Home of Rhett & Link fans - the Mythical Beasts!
The painter had been walking around the small room, arms folded behind his back, for quite some time before he turned to look at what he’d painted. Again it hit him: the red, smiling lips; slightly raised eyebrows; her head tilted to one side, questioning; red hair falling to her shoulders; the eyes - oh lord, the eyes...
So life-like were they and they followed him as would the eyes of a photographed person. This was no photograph, it had colour.
“Errol Emmonds 1881”, it read in the lower left corner.
He stared at her and she stared back. Her wild red hair cascaded down to her shoulders and he wanted to gently tuck a loose strand behind her ear. He dropped his brush, scared by his own thoughts. The brush left a red trace where it fell on the floor, which was itself starting to become a painting of the abstract. He bent down to pick up what he’d used to create this piece of art.
“Just a painting,” he whispered, but looking up at it again, he had a hard time believing his own words.
Those raised eyebrows seemed to ask him for something. Her red lips parted as if she was about to speak. But it were her blue eyes that told him most clearly that she desired one more thing.
“I have no name for you,” the painter said, looking away in shame. He ran his paint-stained hands through his unwashed brown hair. From the corner of his eye he could see the canvas prison of the woman of his dreams. In his peripheral like that, she moved, it seemed. A sudden smile and a sigh, wild red flowing hair. Not looking directly at her was most difficult, doing so not being easy either.
A man’s voice, accompanied by banging on the door. His cat, white as snow, raised her head and turned her pointy ears toward the noise. She yawned and blinked her eyes at Errol, acknowledging his presence. He blinked back and cleared his throat.
“Be out in a second, Marty!” he called, pointing at the door.
His attention turned to his cat. Pasjt, he’d named her, after an Egyptian goddess. He deliberately avoided facing his painting. Errol liked being home, in his small apartment, and Pasjt had become the place’s soul.
Pasjt opened her mouth, as if about to meow, but she produced no sound. Errol knew this to be a polite request, either for food or for attention. The painter presented her tuna and the white cat stood and stretched in the elaborate way that only cats can. She shook off her drowsiness and started her meal.
“I’ll be back by sundown,” Errol said, scratching his pet behind the ear.
He went to a coat-rack and picked out a deep-red suit that would not make him the odd sheep in the classy establishment he was supposed to meet a buyer. He'd bought the suit had been Marty's idea, 'an investment' as he'd put it. When Errol opened the door, Marty stood there with his fist raised and mouth open, clearly about to knock and shout again. Errol frowned at the plump, sweaty man.
After a forced cough, the fat man smiled and said, “shall we?”
“I don’t feel like going,” Errol admitted honestly, “but I could do with some hard currency.”
“Aye,” came the reply, “you’ve not sold a thing in a year come May.”
“I’ve been working on something new.”
“Ah, forget it,” Marty said, laughing aloud, “tonight we sell, Mr Emmonds.”
The new electric lights in this old establishment, probably meant they were doing well. Errol preferred the oil lamps that had previously been the light's source. it was easier to hide in that light, whereas now everything was painfully obvious. The table was being cleared when the subject finally turned to something Errol knew a thing or two about. Painters.
“Well,” the buyer said, combing his black hair vainly. “Arthur Hughes is someone I’ve been keeping a close eye on for a while now. I think your work matches his, Mr Emmonds, maybe even towers over it when it comes to precision. I do adore Arthur’s crudeness, but your detail is much more... striking.”
“Ah,” Errol said, snapping out of his daydreaming, “and here I was thinking it was because we both tend to paint red-haired women.”
“Who doesn't, these days?” Marty blurted out, pleasantly. “It seems a collective obsession.”
“No, it's red paint that's cheap, Marty. We can't afford to paint blondes,” Errol joked, trying to sound as cheerful as his plump pal.
The buyer, one Sir Flack, laughed heartily. He took a sip from his wine and sighed.
“Shall we go to your atelier, Mr Emmonds?” the man proposed. “I should like to see the artist’s workplace.”
“But, Sir,” Marty interrupted. “Surely it is more common to visit the gallery. I’m not sure Errol here would like...”
“Dear Errol here can tell me that himself, Marty,” Flack said sharply. “He can speak, so let him.”
The look Errol received from this potential buyer was in a dark way frightening. They were grey, empty eyes. Errol had a theory that men sometimes have a more human relation with a cat than they have with other people. This was why. Whenever the painter left the trusted confines of his workspace, he encountered men like this: abandoned by creativity, and loveless.
“He can come, Marty,” he said. “Why not?”
Turning to the buyer, he said, “but it’s nowhere near as fancy as the gallery and I’m afraid I’ve just about nothing to drink, spirits at most.”
“Ah!” Sir Flack called out smiling, “no matter, it’s the time of the year for spirits anyway. Cold and snowy. Good spirits will bring the warmth back into our bones. I’d be delighted to celebrate our business there with simple liquor!”
It was not a long walk back but the cold, stabbing winter wind blew right in their faces. Their eyes were watery when Errol opened the door to reveal his humble abode to his guests and an energetic Pasjt hurried over, meowing many greetings. Errol looked at his painting and regretted not putting a cloth over it. It faced the doorway and was hence hard to miss upon entering.
