Authors: Michael Marano
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
“Exit Wound” © 2012 by Michael Marano
All rights reserved.
Published by ChiZine Publications
This short story was originally published in
Stories from the Plague Years
by Michael Marano, first published in print form in 2012, and in an ePub edition in 2012, by ChiZine Publications.
Stories from the Plague Years
was originally published as a limited edition hardback by Cemetery Dance Publications.
Original ePub edition (in
Stories from the Plague Years
) October 2012 ISBN: 9781927469224.
This ePub edition December 2012 ISBN: 978-1-927469-64-4.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Though I know he hates when I watch, each time my eyes drink the glory of him taking the gun to his mouth, it excites me.
What contrition do I owe, if he does not fully close the door of his studio?
And though it excites me, I also know the betraying thump of remorse to see him committed to anything I am not. His attention on anything but me severs me from myself. The weakness in my knees and the glutted emptiness in my loins are born of famishment for his gaze.
The shot that flies apart his head flies apart my heart. In that smothered limbo, my consciousness burns as would shadow-eternal flesh in sunlight.
I share the music of the red fog in which he drifts, his song of self-killing from which he wakes to begin his Art while the thunder-shot he limits through his Will lingers in my hearing.
Thus, do I share his Art. But never completely. His creativity defines my heart. It is right that I shatter for it, that I die during his hymns to immortality. I leave him to his Work as he replaces the gun, still oozing blue smoke, on the table before him; I leave him to the earth-marrow pigments and scabbing shade-forms he has freed.
And afterward—when he has done taking brushes crafted of his own hair and bone to what the shot has thrown of him to the canvas, and he has patched the hole made by the bullet as it passed through the canvas—it excites me again to come to him . . . to taste gun-oil on his lips and powder-burns upon the back of his scalp and to kiss coagulate paint from his fingers.
Often, in the studio perfumed with cordite, I reach down to find his Art has given him release. I touch him as if
have brought him release, and claim by proxy the beauty of his Work. To taste the gun-oil distilled through his blood into the saltiness of his release is to hold his Art upon my tongue and take it as Communion.
It is only after I have given him chilled fruit and mineral water to cleanse his palate that I dare a horizon-glance upon his work.
cleansing comes as I am burned by the russet fires the bullet has cast as layered vistas upon his canvas . . . the passions of his vision risen as living earth-tones. At times, the exaltation from the back of his head strikes the canvas so that, with a few brush strokes, working this day’s red vibrancies into yesterday’s browns, he creates swirling infinities that breathe, as if the paint still pulsed as it had within his body.
November dawn-fire dims to ash all that surrounds it. The white of the studio walls becomes smoke-stained and sad beside his Art. It scalds my eyes.
“It’s beautiful,” I
to say. I’d not let my words sully air through which his vision has just warmly flown, even if I
free my voice from the snare my throat becomes before his Work. The canvas is a well of genius. Images overlap, at varying depths.
Here—painted upon rough fabric and branded on the rough gel of my eyes, the oft-painted “house of the suicide” is reclaimed by my lover’s light. Here—the folded, churning clouds of trite dusks over the Hudson are infused with the depths of desert canyon walls. Here—a lily in a French garden flowers the colors of both new and old scars, floating on a pond of iron-rust. Here—cloaked like the images hidden within the game-pictures children love, a Starry Night made a Starry Twilight . . . with a firmament of red-crystal flecks.
Life and movement, granted by his drying blood. The blood of his life, the blood of his Art. The skill of his long and nimble fingers summon Truth. Patches of singed hair give texture to waving copper grass. Bits of teeth are pebbled to fairy-land cobblestones. A spiral of skin dances with cochlea. A scrap of eye, the pupil and iris, had, on one marvelous day, struck the far right corner of the canvas, so that the painting became a kind of mirror (so he explained), able to gaze back at the viewer with the reflexivity unique to great Art.
While he sips mineral water and tastes fruit, I clear the art books that have offended him as I would dirty dishes . . . the collections of images done by mediocrities whose work has been lauded as masterpieces over the ages . . . images my lover salvages, then unfetters with his vision and Will. Fools would call my lover’s Work “pastiche”—the taking of images into himself, so he can reuse them his own way; I rightly call it “redemption.”
