Sunday, 6 October 2013

I am the Local Atheist: Sample

If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought that God was washing the streets of Invercargill down, or at least, making a valiant attempt at it. Sometimes I admired God’s resolve to wash as much crust off the earth as possible in one foul swipe, but here it looked like rain had been an afterthought without any enthusiasm. The gutters, on the other hand, ran their streams of water down the street like there was no tomorrow. For them judgement day had arrived far too early, so they had filled up and put as much effort as they could muster into their man-made purpose. The bus stop was left to fend for itself, giving as much shelter as it dared without encroaching too far onto the footpath, as though that was dangerously close to feeling the wrath of the gutters in all their pleasure. And I was left to sit on its light blue bench with my feet being spat at from above. Thanks.
I tried to tuck them under me but the seat had been attached just low enough to make it uncomfortable. So I just sat there looking out at the rain, noticing the swaying of trees under the weight of their saturated branches in the park over the road, the falling of droplets from the cross beams framing the bus stop. It was unusual to see them fall like that – like I had never paid attention to such a simple thing before. Each droplet that fell transferred itself from one place to another – in this case, from the bus stop to the ground – and forever changed its very nature.
It was suicide.
Just as the newspaper had reported: “… girl kills herself by jumping off the overpass into oncoming traffic.”
A year later and that headline still made me feel sick.
I looked up the road to see if the bus was in sight. Nothing but tired bursts of rain pelted the streets. I sank back into the shelter.
It was so strange hearing about suicide in such a small tight-knit community, especially when God was supposed to be watching over those of us who were in His care. The shock-wave passed over at least half the town’s population, not just a small segment of family and friends like it might have in a larger city. Mum had told me that the churches were “praying together” though she didn’t actually see any of them get together: “I guess it’s the thought that counts,” she said, blowing smoke and looking sideways out of her kitchen window.
I was completely unaware of what anyone else had to say since much of the details had remained behind closed doors – doors that had been closed to me for as long as the article had been burned in my memory now; longer in fact. It had quoted an outspoken congregation leader who was more than happy to pass the blame onto the girl’s failure to attend church (“a lack of faith”), peer pressure and drugs as though that was all that was needed to explain it, as if one person’s crises could be condensed into a few catch-phrases. But one person’s transition from a natural state into a falling fragment of a larger issue could never be understood if blame and finger-pointing were all that was required to assert some kind of resolution.
I hated the way church leaders got themselves up on a pedestal once a microphone had been stuck in front of their mouths.
I didn’t like thinking about it either: It reminded me too much of the crises that Lisa had been through a year earlier and the attempts I had made at trying to help her.
The splashing of tyres ploughing puddles out of the way brought me out of my reverie and I stood up to attract the bus’s attention. The drains flooded over and washed ever closer to my feet as the bus slowed down to a sneak, almost as though the driver wasn’t sure about who they were picking up: a standard passenger? or some crazy hitchhiker waiting to take out his vengeance on a world that had deserted him?
The doors opened and I tried to keep my head low, eyes staring at the ground.
“Art Gallery please.”
I placed my coins into the dish of the ticket dispenser. I hated those damn things – I could never tear the tickets off properly. And this one didn’t do me any favours. I tugged at it, but it didn’t rip, so I twisted it and tried to tear it sideways but it only pulled more ticket out instead.
The bus driver got impatient and reached his hand over to help but I said “I can do it”.
He didn’t care and replied “Here, do it like this…” but I was too concerned about proving that I could do it that our hands began competing for the pull of the ticket.
“Just let go, kid!”
Fuck him. “I can do it!”
“Just leave it.”
“It’s alright!” Both our voices were nearing shouting level.
“Y’ fuckin’ ruining the machine – leave it!”
I let go and took a step back. My heart was beating a strong thud that echoed in my ears. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t care y’ little shit. Just take the ticket and sit down.”
I took the extended ticket from his fingers, feeling as though his eyes were about to throw fire-balls at me.
I moved down the aisle as faces turned away in quiet astonishment, a few eyebrows raised as attention wandered elsewhere. I sat as close to the back doors as possible so I wouldn’t have to move past anybody when the bus stopped to let me out.
The steel bar that separated my seat from the doors was still cold from the morning’s frost, as though an afternoon that was supposed to warm everything up had nothing to say for itself. I placed my arms down on it and buried my head in the folds of my jacket trying desperately to calm the thoughts that wanted me to get off the bus and just go back to my bedroom where I would be safe again, unmolested by a world that constantly demanded answers from me.
I found solitude and silence, but once my thoughts became quiet, the world outside began to rise into recognition and conversations took the place of my abandoned thoughts:
“Where you off to today?”
“Heading to town for food. So cold in the flat.”
“So sick of being cold too.”
“I know, Chris was gonna steal some wood from the neighbour’s wood pile because we ran out and our student allowance doesn’t cover warmth. Tertiary education? Yes; Food? Yes; warmth? No!”
“The government is way to stingy to provide that kind of help. New casino? Yeah totally, we’ll help pay for that…”
“That store is the shit man, they got the best games at cheap-as prices.”
“Dude I don’t know man, I got some pretty cheap games off the net. And most of those cheap-as games are second hand.”
“Yeah but postage is crap, especially from overseas – I ain’t payin’ for that. I’d rather just walk into town just to warm up and have something to do than sit in my crappy uninsulated student flat ordering online and trying to coax as much heat as possible from the computer’s processor…”
“The gallows, of course, were originally designed to be an example of punishment being met and justice prevailing, but as Dickens was quick to observe, those who turned up to watch were only there for their own perverse viewing pleasures and the gallows were no longer about punishment but about propagating a system of belief. The gallows lost all their ability to become a deterrent from crime after seeing so much of it: if you got caught you got caught, if you didn’t you were lucky and could live to thieve another day.”
“Dickens was a pessimist.”
“No, he was the supreme optimist, who believed in the good of man prevailing. Not only does A Christmas Carol show this but practically all his other novels in one way or the other.
“I can’t be bothered with old fat books that do nothing but exemplify nineteenth century attitudes…”
I couldn’t be bothered paying attention to a discussion that exemplified people’s opinionated beliefs. I wanted to be in my bedroom wrapped up in blankets, staring at the wall – doing anything but facing a world that hated me; that I hated for hating me.
Though I knew it was near, the gallery seemed too far away, occupied by people that I had to hide from, make myself inconspicuous and not draw attention to for fear that they find out who I was. I had thought that there would be consolation knowing that Lisa would be there, someone I knew and had spent valuable time getting to know, someone whose life I knew I had had a positive effect on and helped bring light that had lifted her out of darkness, but thoughts of her and our quiet estrangement over the past year and a half only created more anxiety that I had to deal with.
The bus lurched sideways and screeched to a halt, knocking several passengers against the walls. I stood up and got off as quickly as possible without bothering to thank the driver, as I used to so often do, thinking that they would appreciate it. Did they care? I don’t know. I didn’t care – and that was all that mattered.
No one was entering the art gallery when I got there. No one had gone in as I had crossed the road and walked up to a building that loomed over the street corner with the scars of age peeling from its pale exterior; I had the feeling of complete emptiness surrounding me – a dead town with a ghost walking the streets.

