My Masterpiece- By Michael Saunders

          Stepping back from the canvas before me, I stared at my latest masterpiece, admiring it as I do after finishing all my paintings. “It’s done.” This latest piece had taken me months to complete; blood, sweat and tears poured into making it perfection. “A Star- Having Lived- Ever Yearning” read in small letters at the base of the canvas, scribbled onto a thin piece of tape. Looking around me, I once more took in my atmosphere. Light was finally beginning to creep through the old paper blinds that covered the two large windows in my studio- “It’s morning already?” As the morning glow crept into the room, I watched as the sunlight began dancing with dust particles in the air, creating a concert meant only for my eyes, and mine alone. As the duet waltzed through the air, I watched as my other paintings finally came to life as well, welcoming the morning sun; able to tell their stories in full display once more. Yawning, I stretched my arms high into the air, and headed over to the counter- I needed coffee. As I began brewing a pot for myself, I reached my hand into the fridge, in search of eggs. Moving around a couple items wrapped in plastic- leftovers that should probably be tossed at this point- I finally found the eggs. 

          Pulling the carton out, my stomach now begging for food, I brought a nearby pan onto the stove, cranking up the heat as I dropped a small dollop of butter onto the skillet. I watched as the flame from the gas stove licked the bottom of the pan, the butter humming from the heat as it melted and turned a beautiful golden yellow. Cracking three eggs into the pan, I covered my soon to be breakfast, allowing the eggs to cook quietly as I popped two pieces of toast in the toaster. Working fast, I grabbed a plate, poured myself a cup of coffee- just a touch of heavy cream and sugar of course- and listened as my eggs hissed inside their steamy prison, finally lifting off the lid to reveal three beautifully cooked, sunny-side up eggs. Sliding them onto my plate, I fetched my freshly toasted bread from the toaster, buttered them up, and sat down to enjoy a much needed meal. Methodically, I sliced open the eggs, watching as they poured themselves out onto my plate. Taking my first bite, I realized that I hadn’t actually eaten anything since noon yesterday- I was too focused on this piece. Once I begin a new project, I feel it calling out to me, mercilessly, until I finish it. When I’m unable to take the voice any longer, I just stay up painting until the whaling quiets momentarily or I pass out from exhaustion. After enjoying a much needed meal, I felt my body begin to give way, leading me as if I were a zombie, towards my bed. Collapsing into my foamed mattress, my body completely gave out, my eyelids fluttering closed almost immediately; The voice was quiet at last.

          I slept softly at first, but then I began hearing the noise again. Was it the voice? No, it couldn’t be; the painting was complete! The wailing should have ceased, like always. But it continued on and on, not stopping. My eyes shot open, darting around the room, before glancing  right next to my bed. I saw my phone flashing- 27 missed calls. *Sigh* Getting a bearing of my surroundings, I sat up, just now beginning to feel my jeans constricting me as though I were its next meal. Glancing down, I stared  at my stained shirt- once a pristine white, now drenched in different colors. Placing my feet firmly on the warm floor, the sun now high in the sky, painting my studio in a bright glow, showing off the variety of paintings I had situated throughout my apartment, I stood up- I needed a shower. Turning the knob in my tub, I stared at myself in the mirror, the room slowly filling up with steam until my reflection had completely vanished. Stepping into the shower, the warmth from the water soothing my soul, I watched as all the colors washed from my skin, flowing ever gently into the drain. I heard my phone continuing to ring from the other room, but opted instead to enjoy a much needed shower, cleansing me of all the dirt and grime, before finally stepping out, drying off. With a towel now firmly wrapped around my waist, I walked back to my phone, grabbing it as it rang once more, the wailing never stopping, until I at last silenced it.

          “Hello?” “Finally! Took you long enough to answer.” “Listen, I stayed up all last night finishing my latest painting and I really needed some…” “You finished it?! PERFECT timing! Thank goodness I had them push back your exhibition to today then! The committee wasn’t pleased at first of course, but when I told them you were nearly finished with a new piece… they couldn’t resist.” I had nearly forgotten- the exhibition… shit. I had an art collector- Charlotte- who had become increasingly interested in my work within the last couple years. She appreciated the darker pallet I used, and had finally managed to book an art exhibition of my work for one weekend at the MET. It was all for her of course, so she could continue building connections, but with the money I would be earning from the event, I couldn’t refuse. “When can the men come over to collect your work? Oh I cannot WAIT to see your newest painting; I am on the edge of my SEAT!” “You can bring them by today; I’ll meet you all at the gallery later on today.” “You BEST not be late. You are the man of the hour!” “I know, I know; I’ll be there.” Hanging up, I sighed. I’m not much of a people person- I’d much rather be left alone to paint in peace, but that’s not how things go, unfortunately. I met Charlotte five years ago, when I used to go to a small studio to paint, before I got this studio. I remember she was meeting a client and accidentally walked into the space I was in; she seemed incredibly impressed at the time, and had us exchange contact information. I tried ignoring her at first- I like my privacy- but after she bugged me day in and day out, asking to see what other pieces I had done, I finally folded. I sent her pictures of three of the pieces I had done, and before I knew it she was calling back, asking to buy them. It was thanks to her purchasing those early works that I was able to move out of my tiny apartment and move into a larger studio; more space to do as I pleased in peace- no interruptions. Over the past five years, I’ve painted around 10 new pieces, 11 if you include “A Star- Having Lived- Ever Yearning”. I’ve sold four of the paintings to Charlotte, to continue paying rent, but the rest I’ve been very resilient about having leave my possession- I’ve grown attached.

