Michelangelo

 

Here’s another short, also unedited.

There’s a tremendous sculpture in a Dublin park, and it began when Mick (it’s a name) needed to dispose of a plastic bottle; I don’t know why he didn’t hang on to it until he found a bin. As he walked along the path beside what we’ll call The People’s Park, swinging the bottle and watching the attractions of the distant carnival, he wondered what the lights would look like through the green plastic. He removed the label and held the bottle to his eyes, giving a green tint to the world. The coloured lights of the carnival now seemed to pulsate and shine brighter. When Mick removed the bottle from his eyes, the world seemed a less interesting place. He became bored again and threw the bottle up in the air; when it came down, the bottle bounced against the railings and slapped Mick in the side of the head. He jumped away, turning and shouting at the bottle for attacking him. He stamped on the bottle with such force it burst in a loud bang. Mick’s heart jumped, his body weakened by the shock of the unexpected noise, he ran away, like a criminal leaving the scene. He will not return to this story, but he left behind the green plastic bottle, and that’s what we’re interested in.

Early next morning, the street sweeper passed with his cart. He swept up the leaves and litter and had started to pick it up with the shovel when he noticed the bottle. He lifted it from the shovel and after dumping the rest of the little into his cart, he held the bottle up to examine it; turning it around in his hand, he found beauty in the distortions where it had been squashed. He put the bottle into a black bin liner that was slung between the handles of his cart, and then continued with his work, and occasionally wondering about the lives of the people who passed by.

He recalled a woman who, one night outside a pub, announced, ‘I work at Tesco head office,’ after she had asked him what he did, and he had answered, ‘Amongst other things, I sweep the streets.’ As soon as the recollection came, he realised that the woman had just passed him by without recognising him, well, maybe she did recognise him. Maybe she remembered that when she had made her announcement, he had asked what she did at Tesco head office, and then listed off all the jobs he could think of, from CEO to toilet cleaner. When she asked what he did, he replied, ‘I make sculptures out of rubbish.

‘Oh wow, that’s so cool. I love ‘found objects’. And what compels you to do that?’

He shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t know. I just started doing it. I found interesting looking rubbish at work.’

‘What do you mean, ‘at work’? I thought you said you were a sculptor?’

‘No. I said that amongst other things I make sculptures out of rubbish.’

‘So where did you study?’

‘For making sculptures? I just stuck things together and work on them till they look nice, that’s all.’

‘Oh.’

That ‘Oh’ had been expected. It was usually followed by a polite, and sometimes a not so polite exit. It was sometimes followed by assurances that ‘so you’re not an artist.’ But he couldn’t remember it ever having been followed by her next question.

‘So what do you do for a living?’

Never having encountered this question, he didn’t know how to answer it, not that he was ashamed or embarrassed by his job – and then he realised that he was a little embarrassed, and he didn’t know why, it was honest work, and probably more necessary to the world than whatever it was she did at Tesco head office.

‘I sweep the streets,’ he said, and waited for the inevitable attack. But it didn’t come, instead she said, ‘Oh well done.’ And he had no idea what she meant. He felt it should have been sarcasm, but she seemed sincere, and he wondered if maybe she thought he had deliberately chosen to sweep the streets in order to pursue his art, instead of taking it because it was all he could get; indeed, he had been sweeping the streets for a year before he realised what an important job it actually was.

Thinking of her now, he realised that she had just walked past. He turned to look at her and saw her head turn away. He watched her for a moment before getting on with his job, laughing and thinking again of their meeting. She had promised to promote his art amongst her friends and colleagues at Tesco; nothing ever came of that, but he hadn’t expected anything.

That evening he took the day’s collected rubbish to his shed and sorted the various bits and pieces. Aside from the bottle he had some batteries, the stem from a wine glass, a champagne cork, a dog lead, and a cuddly toy. Not a big haul, but the cuddly toy had burn marks on it and he thought he could make some kind of statement about… something. He wanted his work to make a statement. At the opposite end of the shed, under canvas, was the sculpture he was currently working on. He went over to it a removed the canvas to reveal a mess of rubbish superglued together. He stepped back from it to take it in, and for whatever reason he decided the piece didn’t work; this happened so often he didn’t worry about it anymore. He removed on piece, then another, and another; searching for the art within the rubbish – if Michelangelo could find something of value inside a block of marble, then he could find something of value inside a pile of rubbish. He just had to trust the process.

Two hours later he was still carefully removing pieces and standing back to consider what was left. Finally something told him to stop; the little voice he always obeyed, even though, thanks to that little voice, he had never completed a single sculpture. He stood back now looking at this thing that made no sense to him. He wanted to add something, maybe if he put the plastic bottle on top, like a Christmas tree, of the cuddly toy. He’d pick up one of his pieces and approach the sculpture with the glue, but every time that little voice stopped him before he added a new piece, and he stood back again, feeling defeated.

He thought again about all the people down through the years who had told him to stop wasting his time. He used to think they were just saying that because they had given up on their dreams and didn’t want to see him succeed. But now he wondered if they were right. Maybe he wasn’t a sculptor who worked as a bin man to pay the rent; maybe he was a bin man with delusions of being an artist. After all, he had been turned down for the Outsider Art exhibition a few years earlier because he wasn’t a mental patient or ex-con, this was the organisers stated reason for saying he didn’t qualify as an outsider artist. He didn’t qualify as an insider artist because he hadn’t been to art school.

He sat back, depressed, looking at the pile of rubbish before him. He thought of all the days as a child he had spent putting things together while his classmates were out on the street playing football. He had some regrets now about not joining in; maybe he could have been a footballer, nothing fancy, but it might have been nice to play for his county.

