The Artist

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She squeezed the cadmium in a bright yellow streak across the palette.

She had painted in every medium, every material possible, but she still loved the richness of oils – that wonderful buttery smear of vivid colour, the smell of the linseed, the texture of the paint as it glided across the canvas.

All of it seemed more real to her than anything else. A life of its own, raw, visceral.

She dipped the sable brush in her own concoction of white spirit and linseed, to thin the paint whilst keeping the gloss. Too much white spirit would dull the verdant hues, too little would make them too sticky, too slick.

Her movements were erratic, not the usual smooth motions of wandering mind and sparkling imagination. She’d often complete a commission in a daze, almost unaware of where she was or what she was doing. Her conscious self, the side of her that was always acutely cautious, would be suppressed, allowing her hands to take over, her fingers to find the form she wanted.

That was where the magic lay…not in the end result, but in its creation.

Today was different.

Today, she was painting for her life.

The music swelled to a crescendo, pushing her adrenaline forward, hurrying her hand. The mottled texture of the canvas swirled before her eyes, a flamenco dance of colours.

Titanium white, a flash of cerulean, a dab of burnt umber and then the thinning haze of vermillion, red as flesh, peering out at her, reminding her of her slowing heart, the constrictions of her arteries, the pulsating electricity through her veins, which told her she was running out of time.

She worked fast now, pounding the canvas until the wooden stretcher creaked beneath the pressure.

The outside noises had faded away. No traffic, no loud Saturday night voices and wailing sirens. It was silent everywhere but inside her head.

Mixing now, hurried new hues emerging from the clogged up mess. Phaltho blue enriching the green she had created, a hint of lemon, a sparkle of ultra-marine.

Throat dry now. Hands shaking, fingers slipping on the brush shaft.

She HAD to finish this.

Shadows clouded her vision. The music soared as eyes emerged from the canvas, eyes she knew so well, eyes staring into her soul, accusing her, condemning her, gloating at her demise.

“I won’t give in, I won’t!” she muttered feverishly.

Mars black, thick and glossy, impenetrable, unfathomable…she was losing the fight.

“Why did you leave me?”

Amber liquid pooled in the crevices, little streaks finding a route through the strokes, dripping in splashes at her feet.

She was always fighting gravity, as most women do. Always fighting, yes, her whole life she had been fighting.

Through the gloom, the full image stared back at her.

“So, you finally painted me? Finally… It only took you fifty years,” it sneered.

“I…I couldn’t do it before. I couldn’t see you,” she stuttered.

The painting smiled at her. “Are you pleased with yourself?”

“No…no…I, just had to see you. I had to say sorry.”

“But it’s too late for that now, isn’t it?”

She dropped to her knees. Her chest compressing in on itself, pain shooting through her shoulder, her arm, down her right side. She knew what this was.

“I need you to…forgive me.” She panted, fighting to breathe, her jeans soaking up the puddles of paint on the floor, seeping slowly through the fibres to her bruised knees beneath.

PLEASE!

The painting watched as she slumped forward, struggling to keep conscious, fighting as she had done her whole existence, fighting to try and hold onto something…love.

“Please…” her voice was raspy, desperate, forcing itself through closing valves, through density of flesh, through spasms of life.

The painting stared down at her as the music floundered.

Thump, thump, thump…

“You don’t deserve forgiveness,” it whispered to her coolly. “You know what you deserve.”

Thump, thump…

“Pleaseeee!”

“You let her die, didn’t you? What did you do to save her?”

“I tried…I…”

The painting took pity on the thing before it, crumpled like an old newspaper, suddenly a child itself, curling up as an infant, as her infant had been curled up when she found it, smashed by the roadside, barely recognisable. Her baby, her life, gone, snuffed out in a moment of stupidity and violence.

It had been her fault, she was late. She should have been there as she had promised. Instead her daughter had taken a ride with a friend, a drunken friend. What was left behind didn’t even resemble a car anymore.

It had been her fault.

“Pleaseeee…” she drooled, words slurred, barely audible.

The painting sighed, better to quicken her misery than give her hope. “No.”