          A couple gentlemen, dressed in casual attire, came to collect my artwork around 4PM, Charlotte in tow. Charlotte was dressed in a very formal gown- silver fabric hugged her figure, while an almost see through blue veil flowed along the edges of the dress, making her appear almost angelic in nature. The outfit was accented, of course, with glittering diamonds, running along the dress in floral patterns, as well as a diamond necklace that hung elegantly around her neck. She was truly eye catching. “Chop chop!” Charlotte shouted as the men touted the paintings from my studio. “We have to get everything set up as soon as possible! The event begins at 8PM sharp!” Staring directly at me, she mouthed *sharp* once more before my studio was vacated and I was alone once more. Sighing, I headed over to my closet and fetched an old suit that I’ve had laying around for many years, slipping it on before pouring myself a drink- four roses single barrel bourbon, on the rocks. I needed a drink if I was going to be ready for tonight. At 6PM I called a taxi, staring at myself one more time in the mirror before heading out. *Sigh* Black tie events really weren’t my thing. The cab arrived in front of my apartment complex, and before long I was on my way to the MET.

         By the time I had arrived, Charlotte had already set everything up, my paintings now in proper frames, with actual plaques attached at the base. In the center of the room, quite visible right as you enter, was “A Star- Having Lived- Ever Yearning”, shown in its full glory. Glancing once again at the piece, I began appreciating all the little intricacies and fine details that I worked tirelessly to achieve. The dark red and orange hugues, depicting a dying sun, in contrast to a vast, and seemingly endless universe, for which I used rich purples, reds, and even blues, breathing life into the painting. “Thank goodness, you’re here. You should be very proud of your work; tonight is going to be a success.” After her words of encouragement, Charlotte headed off once more, checking every detail to make sure the event would go off without a hitch. Before I knew it, the time had already struck 8PM, and soon enough guests came striding in, one after the other. Soon enough the venue was packed, with painters and art collectors alike wandering around, admiring my work. “What do you think of ‘Sunsets- Under Sudden Animosity- Numb’?” “It is fascinating, to be sure. However, I can tell it’s some of his earlier work. The brush strokes aren’t as nuanced and refined as some of his more recent work, but I can still feel his intent. The pale reds and oranges used to depict the sunset, while surrounded by very dark blues and reds to create an almost suffocating feel? Chilling.” “I absolutely agree with you there.” “My favorite piece, however, must be ‘Temptation Enters, Suffocating Secrets’. Outlining the canvas with light reds and pinks, enveloping the dark purples that represent the secrets of one’s heart? Brilliant.” “I’d be curious if that painting was based on a previous love. Maybe someone that broke his heart?” Hearing critics hyper analyze my artwork was nauseating, so I hid out in a corner of the room, drinking glass after glass of champagne laid out for the guests, attempting to quell my nerves.

          Just as I was finishing my third glass, still barely feeling a buzz, Charlotte stepped up, front and center, with a glass in her hand. *Clang clang clang* The sound of a knife tapping the flute rang throughout the hall. “Good evening everyone, I hope you all are enjoying this little exhibit. I’ve known this artist for quite a few years at this point, and am grateful to finally share his work with all of you. But enough from me, let’s hear from the man of the hour!” Charlotte smiled and pointed at me, motioning for me to come up in front of everyone- great. As I slowly made my way up to the front, snagging another glass of champagne along the way, Charlotte smiled and said- “We’re going to have our man of the hour do a quick speech, and then if any of you have any questions, feel free to ask.” Arriving in front of the small crowd that had gathered, Charlotte leaned close to my ear and whispered “You got this, don’t look so nervous.” Clearing my throat- man I hate speeches- I finally began talking, the words falling out of my mouth, one after the other.

