By Sharon Willdin
The Creator strolls through his masterpiece. Observing. The wind pushes against his back, driving him forward. His brown trousers flap against his calves. Over the mountains, stars and galaxies he glides with hands knotted behind his back in a philosophical gesture. He wanders aimlessly, contemplating, absorbed in the wonderment of his creation, in awe of self.
He is The Gardener who blankly watches as life sprouts; harvesting chilies, pumpkins, coriander, parsnips; fostering deer and wild animals.
He is The Designer who is astonished by the activity of his creation; dazed as to how this life developed.
He didn’t create it on purpose. He unwittingly waved his hand and there it was. He is afraid to breathe as the mere expiration will form unintended structures, some of questionable relevance, but only to the knowing eye.
The Sage hears the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot. The lawn of Apex Park is lush and moist – dew forms minute droplets on the individual grass blades.
Two men sit in the distance on a bench beneath a lilly-pilly tree.
The Sage perceives the men as murky blurs of ebony and ash through the mist of his thick-lensed eyeglasses.
A feisty terrier snaps at a compliant bulldog on the oval.
The Sage stops next to a blue gum tree and studies the two men. He overhears their conversation.
“Tim Wilson from the railways told me this one the other day.”
“There was this Priest givin’ confession an’ in walks this bloke who says, Forgive me Father for I have sinned…I had sex with Fanny Green on Tuesday night.
The Priest says, Alright my son, you are forgiven. Say three Hail Marys and one Our Father. The bloke does what the Priest says an’ goes outside to say ‘is penance.
Twenty minutes later another bloke comes in an’ says, Forgive Father for I have sinned… I had sex with Fanny Green on Wednesday night.
The Priest stops for a few moments but then says, Alright my son, you are forgiven, say four Hail Marys and one Our Father. ‘e goes outside an’ says ‘is penance.”
The Sage strains to listen.
“Ten minutes later another bloke comes in an’ says, Forgive me Father for I have sinned… I had sex with Fanny Green this mornin’!
The Priest is silent. The bloke pleads for forgiveness until the Priest finally gives in. Alright my son, you are forgiven, say four Hail Marys and one Our Father. The bloke goes out an’ says ‘is penance.”
The Sage wonders if he has met this woman.
“Anyway Sund’y comes along an’ the Priest is givin’ Mass an’ in saunters this sexy long-legged red’ead in a tight black leather mini skirt with stiletto ‘eels an’ wearin’ a low cut white shirt. She walks straight up the aisle, an’ jiggles ‘erself into the first pew, directly in front of the Good Father.
The Priest turns to the Altar Boy an’ asks ‘im, Is that Fanny Green?
The Altar Boy shakes ‘is ‘ead an’ replies. No. I thought so too Father, it’s just the reflection from the stained-glass window.”
The Sage watches the men convulse and feels the ripples of their laughter. He drifts on.
He travels through a small village with smoking chimneys and sand-stock cottages until he reaches the place where he dwells.
Cement steps welcome his arrival. Bushes and undergrowth obstruct the path. The front door is marked with a crack from a fist fight over a married woman.
As he enters the building a waft of rotten socks and must is released.
Mustard carpet is worn thin in the corridor. It’s covered by off-cuts of discarded runners from the disposal bin outside the town’s floor shop. Antiques and unintentional collections of Art Deco furniture clutter the lounge room and wait never-ending prospects of rejuvenation. Paintings, kept as a testimony to his ability, adorn the walls. The wallpaper plays host to crops of mold that have propagated across its pattern of elaborate gold-crowns. Evidence of numerous pottery classes lines the floor and rests on mosaic-tiled coffee tables.
In his Art Class, the lecturer and his peers call him a genius. The Sage rarely speaks. To these comments he just frowns and accepts their perceptions as a fact of life.
The Sage stops to examine the unfinished portrait that he has been working on. He recalls becoming distracted from it when the nude model decided that she wanted a bubble bath with him instead. He obliged her, but now struggles to remember what she looked like. He decides that he will have to ask her to pose for him again if he wants to finish the piece.
