Alvaro’s World

To explain this post, it’s best to understand that I write from a sense of curiosity–I write about things I want to understand. I find myself most often slinging words in an attempt to get inside something that intrigues me.

I’m currently on holiday in Maine, and today I finally toured the Olson House, where Andrew Wyeth produced over 300 of his paintings. While I knew the general outline of  Wyeth and the Olsons, moving through the rooms of the house was a slightly odd and ultimately mysterious experience. Odd because Wyeth’s paintings of the farm are so precise that one has the weird sensation of having stepped into each of their frames. Mysterious because while I came for Wyeth and–of course–Christina, I found myself increasingly intrigued by Alvaro Olson, Christina’s brother–a shy, life-long bachelor who lived with and took care of his sister.

Over the course of the tour, he began to fascinate me–always there yet unknowable. I began to wonder about his interactions with Wyeth and his relationship with Christina. And thus upon arriving back at my holiday cottage, I began to write as a way of channeling Alvaro, to walk in his shoes. I suppose I was looking for the emotional reality beneath his taciturn public face.

I have no idea if there’s more of this to come–or even what this is. I’m currently working on another book, so if the shard means to be something larger, it will need to get in line. William Gibson once described the inception of a book as  the first few  rubber bands that are at the core of rubber-band ball: difficult to initially knot, but then afterwards it becomes progressively easier to add other bands.

This feels very much like a first knotting.


She always waves when they drive by real slow, whether the door is open or not. Open door means come on in and say hi–and I always make sure that I’m not there when they take her up on it. The minute I see a car pulling over, I go out and tend to the blueberries. Sometimes, just to be safe, I move farther out and chop up some more wood. But even if the door’s closed, even when she’s not up to visitors, she still waves from the window at them.

Christina says all this attention is silly, that she doesn’t know what the fuss is over, but I know inside she’s a just little pleased. That finally the world don’t turn away, either from good manners or just feeling sorry. So I can’t begrudge her–all this is not normal, but better than she’s mostly known. Though if it were up to me, I’d string one up by his feet; hang him on a pole by the side of  road for to scare off all the others. Just like that dead gull on the post out there in the middle of the blueberries.

I tried to tell her way back before all this started, reminded her of Andy tricking me and also how his father died, like it was some kind of curse. Are you drawing me, Andy? I said. No, no–it’s just the lamp was his answer. But it wasn’t just the lamp. And that was the last time he ever got me. After that I made real sure I wasn’t in any other pictures. Andy’s nice but also stubborn and you always have to watch that. You’d think that would be a lesson for her, but she could never say no to him.

He put her in the dress that she had made for that wedding years ago. When I first saw what he’d done, I stopped being mad because she always looked beautiful in it. I think it was his way of saying to the world that she was special, and in the end the world agreed. That’s the part I didn’t expect. That he really did make her something special for nearly everybody.

I’d listen to him pacing in the room upstairs. When he stopped, I’d know he was painting. And some of all that back and forth must have been about what her dress was going to look like. I still don’t know when he decided, but he had to have asked Christina for it and she had to have given it to him. So in the end I guess she must have liked the idea. But this much I do know–that everybody everywhere thought her pink dress was great.

It’s the brightest color in the whole thing, Andy said. It’s the color of a shell, he said. And after that I could never think about it in any other way . . .


Christina's World