He went to the house and returned with a sixpack of lager. He pushed open the door of the shed and stepped inside, then he stood there looking at the rubbish, trying to see it with different eyes. He turned the light off and stood looking at it in the moonlight to see if that would change it; this was because he had once been at an exhibition where one of the rooms was dark and he looked at the paintings like that for 10 mins before one of gallery staff came in and asked him why he had turned the lights off.

Looking at his own artwork in the dark, a line from a poem he tried to write ran through his head – the sun is shining silver from the surface of the moon. Now adrift on alcohol, he began to wonder exactly what he was trying to achieve. He knew he wanted to create a masterpiece but hadn’t given it any thought beyond that. By the time he had finished the sixpack he realised he had spent his creative life trying to please other people; what would get him into an exhibition? What would sell? What would make people say nice things about him? At no point had he ever simply followed his own sense of beauty. Of course he had realised this before, had argued with himself about it, but always when he sobered up he came to his senses. He went to his desk and wrote on his sketchpad ‘What if you don’t come to your senses?’

The following night, he came home from work, put his sixpack in the fridge, sorted out the rubbish he had collected that day and picked up his sketchpad. It was ripped where a page had been torn out and there was a drawing of a collection of shapes that no sense to him, but that he liked. He went to the sculpture and removed the canvas. It really was a terrible piece of work; six months down the drain. And then he noticed the burst, half-flattened bottle. There was a message inside. He picked up the bottle, took the message out and read it. He had a new idea, probably no one would like it, but so what?

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Aaron Dreamed of Flying

 

(This is a first draft.)

Aaron dreamed of flying. He felt the slow-motion drift of his body rising and he felt the wind about him; he saw his body through the roof of the car below and the birdshit on the roof. Mostly he saw the sorrow of traffic: cars trucks busses, even the motorbikes, apparent rebels riding each one, were not immune – the long wait with engine running the sudden lurch forward and then driving for ten or twenty feet, in the hope that they would still have fuel by the time the road cleared enough to do more than crawl.

Aaron’s head dropped and hit the horn. He sat up, looking around, a spasm of thought, his eyes half dark with anger at having been pulled from the sky. A moment and he reached into the glove compartment for a peppermint to hide his breath. He popped the sweet into his mouth and opened the sunroof, then rolled down the window. He stifled a yawn as he realised there was a beautiful woman in the next car over. He looked away, preparing to turn back to try to get her attention. Then he felt the cold trail of sweat roll down the side of his face; embarrassed now, he felt the sweat under his arms. He reached over to the passenger’s side window, but only to try and check how badly his shirt was stained. With this operation complete, and having satisfied himself that his armpits looked ok, he began to turn back to the woman.

He stopped and pretended to study something on the dashboard. It had suddenly come to him that she would not be there; that the traffic would have moved on and she would have been replaced with an old woman, a spoilt child or a flamboyant homosexual who would blow a kiss to Aaron when he smiled, and how could he then explain that the smile was for a beautiful young woman.

Aaron wiped the sweat from his face and turned. She was still there, but her head was bowed and he assumed she was reading a book. He thought about tapping on her window and just saying hello, but first he wanted to get a look at whoever was on the other side of her. Maybe she had a jealous husband, or a jealous lover, or both, maybe the husband was driving the car and the lover was in the back.

He had to stop thinking like this. He looked at her again; she was a perfectly ordinary woman. The thought depressed him. He didn’t want a perfectly ordinary woman; he wanted an Amazon, a petite Amazon, really. The woman across from him was neither petite nor an Amazon. But … She was reading a book in a traffic jam, and he had to give her credit for that. He considered all the books she might be reading, he hoped for something cool but it was probably chick-lit. He found himself grinning at her and then he noticed the hint of a smile, the slight curl at the edge of her lips. He made up his mind to knock on her window, just as he lifted his hand her car began to move.

‘No,’ he shouted. In the same moment he hit the back window or the car and pulled his hand away, knocking his elbow against the central pillar of his car. His arm jerked away and he punched the bit that surrounds the window.

He pulled his arm back into the car as the traffic moved around him and the cars behind started blowing their horns. He was still nursing his hand a few minutes later when he realised they were blowing their horns at him. He pressed down on the accelerator and when nothing happened he took a minute to remember he had turned the engine off. He turned the key in the ignition, but nothing happened. He tried again and still nothing happened, When his third attempt failed he half turned to face the cars behind him, smiling an apology and cursing himself under his breath.

He tried again, getting desperate now that he could hear the helicopter. Traffic on the bridge was packed so tightly that if a car broke down, it completely stopped the flow of traffic in that lane. The only solution he had ever seen was the helicopter. At first it was just a sound, so faint you wouldn’t be sure you heard anything at all. Then the sound of chopping the air, and the helicopter appeared. It flew in low over the other cars, its magnet swinging its slow descent, almost touching the roofs of the other cars as it passed, and then Aaron was sitting in darkness and noise as the helicopter stopped above him. He tried to hide, crouching down, and trying to climb under the dashboard. Then the roof caved in a little when the magnet made contact. And as the car began to rise, gently swaying its way into the sky, a feeling of wellbeing came over Aaron; this was his dream come true. He sat up and looked around, smiling as he realised he was finally getting off the bridge. He could not remember a time before the bridge, he could not remember driving onto the bridge, but now he was leaving, rising into the sky and being carried along to… He became afraid. What if there was nothing else? What if there was only the bridge? All traffic moved in the same direction. What if there was a beginning but no end? That was ridiculous, he thought. He rolled down his window and looked out; there was nothing below him now but the clouds, and nothing above him but the sound of the helicopter he could no longer see. His car disappeared as it was absorbed by the clouds and Aaron was left floating naked and free. He thought about moving to his left, and found himself floating in that direction, he thought about another direction, and his movement changed. He was flying and wondered if it was a dream.