Jill Laughlin, a recently retired American English teacher, knew she was not objective about severed ears. Indeed, her emotions regarding ears given as gifts were heavily influenced by her own experience as a child with such an item. Hence, as she had thumbed through the Courtauld Gallery’s catalogue of works and come upon Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear,” she could help neither her pity for Van Gogh nor her disproportional anger towards the prosititute who, no doubt, was in a prone position somewhere outside the painting.
While looking for all the world like what she was, a tidy, aging, entirely predictable woman on vacation, Jill contained within her vivid experiences and congenital passions that no one would guess. Wrapped sensibly in a long wool coat and wearing a bright knit cap that covered and warmed her own ears, she sat on a cold wrought iron bench beside a still wintry flower bed on London’s Museum Mile contemplating the mysteries of suffering and art. Her destination, the Courtauld Gallery, inside Somerset House, was not yet open. She had arrived thirty minutes early because she heeded the advice of her hotel’s receptionist, and, after walking around the outside of Somerset House for fifteen minutes hoping a kind human might see her and let her in, she had given up and left the frozen courtyard to seek the morning sun while she waited. Not one to waste time, she had sat herself down, removed a glove from one hand only, and thumbed with chilled fingers through their catalogue of works available for public viewing. When she came to the Impressionists’ section, her eye was caught and held, as had been many eyes before hers, by the famous self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh with his bandaged ear.
She knew the various stories behind the mangled ear that was hidden beneath bandages in the portrait, including the one that historians agreed was accurate, that the self-mutilation followed an argument with Paul Gauguin, an argument in which Gauguin claimed he had been threatened by Van Gogh’s razor. Jill, who had herself been reared in a contentious family that lived, fought, and killed for their opinions, wondered what opinions had prompted the artists’ argument. She also wondered why Van Gogh had then used the razor to remove his own left ear lobe, offering it to a prostitute who lived in a brothel nearby. And while Jill knew that sane people did not want gifts such as the one the prostitute had received from her artistic acquaintance, she had always been bothered more by the woman’s reputed apathy towards poor Van Gogh than by his dubious and desperate gesture.
Although she had developed a number of eccentricities as a result of her genetic line as well as her profession, Jill had not gone beyond the pale. She knew that it was not at all wholesome to keep a severed appendage, and though she had been, as a child, both fascinated and horrified by the ear that was given to her (or, as she had described her feelings in her Bible journal that same day, “fascified/horrinated”), she now wished she had kept the sad pink ragged shell that had once been the top of her Uncle Dempsey’s right ear. As she sat there on the bench looking at the tiny representation of the Van Gogh painting, Jill had no trouble calling from memory the image of that ear that she had once held in the cradle of her palm. She thought now, at this moment, that as small and unassuming as it was, she could still have it in her possession, instead of having buried it in an empty crayon box in the corner of Great Aunt Mary Edna’s jonquil bed.
However, although Jill no longer had the ear herself, she did have the Bible in which she had sacrilegiously recorded her thinking about that and other matters that held importance in the years she was a child in the bosom of the loving and violent Laughlin clan. Just a few weeks before this trip, Jill had celebrated her upcoming retirement by booking this trip to London, (Edinburgh, Scotland, of course, would be the finale of her unextravagant two weeks abroad), and, rather than use her retirement funds to pay for it, she had cleverly spent a number of weekends the previous year paying homage to her Scots frugality by going through her attic and basement and having numerous profitable yard sales. It was while going through the last mysterious storage boxes that she had rediscovered her Bible journal. When she pulled the Bible from beneath scrapbooks and albums, none of which she would have considered selling, she had been quite pleased to know its whereabouts, having thought it lost for years.
With a mix of self-consciousness and delight, she had re-read a number of the marginal entries she had written throughout the King James Bible that had been a ninth birthday gift from her deeply religious mother. She could not entirely remember why she had chosen to use it as a journal, but she did know she’d had a clear sense of resentment that her mother, often too tired from her second shift as an aid at a nursing home to attend, always sent her daughter to church anyway, unless Jill was staying over at Mary Edna’s. Jill was sent with neighbors who thought both she and her extended family were odd and in need of salvation. In the Sunday school class she attended, she had brought to bear on all that she was told the reason for her neighbors’ concern: her great aunt’s and uncles’ fixed agnosticism. She recalled that the day she was instructed that the Bible in its entirety was “God’s infallible word” she had gone home and looked up “infallible.” When she put the definition together with the Laughlin skepticism and what she knew about storytelling from the reunions of her ornery family, she understood the extent of the hoax that was being perpetrated on all the children and adults who attended Lackey Hill Missionary Baptist.