It is my art to serve him and his Art.
As he showers the powder and flecks of himself from his hair, I clean his brushes and his gun. I then go to work . . . and so ensure him the solitude that gives the world such Beauty, even though the world is not yet ready to see it.
He met me on his porch.
The porch was
, though others eddied there as they fumbled with keys to mailboxes and to the converted house’s front door of moulded wood and fine leaded glass.
He parted my loneliness and asked, “Do you wish to be sired?”
His first words to me, swimming stars in my awareness, burning through years of smothered want. I’d made coming to Berkeley my pilgrimage to find myself . . . that my
could find me seemed too impossible to hope for.
Desire for him rewrote me. His question pushed all I’d been before coming to Berkeley into dream. My history, my life, became soft-edged and distanced-fogged. I was afraid.
A patch of sunlight had drawn me to his porch—I’d found it an attractive place to read of those dark angels for whom the sun is destructive. The light of this moment scattered the ash of what I’d been as would wind. I held up the book, invoking a barrier of the mundane (despite the profound truths the book itself held), so he and I could chat as if we’d met in a café, speaking in hushed, awed tones of the passions within the book. Muddy flirtation, to candle-dim the incendiary terror of that moment, to hold on to the dust-cool world in which I’d lived, because leaving it seemed too frightening.
“We won’t talk about the book,” he said, blocking my parry, sitting next to me. “And we won’t talk about the movie.
Do you wish to be sired?
Do you wish to take the Gift of my blood . . .”
‘. . .
your blood?’ would have been a more complete asking of his question. More complete, yet less True. The Beauty of the thought lay in
completing it . . . and thus allowing my mind to touch his as our bodies would touch while he sired me.
I drew a breath to speak my Completion when the rough tread of one of his neighbours intruded. The thud of work boots approached the door of moulded wood behind us. I glanced over my shoulder. A brutish head was framed in the leaded glass.
I dropped my worn paperback shield as the door scraped open and I muttered, “I should go.” I walked away as the oafish neighbour clodded onto the porch. He who would become my lover smiled as I fled to a familiar landscape of want.
“You know where to find me,” he said. As I backed away, his neighbour gave him the quizzical look the ignorant so often throw at artists.
I waded into Berkeley, my Promised Land whose Promise I’d forsaken. I let Berkeley huddle me as a vixen would her cub. Berkeley’s hills and her trees were diamond-sharp in my sight, now that my past had become so dream-diluted. The foundations of my existence seemed no stronger than the floss of long-dead spiders.
Berkeley carried me till evening, when I’d next meet
in a way that could not be called Fate, as “Fate” implies a thing from which one can charade an escape. I found myself at a reception honouring an artist whose work honoured his own caricature. I understand that, now. I’d then been impressed by all art, no matter how facile.
I wasn’t “drawn” to that small gallery. I felt as if I’d refracted there, an illusion suddenly visible to my own perceptions.
Yet once in the gallery, I
drawn to a group of beautiful men who stood about, talking. I was drawn by their looks, the musk of their bodies and the scented oils they dabbed. I was drawn by the confidence they exuded and the sweet smoke of clove cigarettes woven into the clothes they wore, by the knowledge that these were men who could
. . . who could give the gift of what they saw with their hearts to the entire world.
I stood within ear-shot of them, wanting to be desired by at least one of them. To be wanted so would be a trinket to replace the life-treasure I’d lost that afternoon.
A lovely man, ashen-skinned, with green eyes, spoke to a man with golden hair. “You’re obliged to keep a journal,” he said, “for the sake of those who will study your work. Your life is your art.”
The golden-haired man said, “No! I’ll not make the study of me or my work less of a challenge for anyone. Even
. My work is my journal.”
The other men listened with the solemnity of oaks. The looks that they breeze-cast to one another were a web of intensity in which I longed to be entangled. I wanted to be taken into that emotional matrix that has existed among artists and their lovers throughout history, and that has defined subsequent eras of creative thought.
I stepped toward that grove of men and felt something unfold behind me. If was as if a rose the size of a cloak had unfurled. My imagination told me such a miracle had transpired, yet when I turned, I saw a miracle of another sort.
He whom I knew would become my soul-mate stood before canvases that suddenly seemed drab. No great rose had unfurled. Just his hand, extended. To me.
