Contest #10 winner 🏆

To Suffer For One's Art

Submitted by Andrew Grell to Contest #10 in response to: Write a story about a character who is trying to create art but is constantly interrupted.... view prompt

“Buy a girl a drink, Picasso?” Lucille was two-stepping on the line between being annoying and being flirtatious. Neither was effective.

“I’m working.” John Jaspers was desperately attempting to maintain focus on the new style.

“You know, Dali, if a man loved a woman, you’d think he’d fix her a drink, wouldn’t you?”

“My hands are covered in cadmium red. There’s a bottle of Jameson’s on the breakfront between the bicycle helmet and the bobble-head dog. Glasses are in the kitchen, there’s a bottle of seltzer in the ice box.” Lucille walked over to the stunning Baker Mahogany furniture and fixed them each a drink, then headed back to the border between the living and working halves of the tiny, but with a soft northern exposure, Lower East Side walk-up apartment. She looked right, then left, then proceeded three steps into the studio to give Jasper his drink.

“Just put it down on the canvass stretcher. I’ll probably use it later to clean brushes.  And how did you get in here, anyway?”

“You never lock your door, Vermeer. And if you did, you gave my brother the key, remember?” 

“He keeps his coke stash here.”

“So, what is it you’re working on?”

“New style. Maybe a breakthrough.”

“Tell me about it, Banksy. If a man loved a woman, and he wasn’t a spy or a criminal mastermind, don’t you think he’d tell the woman what he was working on?”

“That would depend on her capacity to understand what he was doing, if he was doing something new. A breakthrough.”

“I’ve got patients; I’m going to the office.”

“Keep the bug-outs off your bumper and the psychos off your tail.”

“Probably drop in later tonight. They look like roses, by the way.”

“Guhzornplecht. A new style.”

“Do you think we’ll ever get married, Klee?” Failing to get an answer, Dr. Van Fuhr depressed the latch button in the artist’s door in case any of her patients were roaming the neighborhood. She walked down the original tenement steps, one creek at a time, and transited Tomkins Square Park to her office apartment.

The first patient, a new intake, the IT guy for some luckless office, presented with terminal shyness. I can have a new style too. I can have a breakthrough. Psychology is more art than science.  He put his bicycle helmet on the table between the doctor’s chair and the patient’s chaise lounge.  Resistance already. Lucille went through the usual intake steps, family history, relationship history, steps previously taken to resolve the problem. Then she threw twenty years of school, training, and practice out the window; they landed in the small-dog section of the Tompkins dog run.

“What kind of bicycle do you ride?”

“Oh, it’s just a beater, an old Royce Union. From the church flea market.”

“Mmm Hmmm. Okay. From now on, you’re riding a Brompton. Do some 50-mile rides on the weekends—take the GW to Jersey and ride to Piermont. Make sure you get the ice cream. Cone, not cup. Get yourself a Breitling watch. Go to Handsome Made Simple on Avenue B and tell them you want a business cut. Your new look is a light blue laundered shirt, black knit square-bottom tie, tweed jacket, and dark trousers. Download lists of jokes by topic from the net. Rehearse them. When you drink from a glass, do it like James Dean. Read the Times and the Post both. Play pool once a week at the same place. Or quoits. Volunteer for something. People will be itching to talk to you. No charge for today’s session, just let me know how it worked out.”

The next two patients were mother this, father that and boss the other thing. There wasn’t a treatment Lucille could do for either of them other than the palliative that they could both believe they were doing something to help themselves. After the sessions, the shrink stopped at Pop’s for a dozen beignets and at the Arepa Factory for a dinner assortment.  She managed to make it back up to John’s place without the greasy Belgian pastries dissolving the paper bag.

“I’m not hungry. I’m working.”

“More roses, Andy?”

“The roses are a vehicle. I’m not painting roses. I’m using the roses to make Guhzornplecht.”

“If a man loved a woman, Keith, don’t you think he would explain things to her?”

“Look at the thorns and petals. Tell me what you see.”

Lucille took a good five or six minutes to pour over two canvases.

“I’m seeing petals and thorns. One painting has a house behind the roses. One has a tombstone. I can’t quite make out the name.”

“Bezalel, the first named artist in history. Just petals and thorns? Maybe it isn’t soup yet.”

“If a man loves a woman, Rembrandt, don’t you think he should ask her to marry him?”

“When I studied field ecology in the Negev Desert, the old guide, probably still there from when Allenby crossed the Jordan, said that a man needs a good horse, a good dog, and two women. Where do you see yourself in that?”

