The Ribbon Path by Adele Evershed

Last week I visited 'The Metropolitan Museum of Art' and found myself mesmerized by Van Gogh's "Road To Etten." I stared at it for a long while. Something about it was rubbing at my memory, like grit in a shoe. Then suddenly, as if I had time-walked, I was thirteen back in Wales, looking at my Bampa's oil painting, "Man On The Ribbon Path."

My Bampa was a thin shadow of a man, a painter, and decorator by trade who specialized in wood graining. He had painted the closet door in our new hall, so white MDF looked like rich oak wood. It was an illusion to hasten the middle-class attainment that my Mam so longed for. My parents' new house was a neat semi with pebbledash the color of clotted cream in Swansea, so very unlike the terrace we had left. That house had bricks that seeped soot from being buried deep in a valley of coalmines and steelworks. Of course, it had an indoor bathroom, but it also had an outside toilet and coal chute. This new place had central heating and only indoor plumbing. The first week after we’d moved in Da started to complain that now we only had one toilet he had to wait for me to finish 'titivating,' as he called it before he could get in there to read the paper in peace.

Once we moved, my Mam decided we all needed an upgrade too. This meant we were to now call dinner-lunch, tea became dinner, and we had an extra meal called supper. 'Pop' became lemonade, and I only got bara brith at my grandparent's house as Mam only baked Victoria Sandwich cakes. I still can't stomach pale sponge cake to this day. My mother even changed her name; she wanted to be called Angela rather than the Angie she had always been. And my sister and I were to call her Mum.

We still visited my grandparents every weekend for Sunday dinner; my mother surprisingly never called that meal lunch. Her parents lived in the house where my mother was born, in a small village whose name had never acquired an English version. It was nothing like Swansea that had two road signs, one in English and one welcoming people in Welsh to Abertawe. Their home stood out in a row of identical terraces regular as train tracks. Bampa had painted elaborate urns spilling flowers and fruit on the walls flanking the door; "So we'll never be hungry and always smell sweet," he'd told me.

As soon as we'd parked the car, I would barrel out to the shed where I knew I would find him with his shiny oil paints. Mam was his only child, so most of his paintings were given to her even though everyone knew her tastes ran to more mass-produced masterpieces. We had one that she'd bought from the Co-op hanging in our TV room (soon to be reinvented as the 'sitting' room) of a scowling Asian lady with a green face. When Bampa saw it, he said, "What do you think she had for tea to make her look so poorly?" I laughed, but my mother tutted, "For goodness sake, it's real art. Lots of people have one."

That Christmas, Bampa gave us 'Man on the Ribbon Path.' He told my mother, "Love, I hope you like this one. I poured my heart and soul into it". She hung it in the 'best' room; it was a room we hardly used, so it had yet to be renamed. The painting was of a monochromatic stranger walking along a looping path, and it stirred in me a mixture of despondency and awe. By the following summer, my mother had rechristened the room--the lounge. When she told my Dad, he had laughed and said, "Oh Angie, that seems a bit daft as the last thing we do in that room is lounge around." All she replied was, "Angela, remember?"

It was the last painting Bampa gave us; a year later, he died. My mother had started to call him 'Dad' long ago, but he became 'Da' again in the hospital. And after his funeral, my mother said, "I think I'll take that grumpy old woman down and hang your Bampa's painting there. Nobody gets to see it in the best room."

We both walked into what had been the lounge five minutes ago and gasped. The path was as it had always been in the painting, twirling away into the unknown, but the dark man had disappeared.

Selected: March Short Story Contest
Published in Issue #28

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