“I’ve never seen a little girl more frightened,” the man who wore a Louie Vuiton fedora said.
The art gallery was not a typical one. The walls were dark and dirty. It was part of the atmosphere at The Dirty Alley Art Gallery.
“It’s almost as if these scenes actually happened. You don’t torture your models do you?” the man laughed as he admired the girls form. “Amazing. How much?” he asked staring at a drawing of Lorena.
Uncle John stood in the alleyway between the art gallery and a small sandwich shop talking to the owner of the gallery. Two men helped protect the pieces that weren’t sold – which weren’t many – and placed them into the moving van to be taken back to Uncle John’s home.
The owner was a skinny man who always dressed in black like a full-time mime without the makeup. He even held a thin mustache between his upper lip and his nose and balanced it like a pencil. “Another great exhibit. I don’t know why you are holding back on planning your next one here. If you have another gallery in mind, I’m going to be upset,” he said as the pitch on his voice raised into a falsetto range.
“Well, I got something in the works. Something big,” Uncle John’s chubby arms opened wide into the air like a marshmallow man trying to hug a building. “I don’t think your gallery has enough room for me anymore. The Saleté has offered me more advertising and more room,” he said.
“Come on. The Saleté is dirt,” the thin stick man laughed. Saleté was french for dirt, something Uncle John never knew or cared about. The gallery owner was being witty but it had completely escaped Uncle John. How a man with such beautiful painting be so dumb, the owner didn’t understand.
“Let’s dicuss a deal then. I can offer you both large exhibition rooms and . . . and I will lower my display fee,” he offered.
Uncle John stared at the man and simply said he would think about it. He returned to his home and had the men unload the pieces in the garage. Uncle John then walked downstairs and escorted Sam upstairs by her hand. He held it delicately like she was a princess and took her upstairs to his bedroom. She didn’t struggle and for some reason he liked that. She was the first to seem okay with it as his stomach, full with moles and spots of brown hair bounced between her. He felt like she loved him back and when he was finished they kissed.
She was brought back downstairs, the light was bright and it had stung Ryan’s eyes. Uncle John refused to look at the boy in his cell. He needs to learn he thought to himself.
He left the room and locked the door and the clicking began. Ryan ignored them as he stared at the girl across from him and then he stared into himself and found nothing. That nothingness comforted him. Sam wish she could think of nothing but the thought of dying had swirled in her head all night.
Next: Piece 9
Ryan’s eye was swollen. His leg hurt and it made it hard for him to stand. He decided to sleep instead. Many of his paintings and drawings were missing and scattered on the floor, which was typical. Uncle John always took his best pieces and left the rest, like a pig that only ate caviar. He thought it was strange that the nude he had painted was destroyed and left on the makeshift easel. He had seen Uncle John punch hole in it with his fist. The delicate stretched canvas was torn like the ends of a popped balloon.
“Sorry,” she said repeatedly.
He didn’t know Uncle John would do that to him. He placed his hands on the bars of his new caged room and stared at his art supplies across the room far from his reach.
He cried in secret as he sat on his cot. Uncle John returned, his face was red and he took a willing Sam upstairs. “Sorry,” Ryan said after she had left the room. She returned, her head hung with shame.
She looked at him and they stared at each other for what felt like hours until the bulb that swung had flickered and then died. He was sure she couldn’t see him lip the words “I love you”. He tried to see her in the dark and when he realized he couldn’t, he pretended he could. He imagined her smiling, happy to see him. He saw her beauty for what it really was – a work of art.
“Sam,” he said.
“Yeah,” she responded.
“Let me tell you what will happen to you. And maybe if I’m lucky he’ll do it to me too,” he said.
Next: Piece 8
“Wow, that is beautiful,” Uncle John said.
Like he knows what beautiful is? Ryan thought to himself.
Uncle John stood with his arms crossed. “You know, Ryan. I can’t let you go,” Uncle John said.
Ryan admired his work, almost in love with it and said, “I know.”
Uncle John patted him on the back and Ryan liked it. He felt accomplished, earning Uncle John’s approval was difficult.