“I’m still seeing just petals and roses in that picture, too, Gustav. Have an Arepa.” Progress. His average word count per answer to my questions is pushing ten.

Staring at canvases is harder work than painting them, hungry work, too, due to lack of gratification in other areas.

“I’m going to wash up. Make yourself at home, as you always do.” How is somebody supposed to get anything accomplished with all these interruptions? It could take twenty minutes or more for a painter to clean up enough to be presentable at a table, even if the table were plywood on two sawhorses. Lucille went over to the, what did he call it, Guhzornplecht paintings. And then she thought she saw something.

“Hey, Grandma Moses! I’m laying out the food.” The psychologist fished a string of pearls out of her handbag and put them on. John had flipped over the English Garden Club topless calendar with the women wearing, from the waist up, just their customary pearls; John thought it was top-rank art. No harm in a reminder... “We each get half a Del Campo, half a Pabelon and three minis. Flan is in the fridge.”

John made his grand reappearance. “Smells good. I certainly can’t be inhospitable with a spread like that. Let me see if I have a bottle of Night Train or Thunderbird lying around. Here’s something.” The painter was waving a bottle of Manischewitz wine.

“I remember that, Monet, what was it, four years ago? ‘Hipster Seder,’ that was it. I think you paid me five dollars as a model filling out the table. Pop it, let’s see what shape it’s in.”

The wine was in fairly good condition; it wouldn’t dissolve the linings of anyone's digestive organs, but neither did it marry the corn cakes. There was a knock on the door in a coded rhythm, Torvalds’s knock. Lucille got up and opened the door for her brother.

“That tie does not go with that shirt, or with the suit. And when are you ever going to get rid of that thing? Jesus, Tor, you’re in your 30s.”

The psychologist’s brother kept a terry face cloth, folded in a pocket-square, in the breast pocket of his suit. Where a real pocket square would go.  He started feeling it up about 30 seconds after his sister started talking.

“Nice to see you too, Lucille. You picked a fine time to leave me.” His customary greeting. “Johnny, I need one, can you fix me up?”

“Absolutely. Are you sure you want it?”

“Look, I need it, man.”

Another interruption. “But when you’re good, I’ll need you to do something for me. This may take a while.”

The artist had to dig through some of the studio debris to get to the stash and pulled one out for his old friend. A bottle of kosher for Passover Coca Cola. Only sugar, no high-fructose corn syrup. Very hard to get. Tor showed his sister and his friend that he had the proper diabetes stuff on hand, and John tossed him the forbidden treat.

“There’s ice in the icebox, where else would it be. Let me know when you’re ready to work. You and your sister both.”

John did some detailing and correcting on two paintings in the series while waiting for his friend to get straight. Lucille was lying on a yoga mat in the living half of the apartment but with her head encroaching into the working half by a few inches, leaning it against an easel support. Finally, it was time to get down to business.

“Lucille, can you get your brother up to speed? Thanks.”

“Your friend here, Tor, is trying to invent a new style. He says it could be a breakthrough. He calls it ‘Guhzornplecht.’ He’s painting roses, but they’re just a vehicle. We’re supposed to look at the thorns and petals and see something. I almost saw something earlier today, but I wasn’t sure. Take a look. Tell him what you see.”

“I’m seeing roses with petals and thorns and a bridge. This one is roses, petals, and thorns with a school bus. Wait a minute.” Tor was gripping the face cloth. “Am I being subliminally seduced?” Torvald put his face right up to the canvas. “There are little tiny pictures in the petals and thorns. The thorns have little spears, the petals have tiny shields. I was being subliminally seduced. Pretty good, John. Have yourself a cigar. Talk about impressionism. You could be weaponizing art.”

“A breakthrough, Kadinsky. You’re stepping up in class.” Now everyone is going to want himRubicon ¾ mile left exit. Penny. Pound. Geronimo. Lucille went back to the yoga mat in the DMZ and resumed encroaching, head looking upside down at the paintings.

 “What would happen, Henri, if you made the Nano-details a hair more visible,” the shrink wondered aloud, twirling her fingers through her very fine, very red hair, “And I mean hair,” 

A non-psychologist would not have been able to survive the wither and burn of the painter’s countenance. Lucille knew it was a reaction formation, or one of those buzz words from school she had forgotten. Her neighbor and erstwhile friend was jealous that she got the idea. He’ll hate me forever.

International Chrome. The school bus color.” He kissed his pest neighbor, despite the years of torture, and shook hands with her brother. “Guardians of a new, clear, dawn, let the Google Maps of Galleries be drawn.”

