The Artistic Adulterer
Doctor Toby Goodfellow, a leading citizen of Dullsville, a sleepy, little town on the coast north of San Francisco, fancied himself as a fine amateur artist, and spent many weekends painting seascapes, landscapes, weather beaten old barns and architecturally interesting structures in roadside country villages. His portfolio was expansive, a display of the most scenic views throughout the North Coast counties. He always stayed in a resort or motel with a beautiful view, and often rented two rooms, one of which was reserved for his easel, paper, canvas, brushes, oils, water colors and acrylics. In that room he painted undisturbed, often for hours on end, leaving his companion to entertain herself. Often he painted three, four, even five or six paintings over the weekend, but he never failed to paint the view as seen from the veranda of his motel or resort room, his weekend studio. He hung his paintings in the waiting room of his office, in the treatment rooms, even in the bathrooms. It made his day whenever one of his patients remarked, “Oh, Doctor, I just love your paintings. It’s like I’ve seen some of those places myself!”
One Monday during the annual physical examination of a patient, who was in fact not only a patient but also the doctor’s good friend in whom he often confided, declared how much he liked a seascape that was hanging in the examination room. Goodfellow, who loved to talk about his art, smilingly confided that the seascape, just completed the previous weekend, was “…painted yesterday, during a weekend tryst with my sweetie.” The friend, a bit of a libertine, received this declaration with a sly wink at Goodfellow, assuming of course that the sweetie was a mistress. The friend could not wait to tell his best friend that Goodfellow had a mistress who was the inspiration for his artistic creations. That friend in turn confided in yet another friend and before the paint was dry on the seascape, word had spread far and wide as the townsfolk put their heads together and shared the tantalizing piece of gossip that Dr. Goodfellow has a mistress who accompanies him on his painting excursions. In cafes, barbershops, beauty salons, supermarkets and even during coffee hour in church fellowship halls everybody was sharing their speculations as to just who was the mysterious mistress.
The collection of paintings grew--more landscapes, seascapes, even moonscapes, each of which he hastily commenced and completed during a weekend of painting, interrupted only when he turned from his canvas to the bedsheets, where his Sweetie lay patiently awaiting his creative attention. Notwithstanding the haste with which he applied his brushstrokes, the paintings were pleasing, and Sweetie was pleased as well.
Overnight Goodfellow's business boomed. Titillated by the rumor that the paintings were memorabilia of the doctor's dalliances with his paramour, patients, new and old, lined up to see the doctor on the slightest suggestion of pain or irregularity, ailments that more often than not were artfully invented. The doctor’s waiting room overflowed with men and women suffering a common ailment, dying of curiosity. They studied the paintings, took smart phone photos, and chatted amongst themselves, comparing theories on just where such and such a painting had been rendered and what nearby resort or motel had been Goodfellow’s love nest.
Doc-teling became a county-wide favorite weekend activity for husbands and wives, lovers and friends, even groups of high school kids, all looking for the scenes of the paintings and the motels where Goodfellow had conducted his artistic and amorous activities. Armed with their digital cameras on which they had recorded images of the paintings in the doctor’s waiting room, they traveled hither and there throughout the county on their titillating treasure hunts. Those couples who were successful, or at least who had convinced themselves that they had found a locale of an affair stood, their arms encircling each other, quietly enjoying the discovery of the very spot the doctor must have painted such and such a picture. Filled with voyeuristic excitement, lusty emotion and even some measure of true affection, they renewed their love at the nearest motel, certain that it had been a site of one of Goodfellow's dalliances.
Business boomed in the motels, whose owners marveled at how many couples actually seemed to be married. Showers were planned for middle-aged women, some of whom were grandmothers, who unexpectedly learned that they were expecting. Balding, middle-aged fathers of grown children walked about town, a bounce in their step, back straight, chest out, rejuvenated and energized by many doc-teling weekends. They beamed with pride and handed out celebratory cigars as they bragged about still having what it takes, even at their age, each swearing that they had not needed the little blue pill. Indeed, the only prescription needed was a dose, once weekly, of doc-teling.
Not everyone was pleased by this turn of events. Marriage counselors and divorce attorneys suffered a disastrous drop in business. On the other hand, business at the cafes, taverns, beauty parlors, barber shops surged as townspeople gathered to boast about how many of doc-teling sites they had discovered. A friendly competition developed as to who could find the most doc-tel motels. The entry fee was $25, deposited in escrow at the local title company and to be awarded to the winner. When disputes arose, they were settled by a committee composed of the mayor, the police chief and the fire chief, who visited the alleged scenes to make a final and binding determination by comparing photographs of Goodfellow’s paintings to the scenic view claimed to be the subject of the painting in question. The town clerk eagerly assumed the task of keeping a tally. The town leaders decided that it was only fair that there be three prizes, $500 for first prize, $300 for second, and $100 for third. To encourage participation, the town fathers set aside funds to reimburse participants for their costs of participating in the contest—dining out, expensive motel and resort accommodations and pills for E.D. The town fathers, all in their 50’s and 60’s and all participating, wisely determined that winning participants would not have to itemize their expenses.
The community was reaping such enjoyment from the doctor's affair that no one breathed a word of what was going on to Goodfellow’s wife, Innocence. Innocence’s best friends, fellow members of the sewing circle and the Women’s Aid Society, inwardly sympathetic with Innocence’s plight were tempted to expose the doctor's infidelity but dared not. They did their utmost to keep the secret, to protect the new life injected into their lives that would be destroyed if Innocence were to discover Goodfellow’s infidelity. There was a silent conspiracy: do everything possible to prevent a return to the dreary, boring life of the “old” Dullsville.
