Driftwood

Photograph by Phil Sharp, Story by Matthew Landers

Stefan tried to place what it was.  What exactly it was about her lying next to him that made the darkness of his bedroom seem like an old friend, rather than the saboteur it had always been. 

    She lay, curled up at the edge of the bed. Her black hair stretching across the Egyptian cotton like The Kraken. The gentle cadence of her breath the only sound save for the ticking of the bedside clock. She was beautiful. Not beautiful like Caravaggio or Botticelli or any of those renaissance pricks would understand.  No cherry lips or porcelain skin or longing for the divine. She wasn’t made in heaven. She was better for it.

    He leaned across and kissed her on the head. She mumbled something incoherent and he thought his heart might burst. He lay back smiling, his eyelids already heavy. Then he heard the window break….

              

*  *  *

‘Fuck!’ 

    He tried the light switch again. Nothing. He could hear the traffic from the square below, a man murdering the strains of a fifties do-whop tune, cutting the throat of each loving lyric slowly and without mercy. Something about the sounds were clearer than usual. The damp smell of the night filling the room - along with something else. Something caustic he couldn’t quite place. From the streetlight he could see glass on the black and white tiles - the shattered window hanging open like a broken wing.

    He gripped the handle of the kitchen knife tightly and stepped inside.  He walked over to the window, closed it and looked out along the window ledge that ran along the building. Nothing. The city below continued oblivious. It had seen it all before.

    ‘She’s dead’

Stefan span around. There he was. Sat in that fucking white linen suit. That comedy of a suit that made him look like an extra from Miami Vice. Markus. He was playing with something in his hand. What was it? Gold? No. It was a lighter. Wind proof - like the soldiers had in the war.  

*  *  *

 

Art for Stefan was never about beauty. It wasn’t even about money. Art for him was about time. He understood that for some people art was about humanity, or the truth behind the mask, or just fucking pretty to look at. But for him it was about something different entirely.

    Picasso’s Guernica took a month to paint. Thirty one days. seven hundred and thirty hours. forty three thousand and eight hundred minutes. A month of a great man’s life. May 1st to June 8th  1937. It was etched in every line and brush stroke on the canvas. And for the right price you could own it. A pound of Picasso’s flesh, his blood, his guts…his time. They said time was the only commodity you couldn’t buy. Well that was bullshit. Stefan had been buying men and their precious time all his life. 

    He looked around the room, the priceless African throne Markus was sitting on, the Chinese vases, the Italian Porcelain, the Hockney on the wall beyond. All fragments of time. All pieces of lives he owned. He had liked to own things. He liked to feel their weight around him. It made him feel…secure. 

    ‘Put the knife down. There’s enough paraffin in here believe me’

Stefan did as he was told. The knife dropped to the tiles. Markus got up from his chair walked calmly over and picked up the knife. He paused – then he stabbed Stefan in the shoulder - hard. The pain was white. Stefan screamed.

    ‘She’s dead.’ Markus said again.

    ‘I know!’

    ‘You killed her’

    ‘No’

    ‘You didn’t hang her. Personally. But you may as well.’  

    ‘Markus…’

    The knife appeared under Stefan’s throat. 

    ‘Don’t call me that daddy dear. You know I don’t like it’

    It was true. He didn’t. But then Stefan hadn’t much cared. He hadn’t cared about his children at all. His life was owning, buying, aquiring. You got your kids for free. It hadn’t seemed much of a challenge.

    ‘She loved you’ Said Markus, manic now. 

    He was talking about his sister Susan. Stefan had shipped them both off to boarding school as soon as they could talk. To be fair they enjoyed it much more than home. If things didn’t go Stefan’s way the kids bore the brunt. And their mother of course. Until she….passed away.

    ‘I was trying to get hold of you Markus. I wanted to talk…Things are different now’

    Markus sneered.

    ‘That slut Tara you’re playing happy families with…Is she here?

    Stefan swallowed down the panic.

    ‘No. No she’s away. Vienna’

    ‘Of course. Shame. We could have had a family get together’

    ‘You don’t need to do this…I…

    The knife at Stefan’s throat again. Hot tears down Markus’ cheeks. He indicated the masterpieces watching coldly from the corners and walls.

    ‘Susan was all I had. Now she’s dead and you sit here in your castle with your dead man’s chest. He was crying now.

    ‘All the people you’ve destroyed. For what? Because you could. Because you had to? I waited. I waited for Jehovah to strike you down but you just get fatter and richer while the rest of us starve.’

    ‘Please Markus…I have something…’

    ‘There is nothing good come from you now Susan’s gone. Me. You. We’re like a fucking disease….’

    He raised his hand above his head, a blue flickering flame snapping at the air.    ‘Dadda…’

    Markus looked up. In the doorway of the room stood a little girl with jet black hair. Jet black hair and eyes like green ocean pools.

    ‘It’s ok sweetheart.’ Stefan said. 

    Markus blinked.

    ‘This is Mia. She’s your half sister. You asked what good I’ve done and there she is. The only good I’ve done. But look…Isn’t she a masterpiece?’

    Markus smiled. Mia smiled back. 

    ‘She’s got Susan’s eyes’ Markus said smiling.

    Then he was sobbing, sobbing deep and long until he fell into his fathers arms. Stefan held onto him tightly - A piece of driftwood in a storm….     

© 2016 A Thousand Word Photos

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