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#119 SUICIDE

Hello there. It’s been ages since I’ve managed to get a writerly post up here and there doesn’t even feel like a particular reason. I just managed to get my flat rented (I’m now a landlord) and I’ve had a few abortive attempts to write various Cafe Short-esque pieces (some too long, others need a bit more work but may yet see the light of inter-web), but other than that, not a great deal.

Happily, though, white screen has been banished with this post, gloriously and morbidly entitled #119 SUICIDE. Do read on and pray I haven’t regressed to teen angst and dark reflection on ‘the pointlessness of it all’ (sigh). The main objective here was to try to focus more of the story through the lens of the narrator’s perception – an effort I was quite excited about. However, I make no claims as to the quality of the result. See how you get on. Damn you Ruben Mancusco.

***

W

hen I was twelve, I was given a black eye by Ruben Mancuso. This was during an argument on the school playground that had been caused by one of the oldest of reasons – the love of a good woman (Sarah Froistad who was 11). I can only imagine where I would have gone if I hadn’t had that fight. But I did, and I resoundingly lost: my mother planting my blackened face in my fathers (raw) steak lunch when I got home. Ruben got hauled out of school for that – he was a bad seed – but not if you listened to the feting he received from the other kids who knew who was the real winner. I had yet to prove myself and took my jeers and sneers with no small amount of depressed resignation. I never did see Ruben again – until today that is. I can’t say I was happy to do so.

Since the time of that beating, I have found the life of an artist to be agreeable. I have decided to go the commercial route and have had much work exhibited in moderately influential galleries, though you might not like it: my work is often dark and malformed (you would say so, should you see it). I give birth to great, shadowy forms on huge canvases that loom out of the darkness with long melting eyes and a shuffling implacability. Some wear musculature looped and overlaid like unwrapped packs of wet sausage; all are brutish. I tell myself the thick paint, scored to the canvas by the brass heads of brushes, is necessary.

But now, Mancuso. It is Mancuso – cappuccino in hand, talking to a slim, European brunette by the door to the gallery book shop – who has risen. They kissed a gentle goodbye. I was entirely transported by their sense of ‘lightness’ in attitude, smiles, clothing (rich and smooth) and sunlight (the windows and doors they were standing near, casting that haloed edge of specular light through their hair). I try not to think about Ruben’s disconnection from his past, how much this image has changed – perhaps how much he has learned – so much so, that he seems to be a fresh, human spirit, reborn a new; laughing and entertaining this unknown girl with her red, damask scarf twisted around a finger.

But I see now I am not similarly disconnected. I can touch this painting on this wall in this gallery – ignoring the warning signs not to touch – and feel the raised, black paint, that is still oily and rubbery and puckered like a scar. I can see the traversal through paintings of my attitude and will, one picture to the next, flicking backwards through those still frames (#118 DESPERATION, #117 LOATHING OF SELF, #116 ISOLATION…) and I mustn’t make this connection: that each painting is the same painting, in as much as it is a still frame of the same moving image. I see it now: one still after the other, each rewinding (I must not consider their return to that first ovum of canvas) and despite changes in scale or medium, it is a blank, soulless brute looming and advancing and bringing up fists like meat, though of course in reverse. As I must not see it, it is rewinding in my mind’s eye regardless (#27 RED ON BLACK, #26 REFORMATION … #15, #14…).

“Five, four, three…”

One…oh, God…

Though I destroyed it, one was ‘GIRL WITH GOLDEN HAIR, CRYING.’

Burn the prospectus now. There is no originality here. If I had a knife, I’d score it all through. Freud is reborn. I thought these twists of image – form flicking in halogenic light behind the viewer (‘brave and original – an artist to watch out for’) had come from pre-conceptualization; were a comment on modern value and expression and immoderate tastes – and that I was uncovering a message; the message; a message I was battling to touch, or grasp or paint into clarity. I felt like I was touched by God or satellites or a dog star, universal. But it was a moment I was copying. Years I spent doing it. But Ruben and both girls are the full cycle. I have gone nowhere in my cold cellars and abandoned properties, my gradual rise through the socialites and parties, the agonising leap at one patron after another – glass in hand, canapé limp and fishy – while he has proven it all wrong. There is no justice, there is no darkness. I’ve lived a child’s nightmare, where Ruben found only sunlight and blissful forgetting on the arm of ‘GIRL WITH EBONY HAIR, SMILING’, age unknown . And…

Beside me, a sculptural form like a basket, but it is a head made from leather belts – the colour of saddle leather – fixed in wax to form a human head. It rests on a clear plastic stand in a clear glass cube, and the whole is on a white plinth. This is not important, other than it is a break in thought. It’s not my creation: I never made it or imagined it. But it is beautiful.

