Confessions of a Black Dog

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Chapter 24

It was another work day for Wolfgang.

If truth be told he loved his job.

Not as much as his painting.

Today was a strange one and he was worried about his friend, Sam. His friend seemed to have gone a bit strange. In fact everyone he knew seemed to have gone a bit strange recently; even his mum had started to show signs of forgetfulness, which she hadn’t had before. He was thinking Alzheimer’s disease, it wasn’t a pleasant thought.

But Sam was something different. Wolfgang knew that his friend was paranoid but to see him muttering about the end of the world and howling at the moon took things to a whole different level. Wolfgang had actually felt scared of his friend, a feeling he’d never felt before about a friend.

He didn’t know why he got so low.

He had nothing to really complain about.

He got to spend his working days with some of the greatest pieces of human achievement in history.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Seurat, Rubens; the list of the immortals seemed as endless as their lives. They brought a quiet and sensitive joy to his life. It was a job where he could think, think and plan his next painting. What luck for a budding painter to have found a job amongst these masterpieces. What luck! If only it wasn’t for the tourists, squawking and shrieking, Spanish mobile phones going off at any opportunity, Japanese students asking the way to toilets.

Sometimes he met the odd one who would just stand and talk with him about the painting in that room. He lived his working life for those conversations and the quiet. It certainly was a peaceful job.

That day, he was stood opposite an El Greco. There was something about the brutal power of this painting that fascinated him today. It was “Christ driving the traders from the temple”. It was the mystery of the painting; the knowledge, the movement. The movement of the figures mesmerised him. He understood the angry Christ cutting his sway through the businessmen, a look of disgust on his face. The way the people just parted to let him through. They didn’t seem solid, their agony was liquid, separating as waves separate in the trail of a speedboat. Staring at this painting, Wolfgang began to get absorbed into it, and all around him seemed to liquefy and flow. Ripples and vibrations moved and tides were ebbing, appearing and vanishing into the dissolute mass of the atmosphere and his senses turning all into an image in his mind of a moon lit scene of a tempestuous sea at night.

His next painting was finished in his head. Closing and then forcefully opening his eyes he pulled himself out of his trance-like state, feeling the moonbeams dancing his eyes and his glasses. He smiled. It was a Tuesday. He liked Tuesdays. Mrs. Jenkins visited him on Tuesdays. He did enjoy the chats with her. She was a funny old bird. Every Tuesday she was here as regular as a morning shit.

Mrs. Jenkins was the wife of some old barrister, a very well-to-do lady, but with a distinct lack of airs and graces. She was one of the regulars; in fact, she had been one of the regulars even before the museums had become free for everybody. Everywhere has its regulars, its not only cafes or pubs. Libraries, museums, art galleries, parks, these are places of sanctuary to the introverts. She always paid Wolfgang a visit and they discussed the beautiful works around them. Sometimes she even brought him some homemade cakes, which was very much appreciated, thank you very much, Mrs. Jenkins.

Wolfgang thought to himself that he would ask her about the El Greco, he would like to know her opinion.

He did enjoy these chats.

By the late afternoon Mrs. Jenkins hadn’t arrived and Wolfgang was beginning to feel a touch worried about her. What if she had had an accident or had died in her sleep? She was no spring chicken anymore. Anything could have happened to her.

He had moved rooms by then, leaving the El Greco far behind him and was now nestled in between the Dutch Masters. He tried to focus on the picture he would start on that very evening.

He thought about creating movement in the waves. (She never missed a Tuesday) but to see the angry foam on top of those expressions of violent Nature; (what if she had been assaulted and hurt or robbed it can happen alright, barrister’s wife or not. Some might say it was divine retribution. And her only in her fifties, such a waste of twenty odd years and a damn good woman). The moon should be benign almost sad gazing down upon the earth (the way she would sigh at the gloriousness of the whole image confronting her and then, only then concentrate on the brush strokes, the technique…)

He looked across at the endless tide of tourists and spectators, a beautiful Italian couple, all hair flicks and fashionable. Like movie stars. Then there was the diminutive Japanese lady, socks pulled up over her tracksuit bottoms with her photographic memory and speed viewing.

“Jesus, I ain’t been on ‘oliday fer fackin’ years. I bet these cunts go somewhere different every couple of months!”

He began to feel the maggot of resentment building up inside his belly. An image of his mother flashed through his mind.

His mum.

Mum.

Why hadn’t they been born into wealth like some of these people that he had spoonfed with his self acquired knowledge and they were the ones that had had all the opportunities.