Dullsville loved its Renaissance. The newfound vitality of the town cried out for a more fitting town name. The town council passed an ordinance changing the town’s name to Loversville!-- complete with the exclamation point. No longer was the town Dullsville or dull.
But then Goodfellow’s daughter Prudence returned home from college. One evening her boyfriend proposed that she go doc-teling with him. She insisted that he explain what that meant. He hemmed and hawed, torn between being forthright and honest with Prudence and threatening the town’s rebirth by disclosing Goodfellow’s infidelities. The boyfriend’s stammering evasion of her demands just ignited her curiosity and planted the suspicion that perhaps the “doc” in doc-teling could somehow relate to her father. After all, he was the only doctor in town. She hammered on her boyfriend until he finally relented. He poured forth the story of Goodfellow’s role in Dullsville’s revitalization. As he spoke he feared that no good would come from the revelation. He was so right.
Prudence was outraged. She vowed to seek vengeance on behalf of her mother. Her first impulse was to find her father's shotgun and pepper his derriere and that of his mistress with buckshot. She discarded that solution. It was too simple. She needed a plan that befitted a Phi Beta Kappa. She decided not to tell her mother. Learning that her husband was a chronic philanderer would break her heart. But it must be possible, Prudence thought, to put an end to his affair without devastating her mother and precipitating a divorce. She did not want to do anything that would disclose her father's infidelities to her mother, but she was determined not to let him off the hook unscathed. She spent many sleepless nights considering and rejecting plan after plan, some too harsh, others to lenient, but none just right. The solution came to her in the middle of the night. She threw back the covers, got out of bed, found paper and pen and scribbled some notes, the outline of a plan that she smugly believed would put an end to her father's artistic dabbling without collateral damage.
During one on Goodfellow's weekend trips Prudence spent the better part of a day in removing the paintings from his office and hanging them in the Fellowship Hall of the First Evangelical Church, where Goodfellow served as a deacon, at least on those Sundays that he was not worshiping at another altar. She telephoned all of her father's business and social acquaintances, including the mayor, police chief, fire chief as well as his patients, urging them to drop everything and come to the church to help her "to do the only proper thing that a daughter could do to honor such a talented father, to provide him with public recognition for his artistic accomplishments." Everyone agreed to attend. Word of the event spread throughout the community by twitter and text. Fellowship Hall was filled to capacity an hour before the event was scheduled to begin.
Upon Goodfellow’s return from his weekend of paint…and paramour so far as Prudence suspected, Prudence propelled him, confused and questioning, his latest canvas in hand, into the church. Confronted with the collection of his paintings and two hundred of his friends and patients, he turned to Prudence demanding, “What in the world is going on?” Her response was lost in the applause, cheering and lengthy standing ovation of the excited crowd. To this cheering crowd of aging couples, nearly all of whom were doc-telers, Goodfellow was a hero. After all, he had prescribed, albeit unknowingly, the medicine that had rescued them from their dull and monotonous lives and marriages.
Prudence grabbed his hand and pulled him to the stage. He angrily demanded, “What in God’s name is this all about?” Her response was a silent sinister smirk. Goodfellow’s expression passed from anger to confusion and then to pride as he realized that the crowd, still standing and cheering, was present to recognize his artistic achievements. He smiled at Prudence. She did not return his smile; she smirked again, turned away and approached the podium. When the applause quieted, Prudence began her speech.
"Friends, in this age of lost values in art and life, it is indeed marvelous to discover a man such as my father whose art reflects none of the cheap adulteration," --at which point she paused, focusing a cold stare upon her father, and then continued. "No, none of the cheap adulteration so common in life today. As you study his paintings, appreciate the purity of his palette, the strength and deliberation of his sensual brush strokes, the unsullied beauty of his paintings. In a few minutes you will be able to take time to study and appreciate his work. Take pleasure in viewing these paintings which have brought pleasure to others whom we may never meet, admirers known only to the artist."
Prudence turned to her father. "Dear father, please share your thoughts with us.” Goodfellow, although beaming with pride and completely loving his five minutes of fame, at heart was an unselfish man and knew that this moment must be shared. "Dear friends, these paintings, collected here for you by my loving daughter would not exist but for the inspiration of my sweetie, who on many of our weekend outings, waited alone patiently and unselfishly for long hours as I painted." He looked out at the crowd and spotted his sweetie. Stepping to the edge of the stage, he extended his hand and said, “Sweetie, please join me here on the stage.”
A deadly hush fell over the crowd. Yet in that silence the unspoken outrage, incredulity and for some, amusement, was deafening. Dr. Goodfellow was about to reveal his lover in public! How incredible! How unbelievable! How shameful! It was one thing voyeuristicly to enjoy Goodfellow’s doc-tels and to paint their own canvases, so to speak, but quite another to be confronted in public with the very characters of their fantasies. Whatever outrage, embarrassment or disbelief they harbored, not one person stormed out in anger. Indeed, everyone looked around. Some even stood so as to survey the entire room, searching for an unfamiliar face, searching for this shameful hussy Sweetie.
Goodfellow extended his hand to a woman in the front row. Innocence rose and joined him on the stage.
Overnight, the town reverted to its sleepy, boring self. The ordinance changing the town's name was repealed. Loversville became just a fond memory, a legend, a fond reminiscence – but it did leave a lively heritage, a constant reminder of those happy days: nearly two dozen toddlers whose parents are often mistaken as their grandparents.
©Kerry Gough 2016