whose halo was decorated with small interlocking wrenches. “The governor’s committee gives them out.”
“It means,” Caroline said, “that he’s amazing.”
“Wow,” I said. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t told me all this, but then again, I’d never asked. Quiet but incredible, Delia had said.
Caroline said, “When I took those other pieces I bought and set them up in my yard, the women in my neighborhood went nuts.” She adjusted the square piece, which, I now realized, was made up of what looked like an old bedframe. “I told him I’d probably have offers for twice what I paid for this stuff once I get it home. Not that I’m selling, of course.”
“Really,” my mother said, looking at the square piece, her head tilted to the side. Wes had removed the legs of the frame, leaving just the boxy middle part, then put shiny chrome along the inside. It tilted backwards on two outstretched pieces of pipe, so if you stood right in front of it, it looked like a big picture frame, with whatever was behind it the image inside. The way Caroline had set it up, it framed the front of the house perfectly: the red front door, the holly bushes on either side of the steps, then a set of windows.
“I love this,” she said, as we all stood looking at it. “It’s a new series he’s been working on. I bought three of them. I just think it’s amazing what it says, something about permanence, you know, and impermanence.”
“Really,” my mother said again.
“Absolutely,” Caroline told her, in her art major voice, and I felt a rush suddenly of how much I missed Wes, wishing he was there to exchange a look with me, a bemused smile, raising his eyebrows. He’d acted like he’d never heard any of it before, ever, which I knew now hadn’t been true. “An empty frame, in which the picture is always changing, makes a statement about how time is always passing. It doesn’t really stop, even in a single image. It just feels that way.”
It was early evening, the sun not even down yet, but as we stood there, the streetlight behind us buzzed, then flickered on. Instantly, I saw our shadows cast across the empty space behind the frame: my mother’s tall and thin; Caroline’s, her hands on her hips, elbows at right angles. And then there was me, falling between them. I put a hand to my face, then let it drop back to my side, watching my shadow mimic me.
“I should go ahead and get my pictures,” Caroline said, starting toward the truck. “Before it gets totally dark.”
As she walked to the truck, another car slowed down in front of the house, the horn beeping. The passenger side window rolled down and a woman I vaguely recognized as one of the realtors my mother did business with leaned across the front seat. “Deborah, how brilliant!”
My mother walked a little closer to the curb. “I’m sorry?” she said.
“Those pieces!” the woman replied, waving toward them. She had on a big clunky wooden bracelet that kept sliding up and down her arm with every gesture. “What a great tie-in to the finish of the construction phase, using building materials from the townhouses to make decorations! How smart of you!”
“Oh, no,” my mother said, “it’s not—”
“I’ll see you tomorrow!” the woman said, not even listening. “Just brilliant!” And then she drove off, beeping the horn again, while my mother just stood there, watching her go.
Caroline was walking across the grass with her camera now, bending down to center the bigger angel in the shot. “You know,” she said, looking down at her feet, “I don’t care what you say. Something is wrong with the yard. I noticed it as soon as I pulled up. It’s like . . . uneven, or something.”
“We had a little problem,” I told her, as she lifted the camera to her eye. A second later, the shutter snapped. “We’ve had a few, actually.”
I was waiting for my mother to deny this, or at least smooth it over, but when I turned to look at her I saw she wasn’t even really listening. Instead, she was facing the street, where, as often happened at this time of night, people were starting to pass by on after-dinner walks, pushing strollers or leading dogs, and kids were circling on their bikes, racing past, then doubling back, then back again. Tonight, though, something was different: everyone was looking at our yard, at the sculptures, some people just standing on the sidewalk outright staring. My mother saw this, too.
“You know,” she said to Caroline, carefully, “I’m wondering if maybe these pieces would work well at the reception. They certainly add a bit of flair to the yard, at any rate.”
Caroline took another picture, then stood up and started toward the wheel whirligig. “I was going to leave tonight,” she said, not looking at my mother as she set up another shot. “I have plans.”