Three Line Tales: Artist unknown

three line tales, week 153: a lot of paintings

photo by Beata Ratuszniak via Unsplash

All day he crouched, limbs folded tight as a disused easel, eyes on the cobbles, on scuffed work boots and tightly tied Oxfords with leather slick and shiny as glass.

I never saw him look up, never saw him sell a painting or the configuration of brightly coloured canvases change.

He’s gone but the canvases remain, peeled and paled, the gallery of an unknown, unknowable artist.

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Written for Three Line Tales. See the pic and write a tale. See here to join in.

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All fur coat and no knickers : The Daily Prompt : Facade

Glamorous female model smoking

Image: Pixabay

 

Your facade reminds me of a country house – grand but stony. I wonder if there are other similarities.

Does your beautiful exterior hide decrepitude, hidden portions of yourself you’d rather others did not peek at? No doubting you are presentable when you’ve had fair warning of visitors, but if we look a little deeper, are there places – hidden behind a red silk rope – unavailable to the public? With an air of dusty neglect and just a whiff of rodent?

If I pulled aside the curtain of your respectablilty, would I find rotting waste, a thousand dirty, hidden little secrets swept out of sight of prying eyes?

Just tell me – are you all fur coat and no knickers?

 


Written for The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt – FACADE. Write a post to accompany the word and why not pop along here to read the other posts.

A man always walking in shadow

Scruffy tie and shirt

Image : Pixabay

Does he look in the mirror before he leaves the house?

At the shirt, discoloured from over washing, dimpled fabric that never sees an iron. A sheen of sweat coats him even on the coolest days and dirt driven into pores makes his skin grey – a man always walking in shadow. A broad, flat smile – mouth stretched wide – is his permanent expression, revealing chipped teeth stained ivory by early morning nicotine and late night coffee. A furred tongue licks feathered lips.

He tries hard to be someone, but he can’t hide the truth. It’s there in his eyes.

He’s afraid. Of failure. Of being seen to fail. He works hard achieving nothing and knows one day the facade of competence he’s built to fool himself and the world will be shattered by a misplaced word or a slip on a keyboard, taking job and money, family – his sense of self – with it.

That day will come but not today. Today, he survives.

 

 

 

 

 

Can blog, can write, can act a little

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In Monday’s post, I shared with you my childhood love of the theatre.

There’s a bit of me that still loves it. If I’m ever at the seaside or at a ‘Fun Day’* at our local park and there’s a Punch and Judy booth, you’ll see me gravitate towards it.

For those of you unaware of what Punch and Judy is, imagine a brightly coloured square tent, just tall and wide enough to hold one man – maybe two – like a little mobile theatre. A square hole in one wall of the tent acts as the stage and on the stage appear puppets.

Apart from the wildly unattractive, hook-nosed Punch (who’s usually dressed in red and yellow with a pointed hat – like a court jester), there’s his equally unattractive wife Judy, their baby, a policeman, a crocodile and strings of sausages Honestly, I’m not making it up – this madness is my heritage.

Most of the characters have shrill, insane voices that drill holes in your brain because the puppeteer has a reedy piece of metal in his mouth called a swazzle. They say you’re not a proper Punch and Judy man until you’ve swallowed several swazzles. And I say, you can’t say ‘swallowed several swazzles’ if you’ve been drinking.

The storylines mainly consist of domestic abuse, infanticide, assaulting police officers, being eaten by crocodiles… It’s subversive, very dark and has passed as fit entertainment for the under tens since its first recorded performance in the UK in 1662.

Anyway, even though the voices give me a headache and the nice liberal in me loathes the laughs derived from unbridled male-on-female violence (this guy ain’t no role model, people) I will always watch a little of a performance as I pass by. Part of me loves the tradition, the history of it – and what are we Brits without tradition – but a bit of me is drawn to the theatricality of it, the idea that the puppeteer is like a strolling player of old, carrying his stage on his back – or more likely these days in the back of his Ford Transit.

And then there’s conventional theatre. I’m lucky in that I live in a biggish city with some excellent theatres. At any one time, I could choose between Shrek the musical or Warhorse, performances of Handel’s Water Music, a challenging modern piece about female genital mutilation or an 18th century Restoration comedy in one of the country’s oldest surviving theatres … by candlelight.

