Colby Wynan always thought of himself as a man with three hearts—the one he showed to his loved ones, the one he showed to his friends, and the one he never showed to anyone. It was not that he was hiding anything; it was just that he didn’t know himself what resided there. Was he saving it for a special purpose, or to protect himself in case the first heart was broken? It was a mystery, but Colby knew it was there, waiting.
His Greenwich Village neighbors considered him a fixture on their streets, as familiar as the high school basketball court that bordered West 4th Street or the firehouse that stood between the Perfect Bagel and the Serendipity Boutique. Day in and day out, from morning till evening, Colby painted cityscapes in soft warm watercolors—not harsh, bright oils, but blue, gray, and orange hues that seemed to bring out the friendly side of the city, make it a more comfortable place to live, like a familiar overstuffed chair. Living in a concrete jungle with glass and steel buildings tired the village residents. Colby’s watercolor creations made the city a homestead, not just a home, but a place to hang your hat and bring up your family—a place to call your neighbors friends and not tenants. They loved his wide, toothy smile and the scrape of blue paint that seemed permanently fixed to his cheek. As his fellow villagers passed Colby, they waved and shouted, “Hello,” adding, “We love you, Colby.” And they bought his paintings.
Jessica, Colby’s wife of thirty-one years, loved him from the very moment she set eyes on his watercolors. His pallet creations were a mirror image of his soul, and she loved his soul. Lovely Irish lass, straight from Ireland, Jessica was mesmerizing—her black hair glistened, and a fire burned in her eyes that no one, and nothing, could extinguish. She was determined and full of life. In quiet times, Colby could summon to his mind her lilting voice and contagious laugh. They married and settled in Greenwich Village; he painted, and she taught Irish dances at a local studio. On Sundays, they dropped all thoughts of work and worry and walked to Washington Square. Colby first picked a flower from the small patch of land behind their apartment, pinned it in Jessica’s hair, then, hand in hand, they strolled to the Square and found an empty park bench where they sat and talked, sharing their love with heart-to-heart chatter and old memories.
On a Sunday, Valentine’s Day, at the age of sixty-one, Jessica was hit by a car careening off another as it crashed into the park bench at Washington Square, killing her instantly. Sorrow darkened Colby’s heart and crimped his hand. No longer were his cityscapes soft and inviting; instead they turned dark and foreboding? the buildings looked like giant headstones in a graveyard of streets and alleys. For Colby, the milk of life had turned sour. Neighbors expressed their sympathies, but Colby’s deadened heart froze them out. The love in his heart for his wife, and the love in his heart for his friends, seemed to vaporize into the smoggy city air. He painted no more.
Each evening he walked the streets, head hung low, walking aimlessly just to keep his
body in motion. Andre Trousseau, a recently arrived French painter to the colony of village artists, described Colby’s walk as “Clopin Clopant,” the shuffle of a lover without his love. Trudging along, Colby wept silently, fighting off his pain with the shield of memories of Sundays in Washington Square with Jessica. For three years, Colby walked Clopin Clopant—his neighborhood now a graveyard of old friendships and days gone by.
The first time things changed was when Heidi came along. She was a twelve-year-old dachshund who became an orphan when her owner, Colby’s next door neighbor for many years, was found dead in his apartment. It was three days until the body was discovered. During that time, Heidi had lain down, grieving next to her owner during that whole time, and she had not eaten. Colby fed her, and for lack of an alternative, put her up in his apartment for the night. He stroked her short fur and talked to her softly, telling her it was OK to grieve in her sorrow, that memories were real and would always be there to comfort her. Heidi seemed to understand. Small, with a long brown body, her belly just cleared the floor. They played chase-the-ball together and an oversized watercolor brush became her favorite chew toy. They slept together, dozing off and arising simultaneously each day. Heidi brought love back into Colby’s life.
At first they both walked Clopin Clopant, but as their love grew, their steps grew faster and friskier. Friends waved hello again. Colby waved back, each time describing to Heidi who they were.
“That’s Kevin, Heidi. He’s the local policeman. Oh, that’s Rita. She owns the corner beauty shop.” Heidi seemed to understand as she welcomed each new friend with a lick and a hardy wag of her tail.
But fate intervened, and one evening life changed for Colby and Heidi. Out for their neighborhood walk, Heidi suddenly lapsed into spasms and collapsed. Colby picked her up and carried her home. A veterinarian’s analysis was straightforward and concise. Heidi, he said, had suffered a stroke, and both back legs were paralyzed. But Colby transitioned quickly into caregiver mode. He was determined that Heidi would continue to be his partner. She had found that special place in his heart and nothing short of death could excise her out. He took his pants belt and wrapped it around her body in front of her back legs, effectively holding up her backside so her back legs never touched the floor. Heidi could now walk, but only on her front legs, as he supported the back legs by holding up the rear part of her body with his belt. They went walking every evening in that fashion. Neighbors smiled, shouting hello as he and Heidi took their stroll. Her eyes sparkled with love whenever she looked at Colby, sensing that she had found her place in his heart and letting him know that he had found a place in hers. Colby finally realized why he had protected that secret place all these years.
On a chilly, gray, autumn day in November, Colby wrapped Heidi in a newly-purchased dog sweater and walked to his old street corner facing the city skyline. He set up his tripod and mounted a fresh new canvas. He broke out his brushes and paint, and with loving strokes, brought the city back to life with his watercolors, the towering glass and steel buildings once again reaching out for the friendship of the villagers.
Heidi sat under his tripod, and looked up lovingly at Colby as he splashed warm hues of watercolor paint across the buildings and city sky. When a neighbor shouted, “We love you, Colby,” he reached down, patted Heidi’s head, and said, “They love you, too, Heidi.” Heidi’s tail wiggled and waggled. Colby’s heart was finally at peace.
About the Author:
Frank T Masi edited the non-fiction book, The Typewriter Legend, published articles in business publications, and won poetry awards from Maitland Public Library His stories are in FWA’s short story collections 5 and 6 and Not Your Mother’s Book…On Working for a Living. Frank is writing a horror-murder mystery.