The Sage is set in motion by plops coming from the kitchen tap. He walks through the house and twists it harder. It makes no difference. He looks out and he sees the ungroomed garden. Outside is where he belongs.
A tubby white spaniel with tawny patches welcomes him as he steps out into the yard.
The Sage potters around. Sniffs the fruit on his lemon tree and crushes a kaffir lime leaf in his hand.
He sits down on a bench made from discarded bricks and a worm-eroded railway sleeper. He observes the disorganized sprouts and watches a snail move along the ground and then on to one of his pumpkin vines which has randomly spread itself across the yard.
Dusk settles, the air chills. Saturn and Mars reveal themselves before the Moon begins to rise.
Gino’s hair is preened and pruned to stand up on its end without the sticky look that gel creates. He touches his face and is satisfied that it is still soft and smooth from the wax he had at the beauticians the week before. He tugs at the lapels of his imported European suit. There is not a wrinkle to be seen. He is pure perfection.
He examines himself in the mirror to make sure there is not a fly-away hair. Immersed in his own reflection, he moves his chin from side to side to determine the best pose for his bone structure. He notices a zit. His heart pounds and his breathing becomes rapid.
Slowly, with expert precision, he grips the whitehead tightly between the tip of his manicured fingernails, and it pops out.
He grabs a cotton ball and presses it against his skin. He looks back at his reflection and jumps, the pus has now become fixed to his image in the mirror. He panics and reaches for a washer. It streaks and smudges as he wipes it off. After a few goes the imperfection is deleted. He removes the cotton ball to see a red throbbing lump, and he coats it with concealer.
Tonight, Gino is waiting for his girlfriend, Sharon, to pick him up in her red Alfa Romeo, but as usual, she is late. He anticipates walking into the restaurant, where all his friends are waiting to eat, and sees their hungry eyes look away from the menu and to him.
His two-bedroom apartment is sparsely furnished in black and white. Everything has a place and everything is in order. Gino has a separate bedroom for his clothes. The floor is lined with a continuous row of designer boots that circumnavigate the room and all point in the same direction.
There is a tap at the door. Gino will not answer the door without his boots. He carefully chooses the right pair, and as he does he accidentally knocks two out of position. He becomes anxious and has to re-align all the boots again.
Sharon pounds and yells at the door.
Gino feels guilty and shouts back to her that he is coming, but instead he retreats to the bathroom to wash his hands repeatedly, until he feels relaxed enough to face her.
When he opens the door, he kisses her and pretends that nothing has happened. He tilts his head to the side and gives her one of his well-practiced pouts. She becomes giddy and circles him, swooning at his beauty.
Don is a Writer. He looks at a blank page and grips a pen between his finger and thumb. The pen begins to move but he is not conscious of what he is writing. He sees a weeping sore on his thumb and can’t remember how he got it. He tries to focus on how the sore feels but can’t make the connection.
On top of the TV there is a photo of Don in a streaked silver-frame. His shoulders are propelled in front of his torso, his jaw is locked, and his thin lips are pressed firmly shut. It is as if he is walking into a spotlight and every flaw can be seen; sallow skin, pot belly, man boobs, flaccid muscle tone, and the resemblance of a blonde porcupine on his head.
Don’s flat is messy. Clothes are draped over the chairs. Books litter everywhere. Towels are stuffed under the doorway to keep in the warmth. Rotting food fills the sink and the bins in the kitchen.
There are no windows, instead there are three watercolor prints of hefty dry shrubs.
He lives alone but he is surrounded by activity above and below.
An engine thuds beneath the block of flats. A clock ticks. Sounds of cars, trains, and cat fights can be heard from the direction of the street.
Someone is washing.
Someone is crying.
Someone is being beaten.
Someone is cooking.
Someone is being raped.
Someone is being stabbed.
Someone is having an orgasm.