And as I said in Monday’s post, I really do see the parallels between actors and writers.

Both disciplines must thoroughly know their characters, how they would speak, what they would say, how they’d react to a given situation or stimulus.

We have to channel other people who might be very different from us, have different life experiences with different tales to tell.

We have to give ourselves over to the process of living as someone else and hearing their voices in our heads.

Now, if all of this sounds frightening close to mental illness, then maybe it is.

But take comfort from the fact that authors are solitary beasts by nature, usually hidden away in their Writing Caves, barely seeing the light of day from one season to the next, communicating only through email or text. They are rarely allowed out of their Caves, and if they must, if some evil agent or publisher forces them blinking into the blinding brightness of the day to promote something at a signing or a book fair, they are usually outnumbered and can be easily overpowered as their limbs have been wasted through sitting at a desk all day.

Now, actors … I’d be much more worried about them if I were you.


*Beware of anything sold to you as ‘fun’ – it will be cheap, cheesy low-grade entertainment, often with a high humiliation factor (such as stag nights, hen dos, and anything that involves the removal of clothing). If ‘fun’ is prefaced with the word ‘harmless’, it will be neither harmless nor fun. Fun is for the under tens and possibly for those over seventy who behave like under tens.

Lost and Found

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The ring hung from Grace’s finger, clashing, overlapping with her own rings. The problem was money. If only they had more money, she would never have found it.

If Simon’s salary was higher, she would have gone straight out somewhere swish and stylish like Liberty or Biba and bought herself a new winter coat. She could have donated the old one to the Salvation Army or to Mrs Bloom a few doors down. It might have been too small but with eight children and a runaway husband, her neighbour couldn’t afford to be picky.

But although the coat was drab, the cut five years out of date, it was serviceable. So when Grace found the pocket lining had come apart, her heart sank. Make do and mend.

Grace had pushed her hand through the split seam, the frayed silky edge tickling her wrist as she felt for lost pennies. There was definitely something, round and solid- but she couldn’t tell what it was. As she opened her fist, the dull gold had glowed in the light. Her stomach jerked.

Simon’s ring.

He’d never worn a wedding ring, said he wasn’t ‘the type’. But she’d wanted something for him, something he could wear next to his skin. Something he could look at and think only of her.

Grace had bought it from Mrs Bloom with money scraped from the housekeeping. It had belonged to Mr Bloom- a gambling debt repaid in jewellery. One of the only times he’d actually won, apparently. It was the stone Grace was drawn to, the flash of blue. Mrs Bloom had wanted more for it, but she had that lean, hungry look common just after the war, when rationing had cut bone deep. In the end, they’d agreed three shillings.

And Simon had loved it- Grace had known from the heat in his eyes. He’d never taken it off.

Then it vanished.

He’d tried to make a joke of it, of what a dolt he was- not to be trusted with anything. But Grace was devastated. How could he be so careless? Did he know how hard she’d saved, how much she’d gone without? She’d thrown the teapot, taken a nick out of the cupboard door. She’d known she was being unreasonable, that the loss was no reflection on how much he loved her. But once she’d started to cry, to shout, something hot and painful was unleased. It was as if a reservoir of grief was tapped- unceasing, constantly replenished- and she couldn’t find the way to dam it.

Then one day, Simon returned with a bunch of roses- the palest pink, with soft, fleshy petals. A few days later had come a new teapot and not a heavy, brown-glazed one, but bone china with trails of ivy painted on the handle. She hadn’t dared to ask where the money had come from.

But there were other things. His face softened when she talked about her day and when she spoke- even if it was only about the price of fish, or how cheeky the new bread boy was- he folded his paper, turned down the radio and she basked in his attention, sparkling like sunlight in a pool.

And now she’d found the ring.

She could show him. He might smile, laugh, pull her to him and kiss her cheek. He might.

The front door banged.

‘Grace? Where are you?’

Grace opened her underwear draw, slid the ring between a blue petticoat and a pink. She thought of his hand, sliding over the slippery fabric and smiled.

‘Coming!’ she called and headed for the stairs.