No wonder Mark Chapman went bazooka with a cannon and gunned down John Lennon, jealousy is an evil thing.

A natural thing.

A powerful thing if you have nothing to live for.

But he did, he had his painting and his job.

All that stopped him was his lack of confidence.

That was the killer.

Where was Mrs. Jenkins?

He was really starting to get worried about the old dear. Images of her passed through his glazed expression. She had been hurt, was crying, beaten, an accident, lying in a pool of blood with her granny pants around her ankles. Throat cut. No eyes. Dead.

“… ere are zee Rubenz, pleeze?”

Wolfgang blinked and slowly turned his head and muttered, “Wha?”.

“Coot you tell me vere are zee Rubenz, pleeze?” said the voice a little more impatient now. Wolfgang blinked again and came face to face with a blonde twenty something German girl, speaking through a perfect set of uber-teeth. She was a vision. Beautiful in only the way that youth can tantalize the senses. Wolfgang stared at her for a split second, feeling suddenly inadequate and embarrassed when faced with such an awakening. All her clothes were tight fitting showing off her perfect tits and subtly curved waist.

“Yes, I’m sorry. Rubens… yes, in room fourteen. Down that way and turn right when ya get t’ room twenty.”

“Room twenty?”

“Yes”

“Zank you”

Wolfgang breathed in sharply through his nose, smelling the budding Valkyrie’s scent around him, imagining tiny and delicate Edelweiss and he stared at her young pert behind and was seized by a sudden and sadly pathetic lust for her. His emotions jerked and swirled fighting the torture that was his imagination, he turned his lust back into himself wrestling with an image of the girl on her knees with his erect cock in her mouth, yet knowing that he was old enough to be her father. The problem was her perfection, that girl was a picture of cleanliness. Squeaky. Walking away from him, he knew that she was nothing more than decaying matter and as corrupt as the next person. But beauty, beauty has its own morality.

Where the fuck was Mrs. Jenkins?

His whole day had been out of sync. Just because of one silly old biddy. She was probably at the funeral of a friend. That’s all old people go out for, isn’t it? Shame, he really was looking forward to her chat and her cakes. It happens. People appear and then turn a corner and vanish out of view forever. Doesn’t matter who it is. Your sister, brother, mother, father…

His father had vanished that one day. All that was left was a full ashtray and a half eaten fried egg. Doesn’t matter who it is. Friends, enemies, lovers, family; one day everyone will turn that corner and find the answer. Where as those left behind are faced with the question embedded a little deeper. Wolfgang imagined a blinding white light.

Like fainting.

A haze and then nothing.

How horrible.

How comforting.

Wolfgang began wandering just before it was time to leave. Passing by the Van Gogh’s, those mighty sunflowers, just there, he passed a colleague, a short and powerful looking lady from Barcelona. He smiled weakly at her, he was sure that she didn’t like him, in fact he was positive that she had a grudge specifically towards him. He was sure. She grimaced back at him, and he moved quickly on, his hands behind his back as if deep in thought. He always believed it was necessary to show ones intelligence as people respected an intelligent man more in an art gallery more than an unintelligent one.

Entering into the Impressionists he spotted a friend and a colleague and made a mad dash towards him suddenly feeling the need to communicate with a fellow member of the species. The man’s name was Alf and he was a wide mountain of a man, with a close cropped head and large and prominent moustache. Alf had served in the military in the late eighties, seeing some service in Northern Island and had worked in security ever since he was demobbed. He was pleasantly happy working for the National Gallery as he developed a passion for painting and enjoyed the silence. He took a liking to Wolfgang as they shared the interest in Art, and he always went out his way to help and educate the punters. A lot of men in the job didn’t share their enthusiasm for the colours and shapes around them. In fact a lot of them positively scorned any shown interest in the subject and kept their interaction with the public to just pointing out where the lavs were. Whenever he heard the others taking the piss out of the notion that one could enjoy such a thing, Alf would keep quiet, maintaining his ex-military quiet.

He never mentioned that Wolfgang painted to the others. This was a private secret that he felt proud to know. Proud and secretly jealous. He was sure that he had no artistic talents, other than bringing his shoes up to brilliant shine. His talent as he knew was in being naturally imposing. He had felt enough fear and hate, from people just looking at him, that he knew that hired goon was all people expected of him.

“Wolfie”

“Alf, ’ow goes?”

“Slowly”

“Yep”

“Any new ideas?”