Someone is working with weights.
Someone is playing basketball.
Someone is being robbed.
Someone is living in fear.
Someone is playing Arabic music.
Someone is playing Classical music.
Someone is playing Irish music.
Someone is playing Chinese music.
Someone is moving.
The Art Gallery is riddled with different styles and acuities. The Sage examines the Realists and reflects on the Impressionists but his attraction is for abstract expression.
He relaxes before Picasso’s Reclining Woman with a Book and absorbs its form. As he does, he overhears a conversation.
“Did you know that the Cossack Warrior is gay?”
“What! The Cossack Warrior?” The soft voice seems shocked.
“Yeah…I can’t believe it myself. All that weight training. What a waste.”
“How do you know?”
“Some woman found him on the lounge room floor with her husband.”
“The Cossack Warrior is gay?” Don is amazed.
“Yeah, who would believe it?”
“The Cossack Warrior is gay, how about that?”
Don becomes resolved and he and his companion move away.
The Sage is left standing alone in the hollow dome absorbed in the portrait before him.
Giggles from Gino and Sharon echo along the corridor. They had finished dining and decided to immerse themselves in some culture before returning home for the evening. As they cruise arm in arm through the gallery they notice that they are far too trendy for the place and they can’t help avoiding the desire to heckle all the canvases as they go.
They stop next to The Sage to look at the portrait.
“What the fuck is that?” Gino is deeply offended by what he sees.
“OMG she is so fugly.” Sharon opines.
There is a long silence while they frown to make some sense of the piece.
“That’s not art!”
“This place is a fucking joke, come on.”
In his bid to escape Gino bumps into The Sage who is moving away from the portrait to view the next painting in the eclectic exhibition, Ernst’s The Elephant Celebes. Both their shoulder’s crash together simultaneously like atoms attempting to fuse.
The impact causes The Sage’s glasses to fall off one of his ears, and it jerks him out of his magnetized state. He stutters at the prospect of having to speak.
Gino is equally thrown off guard. He gawks at The Sage and decides that in fact it is himself who needs to apologize. Gino says, “Sorry mate” as feels for his hair. He relaxes; it is in perfect order.
Sharon takes the opportunity to stare uninhibitedly at The Sage and sees that he is wearing a South Sydney Football Guernsey, knee-high red and green striped socks, and he has a pink and white sweatband wrapped around his head, which is badly stained.
Gino stands tall, bends his arm in a bow, and Sharon slides her arm inside his. They coast off as if nothing had happened.
Gino jokes when The Sage is out of ear shot, “Did you see what that dick was wearing?”
“Doesn’t he even own a washing machine?” Sharon laughs at her own wit. Gino laughs too.
Sharon repeats, “Doesn’t he even own a washing machine?” Gino laughs.
The couple sail off.
“Doesn’t he even own a washing machine…”.
That night Gino dreamed he was handed some yellow liquid in a metal jug. He mistook it for purified butter and sipped it. After he drank the contents of the jug he realized that it was a mixture of vomit and the drained infection from the wound of a cancer patient. He tried to spew it up but he could not get it out. He faced up to the knowledge that the disease will grow within his body without his awareness.
An hour past midnight Don was still awake toasting himself in front of an open radiator amid the smell of burning dust and hair caught in the bars of the grill. He rubbed his hands to generate the warmth required to scribe unconscious thought.
Purposeless rotations of solar flares
loose strings of frail coincidence
resist the urge
to impose a narrative to connect it all
The Sage went to see Father O’Neil the following week and confessed that he has observed that representations of women are violated in the name of art.
The Creator postulates that it is gravity that holds everything in place.
Sharon Willdin is an emerging writer who is a graduate from UNSW, University of Sydney, and the Australian Film, Radio and Television School. She won the Olga Masters Short Story Award in 2015. Her short stories have been published in The Weekend Australian, Antithesis Journal, Anamesa Journal and Chicago Literati. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Visit her website sharonwilldin.com for more information.