Z is for Zoetrope
Sometimes I felt my life was like a zoetrope spinning in a circle, giving fascinating glimpses of light and dark in the cylinder before finally slowing down. One autumn evening somewhere in France, I found myself sitting at the table of a pavement café with a strange hunched up fellow who reminded me obliquely of Quasimodo, or at least my perception of the Victor Hugo character from the novel and the film.
I had spent the day in the town square, painting the lovely limes and sycamores with their russet, yellow and vibrant leaves strewn like a tapestry across the windows of the old stone houses. Nobody had bothered me except a few visitors and one had attracted my attention and promised to see me the next day. As I filled up the long hours turning my brush on the canvass, I allowed myself to think ruefully of the brief period when I was a household name in Britain, if not France. Today when I gave people my name, nothing registered.
The art world had moved on a long time ago. Painting was passé. You only made a name for yourself if you displayed your filthy bed or a pile of bricks and called it art.
Quasimodo slugged back his absinthe. He had an English accent which was incongruous with his appearance as a ragged French peasant.
“So when did you last see Yvette?”
“It was about a year ago when I was invited to her 30th. I can’t say I fancy her new husband much. I offered to do a painting of them and can you believe he turned me down? Said he didn’t have the time to pose. Yvette seemed a bit mortified.”
“Is he an utter shit, or just a shit in the making?”
“Oh not utter. Just too busy for family claptrap. Well who isn’t?”
And a distasteful image of Geraldine calling me a drunk came to mind. It slid away again with my second absinthe. The wedding had been the last time I had seen Geraldine too, although that had not been the time she called me a drunk. She called me it quite a bit after re-finding God. God and Marcel. I distanced myself from the Holy Trinity with a few drinks too many on occasions.
“Is he as bad as me?”
“Yvette’s husband, of course. Thought I’d lost you then.”
“Christ no. I keep meaning to give them that big, empty villa.”
Quasimodo grinned to himself and his fat shoulders trembled and strained his cheap shirt. Finally he continued.
“Look. If I haven’t said it enough, I wanted to thank you for putting me up at your place all this time while I get back on my feet.”
I started at him sharply. Now I had severe grey eyebrows my gaze could shatter a glass at 20 paces.
“Please do not get back on your feet again, as you put it.”
“Yes I know. I mean not like that. But not every fellow can paint like you. I used to be eaten up with jealously but now I mean it’s different. I can really appreciate your work.”
I laughed and refilled his glass. “Everything is different. That’s life. If you stayed the same you would have died. That or I would have killed you.”
“Like I tried to kill you,”
“Ha. Something like that, but I would have done it properly,” I told him. “You know my place is humble but you can stay here as long as you like. You may be interrupted by traveling artists or musicians but they are usually fun. Get to know them. You may learn a lot. You may learn how not to become an ass again.”
I looked him over from his irregular stubble to his overgrown brows. Monty was unrecognizable from the Monty of a previous age. Monty had been humbled and humiliated in jail. His spirit had been broken but here he was hunched over his absinthe. Middle aged, overweight, unattractive and yet far closer to perfection than he had ever been before in his life. There was a cool breeze now under the trees and the sounds of a mandolin drifted across the square. The silence between us was as comfortable as the worn out bar and the easy glances of the middle aged American across the bar who had heaped lavish praise on my work today.
“So are we going to head down to the Riviera soon?” said Monty.
His eager puppy dog voice seemed so incongruous in a big hunched over character with Dickensian brows.
“I’m sorry Monty. Like said I’m going away tomorrow. I need to go back to the Greek islands. I may be gone some time, hopefully not like Captain Oates.”
I shrugged. “ I met a drifting kid in the square today. I got him to do some painting and he showed great potential. I haven’t seen that sort of thing for a while. I said he could come along for the ride and learn the trade.”
Monty looked oddly perturbed for a moment and then he swigged back the absinthe.
“God. This is good stuff. One more and I’d convince myself I could be an artist too,” he said.
“Well I’ll drink to that. Just don’t become a stockbroker again right.”
And with that I helped the large figured get to his feet and saved him from knocking chairs across the bar.
Many thanks for reading the novella Transitions on the A to Z Challenge.