“One. I’ll start it tonight. Come ’round if ya want, when it’s done”

“Thanks I will. Say ‘ello t’ yer mum, eh”

“Will do.”

“See ya”

“Yes”

Wolfgang was always happy to share his secrets with Alf. He enjoyed when the big man came around to his mum’s small apartment in Hackney. He would show off his latest piece of work and bask in the praise. Then deny all profusely, it was always “… not that good.” Like his life, his memories.

Not that good.

Finally grabbing his bag, an old army satchel that contained a book on Caravaggio and his lunchbox that his loyal mother had prepared for him, he leapt out of the door on that Tuesday evening, knowing that Wednesday was his day off. It was his first day in ten days and he was looking forward to wasting his time in his own way. Not in their way. As he blew a final kiss in thank you to the El Greco and leapt down the stairs, he was already seeing the moon appear in on that canvas. Oils. He would use oils this time, only oils could convey that feeling of fluid movement that he saw. Movement like a sunset over a pure white sand beach or an acid trip, seahorses and jellyfish all beautiful and sad struggling to procreate then die while their offspring continued to do the same throughout their lives, growing, decomposing, all to the rhythm of the moon and wind’s cry.

Wolfgang was momentarily glad that he had not become a parent; would he not vanish and ruin the life of the fruit of his loins one day?

Repetition of viciousness was that not just life.

Better to cut it off at the roots.

The moon’s solidity troubled him.

It seemed as though it would never change. Even though it was once a part of the Earth, then carved into a globe by gravity, he just couldn’t imagine his life with out it. He couldn’t imagine that one day it would cease to exist.

How horrible.

How comforting.

He leapt down the steps caught up in the image of the moon in his head as he stared directly at it in the evening night’s sky. The two images collided in his sea of ideas like a meteorite plunged into a tempest, swirling and riding the waves; there it was in the sky.

How could he ever think that he could capture its brilliance on a canvas?

“Just look at it! My god how could I?” he thought.

It became nothing more than perfect to him, that brilliance, that shine. He would need a torch to shine out to capture that luminosity, and even then he would still fail at reproducing the saddest of lights shining. Paint does not shine it needs light, it does not generate.

It is not perfect.

What a blasphemy.

At that moment a familiar figure passed him in Trafalgar Square on that Tuesday evening. He recognised her instantly. Mrs. Jenkins. She seemed to be in some distress, she was clutching her handbag close to herself and moving fast in an erratic fashion, darting this way and that. Tears and snot were flowing, contorting her face. It was a shock. Wolfgang didn’t think this kind of behaviour was possible from such a composed and gentle lady. He never expected to see her on the street, never mind in this state. The shock sent him after her.

Why?

Did he think he could help or was it just some egotistical reaction, some lust for knowledge?

All altruism is essentially an ego massage.

Flying after the dishevelled old lady as she hit and crashed through pigeon’s and tourists, sending the grey and ragged birds into the atmosphere and the tourists into the ground, Wolfgang reached her, grabbed her arm and pulled. She lashed out reactively and scratched at his eyes, which were luckily protected by his glasses which she almost knocked off in her fury.

“STOP!” Wolfgang shouted, then recalled, repulsed at his own anger.

He never shouted at others, not if he could help it. Avoidance of all aggressive acts physical or verbal was best, but she had forced him in his shock to bellow at her. And in public. Looking around himself he saw all the eyes glaring at him. Those confused tourists who would tell this as yet another holiday anecdote when they returned home to apparent safety of family, culture and country.

Mrs. Jenkins stopped all body movement when she realised who it was that was holding her arm. She looked at him directly in the eyes and he felt as if it was the moon herself who was looking at him, all the blood and madness that that entailed and all that she had seen mankind do to itself and to others all that murder and sex and robbery all carried out under her gaze, her first period bloodying pure white virgin sheets, a million losses of virginity and assassinations. He saw it all, the brutal history of mankind, and how he fit in, a small piece, not even a pawn with meaningful actions to carry out for someone.

“Wolfgang?” the once proud now wizened old lady asked, her red tear filled eyes wide and glistening, a glimpse of recognition again reasserting itself in sound, a sound that embodied him.

A name.

“It’s me, Mrs. Jenkins. You weren’t at th’ gallery today.” He smiled gently at her wretched image and form.

“He’s gone” she said as she ripped herself out of his arms turning and squirming violently to break herself free before he could ask who was gone.

Then she was off again.

Wolfgang stood back and watched her disappear into the glare and indifferent coldness of the London night. An image from his previous night’s dream soaked into his mind; he was child once more and had upset his mother once more.

