Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Farmer and Toulouse Lautrec by Donal Mahoney

Portrait de Toulouse-Lautrec au boa.


Technology is wonderful, especially in medicine, Elmo told Opal, the day their son Brett called to tell them the good news. The doctor had told Brett and Debbie their first child would be a boy, according to the machine in the doctor's office.

Elmer never trusted machines other than the machines he used on the farm and Opal didn't either but they were happy to hear about their first grandchild.

"It's wonderful news," Opal told Brett over the phone. "Your father and I will have two cups of cocoa tonight. It's as cold as you probably remember growing up in North Dakota. I know that teaching at the university means you and Debbie must live in Florida but your father and I miss you."

Six months later, Brett called again to say the same machine in the Doctor's office now showed their grandson would be a dwarf. Brett and Debbie had seen the baby on the screen. But this was the first baby they had ever seen on a machine like that so they had to take the doctor's word that the boy would be a dwarf. All they could see was a tiny shape pulsating in the midst of a blur.

"Mom," Brett said, "Debbie and I don't now if we want a dwarf for a son."

Opal was stunned by the news about a dwarf grandchild and began to cry before handing the phone to her husband.

Elmo commiserated with his son as much as he could. But Elmo too was at a loss for words. Finally he mentioned to Brett, a professor with a doctorate in French art, that it was lucky doctors didn't have one of those machines before Toulouse Lautrec had been born.

Lautrec, of course, had been a dwarf and his work and his life had both been influenced greatly by his short stature. Elmo couldn't remember for certain but there may have been some deformity involved as well. That kind of thing can happen with a dwarf.

Brett's doctoral dissertation had been on the work of Lautrec. Elmo remembered seeing prints of Lautrec's work around the house and pictures and drawings of the artist as well. He found both interesting and disturbing.

Nevertheless, Elmo, a farmer in North Dakota for almost 50 years, had come to love the work of Toulouse Lautrec, having seen so much of it in books and slides when Brett was writing his dissertation. His son hadn't married Debbie yet and he had come home to finish the paper for his doctoral degree.

After finishing his conversation with Brett, Elmo hung up the phone and sighed. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and scratched his head while Opal poured two cups of strong coffee. It had been kept warm on the stove since early morning.

Finally Elmo said, "Opal, who knows what kind of boy that grandson of ours would have been. He'd have been a dwarf, yes, but Lautrec was a dwarf, and he did wonderful work. I don't know if anyone ever asked him if he would have been happier not to have lived. I know our grandson wouldn't have been able to ride any of the horses but we could have bought him a pony.”

*****

Donal Mahoney has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. He has had work published in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, The National Catholic Reporter and other magazines. Some of his online work can be found athttp://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs=

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