The stranger from whom I was estranged was a painter. The painter
called himself my brother. Me, I considered him a bother.
This painter, he wore a Tyrolean hat appointed with a single
crow's feather. Seldom a day passed without the cool venom of
Velasquez was a hack, he said. (Monday)
Picasso was a hack and a philanderer, he said. (Tuesday)
Gauguin was a hack and a pedophile, he said. (Wednesday)
The painter promised redress for my hospitality, but precise terms were
I was too meek to cast him out onto the street, this lamentable
He took me to a café where his work was displayed. We
assumed a booth in the back of the room, behind a gloomy troop of
tweens. He took a nip of cognac from the miniature bottle in his pocket
and nodded in the direction of the painting. The canvas was utterly
blank, save for the looping signature. I wondered if it was uninformed
or just unfinished. The piece was hanging between a pastel saxophone
and portrait of Pam Grier in sheer lace apparel. The stranger braced
his chin with both hands. Before he could speak the barista came out
from behind the counter.
Are you going to order something or just keep ogling Grier? he asked.
The painter and I stopped for a matinee on our way home. He smoked
under the marquee while I paid for tickets. The only showing was an
animated feature, a mouse with rounded spectacles and a nose for
danger. By the time we claimed our seats the previews had ended. The
painter swilled his cognac, sipped, and then offered me a drink. I
shook my head. Your loss, mon cher, he said, sealing the cap. Halfway
into his pocket the bottle slipped from his hand. Heads turned as the
sound of rolling glass scored the picture. The bottle stopped dead and
attention settled back on the screen. I looked for the painter, but he
was several rows ahead, crouched low and crawling with purpose.
Ravi Mangla is the author of the novel UNDERSTUDIES. He lives in Rochester, NY.
Read more of his work in the archive.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Rob Swatski.
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