P is for Painting

I had been staying in Monty’s flat in Pimlico but increasingly I had been feeling like I had overstayed my welcome. At first when I had returned from Bosnia, Monty had wasted no opportunity of introducing me to his house guests as a returning hero. Now I was old news and they walked past me.

Westminster Abbey by Canaletto (Wikipedia)

Now the hubbub had subsided I was pleased to find my easel again. It was scratched and scuffed from my time in Bosnia but I could still use it. My paints were gone and I headed out to the markets of London to buy new ones. I lost myself in the mazes and eclectic streets of Camden Market. I spoke to girls with piercings in their noses and tattoos down their arms, men dressed in leather and hard drinking characters in bare bones pubs. I smelled the odd fusion of the canals, mixed with incense and jasmine rice. A fortune teller beckoned me in. She had young eyes behind the veil but was dressed the dark robes of an old hag.  She touched my palms and recoiled as if stung before regaining her composure.

“I see interesting things. A field full of shimmering poppies and dark water with a vicious undertow,” she told me. “Light and dark.”

“Covering your bases, I suppose.”

Her eyes followed me out of the booth. The next stop was a ramshackle arts supply shop where I spent much of the money my parents had given me on paints. On the way out I saw a phone number on the door for an artists’ collective that met at the White Dragon pub that evening. I decided to kill a few hours in Camden Town before attending. I drank some strong beer in a pub and the fatigue of the late afternoon fell over me.  I started to think of my parents’ solid home in the suburbs. An image of a well kept gravel path and Tilly the poodle running down it came into my mind. There were hydrangeas that were tireless in their late afternoon purple and snippets of conversation drifted over the sound  of the lawnmower, nothing meaningful – Mr. Jones talking about his new Ford, light and harmless laughter on a sunny day. The vision made me long for home and something half remembered. My parents were urging me to return to Cheltenham. I thought of the wide chaise lounge. Then I thought of fading away in the late afternoon to be as inconsequential as the dandelion gossamer that drifted away from its host in the breeze. I looked around again at the hard angles of the pub and the crackling sounds of the TV. There was a challenge in these sharp walls. I decided there and then I would not be going home.

The artists’ collective was a predictable affair. Hippies who thought they could turn their hands to moonscapes and elderly women putting the finishing touches on the overworked paintings of their miniature poodles. I liked the way we were allowed to get on with our work with little interaction. 

Now and again the organizer, a woman in her early 40s with flimsy blonde hair, walked around to look at the work. The artists would be staging an exhibition in a church in two weeks’ time and the best paintings would be featured. I painted from memory that day. For some reason the image of the child in the street in Mostar kept returning to my mind and I painted his tortured limbs and the dim shadows of the snipers down the street.

The organizer who was called Phoebe stopped by my easel, walked off and returned. When she spoke her voice was both willowy and sultry.

“Do you mind if I give you some advice?”

“I don’t mind.”

She cleared her throat and I knew some kind of criticism was coming. “I’m afraid that’s not the sort of thing we can feature at the church exhibition.” Her featured were pinched; her expression inscrutable.


“Yup. They like uplifting subject matter and that’s not it. Sorry.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint.”

She sat down on the stool next to me and I caught a glimpse of cornflower blue eyes. I was taken aback at the fragility of her bone structure through her dress.

“I didn’t say you disappointed,” she said. “I mean it’s good. No good is an inadequate word. It’s dark and grim and quite epic. If I didn’t know better I would have thought you had been there.”

I said nothing and she started to question me about my past. I told her I had traveled with a French artist for a while but I missed out the part about Bosnia. I was tired of talking about Bosnia. I told her I would be returning home to Cheltenham next week because my money had run out.

Phoebe’s right hand started frantically tapping her chin. “Oh and you will paint horses or something?”

“I have no interest in that direction.”

“Look,” said Phoebe. “You need to stay in London or your talent will die. I have a junk room in Queen’s Park. It’s small and cold and it looks out on a fire escape. You can stay there for free. Just two requirements, OK. You give me some painting lessons and you steer clear of Frank.”

That night I returned to Pimlico and walked into a rowdy party being hosted by Monty. I caught sight of his thick slab of face, the edges softened by sherry.

“Oh Melissa,” he said to the girl next to him. “This is Campbell. He was famous for five minutes for ..” Monty trailed off into squeals of laughter and Melissa turned away from me. I put my few belongings in a bag and disappeared again for the second time in my short life.

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


  1. Bravo! You had me hooked from the onset and to the end! Enjoy your writing style very much! Glad to connect through A-Z!

  2. Thanks Donna - I know my posts are a bit long for this challenge but you know...

  3. Oh good! Glad that he's getting away from Monty and not going home. I love how this is going.

  4. yes who wants suburbia? Thanks glad you like it Tracy..

  5. Very good story, well written!! I could imagine being there. But the paragraph about home sounded all too appealing. I'd have had to go back. At least for a sabbatical.

    We are on the downhill side of the AtoZ now!
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
    I am Ensign B of Tremps' Troops
    with the A to Z Challenge

  6. You are too kind Barbara - not sure where Caneyhead is but am about to find out...

  7. Don't forget he has to collect on his inheritance from Jacques! ;)

  8. Thanks Susan - he does get back to that later...some time later lol


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