Thump…….thump…………

Thump.

*

*

Sophie E Tallis © 2013

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The Dust Room

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You never believe your life can change…until it does.

Kate Neilson’s life, not much of one by her own account, had bumped along in the same unremarkable way for the last three decades now. She had fond memories of being a kid, having adventures, being bold and exciting but all that changed when she was eight. A few weeks after her eighth birthday her mother had been killed in a car accident and her young life took an overnight turn from the fantasies of being a kid into the harsh realities of life. She’d given up on being adventurous after that, she’d given up on being anything really and had perfected the art of drifting – no ambition, no goals, no hassle.

Now at the age of 38, her life had drastically changed again…

Kate sat wedged in a leather chair, a blank expression on her face. She had reached brain overload about two hours before. Most of the morning had been consumed by endless papers, signing codicils, notarising documents, legal jargon and the sort of beaurocratic nonsense that she and Shaw hated. Kate knew that if his lawyer hadn’t been his friend, then Shaw would have ended up without an asset to his name. Shaw had a particular dislike, no, an outright disgust regarding paperwork especially when it came to summarising a human being’s life.

“It’s paper, just f**king paper!” he’d scream, invariably louder than he had to.

Shaw enjoyed making people stiffen in their chairs, is if he were about to assault them. Kate remembered an old friend of his, describing him as a ‘human tsunami’. That was it exactly. It was the most accurate description of him and uncannily prophetic. Shaw really was a human tsunami, whether he intended to be or not. He left people mangled in his wake. To be honest, in all their interviews together, the endless taped conversations and battles of wit, not really a battle, Kate had never won a point. But in all their meetings, she had never really been able to assess his motives. Frustratingly, right up until the end, he had remained as big a mystery as he ever had. Perhaps that was how he wanted it. He had a way of orchestrating things by invisible means, nonetheless, one always suspected Shaw of being involved.

“Right. That’s it. All signed and sealed. The realtor will sort that sign out in the morning. That was a mistake, that should never have gone up.” Shaw’s lawyer towered above her.

“Thank you, Tom.”

Tom McCrury, a great bear of a man, had been Addison Shaw’s lawyer for fifty-one years. He probably knew him better than anyone, but he was keeping tight-lipped about it. What an odd friendship it seemed. This softly spoken monolith of a man and Addison Shaw, loud mouthed, foul-mouthed and with no patience for the pleasantries of life. To Kate, Shaw had always seemed a chewed up gristly character, gristly yes, as if there was no bone or muscle and certainly no fat, just gristle…gnarled on the inside.

“Well,” McCrury drew in a long breath. “Things happen for a reason, right?” He patted Kate on the back. “Place is all yours now, kiddo, enjoy it!”

Tom was in a hurry to leave. He wrestled with the enormous cluster of keys for a moment then dropped then squarely in her hands. He strode out to his car got in and hesitated for a moment.

“Don’t forget, I’m your lawyer now. Call me if you need anything, my number’s on speed dial…lucky number seven!” he smiled, then slamming the door shut with a cursory wave, he was gone. By the rattle of his exhaust, Kate wondered if his old friend had been as generous with him. If anyone deserved to inherit, surely it had to be Tom McCrury not her?!

Kate stood on the steps for a while looking at the jumble of keys, so interconnected she’d never be able to separate them. The place was vast. There had to be a hundred rooms at least. Why on earth had Addison Shaw, reclusive heir to a fortune of billions – no single person seemed to know the full extent of his assets, why…why had he left this to her?!

She couldn’t call it a house, a mansion, or even a palace, it was just an enormous pile of rooms and turrets and grandiose staircases with nothing but the mice to waft up and down. What the hell was she going to do with it? It had to be worth… what was it Tom said?

“Oh, I don’t know, somewhere between fifteen and thirty million. Shaw refused to ever let realtors in…you know Addison.”