Later that day, I reverse my car backwards off the quay outside the riverside gallery, scraping a huge gash down a side panel as I rush past a bollard (a bollard from when the quay had been used for ship building). The crash whiplashes my neck and bounce-bounce-bounces my head off the head-rest as the back of the car hits the water – near vertical – and the underside grates on the stone pilings, until the front wheels roll for a moment, till the nose grates once more as the back of the car pushes back. We all belly flop together with a splash, a gurgle rushing in behind. The entire accident is just that, my foot slipping off the clutch onto the accelerator, the gearshift sticky around reverse. The freezing inrush of oily water is gaspingly cold, and my mind shoots out to all the things adrenaline suggests as a car sinks (undo seatbelt, un-trap feet, wind down window, whatever else I can make up in the moment as a ‘should do’). But all I can think of – as I get out of that car and sail as a shirt bagged out with water to the nearest ladder, tsunami pouring from the sleeves – is that I’ve finally been released.

#119 sank in the boot of the car.

28 comments

1 Joan { 08.05.12 at 11:47 am }

This is kind of neat in its symmetry – the event with Ruben during childhood, and the seeing of him again in adulthood; the blonde girl of childhood and the dark woman of adulthood; the feting of Ruben in childhood and jeering over the protagonist, despite the adults’ take on the incident (it was as though the adults didn’t count in any case); the successful life of Ruben, the dark life of the protagonist – seemingly successful, but is it?

And a suicide attempt that is, conversely, an accident – solves it!

I think this has been well thought out. Or maybe you happened upon the mirroring in the writing.

2 Joan { 08.05.12 at 11:48 am }

Oh – congratulations on your new landlord-ness.

3 Steve Green { 08.06.12 at 10:33 pm }

Wonderful, wonderful wordcraft Stephen.

It seems the poor lad never really moved on from that beating, until now… Maybe in the future he will be able to expand his art further than that fateful day in the playground.

Good to see ya posting again. :D

4 Lee-Ann { 08.07.12 at 8:27 am }

Wow. That was amazingly crafted; beautiful, poetic, heartwrenching.

5 Deanna Schrayer { 08.09.12 at 2:28 pm }

Stephen, the voice in this is incredibly authentic, and the descriptions outstanding. I love how you show us that, even though he wants so much to believe he’s left the incident behind, he can’t seem to help carrying it with him. Super story!

6 Peter Newman { 08.09.12 at 4:49 pm }

I really liked this. I’m glad he didn’t die at the end, that would have been too obvious.
I enjoyed the narrative voice and I was carried along by it easily. I’m glad you’re back posting too!

7 Travis King { 08.09.12 at 11:19 pm }

This is my introduction to your work, Stephen, and I enjoyed it very much. The language is wonderful, and the story well told. For a moment, I expected a revenge tale, something akin to ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ (The thousand injuries of Ruben Mancuso…). When it became clear that revenge wasn’t the intent, I thought perhaps suicide would be the result based on your own words about regression to teen angst in your introduction—but, as Peter said, I’m glad you didn’t take that route; it would have been anticlimactic. The narrator’s release, his ability to look at that moment of near-death and inject it with life-altering meaning, is a fitting end to his tale.

I will certainly be looking forward to reading more of your work in the future.

8 Helen { 08.10.12 at 6:41 am }

It’s sad that an incident in one’s life leave such scares that death is the only release. As always the writing is beautiful. Each time I read you work I marvel at your talent.

9 Helen { 08.10.12 at 6:43 am }

I meant to say that the idea of death seems the only release ^_^

10 Icy Sedgwick { 08.10.12 at 4:01 pm }

You’re back! Hurray!!!

I loved this one. I really did. I know how unjust it came seem when someone who ostensibly doesn’t deserve success finds it, but I do like the feeling of release at the end. Hopefully he’ll find something meaningful.

11 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 8:49 am }

@Joan — I had a rough idea of the story and I while I wrote I found and emphasised the details that underlined the symmetry. It seemed to suit a tale of ‘then and now’. It also kind of helped with reinforcing what might have seemed like an inevitable conclusion (given the title and preceding prose), so that I could ‘abandon car’ at the last second. I was a little concerned about the deus ex machina of an accident, but with the artist’s psychological make up and his anxious state, I figured that’s exactly what’d happen; almost at the point he’s realised his life’s a (potential) lie and he wants to live. St.