Regarding Great Uncle Dempsey’s ear, she had recorded her thoughts in the margin of the very apropos John 18:10, which read, “Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.” Her own tiny but perfectly legible writing read, somewhat querulously, “Malchus is a dumb name, and he must have been really dumb because he doesn’t even get mentioned again,” and then, less so, “Dempsey was passed out on the back porch this morning at Mary Edna’s, and Uncle Clyde had bitten his ear off, mostly. Demp had it in his shirt pocket to get it sewn back on. The ear did not make it to the doctor. I have it.”
Jill the ten year old had loved to ignore the dividing line between the two columns on the page of holy text, and instead read the words straight across, from left to right, entirely because they made no sense that way. She did this again, five decades later, laughing to herself, little changed in irreligiousness from the girl who had done so all those years ago. Directly beneath the nonsensical words “without. Then went out that / therefore unto him, Art not thou,” there was more of her childish penmanship: “I buried Uncle Dempsey’s fascifying/horrinating ear in front of five fat daffy-down-dillies. Clyde and Demp keened. It was very pleasant.”
On that Saturday morning of the ear burial more than five decades before, Jill had awakened with a sense of anticipation, and lying in her great aunt’s bed the anticipation was even happier than usual. It was only Saturday, and she still had the whole churchless weekend ahead of her before having to return to her mother’s exhausted company. But she herself was distracted from her joy by a heaviness in the regions below. That weighty feeling told her to what extent she needed to pee out all the Bryson City Bottling Plant’s Grape Nehi’s (bought at a discount) she had drank the night before, but she knew she would have to hold it since she had a reputation to maintain. She had not peed the bed here nor at home for over a year, not since she was nine. So she squeezed the muscles down there as tightly as she could and thought about the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, that she had seen in town weeks before with her great uncles.
They had argued afterwards, as they did about anything historical or political, whether they were stone cold sober or dog drunk. This time, sober and largely responsible, they debated about whether or not Lawrence was a sado/masochist, (another interesting word which she noted and had to look up later), and then about the merits or lack thereof regarding British colonialism in the Middle East. The difference in their disputes was only that violence didn’t creep in unless they were drunk. But that did not concern her now; her overly full bladder did. So she pictured the Sahara. Then she pictured Peter O’Toole’s dry face and blue, blue eyes as he sat astride his horse. Then she thought about last summer and pictured the cracked mud of the dry lake bed in August where she and her cousins picked up bottles and cleaned out the odiferous sediment for the nickel refunds they received at the bottling plant. Jill then pictured her dry underpants that she wore beneath her also dry pajamas. “Dry Dry,” she repeated in her head. It didn’t help. The pressure on her bladder was getting worse, not better.
She also thought about waking Mary Edna. She would eventually have to do so because the bureau, which they had pushed against the bedroom door the night before, as they always did, was too heavy for her to move. She did not know how long she would have to wait until Mary Edna awoke on her own before she could even begin the long trek downstairs to the bathroom. The house was old. There was no upstairs bathroom. So Jill shifted her legs and squeezed tighter. She knew her aunt would not mind being wakened, and might even want to be since they were going to put out onion sets this morning, but the situation had become one of Jill’s games, compulsive games, a therapist later told her. If Mary Edna awoke before she counted to one thousand, Jill told herself, today would be a good day. She willed Mary Edna awake. Her clairvoyant game was only partly inaccurate in its predictions.
Awake. “A wake” was a phrase Jill thought pretty that she had learned yesterday from a book she was reading that was set in Ireland. Apparently a wake was when living people stayed with the dead body of the dearly beloved until time for it to be buried. And they wailed, at least in the book. She asked Mary Edna about the wailing. It was, her aunt said, because they were Irish, and that’s what the Irish did. She herself, like her aunt, was pure Scots, straight from Campbelltown, not Ulster. She was NOT Scots-Irish.
