The Red Canvas

The Red Canvas


She had lain in the yellowing enamel bath for two hours emptying and refilling the water until some of it sloshed over the roll top sides. The taps squeaked when she twisted them and the pipes honked like an arriving ship as the water made its way along the rusting pipes. She leaned over replacing her red 60’s phone back down on the cracked checked tiles. He’s not answering again. She put it down amongst a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, a chipped glass ashtray, her writing pad, pen and crumpled pieces of damp paper. She had been scribbling lots of incoherent notes. Lying back in the bath thoughts filled her head.

The only one I let in has gone. Him and all his talent. Gone.

She finally eased her creamy white body out of the bath as shadows started to creep in through the frosted panels of the window. She caught a hazy outline of herself in the mirror as she climbed out; her stomach was hanging with its puckered gathered seam up the middle and her empty breasts drooping down low. She clambered over her things on the floor leaving pools of water from her feet as she reached for her silk Chinese bathrobe. Her hands looked insipid; the tips had gone white and felt ridged and numb as she tied the robe in tightly, sucking in her flopping stomach like she was tying a knot in a sack of rubbish. Wiping the wetness from the mirror, she saw she had a smearing of red lipstick slashed across her mouth; the rest of her make-up had run down her cheeks mixing like bleeding watercolours. Her face still looked like it was hidden by the condensation; abstract and clouded.

On her way to her tiny kitchen she ran her long bony fingers along the wall; it had torn layers of peeling paint and patterned blue wallpaper. She loved that each layer showed its history, its decay. Opening up her refrigerator she was met by the smell of soured milk, though it was empty except for a few half- filled jars looking like a collection of preserved body parts. She lifted out the nearest one and unscrewed the lid, curling up her nostrils at the vinegary smell. Then plunging in her claw- like red painted nails she pierced at a slimy gherkin before sucking it straight into her mouth, vinegar running coldly down her hand. She felt the little hairs of the gherkin as it brushed past her lips, but when she bit through the acidy flesh it was squidgy; mushy, foul.

Muttering to herself she walked through into her bedroom, kicking aside some lumpy black bin bags. Sitting on the edge of her springy bed she looked up at the white canvas splashed with red paint. She lowered herself onto the uneven floorboards and grabbed at a bag finding a crumpled black hat; it had a little chirpy robin attached lopsidedly on top. This is the one, she thought. She tried to close her jittering eyelids. She was waiting for him, if he didn’t want to speak with her on the phone, perhaps he would come to see her.

He always liked to be the first one to speak. Even when little, he would plead with her to play again, tempting her with painted dollies and a hand held out offering her a dainty cup from her tea-set.

She held her breath, as she heard his feet padding towards her.

‘My dear,’ he said eventually, his voice soft. ‘How are things?’

She didn’t answer now that he was here she didn’t know what to say.

‘You still have that canvas up?’ he said, and she swore she smelt his smoky breath on her face. ‘It won’t help you know.’

Her face drained; felt lifeless.

‘It’s morbid my love, why would you preserve it?’ he asked.

‘It’s the last piece I have,’ she croaked finally, a watery bead spilling over her bottom eyelid leaving a wet trail down her parched cheek.

‘It was intentional you know,’ he said.

‘Oh I know,’ she sighed hanging her head, the little robin on her hat bouncing, like it was getting ready to fly.

When she had organised his funeral, she told everyone to dress up, have a party; it is what he would have wanted.

She had circulated round his white brick studio pointing her gloved finger at the white canvas with the red splash.

‘And this,’ she had said, ‘was my son’s last painting.’

She took the hat off; he was gone again, never stayed long these days.

Swallowing she remembered when they told her they had found him.
He had lined the white canvas up behind him, they said.
And he shot his own brains out.

Rhona Millar began writing recently following a Creative Writing course. She works in design alongside studying for a BA Humanities (Specialising in Creative Writing). She has been published this year by Ink Sweat and Tears, Octavius and Hot Tub Astronaut.

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