12 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 8:52 am }

@Joan — lol. Thank you very much. I shall now wear a sheepskin coat, smoke a big stogie and make unreasonable demands about linoleum… while I hand every penny to the bank. St.

13 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 8:57 am }

@Steve – thanks Steve. Yes, I like to think that although everything was kind of broken it still led to a closed loop of creativity. An interesting follow up could be what happens next to him and his art now that everything has changed.

Glad to be posting again — not sure what happened there. Mostly getting land-lording sorted out, I guess. :) St.

14 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 9:02 am }

@Lee-Ann – thanks Lee-Ann. I’m really glad you enjoyed the read and welcome to Café Shorts. Anyone who uses the word ‘poetic’ gets the nice china, the best tea and a selection of verbal pastries. :) St.

15 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 9:35 am }

Hi there Deanna — thank you very much. It was one of those tales where the title worried me — would anyone turn up for a potential suicide story, in capital letters no less? But I’m glad you all did. And I was interested in what would happen if someone uncovered that key, defining moment in their life and ‘it all suddenly made sense’, but maybe not in a way they like. St.

16 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 9:43 am }

@Peter — he just couldn’t die. Especially with that story title. :)

I like to think his death was inevitable and then that personal truth saved him, at the (potential) expense of his creative life. A few different deaths in there — just not the one at the end.

I’m glad I’m back posting, too. Jeesh, I stepped out for a cup of sugar and I found several blog years had passed (which are a bit like cat years). St.

17 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 11:27 am }

@Travis — hey there Travis. Thanks for checking me out and popping on a comment. I’m glad I managed to keep you guessing while you read — always good — and you enjoyed the non-fatal ending. As you say, I hoped to instil a bigger change here than a rather anticlimactic death. If you pop back for more, I’ll pull out a chair, brown some toast, make some tea. Or at least post another story. Lol. St.

18 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 11:33 am }

@Helen — thanks Helen. I agree. I guess everyone has these defining moments — for good or ill, though not necessarily this dramatic — and that actually, such moments can be considered and approved or disproved, if they can be brought clearly into conscious mind. Hmmm, that sounds deeper than I intended this morning. Lol. St.

19 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 11:40 am }

@Helen — :D For a moment there, Interview with a Vampire flashed in front of my eyes. St.

20 Stephen Hewitt { 08.11.12 at 11:45 am }

@Icy — lol. I had to ride out and check the fences in the east field. Took a bit longer than I thought. You summed it up nicely: it really is a problem with finding meaning and how it’s attributed and resolved. St.

21 Justin Davies { 08.11.12 at 5:58 pm }

This story deserved a second reading and I got more from it that way. Your use of language is very good- the story is quite literary and certainly intelligently put together. I really liked the description of the painting looking like the unwrapped sausages. What a well observed detail and I would imagine, unique.

22 Brinda { 08.11.12 at 7:49 pm }

I am delighted with the ending (contrary-ism at its best considering the title) and I cant wait to see what he paints next – now that he can hopefully finally leave his imagined suffering behind. Hope you enjoy being a landlord!

23 Callie { 08.12.12 at 11:37 am }

I love how powerful flash fiction can be, so much encompassed in so few words. Your writing really let me see and feel the story and emotions. Great Baconesque descriptions of the art work and sense of freedom as he resurfaces from the depths. Thank you
PS going to add the word ‘poetic’ as I quite fancy some verbal pastries.

24 Stephen Hewitt { 08.13.12 at 7:09 am }

@Justin — hi there, Justin. Glad there was enough layers in there to give it a another go. The only other figurative artist to attempt pictures that looked like raw meat was Francis Bacon (da-dum, tish). Ha,ha,ha,ha… I’ll get my coat. St.

25 Stephen Hewitt { 08.13.12 at 7:16 am }

@Brinda — happy you liked that contrary ending. I, too, would be intrigued to see what he paints next. It could go anywhere. Not convinced the lording of the land is ‘very me’ — where will I park my carriage? — but we’ll see how I get on. :) St.

26 Stephen Hewitt { 08.17.12 at 7:28 am }

@Callie — really glad you found things involving, especially in such a small space. ‘Poetic’, you say? At this rate, I’m going to have to put on verbal catering. Lol. Thanks for popping on a comment and the follow on Networked Blogs.

Pecan slice?

Delicious and entirely fictional.

St.

27 Callie { 08.17.12 at 11:00 pm }

Think there could be a business op in verbal catering. Best virtual pecan slice ever. Thank you.

28 Stephen Hewitt { 08.25.12 at 4:55 pm }

Hi there Callie — they may be imaginary, but it’s still important to get the toasted pecans just right. You’re welcome. St.

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