Her great aunt and great uncles influenced Jill’s aspirations in a number of ways throughout her life, but the one she could and had thus far accomplished fully at the age of sixty-five was to have grown old like them, independent and unmarried. What was impossible for her to accomplish through following their example was that they were first generation Americans, and that she could never be so was one of Jill’s lifelong regrets. However, she rationalized that she was only a second generation American, only twice removed from Scotland, because she dismissed her mother’s heritage as uninteresting and did not include her father at all in the chronology of her lineage. This argument was not convincing to anyone but herself, but, as a Laughlin, that was all that mattered.
Scots people, Mary Edna implied with her offhand comment about the Irish and the nature of their mourning, were much tougher than that. Scots people, the behavior of her great aunt and uncles implied, did not wail. They saved up their emotions like they did their dollars and spent them, if they spent them at all, only on whiskey or books. Scots people, her great aunt and uncles modeled, did not whine. Scots people, even if they lost a sister (her father’s mother) to lung cancer, and bottom land to the damming of a river (the Little Tennessee), they did not cry. Scots people, even if they came home from a world war with the lasting gift of malaria (Great Uncle Demp, who’d served in the South Pacific), and a permanent limp, (Great Uncle Clyde, from Monte Cassino), might indulge liberally in drink, but they would not utter a whimper. They might even have had a gun held to their heads (Great Aunt Mary Edna, once, when Clyde was out-of-his-head-mean drunk), but they did not sob, at least not in sight of another human. Scots people, even when they had to give their unbeloved niece by marriage a hand (Jill’s mother) with her daughter (Jill) because of their nephew’s (Jill’s father’s ) incarceration, they did not keen (another fine word she had picked up from her book). The Scots, Jill learned, did not grieve publicly over their dead or their terror or their injuries or their inconveniences or even their imprisoned relatives.
No one, including Jill’s distracted and hard working mother, spoke of her imprisoned father much on normal days. So what Jill had learned about him had been on not normal days, through careful work as an eavesdropper, at times such as family reunions and cemetery decorations. It seemed that what family gathered for was to tell and retell their versions of everyone’s lives, particularly those not present to dispute the creative aspect of the stories as they were offered.
Only a few of the relatives who came flocking in for gatherings from far off provinces such as Gastonia and Lincolnton liked to get drunk, and Jill was never allowed near them as they went off to wherever Great Uncles Clyde and Dempsey took them. The other relatives at family gatherings, the ones who didn’t drink whiskey, did drink coffee, and they made gallons and gallons of it and stayed up all night telling stories and playing gin rummy. It was through pretending to be asleep on a sofa or in a chair nearby that Jill had learned the pieces that explained to her why she had no father. Her father had been missing from her picture as long as she could remember, and what she came to know about him was that he was in prison for voluntary manslaughter, and that the relatives thought it both a tragedy and pure bad luck that the man whose skull her father had fractured in a bar fight had had the great incivility to have died.
“Man slaughter.” The first time she had heard this about her father, she had been about to turn seven, and she had gone and looked it up, first just “slaughter,” and then the two words together, in the Thorndike-Barnhart Revised Dictionary of the English Language that sat on the crowded end table where her aunt kept her ashtray, her unfiltered Camels, her loaded Colt revolver, (not always, but often, during the daytime—at night it was tucked neatly under her pillow), her books of crossword puzzles, and whatever book she was currently reading. Thorndike-Barnhart (Jill thought of the two names as a married couple with a godlike knowledge of words—Thorndike was prickly and male; Barnhart was animal-loving and female, as their names seemed to dictate), the ill suited pair, told her that “slaughter” meant “the killing of livestock, particularly associated with the butchering that follows,” and “manslaughter” was defined as “the killing of another human being in self-defense or without forethought or premeditation.” In Jill’s mind, even after she was an adult and her father, though released from prison, remained entirely absent from her life and that of her extended family, she continued to subconsciously think of the act that took him from her life (and from the Laughlin clan) as one in which he had absentmindedly killed a man and then quartered him up for later consumption.
