A walk by the sea (56)

It came as it always did, uninvited yet expected, the clear start of a new day, a clean sheet to veil the dark events that lay behind him. His eyelashes were sticking his eyes shut, and he had no intention of opening them: why get up? To ponder on the screwed up rehearsals of the previous evening, the bitter certainty he felt driving home, and the unashamed giving in to his desires. She was there to take him to places where pain was stifled and loneliness quenched, but she went home early, leaving him to his thirst.

Booze lay heavy on his tongue and teeth; he swallowed, wishing he could wash it all off. His hand searched the bottle, which rolled emptily under the bed. Cursing, he rolled, too, to his other side, trying to produce some saliva to be able to swallow again. His throat was so dry it literally hurt, and he sat up with tears of anger in his eyes.

So, he could not sing as well as he used to: big deal. They would choose easy songs. He didn’t mind… exerting his vocal chords and spitting his lungs out only to make his fans swoon may have been his greatest purpose in life then, but now, after having lost so much, he was happy if he could open his mouth and sing a decent song, after which they would let him be.

There was no turning back: breaking the contract would mean endless legal fights and most of his money spent on satisfying the record company. He was trapped, and he would have to finish the album, and the tour. Singing, however difficult it looked now, was his only option.

His skin looked ashen in the mirror, and his beard unkempt. He was tired of shaving, as there was nothing to shave for. Besides, Angela loved it. Why not make her happy, at least.

The toothbrush trembled in his hand, and his stomach groaned heavily. He rinsed his mouth, drinking cold water directly from the tap, gulping it down thirstily until he could drink no more. Even then, he felt unsatisfied, but he knew he would not be able to quench his thirst with water.

If only that surprise party would not ruin his prospects so completely… a first event to campaign for his comeback, Ferguson said. Only a few hundred people, not more. Just perfect for testing how well you will be received in the future. All of them loaded customers, so dust your most delightful songs and put up a show for them.

Joshua threw the toothbrush into the sink and shut the door with a bang on his way out. An empty bathroom, an empty living-room, everything was empty around him, save for the few hours Angela spent with him. And she… she was distant, she was acting superior to him, she was patronizing him, which he hated, but there was no refusing her when she was straddling him, or when he had alcohol in his system.

His every fibre longed to drink something, but there was none left. A bottle of whiskey, one of cognac, some empty beer-cans and a bottle of some posh dessert wine someone had given him, sometime, somewhere, he forgot when and where, were all that reminded him of his drinking habits in the past few days. In the mornings, he called a cab to drive himself to rehearsals, but in the evenings, after she was gone, he let it all go.

Aware that he would have to go out and buy… well, if not drink, then food, at least, he impatiently put on a pair of old jeans and a shirt that had seen much better days. He combed his hair with his fingers and looking in the mirror, he thought with a smirk how he was starting to look like a hippie. Hiphei. No need to get any glances of recognition from anyone: he wanted to avoid that hell as long as he could.

It was a wet day, a thick drizzle pouring down, pale sunlight hardly visible through thick clouds. He didn’t mind getting soaked, it made him feel alive. It woke him up. He walked slowly and with a bit of a stagger, closing his eyes after every three steps or so to enjoy the feel of rain on his skin. He remembered the heavy, fleshy feel of rain in England, falling in large drops that carried meaning and a promise of redemption: here, water came in an annoying mass without purpose. It was only suitable to soak clothes and keep the air humid.

Suddenly it occured to him that Christmas was approaching… his family. He hadn’t talked to them in weeks. With the pretext of being busy with preparations and rehearsals, he kept to himself, answered to his mother’s messages but very briefly, and shunned them, if he wanted to be completely honest. They would pity him, and try to make him feel better, his mother would worry, she would-

He was a sad mess and perhaps he should stay away from them altogether, naming his newly-forming career for a scapegoat.

Carrying a paper bag that was quickly becoming dark from the humidity, and that contained a small loaf of bread, some apples and cheese, and two bottles of whiskey, he ambled across the road, not really caring about the time, or the rain. His arms were holding his shopping tight to his chest, a substitute for someone to love, and he walked towards God knew where.

He didn’t even know what day of the week it was. He tried to remember when the show would be held… he vaguely remembered Friday… and that was two days ahead… so it must be Wednesday. Any rehearsals that day…? He wasn’t sure. He would call Angela to help him find out. He knew she would be happy to be of assistance, the professional that she was.

Because he was walking with his head hung, he almost bumped into someone, or actually, something. Cursing under his breath, he looked up to see two people carrying a large, flat and rectangular object, covered to shield it from the drizzle. There was a gallery right where he had been forced to stop, and the men were already carrying in other similar objects, apparently paintings. He instantly thought of Mary and the pain in his chest was so sudden he squeezed the wet paper bad tighter.

One last painting had to be carried in and they were already closing the van, so he looked inside the gallery, out of curiosity, or perhaps, subconsciously, to recover some long lost memories of a long lost time in a long lost place with someone who, for a short while, kept him sane, and wanted, and happy.

The gallery was officially closed and its contents were hurled together in a mess, but propped against a wall with many other paintings he saw a canvas that beckoned to him to look at it more closely, and he did.

By the time a pretty young thing closed the glass door after giving him a polite smile, his shopping bag landed on the ground and he held onto the glass, staring at his own painted image lying on her sofa next to her fireplace with her cat on his bare stomach.

No, he must be hallucinating again. He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again, half hoping the painting would be gone like the apparition from the beach. The painting, however, was still there.

He knocked on the glass door, attracting puzzled glances from inside, until the pretty young thing walked seducingly to the door and opened it.

-We’re closed, sir. The gallery is scheduled to open on Saturday.

-What. Wh- when?

-Six in the evening, sir.

-Is. Do you know the artist. Who did these. Do you?

-No sir, I’m just helping out.

And with that, she closed the door, leaving him panting with a hundred questions on his lips.

When he recovered from his first shock, he searched madly for any inscription on the windows, for her name, for her date of birth and death, anything, any sign she was dead, or alive, or that it was indeed her work to be exhibited. There was nothing, but the longer he stared at the painting, the more certain he was that Mary had painted it. Based on the sketch he had seen that night…

When he lifted his shopping, he noticed one of the bottles had broken and soaked the bread. He took the other bottle out and left the rest at rain’s mercy. It was fine. He didn’t need anything else.

(to be continued)