“Your red hair was how I found you,” he said as we walked to his home. “Your red hair and your green eyes. They’re a beacon.
called me. I answered. Now things must be finished.” His hand gripped mine tighter. “Now you must be finished.”
To be finished . . .
. . . a prize much greater than what I’d just sought within the web of artists I’d left behind. An eternal moment of fulfillment, like the interrupted moment in which I had, in my mind, finished his question to me: “
. . . into my blood?
“I . . .”
“Don’t say anything,” he said. “Don’t say a word.”
We took the steps to his porch. The paperback I had no recollection of dropping was left there like a small altar. It filled me with something like nostalgia. I’d spent many hours holding it as a totem. Yet when had I first opened it? Did it have the smell of a new book, or the musk of a used one? I reached through the dream-floss of my memory just as my hand was let go. My companion snatched up the book. He flipped through it. Smiled.
Then moulded wood was pressed against my spine. The small spaces in the leaded glass caught the hairs on the back of my head as he followed the fluid motion of seizing me and pressing me against the front door with the cupping of his mouth over mine, with the rubbing of the back of his hand that held the book against my crotch.
His beautiful face came back into the focus; the rapture that had blurred him had also made the trees on the halogen-lit street a backdrop of velvet-green.
“Seized first . . .” he said.
He shook me in reply to my silence. The hand that held the book pressed harder against my crotch.
“Seized first . . .”
“. . . then . . . sired.”
An instant of
that brought stem-drops of pre-ejaculate from me.
His apartment was home. The jumble of canvases was welcome in my sight as would be the faces of family. Each canvas was blank. I loved them for what I knew they would wear, and the depths they’d acquire.
?” he asked.
“I need you to see more.”
He showed me the studio that had been a kitchenette before he had sheathed the space in rubber foam and clear plastic. The Great Canvas, for I knew what it was despite the tarp draped over it, leaned against a far corner. Like a magician producing a card by sleight of hand, he drew forth a postcard promoting the reception we’d left. The card reproduced a painting I’d seen at the reception: a lifeless portrait of a lifeless face. It had no character, for the subject had no character—I suspected it to be a self-portrait.
He hung a blank canvas behind a small paint-smeared table and chair.
Rough, scarred, and much-spackled plaster marked the wall. “Leave,” he said. “You’ll know when to come back in.”
I stood outside the French doors separating the studio from the living room. Foam obscured the windowlettes of the doors, yet spaces allowed me to peer through—as must have been his intent. The man with whom I wished to spend my redefined life came to the table with a tray holding his gun and brushes. He seated himself and placed the postcard before him. The sight of his raising the gun to his mouth was as agonizingly slow in my suddenly brimming sight as would be the sight of him driving nails through his own flesh.
My vision ripped with the ripping of his skull.
I hung in the eye of the sun, unblinking in the forever of the shot. A lifetime of dawns erupted behind my sight.
Then the grain of the wood floor onto which I’d collapsed filled my vision.
Consciousness was a sodden burden I did not want.
I stood from the fallen bundle I’d become, opened the French doors.
Through the blue veil of smoke, I saw the beatitude of him standing from the table, rising as red and rose-pink matter slowed its cascade upon the canvas.
Within the viscous, blossomed smear, the face of the portrait scabbed itself into visibility. No longer a self-portrait, it was now made valid by a true artist having seen it and transposed his pure sensibility upon it. The image on the postcard was reborn, re-visualized to be what it should have always been. I came to myself as I saw in the crimson portrait’s eyes a new profundity.
The portrait’s eyes were now those of the man who would make me his lover this night. I would be granted an infusion of the same spirit through his blood. The immortality of great Art would be attainable for me through the angel-destructive taking of his spirit.
“We’ll burn this canvas in the morning. I’ll not dirty my brushes with it. But I needed you to see.”
“I’m glad I saw.” My words were church-whispered soft.
He smiled. “I’m glad you’re brave enough to be glad. But
is not my Art,” he said, hefting the canvas off the wall. “I’d not summon you to my life if it were. You’re worthier than that.” He dropped the canvas by a pile of rubbish near what had been a wooden ice box, and then crossed the studio to where the tarped canvas leaned. “
is my Work,” he said, pulling away the tarp.