A Picture Worth A Million Words
She examined the painting again, her lips parting as she realized what she was looking at. Lifting the translucent layer of varnish with the edge of her knife, she leaned closer for a better look.
She gasped. It was irrefutable evidence that the man she’d known for the last fifty years wasn’t who she thought he was.
A World-Shattering Discovery
But for seventy-one-year-old Esmeralda Ford, making such a world-shattering discovery was the last thing on her mind that week. This had all begun with a bid to do away with the sadness dogging her.
She’d thought it best to go through her late husband’s old things, seeking to feel him close. But what she’d end up doing was uncovering a 50-year-old secret that would leave her more than speechless.
An All-Consuming Void
Esmeralda had been sitting alone in her quiet house. The yellow walls, which should have been echoing with sweet memories of a life well-lived, were seemingly closing on her. Losing Mark Johnson, her husband, had left her with an all-consuming void.
The weight of loneliness had gotten to her, the void seemingly expanding with each passing day. She only longed for something to distract her from her pain when she ventured into his man cave in the basement.
Esmeralda hadn’t considered going to the mancave when she started wandering the quiet house. But while crossing the corridor, a thought struck her: the basement.
It had been her husband’s domain, a secretive sanctuary where he used to spend countless hours engaged in secretive pursuits. If only Esmeralda knew what she’d find down there.
His Hidden World
In the fifty years that Esmeralda had been married to Mark, she’d rarely stepped down there. Their relationship had long been one of mutual respect.
Hoping to give him space and privacy, she’d always steered clear of the room unless she really had to go there. But now, with the ache of loss gnawing at her soul, she decided it was time to face the enigma of Mark’s hidden world.
Going Down The Steps
With a shaky breath, Esmeralda descended the creaking stairs feeding into the basement. The air was pregnant with the odor of disuse, as if the room had been abandoned eons ago.
Esmeralda’s footsteps resounded throughout the dimly lit space as she finally stepped on the cold concrete. She stood for a minute, her eyes tearing as she remembered the last time she’d been here.
Lost In Memory
Esmeralda could remember seeing Mark on the furthest end of the room, seated in his rocking chair with a beer while watching the Super Bowl. He’d been happy that day, cheering his team on with two of their sons who had come home to visit.
Taking heart, Esmeralda eased forward, making her way to the far corner where her husband kept most of his odds and oddities. If only she knew what she was about to find.
Frozen In Time
Dust blanketed every surface in the mancave, the room seemingly frozen in time. Shelves stratified the walls, holding forgotten relics and trinkets.
A mix of trepidation and anticipation fell over Esmeralda as she neared the shelves. It was about time she took on the arduous task of cleaning this place up. She’d have to do it one item at a time.
A Shrouded Truth
Among the oddities and dusty mementos, Esmeralda’s sight landed on an old painting Mark had propped against the wall.
It seemed like your run-of-the-mill thrift store piece, a serene landscape portraying a meandering river eaten by lush greenery and bathed in the soft rays of a setting sun. But its mundaneness seemed to hide a secret, a shrouded truth that would change Esmeralda’s life forever.
Dust And Darkness
Esmeralda couldn’t recall ever seeing the painting before. Nearing it, she couldn’t help but wonder why Mark had long kept it hidden in the basement instead of displaying it in the house.
It was beautiful enough to warrant its own space on the walls of their living room or bedroom. So why had her husband kept it covered in dust and darkness?
Esmeralda went down on her knees, not minding the dust that smeared onto her skirt. But as she reached for the painting, the memory of Mark’s last words flooded her mind.
On his deathbed, rendered weak by the onslaught of prostate cancer, he’d pleaded with her to take care of the painting. Under heavy medication, he’d stressed its value in a slurred sentence, asking Esmeralda not to sell it.
Of course, Esmeralda had brushed it off at the time, assuming it was because of the medication. Mark had been barely lucid that week, drifting in and out of consciousness.
He’d been making enigmatic requests, most of which didn’t make sense to Esmeralda or their five kids at his bedside. But now, curiosity compelled her to uncover the truth.
Slowly, she ran the pad of her forefinger against the painting’s frame, sighing at the amount of dust she collected. She cradled the picture in her hands, its weight and presence already eating away at her loneliness.
Determined to unravel this mystery Mark had created, Esmeralda found an appraiser who could tell her more about the painting’s worth.
Uncovering the painting’s value would reveal something about Mark that she didn’t know while also giving her purpose in this new phase of her life.
At The Appraiser’s Office
It took Esmeralda only a short time to find an appraiser willing to look at her painting. Arriving at his office, Esmeralda felt a mix of excitement and nervousness take over her being.
But not willing to let it overwhelm her, she straightened her back and presented the painting to the expert. The man studied it with a keen eye, humming to himself momentarily. Time seemed to stand still as Esmerelda waited for his assessment.
ith a disappointed look, the appraiser cleared his throat, locking eyes with Esmeralda. “Mrs. Johnson,” he started, “I’m afraid what you have here is a knockoff.
It is a near perfect replica of a remarkable piece of art, a masterpiece by Meyer Grierson, a renowned artist from the early 19th century. But that’s the extent of its magnificence.”
Are You Sure
Esmeralda’s heart broke as she heard the appraiser’s report. “Are you sure?” she asked with tears welling in her eyes. “Yes,” the appraiser said.