Today’s Prompt: Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.

This is linked to Writing 101 Days Four and Thirteen- Lost and Found– and imagines Grace (the old woman with dementia in the previous posts) as a young woman.

Found

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The girl with the watery eyes takes me by the arm and her mouth’s smiling, but she still looks sad. She always looks sad. I wonder if there’s something wrong with her.

She leads me into the room with all the chairs in, the one with the big window. Some of the old people sit in there to stare out at the garden, though there’s nothing to see but mud and twigs. It’s raining. It always rains.

I try to explain to the girl with watery eyes that it must be past my bedtime, that I’d better go home to my Mam, but she says I’ve only just had my breakfast. I try to tell her she’s got it wrong, but she won’t listen so I give up. I don’t want to upset her- she smells so nice.

The girl wants me to sit down, but I don’t like the chair she puts me in because I’ve seen one of the old men sitting in it. It’s the man who always has his hand in his trouser pocket. He makes me feel itchy and anyway, he smells like dirty knickers, so when the girl leaves the room, I move to another chair- the one with the big orange flowers on the cushion.

Someone coughs and I’m worried it’s the girl that smells of mince, but it’s another young woman. She’s pretty in an untidy way, blond hair falling from a clip on top of her head. She smiles at me and I smile back and for a minute, we’re just smiling at each other and I’m not really sure why.

‘Hello,’ she says.

‘Hello,’ I say. ‘Have you come to see one of the old people?’

She smiles and nods. She has some bags with her, big blue ones with long handles made of a sort of shiny fabric. The bags are open at the top and lengths of cloth spill from them- there’s pink and a peacock blue and something the colour of peas. I like the colours and the shimmery fabric. I want to feel them, but know it would be rude to do it without asking.

‘What have you got there?’ I say, my fingers twitch wanting to touch.

The untidy, pretty girl’s smile widens. ‘Scarves. Would you like to take a look?’

And she jumps up and begins to lay them over the arm of my chair, the colours flowing and overlapping, so that you can see one through another. Pea mixes with the pink and there’s one with butterflies- a pale ash ground with magenta wings- and as she pulls it from the bag and the wings curl and flutter above my head I can’t help but giggle.

At first I’m too shy to touch. The girl pulls out more and more scarves- like a magician with a top hat- and her cheeks flush and all of the hair tumbles from the clip so it hangs round her face all straggly, but still pretty. She takes off her coat and throws it on her chair and she starts on the second bag. She kneels on the floor and starts to lay the slithering cloths on the carpet and over her coat, and it’s all so beautiful.

‘Captured rainbows,’ I say and she smiles wider than ever.

She looks so happy, I’m sure she won’t mind if I hold just one. It’s a blue-green that makes me think of ducks. I run a finger over its length. It’s soft and slippy and the cloth makes little rasping noises as it slides over itself. I curl my fingers around it, scrunch it in my hand and it’s so fine it fits in my palm.

And then.

I smell the sea, taste the salt, feel the wet sand sloshing between my toes. From one hand hangs my sandals, and the wind tugs at my scarf, the teal- coloured one that Simon bought me for my birthday. I realise my other hand isn’t free by my side, but swaying with a rhythm that isn’t mine. I look up. I see a shirt, crumpled as always, and a blond head, higher than mine so I have to lean up to kiss the cheek. It’s his hand I’m holding, that swings me back and forth, that pulls me out of step, then slips back into it. The hairs are golden on bronze skin and I’m sure I’ve never seen a more beautiful man.

‘Simon,’ I whisper, but the wind snatches the sound away.

‘That’s right, Auntie.’

I’m in the room with the chairs. The sand has gone from under my feet and the only smell is air freshener and boiled veg. But the smiling girl is still here. She’s draped scarves round her neck, like boas. Her hand is on mine.

‘You look pretty today, Suzy,’ I say, ‘I like what you’ve done with your hair.’

She squeezes my hand again.


Day Thirteen: Serially Found

On day four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today’s Prompt: write about finding something.

This is a second installment, a continuation of Lost, Day Four’s post. It’s about the same character, in the same setting. A little sad and a little hopeful.