No, no she didn’t that was the point. She had worked at a crummy local newspaper writing minor stories and organising the ad section. A job she hated and which routinely underappreciated and underpaid her, but the plain truth was, she was a coward and couldn’t risk leaving it. Then a year ago, out of the blue, her editor had called her into his office. She’d only spoken to the guy maybe twice in five years. Anyone watching him bluster around the offices would have thought he was some hot-shot newspaper kingpin, not the king of a small town rag with an embarrassingly low readership.

Anyway, he’d lowered himself to call her insignificance in for a ‘chat’.

“I got a call this morning,” he paused. He liked pausing for dramatic effect. It just made he seem even more like the jumped up little weasel she thought he was. “A call…from Addison Shaw.”

She had no idea who he was, but she had no intention of letting him know that. One thing Kate was great at, was faking.

“Yes?”

“Addison Shaw? The multi-billionaire? He owns the Shoreside estate?”

“Yes.”

“Hmmm. Well…he wants a reporter and he has personally asked for you.”

Now she was shocked. Nobody personally asked for her, ever. The last time that happened it was over a speeding ticket.

“Me?”

“You know this guy?”

“No…no, not at all.”

Her boss eyed her suspiciously. “Really…well, he seems to know you. Wants you to go out there this afternoon.”

“What?”

“Take your camera. There are no recent pictures of this guy without those damn shades on.”

This afternoon?”

“Yeap.”

“But…but I’ve got the ads to finish.”

“Gary will have to do those. He wants you there at 2.”

“Did he say what it was about?”

“Jesus, Neilson! A story! I don’t think he’s looking for a girlfriend!”

Sarcastic little shit. That meant he’d asked and been told to f**k off. Good.

Kate left the office, for what ended up as the last time. That surreal afternoon she had meet with the mysterious Mr. Shaw and been offered a job as his biographer, a job which easily paid five times the amount she got at the Gazette. Her normal cautiousness had kicked in for about twenty seconds, until she been given a cheque for twenty thousand dollars as an advance. On her return journey home, she had stopped at the local deli, just to phone her editor and tell him to stick his job. Considering that Kate rarely swore, her exact words drew stares from the prissy woman behind the deli counter!

That was a year ago, almost to the day.

Kate stood on the steps and looked up at the colossus of a building behind her. How was she going to live here? The papers she had to sign that morning, stipulated she could not sale, rent or let the property nor could she run any business from it for a period of no less than ten years. After this ten-year enforced habitation, she would have to apply to be released from the clauses and various legal entanglements and could then eventually sell up and reap the rewards…if she refused her grand prize then this impossibly grand house would be torn down with immediate effect. She simply couldn’t abide that, to rip apart something like this for no reason, was crazy!

Yes…it would be criminal…at least after ten years she could sell up, maybe give some money to charity or something or set up a foundation for kids, something.

“Ten years, eh?” she felt the weight of it already.

The money Addison Shaw had left her, too mind-boggling to contemplate, was neatly ascribed to various maintenance areas, the roof, gardens and grounds, stonework, plaster work, upkeep of conservation work etc, then the rest into a ‘living account’, expenses, that kind of thing.

Kate slumped down on the top step. This was all too much. A week ago she still had a relatively normal life, well, sort of. She’d spend most of her days running errands for Mr. Shaw, interviewing him or doing research. Kate really had no idea how to write a biography, but her lack of credentials didn’t seem to bother her new boss.

Despite the better income, she was still living in her one bedroomed apartment trying to work out if she could afford to move to a bigger place. She had used up the advance pretty quickly, paying off debts, and though Shaw gave her the healthiest salary she could have dreamt of, she had been sensible and had squirreled it away into savings and a pension plan. She was rather proud of herself for doing that. Most 38 year olds would have blown it on an expensive house and car…but then again, most 38 year olds were married with kids. Kate didn’t fit the usual mould.

Yes…a week ago Kate was busy with an assignment Shaw had given her and was running late as usual when Mrs Forrenti had cornered her as she fumbled with her front door keys.

The old lady who lived next door to her and knew the movements of everyone in the block, was waving a crumpled envelope in her hand.

Kate smiled. “Good morning Mrs Forrenti. I’m in a bit of a rush this morning.”

“Did you see what she did with that dog?” The old woman was waving manically at her octogenarian nemesis across the balcony.

