Beginning when I was six and Edwin was nine, years before Edwin became an opium addict and an art forger, he taught me how to paint, with patience and humor, despite my father’s protestations that it was a waste of his time. Edwin and I both knew I didn’t have his genius with the brush, but he said that I had something just as valuable—a knack for perceiving people’s secret longings and fears. I suppose he was right. I’d spent my childhood observing the suspicion on my father’s face and the resentment on my mother’s, results of the small daily cruelties they exchanged. But while there had been teasing, there had never been cruelty between Edwin and myself. And Edwin never made me feel stupid, the way I sometimes do at the Slade, even now.
When Edwin was 24, he was tried for forgery. The charges were partially trumped up by a man who wanted to conceal his own role in the profitable scheme, but there was enough truth to convict. Edwin served a year in prison, and when he came out, four months ago, he seemed subdued and reflective, if at times quite low in his mind. He insisted to me that he’d reformed, and he wanted to rebuild our friendship, to earn my trust.
This is the part that is hard for me to relate. You may think me ungenerous but I didn’t leap like a fish to his hook. Too well I recalled the times before my parents died when he’d come home, shamefaced and shaking in the aftermath of opium use. Mama would nurse him back to health, and as Edwin kissed us goodbye, I’d pray that the next time we saw him, he’d be well. But he rarely was. My father eventually spurned him, though my mother never wavered in her devotion. Being not much more than a child, I clung to hope, for all I wanted was for him to be my friend and champion again. And now? I’m older and I know better. He can no more be what he once was than become a winged horse. But now, with each passing week, when Edwin and I meet, and he arrives on time, with clear eyes and steady hands, I trust him a bit more—enough to make the effort, today, to go to his flat to find out why I haven’t heard from him in two weeks. Besides, he is my only family, and I will admit that I want desperately to believe there is someone tied to me by blood whom I can trust.
My work finished for the day, I retrieved my umbrella from the stand and ventured out in the rain. At the terraced house where he rented rooms, I climbed the stairs to the top floor, and saw the door open. That was odd, I thought. Odder still was the sight of two strange men riffling through Edwin’s paintings and papers. I burst out, “What are you doing? Where’s Edwin?” They turned, and I saw the truncheon that one of them carried.
The younger man said gently, “I’m so very sorry.” And the look on his face shattered my world like stained glass into shards.
This blogpost was originally published at Dru's book reviews on January 17, 2020. https://drusbookmusing.com/2020/01/17/annabel-rowe/