The next day was busy for Lucille. A court-ordered assessment, a group therapy session, and the crying man. He needed extra time, so she always booked him last. The mid-level executive was completely functional, to the extent anyone is completely functional. Married with two tween children, he was a solid citizen who for some reason needed to cry for an hour in a shrink’s office once a week. And take time away from trying to figure out John. That’s it. Time Away.

Dr. Van Fuhr called for an “exercise” to replace the traditional group session. She asked all seven patients, one at a time, to put a business card into a bowl. She then led a discussion of how each person approached the task and what it all meant. It was a distraction; she just needed a physical specimen of Dwayne’s card. He was one of the dozen gallery owners in the neighborhood. 

She gave the Polymnia ArtSpace owner’s card to Torvald along with instructions, canceled next week’s appointments and went to visit her mother in Quogue for a few days.

Saturday: Sis, he’s painting like a bastard.

Sunday: John’s figured out the right proportion of school bus yellow. Now a viewer can see there’s something there and be drawn in.

Monday: Three pictures ready to show around.

Wednesday: He’s back from 57th Street. No joy. And he hasn’t showered recently. Or eaten.

Wednesday: OK, Tor. Give him the card.

Lucille had never addressed a press conference. On a whim, she decided to do it from a yoga mat on the floor with her head leaning on an easel support. She had really lucked out. Polymnia turned out to be a “feeder gallery” for a Spring Street operation. The gallery was packed; free champagne and French macarons probably helped.

“Ms. Van Fuhr, what exactly is ‘Guhzornplecht’?” Was shouted out by three fourth-estaters.

“I can’t give a full disclosure. What I can tell you is that it’s sourced and slightly modified from a very popular comic magazine from many years ago, one which never took advertising money.”

The fourth question was tough. “What is your relationship to Mr. Jaspers?”

Lucille valiantly avoided fumfering. “If a man loves a woman, Tin Tin, he’d ask her to marry him, don’t you think?”

John took a painting off the back wall and placed it on the easel over Lucille’s head. He invited everyone to take a look. The thorns had fingers with polished nails, and the petals had jeweled rings.

“This is the one painting that is not for sale.”

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24 likes 17 comments

08:34 Oct 18, 2019

Super stylish! I really loved the repetition of "If a man loved a woman..." I also enjoyed all of the nods to the many different artists; nicely done. The instructions for the shy IT guy were also perfect. "When you drink from a glass, do it like James Dean." Such a simple sentence, but I thought it was fantastic - really painted a picture in my mind. Amazing writing. Really brilliant!

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19:24 Oct 29, 2019

Glad you liked it. I have a Brompton, BTW...

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02:01 Oct 18, 2019

Teach me your tricks? I feel so beginner-level when I read this. I think it is absolutely amazing.

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00:33 Oct 29, 2019

Can you teach me also? I might need some help.

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19:30 Oct 29, 2019

Tricks? I follow my wife's advice, she's the one with the MFA. Don't repeat a word close to where you used it before, pick a different way of saying it. Never go negative. Pretty skimpy advice, but it's what I've got!

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18:16 Oct 17, 2019

Did anyone get the Torvald reference, or was it too obscure to non-geeks?

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15:38 Oct 18, 2019

I got it now after you asked. Hehe. I googled all the name references. :)

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17:35 Oct 18, 2019

I googled it, and I'm not sure which Torvald is being referenced.

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19:31 Oct 29, 2019

Linus Torvald is famous for putting out Linux. Linus Van Pelt is Lucy's brother in Peanuts.

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17:36 Oct 17, 2019

Entertaining read with enough imagery to walk through it in my vision. Well done

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18:17 Oct 17, 2019

Hi! Thanks!

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17:10 Oct 17, 2019

Pretty cool. I like it. I pictured Lucille so vividly, I wanted to draw her out of your story.

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13:40 Oct 17, 2019

I love this!

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23:25 Oct 18, 2019

Wow! The theme and tone is great. The dialogue really sets a nice pace in the story. I like where it picks up, starting directly off with a motif. It sets the tone of Lucille, flirty, a little annoying, but supportive. So, is Lucille really his inner voice talking? Something like, “It’s good, but is it great? If it were great, it would have this.” I really like it. Great stuff!

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22:20 Oct 18, 2019

This is really good! Is the last painting at the end is him proposing to her?

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17:27 Oct 18, 2019

I was taught 'O.K.' was not spelled phonetically.

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19:35 Oct 29, 2019

I think that depends if your a prescriptive or a descriptive lexicographer ;)

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