“Uh huh…I’m sure that’s right…”

“What? Are you listening to me dear?”

Kate stared at her. Why couldn’t she politely tell her to sod off and leave her alone? What did she think? That just because she was single she’d want to be best buddies with an eighty-three year old pain in the ass, who stank of garlic and lavender to hide the stench of smoke and rotten teeth? Ughh! Even now, Kate couldn’t pass a perfume counter if it had any lavender scents without wanting to throw up.

“I’m sorry Mrs Forrenti, I really can’t talk…I’m late I’ve got to go…”

“Oh my dear, you’re always late aren’t you?” she smiled. Kate got another waft of smoke-laden garlic.

“I’ll speak to you later, okay?” She turned and rushed away.

“Wait! Wait!” the old woman grabbed her arm. Why couldn’t she just leave her alone? “This is yours. That damn post boy keeps giving me your mail!” She gave her the brown envelope.

Kate stuffed it into her bag and quickly left. Shaw had asked her, on their last round of interviews to do some research for him and the woman at the records office could only see her at 9 sharp. Kate reached there with a minute to spare. She spent the rest of the day scrolling through dated microfilm and newspaper articles. It wasn’t until three, when she had left the records office to grab a sandwich, that she had remembered the envelope. It was a note in Addison Shaw’s scrawling hand. It said simply.

I am yours.

With it was a business card from Tom McCrury. On the back Tom had written – Call me today, urgent!

So she did.

That was how Kate had found out that her boss of the last year, the mysterious, reclusive billionaire, Addison Michael Shaw, had died.

At 11:30 the previous night, he had driven his Bugatti Veyron into the sea and strapped himself in the seat.

That was eight days ago.

The funeral was yesterday. Today, Kate Neilson was a billionairess…

Sophie E Tallis © 2013

Winter haze, snow days…life goes on!

SAM_2139

It’s been a little while since I last posted, sorry folks for the delay, just a few unforeseen bumps along the road of life, but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

SAM_2173Just over a couple of weeks ago I was staring out of my window at a scene of almost indescribable beauty.

SAM_2120Everything lay shrouded under a mantle of magical white. Landscapes I knew so well, were suddenly alien. Formless lumps and bumps smothered beneath snow. The trees and thickets, so stark and mournful in winter, had grown frosty fruits of their own over night. Icicles adorned gutters and everywhere lay a stillness and silence so strange to behold in a garden which usually resembles an aviary. SAM_2181

Little three-pronged footprints skitted across the lawn, looking this way and that in the hope of food. Deeper imprints from the various wild creatures that frequent our wooded garden, could be seen gathering round the feeders we put out.

SAM_2269The pond had frozen solid and there, as reminder of the beauty and cruelty of life, was a track, leading from the edge of the pond across the frozen water to the little island where the moorhens live. A mink.

A creature never intended to be on this little sceptred isle of ours, not indigenous but introduced, brought over here for the cruelest of reasons, to farm them not for meat, for us to live from, but for the vanity of fashion – for fur to adorn the wealthy and arrogant. And why was this mink suddenly roaming our countryside? Because it’s freedom had been given by those who oppose the fur trade. A noble endeavour, but of course a short-sighted one, and our indigenous wildlife has paid the price. Much like our poor English crayfish, on the brink of extinction from introduced foreign invaders, our otters struggle against the competition and our birds fall prey.SAM_2258

And so, in this scene of snowy loveliness I was reminded of the arrogance of man, the ‘great interferer’, who has through ignorance, apathy or intention caused the suffering of so much of our planet’s wildlife – species that were here long before us but whose lives now hang in the balance on the most tenuous of threads because of us.

041The moorhens, a breeding pair who had mated for life, had been living on the little island in my pond for longer than I have been living in this house. Last year with utter delight, we saw them raise three broods of chicks – little black balls of fluff with outsized feet, 18 chicks in total! We put out corn for them daily in addition to the wild bird seed mixes, peanut feeders, vegetable suet and dried fruit we put out daily for all the garden birds. Helping nature where we can. Anyway, there was the track of this mink, heading straight for where the moorhens have their permanent home. No, I didn’t see any blood, just a few brown black feathers. But unmistakably, there will be no moorhen chicks this year.  Only a single moorhen remains, the male, left alone nervously swimming the pond as it thawed, running and flying at the first sign of danger, seeming to look for its lost partner.