The romance novel she had been reading the night before, as she drank Grape Nehi and her aunt drank coffee, had been chosen entirely because of its lurid cover. The ones with that sort of cover were all on her aunt’s high shelves, the ones out of reach of the other children, the relative’s lesser children, (when they came to visit), but not out of her reach. She had been allowed, ever since she had learned to read, to stand on a kitchen chair and take what she wanted. She read anything with words she could decipher, which, as a result of her precocity and the books that were always lying about, included everything from autobiographies (Patton) and histories (The Battle of the Bulge) to shockingly racist soft porn (Mandingo) and classics (Jude the Obscure). Therefore her head was filled with a disparate set of facts and fiction about sex and death, love and war, men and women, and this early knowledge, accurate or not, contributed to her lifelong and constant cheerfulness about the planet on which she lived.
The only rule, and it was unspoken, was that she could read what she liked as long as she didn’t tell her mother what she was reading. Her mother, had she been aware more and tired less, would not have approved of Jill’s reading romance novels, particularly with busty women clasped in the arms of brawny men on the cover, even if they were interestingly situated on the edge of a green Irish cliff, waves crashing against the rocks below, and the ocean so wild that sea spray was shooting high in an unnatural looking arc that left tiny, suspect droplets on the woman’s bare arms and almost bare breasts. It was a rousing image, though perhaps not one meant for ten-year-old readers.
But Jill could not think about the Irish sea just then because it was so very wet, like the inside of her bladder, and although Jill’s game continued to progress in numbers achieved, that same bladder also continued to progress in fatness. Jill had almost counted to 700 when rescue mercifully appeared as the rough sound of her aunt’s horny-toenailed feet scraping against the smooth fabric of the sheets. To move beneath the pile of quilts and blankets that lay atop them required a conscious effort. Her aunt, then, was finally conscious. A hand with arthritic knuckles and liver spots came from beneath the bedding and reached over to pat Jill’s arm.
“Corn flakes and coffee, or instant grits and coffee?”
“Cornflakes if you have brown sugar. But I’m about to bust to pee, Auntie.”
In less than a minute, her aunt’s usual lack of alacrity replaced by Jill’s urgency, they had slid back the bureau and she had flown dangerously down the wide wooden staircase, her hand barely grazing the banister and her bare feet only just touching the steps. Once safely on the toilet with her pajamas and still-dry underpants proudly pooled around her ankles, she relaxed and began to notice the world outside her bladder, particularly outside the open curtains of the small window that looked onto the porch and then the lawn beyond. And what she saw was something large lying half on and half off the top step. After only a second, she saw that it was not a something, but a someone. A man. And except for a dark stain that covered up much of the head that rested on an arm, the mix of reddish blonde and grey hair looked exactly like that of her Uncle Dempsey. And that’s who it was.
It did not take long for Jill and Mary Edna to discover that Great Uncle Dempsey was alive, that he was still very much inebriated, and that almost all of his right ear had been removed, hence, the dark blood that had pooled, caked, and dried all over his head. By combining their ten-year-old and seventy-year-old strength and perseverance, they got Great Uncle Dempsey mostly standing and fully on to the porch.
He tried to speak. He managed to slur something that seemed to be directed at Jill.
“I got shomethin” for ya’ .”
And he pulled his arm out of Mary Edna’s clasp, fumbled at the top of his shirt until he found his shirt pocket, also smeared with his now-dried blood, and reached inside. He pulled out something the color of the chunky erasers Jill kept in her zippered pencil bag for school. Which she was often tempted to bite. Except that they were not speckled with Dempsey’s blood.
“Here it is. It’sh my ear.”
And he took Jill’s free hand (the other was still trying to prop him up under his armpit) and carefully placed his present in her open palm while Mary Edna said, “Lord God, Dempsey, she don’t want that. Lord God, what IS wrong with you?”
What was wrong with him, as was later made clear to Jill as she listened in on the phone upstairs while Mary Edna was hateful with Clyde on the phone downstairs, was that the previous night the two of them had celebrated Friday evening by buying a pint of white liquor from a bootlegger. They had sensibly taken their liquor to Clyde’s apartment to drink, (which was, as her adulthood progressed somewhat, the reason behind Jill’s refusal to live in anything but large houses for the rest of her life—she had a deeply held belief that people who lived in apartments in small towns were either alcoholics or pugilistic veterans).
At the apartment, they had begun to argue about who was the greater of the German generals, Erwin Rommel or Heinrich von Vietinghoff. Clyde felt strongly that since he had been in Operation COBRA, and had also been wounded at Monte Cassino, whereas Dempsey had merely been fooling around in Tarawa, that only he himself had the direct experience to substantiate his thesis. (He chose Vietinghoff, and Jill sometimes wondered what he would now make of Rommel’s reputation).
