Susan Russo Anderson
Jerry is one of my favorite characters. He is an artist who does whatever his older brother, his caretaker, asks him to do. He opens Dorset in the Dark, Fina's fifth standalone mystery.
He lived in Brooklyn with his older brother in a large apartment high off the ground. They’d been there a real long time, way before his mother left and they moved her furniture out. He missed his mother. He missed her every day, even though, as his brother pointed out, her leaving gave them a spare room. Only trouble, he couldn’t remember what she looked like, and when he’d asked his brother for her picture, he just shook his head. “One day she’ll come back. You’ll see.”
His brother called her old bedroom the studio, and Jerry used it to make pictures from bits of paper and cardboard and sometimes nails or round shiny things with holes in them he found lying on the street. Bottle caps, even. Once he found a dollar and pasted it on the back of a walrus cut out from a magazine, splashing paint on top of everything. And leaves, there were plenty of those. “Collages from found objects,” his brother called what Jerry made, and his brother helped him hang them on the walls. All over the place, except in the kitchen. His brother packed them in a big black case and took them around town. He showed them to people in white rooms with high ceilings. Once he took Jerry with him, but never again. Jerry worked on his pictures for hours, sometimes weeks.
“One of these days, you’ll be famous,” he told him, “and we won’t have to do these jobs no more. Lucky, this one dropped on us like out of the blue.”
Jerry shivered in the wind on the way to the job. He didn’t like spring even if there were Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs in windows. Used to be he got presents in baskets and dimes hidden under the couch. His mother saw to that. But those days were gone. And another thing, Jerry wasn’t his real name, but it’s what his brother called him. He couldn’t remember his real name. It might have been Rennie. That was what his mother had called him, but most people called him Hey You or Kid. It used to bother him, but lately he didn’t think all that much about who he was or where he came from. He just worked on his pictures.
His memories of childhood were scattered, filled with bits and pieces just like the pictures he made. He didn’t remember ever meeting his father. But he remembered a long train ride like it was yesterday, rolling through dusty light, sitting on his mother’s lap and watching trees fly past while Kenny pointed out backyards filled with laundry or toys underneath high-flying clouds. One for all and all for one, his mother would say and kiss his ear as they moved from side to side and the wheels clacked. When he thought hard about it, he could still feel her arms around him, holding him tight on the rocking train.
His neighbors used to like him, maybe because he smiled big when they looked at him. His brother told him to do that. Always look them in the eye and smile big. But that was a long time ago when they first came and most of those people had moved away or died. Now no one looked at him or asked how he was, except for the lady he met from time to time walking in the park late at night, a beat-up lady with whiskers on her chin and a funny smell and swollen bags stuffed into a shopping cart. She pushed it up and down sidewalks and through clumps of trees. He knew this because one time he followed her, even though Kenny told him to leave her alone. She was in need of a hot bath. His brother made him take one every night. No matter, she was a friend. She smiled at him. Whenever she saw him, her mouth made clacking sounds like the train. She saw him once sitting in the park and drawing in his sketchbook, the one Kenny bought for him. The artist, she called him after that, her words flapping out through her lips. He thought of the gummy lady and looked for her in the usual spot, but he couldn’t see her.
His brother stared at Jerry. “Are you paying attention? And stop that rocking back and forth. If I catch you doing it, you’ll have hell to pay when we get home, just remember. I’ll bet you haven’t heard one word I said. And today of all days. We have a very important job.”
“What do you mean what job? Like we’ve been talking about, day in, day out.”
“Oh, that job.”
“Not so loud,” his brother hissed.
Then he remembered. It was their secret.
Photo: Cover, Dorset in the Dark. Cover Design, Avalon Graphics