SAM_2145A sad tale to be sure…but it got me thinking about life, about all those calamities that befall us, those obstacles we have to overcome, those hoops we jump through, those times of strife.

Certainly for me, tough times are when I “go to the mattresses”, I’ve been through enough really tough times to recognise when something truly qualifies as a major disaster or simply another pot hole in the journey we all find ourselves on. That’s not to minimise anyone’s ‘bad time’, we all have days even weeks when we just shouldn’t have crept out from under the duvet, when everything we touch turns to pig slop, but you do find a perspective in life when you’ve really had struggles. As a result, you are able to deal with the odd crisis or recognise simply when things aren’t as bad as they seem – a lucky escape wrapped in a drama!

SAM_2135For me, everything is a matter of perspective. Everything I have and have achieved has been through damn hard work, sweat, blood, tears and persistence – no fickle luck, no easy hand outs or rich family members, just slog, but that does build character. SAM_2179

So, when the dust settles and you’ve picked yourself up. Look around. Smell the air, breathe deep and realise that things always happen for a reason. That you may just have had a lucky escape from a bad situation that could, and probably would, have become a lot worse. See those silver linings? They’re for you.

SAM_2235So, the next time something ‘bad’ or unexpected happens to you, take the time to reflect, look up from your duvet and simply breathe and you may just find that a new door opens up for you and a new horizon brighter than any you could have imagined! SAM_2104

SAM_2294As for my lonely moorhen, I cannot promise that he will find another partner, that life will get any easier for him, despite my efforts, but life does go on. Within days a pair of wild ducks arrived and a couple of pheasant have been taking up residence…life goes on. SAM_2232

So good luck to you all, my friends, my supporters, my family, life IS a wondrous and beautiful trip, make sure you don’t miss it!  😀 xx

SAM_2127

Olympic farewell! The cynic concedes…

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not exactly a sports fanatic, far from it. In fact I often joke that we have a non-sport zone in the house! But despite my cynicism and initial misgivings, especially after what I considered to be a very confusing and convoluted vision from Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, I have been utterly blown away by the Olympics!

Without meaning to, I have found myself on many an occasion watching completely spellbound by the rowing, sprinting, pentathlon, swimming and the cycling…wow…the cycling!

What has made the greatest impression, more than our incredible sporting achievements, which for such a small nation have been monumental – who would ever have guessed that our little isle would be third, beating mighty powerhouses like Russia, Korea and even our sporting rivals Australia in the medal haul! – but the greatest impression has been the sheer infectious optimism which has pored over our country, unifying all of us. The power of the human spirit, eh? A strange and wondrous thing…

So yes, I have thoroughly enjoyed these Olympics despite my jaded tendencies. The cheer of the crowds, don’t we do that well? I’ve often been to concerts in the past when the bands have declared that British audiences are the best for our sheer level of manic enthusiasm and the way we throw ourselves into the spectacle with wild abandon. No stiff upper lips here, just joy and full participation. Now, I’ve never been a flag waving nationalist, but I have felt myself brimming with national pride on many occasions over the course of these Games. Well done Team GB!!!

Somehow, despite the terrible economic situation, the wars, the strifes, the conflicts, the disappointments…we’ve all grown a little taller over these past few magical days. I guess that is what sport in the Olympic tradition really means, a bringing together of nations in peace, away from politics, religion and all the things that divide us. We are one nation, one people under the sun.

And so, after sixteen days of optimism, national pride and sporting excellence we bid a sad farewell to the London 2012 Olympics, which should really be renamed the Britain 2012 Olympics, as every city, town and community has been involved or touched in some way by these Games.

Farewell and thank you for a wonderful sixteen days of drama, achievement, laughter and tears and yes, I must say…amazing sport!

😀 xx