And so, as the argument wore on, the two resorted to a physical settling of the dispute, and the final settlement came when, wrestling on the apartment floor, Clyde sank his impressively sound (though infrequently cleaned) teeth into what was available, Dempsey’s ear, and removed a large portion of it. This act shocked him by his own savagery into a measure of sobriety, and he spat out the ear, sat up, wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve, wiped the ear on his pants leg, and then gave the ear to Dempsey, who was drunker than Clyde. According to Clyde’s recollection, he immediately told Demp he was sorry for what he had done and that Demp should go get it sewn back on while it was still warm. But Demp’s drunken sense of direction had sent him to his sister’s house rather than to the emergency room, and the ear he wanted to save was beyond redemption by the time they found him around 6:30 a.m.
Seated uncomfortably on her bench, on the still chilly Strand, Jill looked at her watch and saw that she still had a few moments left before the doors opened and she could go inside the museum, see their collection, and, she hoped, warm herself, although warmth, she was discovering, was never a guarantee in Britain. She glanced around the grounds and noticed that next to her bench were what looked like jonquil leaves emerging from a small patch of snow. They were in a spot that might receive sun later in the day, but at the moment the crusty snow looked like it had frozen around the new leaves. Jill set the catalogue next to her bag on the bench and knelt in front of the hardy shoots, her sixty-five-year-old knees cushioned against the icy sidewalk by her thick coat. Gently, with fingers almost as gnarled as Mary Edna’s had been, she plucked and brushed away the frozen crusts that might hamper spring from appearing in this particular spot. When she was satisfied, she arose, stiffly, as befit her age, and admired the wet greenness against the dark wood chip mulch that some gardener, she liked to think, had lovingly provided as protection. Given the right encouragement, she thought, one could produce beauty from frost or desert, insanity or pain. Her own garden, at home, was encouraged, orderly and loved, just as had been Great Aunt Mary Edna’s. And her own early flowers included jonquils whose bulbs were second, third, and even fourth generation descendants of those that Mary Edna had planted and under which Jill had planted Demp’s ear.
Although the morning all those years earlier had not unerringly fulfilled the promise of Jill’s counting game, because Great Uncle Dempsey was alive, and because she had the horrinating/fascifying ear now wrapped in tissue from Mary Edna’s Kleenex box. it had still promised to be quite a distinctive day. Mary Edna had bathed Demp’s head, poured coffee down him, run him a hot bath and then put him to bed. Only afterwards had she called Great Uncle Clyde, whose reputation directed all suspicion towards him, and he had indeed been the perpetrator. His drunken evilness was so legendary, Jill knew, that it was the reason behind the blocked door at night and the mostly present Colt revolver. Jill’s illicit listening on the upstairs phone confirmed all of this as Mary Edna listed a litany of Clyde’s past and present sins. Nonetheless, he was still Jill’s favorite, if not her great aunt’s. However, he was Mary Edna’s brother, she loved him as much as she hated him, and she was possessed of enough common sense and courage that she stood up to him and told him, any time he was sober and sometimes when he was drunk, exactly what he needed to hear to increase his moral rectitude. What he needed to hear that morning was a series of questions demanding to know his part in Demp’s injury, and then a series of orders that included he get himself cleaned up and over to her house to see just what he had done to their brother. The conversation was mostly one-sided, with Clyde saying just enough for the story to have made itself gruesomely clear. When it was done, Jill and Mary Edna finally had their coffee and cornflakes with brown sugar, but no onion sets were put out that morning.
That same day, but not until the crepuscular evening hours, (“crepuscular,” Jill still thought, was an underused and excellent word that sounded as precise as its meaning), Great Uncle Clyde had made his shame-faced appearance. By this time, the gentle Great Uncle Dempsey was sitting, clean and rosy and minus an ear, on the porch glider enjoying yet another fresh cup of coffee and the Asheville Citizen newspaper. When Mary Edna and Jill heard Clyde’s truck approaching up the gravel driveway, they made their way from the kitchen where Mary Edna (who did not cook) was opening up cans of chicken noodle soup, and Jill was peeling canned biscuits off of each other and placing them on a baking sheet. He approached the steps, Jill remembered years later, with his head down, unwilling to look at the remainder of his good brother’s mangled ear. When he did look up, he almost immediately cringed and put his hands over his face. Great Aunt Mary Edna just stood there with her hands on her hips, and Jill sat down on the glider next to Dempsey and looked back and forth between the three. Clyde was the first to speak.