Samantha waited for Uncle John to leave before she began to talk to Ryan. She was clean. Uncle John had bathed her after he was done with her in his bedroom hours before. “Psst,” she said as she began to strip off her clothes. “Paint me,” she said.
He couldn’t say no, her naked body stood draped in the poor dark lighting. She was beautiful and beauty of this magnitude, must be captured he thought to himself. He caught himself saying the word captured to himself and began to wonder what the difference was between painting her body and what Uncle John was doing. He felt gross inside like he had spawned an evil devil inside his stomach.
He still agreed and with the flashlight he lit her body with the yellow glow.
“I think I could live her too,” she said.
Ryan’s right eyebrow raised. Lies? he asked himself.
“You know, besides that bastard upstairs, I think I could get use to this,” she said. “Do you think I’m beautiful?”
Ryan didn’t want to speak. He wanted to paint and speaking was something that took him out of the space in time he had with himself and his skill. He almost didn’t notice her putting her clothes back on. “Wait,” he said.
He wasn’t done and he needed to paint her. She needed to be captured. “Why? You don’t even think I’m beautiful,” she said.
“You are. Please.” The urge to finish pulled at his heart. He didn’t understand it but he could feel the lightness of his heart and in the upper part of his stomach float.
She put everything back on and she walked up close to the bars, her hands outstretched kept her at an arms-length distance. “I’ll let you paint me all you want, but I need something.”
Ryan quickly focused on the situation, jumping out of his sublime painting moment. “I can’t help you.” It was almost like he had sobered up from a drunken stupor. “No,” he said.
“You haven’t heard what I needed,” she said.
“What do you want?”
“Your flashlight,” she said.
He thought long and hard about it. It was his to give after all, but, then again, was it? “Okay, but after I paint you,” he said and with that he began to paint as she once again undressed for him. He didn’t have the right paint for her skin tone but made due with a green paint he mixed with other paints and the painting turned out to be another one of his masterpieces that he was proud of – and one Uncle John would be proud of him to paint.
He showed her and she pushed close against the bars and kissed Ryan. His heart felt weightless and his eyes closed, he felt like he was flying. He handed her the flashlight and as she played with it he stepped back and fell asleep.
He would be awaken with two hairy fist throwing him across the room into his corner of oils and inks. “I thought I could trust you,” Uncle John said as he pulled off the belt that propped his belly fat from spilling out of his shirt and was severely beaten.
Uncle John had left with the flashlight in his hand. Click-clickty-click. Click.
Next: Piece 7
Samantha’s anger had lasted for only a couple of minutes since Uncle John was quick to correct the that kind of behavior.
Fear. Fear was something Uncle John was good at invoking. He never had to open the cage to induce fear. He just needed a little prodding, sometimes with an actual cattle prod. The sparks flew as he tapped the metal bars of the cage. His eyes lit up and spit began to fall down the side of his mouth as he stunned her repeatedly. She tried to reach for it – she wasn’t agile or fast enough – but only ended up zapping herself in her hand.
Her eyes even seemed to sweat, Ryan had thought to himself as the blues of the arcing light danced.
She became tired which had made it easy to handcuffed her. He carried her like an old finished up tag doll no one played with and took her upstairs. Ryan had finally finished his mural during the mayhem.
He stepped back and shined his flashlight at the grassy knoll. He followed the dirt path through the clouds of butterfly and over towards the dirt patch. There stood eight mushrooms. Each one represented the captives that had died in the bedroom up above.
Further, next to the trove of mushrooms stood a large diseased oak tree. He didn’t know what compelled him to add it but he thought it completed the project – and it did. Its branches twisted into the sky away from the dirt patch of mushrooms. The center one he had thought was his – in case he were to die. Maybe I’m already dead the idea was intriguing to the boy and he sat back, stared at his mural, moving the flashlight across the different pieces, and thought to himself the many intricate details of his short life.
Samantha was carried back into her cage moments later. She was too tired to struggle, too tired to care, Uncle John made sure of that.
Samantha entered stage four and was the first to reach it at such an incredible speed. She was also the first to reach a new stage – vengeance.
Next: Piece 6