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Short stories

REACHING JACKSON

     The Journey Perilous, right?   When you start out, you never know where you’ll end up.   This blank canvas, it’s terra incognita. You make your tracks, then begin to follow them.   It’s risky.   You’re creating from nothing.

     What you’re aiming for, always, is the Ultimate Picture – the one that releases you from life, that’ll live in place of you.   Destination Nirvana, right?

     Help me tack it down, okay?

     Aristotle said a work of art purges the spectator.   Fact, it’s the artist who’s purged, if it’s successful.   The painting takes over, starts to come of itself.   It’s like the perfect shit.

     I’ll lay in some white first.   Let it pool in there.   Reminds me of whitewash on sacking.   As a kid, every spring, whitewash the barn.   Used to cut head and armholes in sacks for smocks, then just slosh it on.   Know the Catskills in spring?   Wouldn’t want to go back, though.   Your camera loaded?

     How about a little antinomy here?   Splash in some black before the white dries.   Funny, you think, black is the darkest colour, fact it’s the lightest, in weight.   And white – it’s pure, pure light, but most whites are lead, pure poison.   It’s these little quirks that make life, don’t you think?

     Click away but no flash, okay?   The black’s bleeding into the white, like marbling.      We used to go to Utica once a month, for Pa to do his business, while Mom took us  for our treat, for working hard.   In summer we’d go to this Italian ice-cream parlour.   They had real marble-top tables, real Italian ice-cream, real Italian flies.   Ice-cream came in tall glasses with long spoons.  We smuggled one of the glasses out once, presented it to Pa on his birthday, for highballs.   He didn’t like us going there really, said  he could get a bushel of feed for the cost of the ice-cream.

     So let’s have some ice-cream colours in this, just for Pa.   Have to mix them off the canvas, get the exact shades.   Pistachio.  Scoop of strawberry.

     A sleepy life and a painless death.  Not such a bad thing, I sometimes think.   Mom  must have missed him, I guess, but she didn’t show it.   We kids just thought in terms of whinge-free treats, but of course, there were fewer of them, what with the hired hand, then the Depression.

     We got to the ocean though.   Mom took us to Portsmouth.   I was around age nine,  I guess.   That first glimpse of it – the colour, sparkle.    Ultramarine.   Straight from the can.

     Let’s make a few waves.   Feather in some white, monastral green. 

     Beginning to look like the sea in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

     I fell for Janine because of that.   She had that long, corn-brown hair.   She modelled for us, at the Art Students League.   Probably why they took her on.   I didn’t think I stood a chance.

     I said to her, If I blow in your ear, would you come out with me?   That was a Botticelli Birth of Venus joke.   She didn’t get it either, but it broke the ice.

     Yellow ochre.        Dribble in some raw sienna.

     Don’t look right, somehow.   You got a comb?

     What the hell, I’ll leave the teeth in.

     Darker now, almost umber, but she’s still a good-looking woman.

     Pass the brush, the six-inch, would you?

     Band of cobalt.   Another, mirror it.  Splatter in some lemon.  Cadmium red.

     Our first date, League party.   They’d hired a night boat up the Hudson.   Jazz.   Lights pepping up the river.

     Lights went out, one by one, the shit-head had unscrewed the bulbs, completely dark, lamp black, he’s top of the railing, yelling, I’m gonna jump, I’m gonna jump.  I shoulda shouted, Jump, then.   Asshole.

     She asked me who it was, casual like, but I could tell she was intrigued.  Worked out okay, though, with the dark, the commotion, I kissed her, got my fingers into her hair at last, she didn’t pull away, I knew it was going to be okay.

     Dated steady after that.

     Chrome oxide, mix in a little Prussian blue.

     She had a dress that colour.   Used to slip it over her head after modelling, run out  to me, shoes in her hand.   Felt proud.   There were better painters there than me, better lookers too.   I was plenty ambitious, but at that stage, you’re unfocussed, know what I mean?

     Texture’s not right.  Pass me a sponge, would you?

     Trail in a little cerulean blue.  Let’s see how it’s doing.

     Bit too pretty, needs beefing up.  How ’bout a few big swirls of vermilion?

     Blood red.   Sonofabitch.

     We were at this party, Artists Union.  Janine’s sitting on the sofa, he comes up from behind, leans over, says to her, You’re in a period, right?   I can tell these things, I like a woman when she bleeds.   Motherfuckn shit-head.  Janine’s just rigid, sorta mesmerised.   I started taking a swing, but coupla guys pulled him away, out the door.   Next thing, he’s sickin up on the sidewalk.

     We left early.   I apologized, I felt kinda responsible, fellow-artist sorta thing.   She just said, He is rather primitive, isn’t he?   I got to feeling she’d enjoyed it. I said, Okay, let’s see you bleed both ends, smacked her in the mouth.   Only time in my life I ever hit a woman.

     This is still too fuckn tame.   Look, take these wire-cutters, get me a length of barbed wire from the fence, would you do that?

     I’ll coil it round the red, fence it in.

     Used to go on picnics when we were first married.   Only eating out we could afford, apart from gallery openings.   She would lie there in the grass, I’d fan out her hair, plait it into the grass.   She’d get up like Gulliver, pulling the grass with her, go home with it still tangled.

     Why don’t I try that?   Hooker’s green, lighten it a little, trickle it into the ochre.

Through the comb.   Let it thicken out into roots, fronds.

     Potted fuckn palms.

     Two months later, gallery opening.   Went by myself, just in case.   He looked straight through me, didn’t seem to recognise me.   He was with a crowd, they were laughing, he was quiet.   He walks to the corner of the gallery, unbuttons, pisses into the potted palm.   Then he half turns, looks straight at me as he buttons his fly, sorta smirk on  his face.   I wanted to strangle him. 

     Pass me the spray-gun.   Can of black Duco.

     Obliterate the green and ochre.

     That look like a torso to you?

     God, I’m going figurative again.   Thought I was through with that.

     He used to curse Picasso.   Everything he turned to, Picasso had been there first.   Then he sorta broke through, found his own field.

     Now we feel the same about him.   Where do you go after Abstraction?   Have to keep pushing against the fence, moving that much further out, get out from the shadow.

Journey Perilous.

     Sometimes I feel I’m almost there.

     Life is how it is.   Ever feel like crying because of that?  The endless shimmering potentialities have settled into this particular pattern?   And it’s this absurdly particular shimmer you’re after.

     What the hell, let’s give it a head.

     Go the whole hog, stick on some buttons. Would you mind?  Mine’s a zip.

     This is beginning to have possibilities.  This could just be it.   If I balance the red  and black with a mass of white, impasto –

     Into the void.

     Ever read the coroner’s report?   Oldsmobile was doing seventy.  He was catapulted out.   Flew fifty feet, ten feet from the ground, straight into the tree, CKLOOLP.  Christ.   Straight through the sound-barrier, right?

     Must’ve looked like one of Chagall’s flying figures.

     Know the Falling Angel?   Man up in the top left, sailing through the air.   I keep  thinking of that.

     This is beginning to come together, you know?  I think I’m nearly there, I think I’m reaching it.   Just needs –

     Cut me another piece of barbed wire, okay?

     I’ll just coil it, pin it –

     That look like a halo to you?                   

David Rose

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