Tuesday, April 14, 2015

L is for Loss

November arrived in Kos in the form of cold, driving rain across the beach. The pristine sands of summer seemed a distant memory as the heavy tides brought in driftwood and the trash of Greece and Turkey  from the Aegean.



I wondered then what would sustain us because all of the tourists had left and there was nobody left to buy paintings. It didn’t stop Jacques going out in all weathers and painting windmills. We remained at the hotel and we were allowed to stay in the room free in exchange for painting a mural in the lobby. It was a stilted affair of vine leaves, plate smashing and all of the other clich├ęs of Greece, but Jacques urged me to put my misgivings aside and to go through the motions. I wondered what Jacques’ plans for us were then but whenever I asked about the future a far off look came into his eyes and he patted me on the shoulders and wandered off. In the evening we would hang out with Jacques’ cronies in the bars and we would walk back to the hotel with an uneven gait past the colorful shipping boats moored up for the winter.

Jacques seldom coughed when he was out drinking with the elderly Greeks but once he was back at the room the hoarse rasping would sound in his lungs and he would mutter about not having long left in the world. I never took him seriously until one night when he asked me to sit down with him. I remember the scene well. We were in a courtyard bar in the old town and the waxy light of candles fell on his face. He had the visage of one of the Greek gods he spoke so highly of then.

He hesitated before talking to me gravely, gesturing up at Orion in the cold winter sky. “I always wanted to be like him. I wanted to be a hunter and to be immortal in the night sky,” he told me. “Alas mortality catches up with me. You need to prepare yourself for the fact I will soon be dead Campbell. I have valued your company in my last days, but don’t think me soft boy. I would not have spent them with you, had I not seen the tremendous potential you have as an artist. I have got by emulating the best my boy but I am a pale imitation. You are an original, which means you may never be wealthy in your lifetime.”

I clasped his hands at the time. “You have taught me all I know. Without you I would never be painting like this. You cannot leave me in this way.”

I felt dizzy then. The emptiness of the island and the wide swathe of the Aegean washed over me. I was spinning in the cold heavens with Orion strung high above me.

Jacques’ steady grey eyes met mine and I sunk into his familiar silence. When he finally spoke it was measured. “Campbell. At some point I want you to visit my lawyer in Budapest.”

“Where?”

“It’s Hungary dear boy. I have the address. I can’t recall whether it’s Buda or Pest. He will know to expect you. I didn’t make much money in life but I would rather you have it than the vultures who I once called my family. The details are in the drawer by my bed.”

“Jacques please don’t be so cold. Have another Ouzo.”

“You are in denial I am afraid. A touching if misguided state of mind. You will curse me if I don’t give you this information now. Please don’t think it will be easy for you. I’m not going to help your passage to Budapest. Like most things in the world, you will have to find your own way.”


Two weeks later I contemplated the corpse of the artist on his hotel bed. Jacques eyes were sagging and lifeless and all the joy had left his mouth. I did the one thing, I knew he would have wanted me to do. I pulled out my easel and drew the body, sparing nothing in my depiction. Tears wetted the canvas and sobs welled up in me but I kept on painting. The end result was brutal and barbaric and yet there was a latent power in the corpse. I knew it was my best piece of work so far.

Chapters from my novella Transitions are entirely fictitious and no resemblance is intended to real people or events.

5 comments:

  1. Oh my. That last scene is touching and disturbing at the same time. The transformation and growth of Campbell is really well done.

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  2. Ah, life IS loss. I had a holiday on Kos once, I got picked on by a lorry driver who thought I was chatting up his mum. (I wasn't).

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    1. ah those Koss stories - never been there bit the brochure looks nice..

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  3. This poor kid is going through many losses, but he seems very resilient through it all, plus he's learned that he has a gift!

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