“What’s this?” Sir Flack said, his eyes wide with awe. The black-haired man walked towards the canvas carefully, almost as if he feared insulting something holy. Very briefly, Errol felt a stab of jealousy. He’d rather not have the buyer’s empty grey eyes gaze upon his creation. He shook it off and hung his red vest on the coat-rack.
“Would you like me to take your coat, Sir Flack?” he asked, trying to keep the sharpness out of his voice. There came no immediate reply. Errol dug his hands in his pockets and clenched them to fists.
“Why this is an amazing piece of work,” the man mumbled after a while.
The painter nodded, frowning, while Marty was in the other room, fetching glasses and liquor.
“Yes, well, she’s not finished.”
“Sure looks like it is to me.”
“She’s not, I haven’t a name yet.”
“Any name will do.”
“No, Sir, only the right one may suffice,” Errol spoke sternly now. He licked his lips and stepped forward one step, his foot coming down producing a loud 'thump'.
“Would you join Marty in the other room, please Sir, I must cover her up.”
With obvious reluctance, the man obeyed. As soon as he was gone, Errol grabbed a piece of simple cloth and hung it over the painting. Covered up, her spell did not release him; he could feel her eyes, watching him still. He sighed and took Pasjt in his arms. She purred pleasantly.
“Sweet, there is nothing left to say
But this, that love is never lost,
Keen winter stabs the breasts of May
Whose crimson roses burst his frost,
Will find a harbour in some bay,
And so we may.”
“A poet, too?” Flack said, and he sounded not too friendly at all. Marty stood behind him with a glass for himself and one for Errol. The painter let Pasjt run around freely again.
“It’s by Oscar Wilde, Sir,” he said. “You know, the poet?”
“I know him.”
“Sir Flack would like to buy this painting you have here,” Marty blurted out.
“It’s not finished, I just told the good Sir that.”
“He says to name your price and he will pay.”
“It’s like selling a child, no; an unborn babe, Marty.” Errol's voice was calm and stern. “She hasn’t even got a name yet, she’s not yet born. You might as well ask a pregnant woman to name a price for the babe in her womb.”
An actual tear that ran down the painter’s cheek betrayed his emotions when his voice did not.
“We will discuss a price later, Sir,” Marty said, placing a hand on the buyer’s shoulder, “after we’ve settled the deal on the other works. We'd agreed upon 'the Long Wait', 'the Fair' and...”
Flack violently removed the hand from his shoulder and took several steps towards Errol.
“If I cannot have that painting,” he said angrily, pointing at the covered canvas, “I shan’t be buying anything from you.”
“Which brings me to showing you the door,” Errol said, approaching Sir Flack until they were face to face. “For she deserves someone who truly knows how to appreciate her, and you simply won’t do.”
Then something happened that frightened Errol half to death. Flack’s empty eyes gained life. They were suddenly filled with a strong emotion. Envy. Before he knew it, Errol was on the floor, with a mighty pain in his jaw. He looked at Flack who now stood before the painting.
Marty made a move to interfere but was halted by Flack, who drew his pistol.
“Take off, Marty.”
Marty hesitated for a moment but once Flack threw his glass of spirits at him, he turned on his heels and fled, forgetting his coat completely. The door slammed shut and all was silent, save for Pasjt’s hissing. She stood with her tail raised in anger, three feet to Errol’s left. All the painter could do was look at Flack, incredulous.
The man violently unveiled the painting, throwing the cloth to Errol. The artist quickly threw it aside and looked up into the loving eyes of the beautiful, nameless, red-haired woman. He shook his head sorrowfully. He sobbed as he watched Flack drawing a knife.
“If I don't,” the grey-eyed fiend spoke, “no one does deserve it.”
It didn’t take the painter long to get to his feet and push the buyer away. But it made no matter. He hadn’t been fast enough to save his love. The knife had torn right through the canvas, splitting her smile in two. There was a gunshot and for a moment Errol saw nothing but red, a red cloth of pain that covered and coloured his vision. The two men wrestled. They bumped into a table with paints and brushes and knocked it over. Pots broke and paint splattered everywhere. The two men struggled on. Flack tripped over the snow-white cat and fell, pulling Errol down with him. Before long they were both covered in paints of all colours and despite the lack of red paint which had all been used to paint his magnificent painting, Errol Emmonds had red all over him.
He was beyond himself. His grief strengthened his resolve and made him forget his pain. He let out one scream, full of sad emotion, when he slammed Flack’s head against the floorboards.
Then it was over. The buyer breathed the air left in his lungs and all went silent. Errol got up slowly and looked at his shirt which now had all kinds of colourful stains on it; blue, green, yellow, some black. One stain was dominant, a red one. It was wet and his shirt stuck to his belly there, and it was spreading.
The painter stumbled towards his painting, with the large gash now crossing it diagonally.
“I have a present for you,” he said, his voice trembling with sorrow, “I have a name for you.”
Errol Emmonds fell to his knees and sobbed silently.
At the mentioning of her name, the white cat slowly walked over to her owner, who put his hand on her head.
"For you see,” Errol continued, crying openly now, “you deserve better than to be associated to mankind. You are... a goddess. A goddess,” he repeated as if he’d found peace in that knowledge, “and you do not belong to me. I did not make you, you were simply meant to be made and now... My gift is a name.”
A painter died and a goddess was born. A goddess, not in human form, but in the form of a cat. A cat, not white, but of many colours. A cat named Pasjt who looked up at a torn canvas that had been a painting, but now was no more than that: a white, torn canvas.