“Look what ya made me do, eh!” she screamed as he saw his mother gripping a fork imbedded into a man’s severed head.

The head was indistinct but he instinctively knew it was his father’s head.

He stood very still for a second, then took his packet of tobacco from his pocket, found himself a paper, some tobacco and rolled himself a filter less cigarette. He sat down on one of the monuments celebrating Britain subjugation of others and lit up the fag. Breathing in and out, all seemed to flow around him but he felt very calm. He was still letting life wash over him; the smiling child hugged by its father, the lovers hand in hand desperately trying to keep that flame and feeling together before it, like everything else, wilted and died. A breeze caressed his face and out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw a moth making its way upward. Upward and skyward towards space, Jupiter and Mars. Towards the moon.

Everything was broken. He now understood, the universe was broken. He suddenly wished to destroy this universe and create a better one, one free from pain and suffering.

Smiling, Wolfgang took the last puff on his cigarette discarded it against a wall and made his way towards the tube station. Rush hour was just easing off and he felt himself pulled into the crowd with the herd mind pushing and pulling and the wind of the next train as he was stood on the platform and stared into the darkness of the tunnel. It sucked at his thumbs and his knees and beckoned to him. There was no moon there. The train was just pulling in to the station and still moving at quite a speed when he spoke.

“Bye, mum.”

And he jumped.

All around him people became photographs frozen.

Later, people stood on different platforms were informed of delays due to customer incident, earlier that day. Some tutted in disgust that someone would have the gall to disturb their journeys, them, and some didn’t care; some had thoughts that perhaps they too would be one, one day.

Wolfgang’s funeral was awkward.

All funerals are uncomfortable even for those who have been the most confident in their lives, so for someone such as Wolfgang who had never fit in, his final send off was that much more out of kilter. The service was ironically being held in a small church, even though Wolfie himself had been a confirmed atheist since a teenager. His mother had gone to the local Church of England and booked the service there. Afterwards they would all drive up to the crematorium and burn him, it was a joint idea she felt, as his mother was not particularly religious herself, so the idea of a burial she could take or not. The service was nothing more than tradition. Wolfie had baptized as a child and so it seemed a fitting end for him in a church.

Sam was there, of course, as were B and Susan, she had bounced back yet again, who gave off the look of a well adjusted loving who were supporting each other in this time of grief and loss. Besides the three friends there was a smattering of relatives, various uncles and aunts and Wolfie’s mother.

Sam and B had had the idea of digging out all Wolfie’s paintings and displaying them all around the church, to give some idea of the creativity of the man now gone. All in all, they thought, it was a good idea. A first and final exhibition to a select few who claimed to know and a little way understand the man. Surprisingly everyone did indeed start moving from picture to picture staring at the paintings, they seemed to be trying to glean some meaning from them into why he had done such a crazy thing. I mean to kill yourself, the general line was that it was a selfish act, leaving those behind to pick up the pieces of a now shattered life. The easy way out was the usual way of talking about such an act.

It was hardly seen as an act of destruction and creation.

To destroy the reality around you and possibly other’s lives too.

To create a new world of perfection of unity of dreams and imagination.

The works of art around them led people to wonder, they were melancholy paintings, the dark blues, brown and golden light of sunsets; that time of day that is the most precious and wistful, but they really didn’t give any sort of hint of the impending destruction.

Was a melancholia all one needed to plummet down into the abyss?

Was that little dark spark of depression all the encouragement he needed, so that when pushed he went down with it?

If so, one uncle thought, did this not mean that as a nation Brits were the most hopeless and so the most suicidal, being all melancholiacs?

The mourners were mulling about as if in an art gallery, quiet and thoughtful, looking from painting to painting when the doors of the church squeaked open and Alf walked in.

Everybody turned and stared for a second at this large and looming stranger, and Wolfgang’s mother made a beeline straight for the giant, threw her arms around him and hugged the big man tightly. Alf was greeted with tears and friendly smiles from everybody. Then he noticed the paintings and gently wrenched himself away from the weeping mother and entourage and began to carefully look at the pictures around him. He had never seen them gathered altogether and especially in such a beautiful place as an old nineteenth century church. There were also some works here that he never seen. They must have been ones when he was teaching himself to paint and hadn’t yet had the confidence to show them to someone. Alf felt moved by it all. This was the one thing that Wolfie had wanted to do in his life and now here it was. He asked Wolfie’s mother about whose idea it was to put up these paintings as an exhibition, and she in between sobbing and blowing her nose pointed him over to B and Sam.

