His whole life had been a sketch up until now. As he considered his visage in his bathroom mirror he traced the lines of his past in his face. Everything he had known had been a rudimentary pencil drawing—his birth, childhood, growth, experiences, heartaches, his art. All of it. It was all foolishness. Poppycock. A poor man’s dream of meaning. What had he lived for? Here it was. Now. Right in front of him. Behrman’s tears cut ages out of his cheeks, slit mediocrity from his pores, and a few drops that fell upon the old man’s lips tasted at once of a life-in-progress and a masterpiece. It was all the old man could do to stop from exploding right there on his linoleum. His heart was the entire world. The beat beat beating of his genius rang in his ears, eyes, throat, lungs. Behrman, 65 and alone could feel the weight of the universe on his shoulders and he welcomed it with a smile and a cry. “This is what I was born for,” he said to his reflection, and his reflection understood.
It was … too beautiful. It was … too perfect. He hoped to God he could pull it off.
When the end of his last day came, he did not know it as such. But Behrman did watch the sun disappear, as he did most nights, from the old, stone wall in front of his building. It wasn’t the best view of mother nature’s brilliance the world had to offer, but it was his and he had always held a deep, quiet, respect for that. When the sky turned from that bright, pristine white to that passionate fire-orange he gasped, every time. And then, faster than a brush stroke, all light faded away and Behrman was immersed in nighttime. There on his stone wall, the old artist sat, twilight after twilight, wondering how he would better the world, grasping at impossible ideas, coming up empty every single time. The most terrible thing in the world is for a creative soul to sit stagnantly waiting… waiting for his purpose to show itself. Being imprisoned behind a wall of doubt, shadows, and decadence has been treacherous for him. But tonight… on this night, everything would change.
The first star appeared and Behrman made his wish. The cold wind frazzled his gray beard and a chill ran up and down his spine. The old artist pulled his scarf tight around his neck. Tighter. Tighter still. The plaid wool choked him ever so slightly and he welcomed it. The tighter he pulled, the more he felt his life loosening away. The more he felt his life loosening away, the more he understood.
“Ah,” he said to the moon. “Tonight iz, I think, a good night for art.”
From above him, several trees shook their branches and dropped a thousand leaves at his feet. This was the end of autumn. This was the end of Behrman. He scooted his wiry, old self off of the wall and looked up. There was still a light on in Sue and Johnsy’s apartment. The old artist removed his pocket watch. It was not quite midnight.
Behrman’s bones ached. But then, Behrman’s bones had always ached. There had never been a moment the old man had lived where his creative soul had not tried desperately to appease his aching bones. And now he believed he had had it. Now, Behrman believed, was his time.
Across from Sue and Johnsy’s lit window, there was a wall.
Climbing up this wall, there was an ivy vine.
On this ivy vine, there were once leaves.
Just before the sun set on this autumn evening, the last ivy leaf had fallen.
Behrman’s ladder he propped against this wall.
Behrman’s ladder he climbed.
And as he painted, this dear man suffered.
And as he suffered, this dear man painted.
Art could care less who makes it.
Life is the ultimate masterpiece.
For O. Henry.