“Aw, Demp, you know I’d never have done you such a trick if I’d been sober, and I am terrible sorry.”
She had looked at Dempsey. She was sitting on his good side, and she saw his mouth begin to turn up at the corner that was in her view.
“It’s awright. It’s awright, Clyde. I can still hear, and I always did think the left side of my face was the handsome one.”
Mary Edna butted in with, “The two of you are pathetic drunks, and I don’t know why I tolerate you or why you put up with each other. I can’t stand here and listen to this. I’d rather go back in and watch the soup boil. Jill, you come in with me.”
As the screen door closed behind Jill, she heard Clyde ask, “What became of your ear, Demp? I gave it back to you. Do you still have it?”
“Naw. I can’t remember what I did with it.”
Jill put her head back out the door.
“Don’t you remember? You gave it to me this morning. I’ve got it wrapped in a Kleenex in an empty crayon box. Do you want it back?”
“A crayon box? No, I don’t have any need for it.” He paused to think. “But since it’s already in a coffin, maybe you should bury it.”
Jill had liked the idea, and, unusual for her, had ignored Mary Edna’s scowled disapproval. So she had retrieved the crayon box, into which the tissue wrapped upper ear fit cozily, and brought it out to the front steps. Beside them in one small bed, the daffodils, (as an adult she preferred the sophisticated “jonquils,” but as a child she liked “daffodils”), were beaming their sunny faces at all the world. Great Uncle Clyde brought her a small trowel out of the shed, and she gently dug a deeper than necessary grave for Great Uncle Demp’s appendage, and then still more gently laid it to rest before she paused and looked up.
“Aren’t you going to finish? If you don’t put the dirt on it, a stray dog’s gonna smell it and run off with my ear,” Demp told her.
“I think Great Uncle Clyde should say something in its memory before I cover it over,” Jill offered.
“Do you want us to cry, too?” Clyde teased.
“Well, this is a wake. We could keen ... just a little.”
As the doors of the Courtauld Gallery opened and Jill entered the rarefied air she knew from her reading that artists seldom intend when they depict their visions for others to decipher, she asked first, as a predictable tourist, though only a second generation American tourist, where the Impressionist works were. And when she finally stood in front of the portrait entitled, cleanly, “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear,” she was pleased to note the happy Japanese woodblock print hanging behind Van Gogh and the calm and focused expression in the artist‘s eyes. As a compulsive reader, Jill had read a little bit about almost everything, and in her non-discriminatory list, she had read a collection of Van Gogh’s letters. In one of them, to his brother, Theo, she remembered he had described the Japanese painting style “as simple as breathing.” There were also letters that she remembered between Van Gogh and his friend/enemy Gauguin. In one of his letters to Gauguin, Jill recalled a mention of another painting, one of an older woman in a rocking chair. In the letter, Van Gogh had said, somewhat oddly, she thought then, that he hoped that if a cold and lonely fisherman saw the painting, he would be reminded of and comforted by the memory of childhood lullabies.
As Jill remained fixed to the spot staring at the artist’s vulnerable face, her mind went back and forth between her own life and that of the artist, and she arrived at a place that she believed would have satisfied Van Gogh in terms of his own artistic intent. She went back to that place half a century before where southern light faded to dusk, and where a ten year old girl stood with two alcoholic veterans, sober only for an evening, while her spinster aunt watched over the soup and all of their lives from inside.
Jill could remember neither the words Clyde spoke nor the looks on the two men’s faces as she insisted the keening begin. She did remember the three of them had decided that humming was as close to keening as a true Scots should be willing to come, and so they had hummed. And she also recalled that after she had gone to bed, she had again heard Dempsey, who was, since he was injured, spending the night that night in the room next to theirs, humming the same tune once again. Jill could not remember what song they had chosen to lay the ear to rest, but as her aging gaze took in Van Gogh’s lucid gaze and brush strokes of bright greens and pale yellows, she realized that Dempsey’s humming was the last sound she had heard that night when she was ten, and thus, at least for that one night, it had been her lullaby.