Sicily on East Street

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I’d been watching a toddler get a lecture from his mum: his look of utter misery, her restrained rage. I’d never seen anyone look as worried as that little boy did just then. Maybe that’s why it took me a moment to register that someone had asked me a question.

‘I said, mind if I sit here, love?’

There was a walking frame and its owner. She was an elderly lady with a face like a peach that’s been in the bowl too long.

‘Just need to rest me legs.’

‘No, of course.’ I smiled and went to move my shopping bags from the bench.

‘Ooh, my arse ain’t that big,’ she laughed.

I forced a laugh, left the bags where they were and she settled down beside them.

‘You working?’ she said.

‘Not today. I’m going to meet a friend, but I’m a bit early.’

‘Right, right.’ She stretched her legs out in front of her, flexing her knees. ‘Where you meeting? Café is it?’

‘That’s right.’

‘I used to run a café.’

‘Really?’

‘Know the place across there- the fruit market?’

I could hear the owner calling ‘strawbreez,’ ‘taters by the pand,’ torturing the vowels out of shape. ‘Git your peeeches, pand a punnet.’ I thought of the lady’s soft wrinkly face. I nodded.

‘Well, that used to be a café, that did. Best café on the street. And I should know, cos I ran it.

‘Clean as a whistle- spotless. None of your plastic tablecloths with drawing pins stuck in ‘em- we had proper cotton, all red and white check like you find in Italy. And no sauce bottles with all the top gummed up neither. We put our sauce in those squeezy plastic tomatoes- wiped clean every day.

‘Proper tea too, not stewed in a big pot and the bacon was always done just right with no rind on, you know?’

She talked about how busy the cafe had been, that people from the television studio had gone there for breakfast because her fried bread was so famous. She’d had photos taken and mounted on the walls.

‘There was a competition in them days,’ she said, ‘back in the seventies, for the best café in South Bristol. Who do you think won it four times in a row? Me, of course.’

‘You must have been very good.’

‘Oh, I was. Would’ve won a fifth too if it wasn’t for the landlord. Decided he wanted us out and the amusement arcade in- greedy git. The day I found out, I was so angry. You know what I did?’ She nudged me as if about to share a confidence.

‘Err, no.’

‘I found out where he lived. I left my sister-in-law in charge of the cafe and I got on the bus- two buses it was. I went up to his house, over the other side of the river. Big house, with a gravel drive and columns- columns, do you believe it? I knocked on his door. This woman answered, all pearls and a twin-set. I says, “Is he in?” she says, “Is who in?” but she knew who I meant. She vanished inside and found him.’

Her voice had dropped to a whisper.

‘He came to the door, just in his shirtsleeves, no jacket- shirt buttons underdone to there like he was a singer in a club. He smelt like meat and sweat- like a pig. A good foot and a half taller than me, he was, but still I didn’t care. I stood right up close to him.’

She leaned towards me. Her eyes seemed suddenly flat, the sparkle swallowed by something darker. Her top lip formed into a curl.

‘I says, “If we was back home in Sicily, you’d be in trouble, boy. Back home, my Poppa would’ve taken his belt to you. The buckle’s this big- big as my fists together. I seen that buckle take a strip of skin two inches wide off a man’s back. Do you know what my Poppa is? He’s Cosa Notra.”’

She caught her thumb a vicious tug with her teeth. ‘”My Poppa ain’t afraid of no one and neither is Rosa. Remember that, if you want to keep what you’ve got.”’

She leaned back on the bench, her lip still curled at the memory.

I looked at my phone, eager to be gone.

She muttered, ‘Know what he said? Nothing. I left. He said nothing.’

‘Err. Did he evict you?’

‘Nah. He offered me a twenty-five year lease.’

‘So you kept the cafe?’

She shrugged. ‘No, I’d got tired of the long hours and smelling of fried bacon.’

I felt I’d missed something. ‘So why…?’

She leaned forward again, resting her hand on mine- she smelt of peppermint and unwashed clothes. ‘My Poppa used to say- “Always make sure other people see you win. Even if you’re not bothered about the race.”’


Today’s Prompt: Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.

Inspired by a meeting on my local shopping street. If you’re reading, Rosa- all respect due.