          “Hi there everyone, thank you so much for coming to look at my work. I’ve been an artist ever since I was a little kid; starting with cats and dogs I would see around the neighborhood, [a couple people in the crowd chuckled, nodding their heads in agreement] and my passion evolved from there. I tried to be “normal”- using sports like baseball and track to take my mind off of this… craving for my art, but nothing would satiate the hunger. After failing to get into any universities, unable… or perhaps unwilling to follow the stereotypical path laid out before me, I chose to move to New York, picking up temp jobs when they were available, and spending the rest of my free-time painting. However, I found that no number of rats or stray animals could satiate this hunger within me any longer. That’s when I turned to more extravagant work- landscapes and the like. Charlotte here, actually stumbled upon my first piece, aptly named ‘Moments Alone, Rushed Into Existence’ [I pointed at a painting towards the corner of the room] It’s definitely not one of my best works, and you can tell I was still figuring out my style at the time, but I’m thankful Charlotte still saw something in this… realness I was attempting to harness; to bring to life. Looking back, even though the work was sloppy, I’m still proud of the richness of the colors I used. I wasn’t as good at blending as I am now, but the message is still there. Thank you all again, and please- enjoy this champagne, you know I am.” I chuckled as I raised my glass, the room filling with smiles and nods of approval.

          Before I was able to step down, a younger woman, seeming to be about my age, spoke up- “Hello yes, I just wanted to say, first off, that I love your work. I haven’t seen anything as real as this in the last 10 years; it’s refreshing. Now when it comes to the names of the paintings, I notice that you seem to leave hidden messages in the names of your work. More specifically, names of women. Am I to presume that these women were, or are, important figures in your life? Perhaps a sister, or a mother figure? Maybe an ex?” I smiled- “Keen observation! I am grateful that I have been able to meet some… truly incredible women in my life, who have each inspired one of these portraits. I tried to bring some of their essence into my work, to truly make it feel as though the portrait can cry out, telling its story.” The crowd was in awe for a moment, before applauding. The woman who had asked the question was smiling ear to ear, seeming to be impressed by my answer. I thanked everyone once more and stepped off the stage, going back to my corner- I was exhausted. As I stood there, finishing my champagne, the woman approached me- “Hello again; I just wanted to properly introduce myself. My name is Lyla. I must say just how impressed I am with your work. I mean, the realness that you bring to your paintings, especially through the deep reds? It’s fascinating. Listen, I am a freelance writer, and I would love to talk to you some more in private, maybe see a bit of your process?” “That sounds wonderful. When would you like to have our meeting?” Lyla blushes- “How about… now? Things seem to finally be calming down here. I’m sure they won’t mind if the genius goes home to get some rest.” I nodded in agreement, grinning as we headed out of the MET, hailing a taxi and taking it towards my studio. Staring into her eyes, shining so bright, so full of life, I felt the creative juices begin to flow once more in me. I began getting excited. Stepping out of the taxi, I led her up to my door; as I put the key into the lock, I turned to her and said- “What’s your name again?” “It’s Lyla”, she replied, smiling. “Lyla… ‘Life, Yielding, Left Alone’, yeah I like the sound of that.” “What was that?” She asked, curious. “Oh it’s nothing. Just an idea for a new painting I’m going to begin. Now why don’t we step inside?” As we stepped in, I closed the door behind us, the lock clicking in its mechanism. We wouldn’t want to be disturbed, now would we?

          The sun was coming up once more- it was morning again I guess. I had stayed up all night painting again. Glancing down at the canvas, I watched as the blood began to set on the surface. It had mixed so well with the blues this time around, I would definitely be able to bring some complex colors into my next piece. Glancing behind my easel, I watched as the paint bucket continued to slowly fill with blood, dripping from Lyla’s left forearm, now hanging limp. The rope that had been wrapped around her extremities was now completely soaked in her blood- a waste, but I still hadn’t quite figured out a way to prevent that yet. Her face, forever locked in a look of pain and horror, hung back, her neck already slit open and drained of all the blood I could get from opening. Standing up and stretching, I headed over to my kitchen, stepping carefully over pools of blood that had collected on the stained mat laid under Lyla’s body. Opening my fridge, I went to grab some eggs for breakfast when I realized the leftovers, still resting in the fridge. “Guess I won’t be needing this anymore.” I pulled out the arm, wrapped heavily in plastic wrap, and set it on the counter. A piece of tape lay along the top of the plastic wrap, reading “A Star- Having Lived- Ever Yearning”. I would deal with that later. I reached back into the fridge, pulling out the carton of eggs, and made myself my usual breakfast before getting down to the process of cleaning up. I reached under my counter, pulling out my trusty hacksaw, and got to work, breaking down the body into smaller, more manageable pieces. Once I was finished, I wrapped one of the arms in heavy duty plastic wrap, setting it aside as placed the rest of the body in a vat of lye- a concoction I have hidden in a secret compartment in the corner of my studio. As the evidence began slowly dissolving, I at last labeled the arm before placing it in the fridge; picking up my brush and dipping it in the red “paint” once more. A variety of colors laid before me, thanks to Lyla, ready to create my next masterpiece- “Life, Yielding, Left Alone”.

-End

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