Alf took a look at Wolfie’s friends and he realised they were a different breed from him. They interested him. He knew that they might well shy away from him if he mentioned his military background, so he decided to keep quiet about that part of life for a while. Only talk about Wolfgang that was the thing to do. Funerals make people overly sensitive, no point in making them worse.

“I hear this,” he said as he made a sweep with his arm while walking towards the three friends “was your idea”

“Yeah,” said B, “we thought it would’ve been what he would’ve wanted.”

“Indeed,” said Alf, quietly nodding his head and staring from person to person, “well, I’d like to buy you boys a drink when this‘s over. If that’s ok with you, mind?”

The two men smiled yet something in their eyes betrayed a suspicious look at Alf, and for a second he felt like an uncover policeman questioning a suspect, then he realised that that was probably exactly what he must look like to these two men.

“I used to work with Wolfie in th’ National Gallery,” he hastily added and at this the two seemed to relax.

The service finished as tepidly as was expected and then the whole group made their way up to the crematorium in their various vehicles. A menagerie of cars and work vans, from the latest model Vauxhall, to one that seemed to hang together with air. Various fortunes there for all the world to see.

The crematorium stood above all the people gathered around it ready to send Wolfie off as some sort of dark, satanic mill. It was a miniature Battersea power station and the grey and bilious sky heightened the claustrophobia felt by everyone.

Once the coffin was burnt and the flesh burnt off the corpse of a piece of meat that once had a name, they stood outside the crematorium and Sam couldn’t help but watch the smoke rising up, up, up, up into the sky.

He gave his friend a little unnoticeable wave and he began to see Wolfie’s energy swirling and forming, glowing smoke, swirling in spirals, flowing everywhere, being breathed in and out by postal workers on bikes, landing on leaves of trees and absorbed through the grass into the trees and plants. Everything seemed to be breathing together and finally it ended with a crescendo of cawing crows that seemed to meld with his own heartbeat and blood flowing in his ears. The noise became overwhelming and he suddenly felt his penis harden in the sheer ecstasy of the natural world around and inside him.

Sam blinked.

Sam smiled.

All became normal again except for the pounding of his heart, which gradually became lost again in the forest of his senses.

He knew that Wolfgang’s mother had plans to spread her son’s ashes over Muswell Hill, at the park where she and her son used to go when he was small on hot summer’s days and her thoughts and memories were of ice-cream, sweat, corned beef sandwiches, kite flying and handkerchiefs. Sam approved of this idea as even though it was a mother’s view of her son’s childhood, which implicitly means a romantic one as who wishes to be seen as a bad mother, the place was where she had seen her son at his happiest and so that is where she wished to see her son’s mortal remains end.

Yes, Sam approved as it was going into trees and living things making the soil of the city that he had inhabited his whole life that little bit more alive. He was giving something back, himself.

Wolfie hadn’t left London all that much in his life, hadn‘t needed to. It was fitting that he should stay here, even after death. Who knows maybe a part of him would be breathed in by a sparrow that was making its way to Morocco on its annual journey, while another part would be borne on the wind into a truck driver’s sandwich and so finally ended up in Calais. Suddenly a truckdriver would be struck with a feeling of intense sadness while coming up to Dover.

Life was indeed strange and death even stranger. Or perhaps just more mundane, thought Sam as he remembered Oz.

The funeral began to break up, all people going back to their respective jobs or homes. Sam, B and Alf said goodbye to Wolfie’s mum, each promising to stay in touch. Alf asked her what was going to happen to Wolfie’s paintings and asked if he could take them off her hands. He would like to hang them in his house he told her and then they all made their way to their cars as drivers or passengers and planned to meet in a local pub about a mile and a half down the road. Susan had had to go back to work, so B was alone and felt like getting drunk.

The afternoon was spent in pleasant conversation with Alf finding the two friends very easy to talk with. The faint miasma of the funeral atmosphere was being challenged by their joyfulness. To all outsiders it would have been three old friends who were celebrating one of their luck on the ponies.

Alf wasn’t quite sure what to make of their jollity at first, then he realised that they were celebrating, not Wolfie’s death, but his life. The stories of times past and the utter nonsense that Wolfie had spewed made Alf feel not so sad at the loss, and the moments of his own life where stupidity had been committed seemed all the funnier.

It made him realise something.

Humanity was not the brightest tool in the evolutionary shed.

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