“The original piece is called The Solace of Serenity and is exceedingly rare. Its value… well, it is beyond what I can express.” He typed a few words into his laptop before turning it around, and Esmeralda’s heart broke at what she saw.
A Few Hundred At Best
An exact copy of the painting she’d brought to the appraiser was on the screen. But this one was displayed in an affluent gallery somewhere in Europe.
“That is the original Serenity,” the appraiser said flatly, even though he seemed to have realized how much this revelation had shaken Esmeralda. “Your painting might fetch a few hundred dollars at best,” he added. If only he knew how wrong he was.
Why Did He Lie?
Esmeralda collected the painting and returned to the house. That night she placed it next to her pillow, laying it where Mark used to lay his head.
Why would he tell her this painting was worth something when it was a just replica worth a few hundred at best. He’d probably bought it for five dollars at a flea market and wanted to play a cruel joke on her.
Yawning, Esmeralda decided to call it a day. She should have known that what she had on her hands carried a secret fit to change her life forever.
Fine. I’ll Do It Myself
Esmeralda woke up the next day still disappointed by what she’d found. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to put the painting away.
It sat on the bed where she’d left it the previous night, and each time she’d walked by her bedroom door, it would quietly call out to her.
Hoping to finally put this matter to rest, she decided to study it herself. She didn’t know much about paintings. But that was something a few YouTube tutorials could fix.
A Scavenger Hunt
With the TV playing the first tutorial she found, Esmeralda got to work. Since the appraiser had confirmed that the painting was a cheap imitation, Esmeralda had concluded that her husband might have hidden something within.
She planned to separate the work of art from its frame and examine its surroundings to the best of her ability. Although she didn’t admit it then, the premise of this scavenger hunt made her feel like Mark was in the room with her.
She started by carefully taking away the frame. But she wasn’t halfway done before something caught her interest. The painting seemed oddly thick, like none she’d ever seen.
Initially, she’d thought it was an artistic choice. She’d concluded that the painter used layers upon layers of paint and varnish to achieve the thickness. But now, it became clear that something was hiding beneath.
Carefully, Esmeralda embarked on a mission to splice in between the painting’s thick layer. She didn’t want to destroy the painting itself as she was slowly growing fond of it.
But she’d noted that the extra thickness was due to a layer of varnish the painter had plastered over the entire piece. Was this a design choice, or was it because they wanted to hide something?
Mark’s words slowly surfaced within Esmeralda’s mind. She remembered how secretive he’d been in their younger years. He used to leave home on a whim and disappear for weeks on end, only calling to assure her he was alright.
He also used to promise her he wasn’t doing wrong by her, saying she and their kids were his life. But how could Esmeralda believe him when all his specialty was secrets?
Making A Decision
As the two grew into their roles as parents, Esmeralda chose never to question him again. Despite his secrets, Mark never did anything to hurt her or the kids.
He was never in trouble with the authorities nor had bad blood with anyone who could hurt his family. He was also a great dad and husband.
But Esmeralda couldn’t deny that she’d give almost anything to know where he usually went or what he did while gone.
Cut The Layer
Eager to finally shed light on this mystery, Esmeralda cut into the varnish, surprised when the edge of a brown piece of paper met her gaze. She freed it from the painting with furrowed brows, sitting back to study it better.
“A letter,” Esmeralda whispered as she turned the paper about. Her breath hitched when she recognized Mark’s handwriting.
Esmeralda didn’t know what she’d just found. But its presence had her heart beating as she opened it. Her sight skimmed the letter’s length, blurring with every word she read. In the letter, Mark had left the sweetest words for her.
He recalled the first day he met her when she was only twenty, terming it the best day of his life. He’d just come from his first tour as a marine and was looking to settle down. But this was only the first part of the letter.
Mark talked about his life with Esmeralda, thanking her for building a life with him. She and their kids had been the only people to ever treat him like a human being.
As a parting gift, he’d left her this letter, hoping she’d find it sooner rather than later. A phone number marked the end of his words, and Esmeralda wasted no time running for her phone.
She dialed the digits and started pacing as the phone rang. She was speechless when a bank teller answered. When she introduced herself, he told her to meet him immediately.
Esmeralda took a cab to town, meeting the bank teller in a local restaurant. He told her that although he didn’t know Mark well, he’d done business with him a few times over the past decade.
“He left a safety deposit box key with your name on it,” the man whispered, urging Esmeralda to follow him to the bank.
The next hour saw the two traverse the marble floors of the local bank, where the man ushered Esmeralda to a room lined with safety deposit boxes. He pointed at one and handed her a small copper key.
Her heart thumping in her ears, Esmeralda unlocked the box. But just like with the painting, all she found was another letter. She took and read through it.
But where the last one had made a lot of sense, this one only made her brows furrow. In it were six separate bank accounts, one for Esmeralda and the other five for her children.
Each account carried millions of dollars, all originating from an individual named Mark Grierson. Esmerelda put the letter down, taking a deep breath. She could swear she’d heard that name somewhere before.
When Esmeralda married Mark, he told her he’d fallen off with his family. As with his many secrets, he’d never elaborated. But now, with this letter, everything was becoming apparent. He was the descendant of that famous 19th-century painter, Meyer Greerson, the same man the appraiser told her about.
The letter revealed that Mark had been his sole heir and had hidden his identity over the years because of how superficial people had treated him. He’d taken weeks away to auction his ancestor’s paintings, funneling the cash into the six accounts. But this was only half of his secrets.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.