The entrance was a subtle corridor of steps that raised the level of the building above ground zero; paintings had been hung to each side – simple pastel portraits that did little but diminish the inner glow of their subject (too many greys). The inner room opened up to me with a deep red lining the wall behind the hung paintings. Numerous bodies shuffled about on a light brown carpet, dodging the occasional painting that sat on the floor or leaned against a wall as though it were too cool to be hung like a martyr for everyone to stare in wonder at.
I let myself disappear as best I could behind a group of people, slowly making my way around to the wine table of which was just a wooden barrel off a farm that someone had attached a round plank to. A large bowl of grapes centred the weight allowing the glasses to sit precariously round the edge and the wine bottles inside of them. I kept my head low, not daring to meet any eyes as I filled a glass to the brim and returned to my place against the wall behind the same group. The wine was very smooth, almost palatable enough to appeal to a wide range of tastes – hardly a drink to offend people with or cause any winces of distaste. I winced as it slid into my empty stomach and highly regretted not having something to eat before I left the flat.
My attention turned to a number of paintings that hung close by, each exhibiting random collections of shapes that left trails of black dust behind them. I wondered what the artist had been thinking. Random shapes? Black dust? The painting said nothing; perhaps abstract expressionism had betrayed the artist this time around and shown what they lacked instead of what they were trying to bring forth from deep within. A larger painting was nothing more than colours smudged into each other – and not even colours that stood out or attracted the viewer towards it. How it ended up on a wall in a gallery was anybody’s guess.
The paintings were boring. The rest seemed to meander in defining the artists’ abilities rather than invoking a sense of the paintings’ subjects. I did not care for these works. Even the angels frolicking in their wispery garden couldn’t let go of their own self-righteousness to portray anything beyond human grasp, anything worth striving for, anything worth believing in: serenity, peace, happiness; they did none of this, merely danced and held each other’s hands in the light of watercolour desperate to show something but failing to portray anything. I hated this town!
I moved along the walls among the rest of what the gallery had to show for itself, trying not to edge too close to the special ribbon that marked off the area where the new artist’s exhibition was to be unveiled. I ended up in a corner, peering down at a collection of small amateurish-looking paintings that seemed to be gathered in their very own space – why I don’t know, I can’t even remember the stupid things; perhaps they were trying to absorb the conversations that drifted by, a means of becoming something that they simply weren’t. I became the corner too.
“Very impressive detail.”
“I like the subtlety of light that exemplifies the structure of the building.”
“Yeah, I was actually talking about the snacks on the table here. You know I didn’t come for the art, right…?”
“It is true though, he was avoiding the meeting. I tried to convince him to change the time but he’s so stubborn. I’m glad though, it meant he got to spend time with his son some more, and I’m cool with that…”
“There were some paintings I saw in New York once – did I tell you that I went to New York…?”
“Art today seems so void of inspiration, true divine inspiration. For me, it’s just one big nod towards the loss of piety in the world.”
“In other words, the world is going to the dogs?”
“Yeah, and Art along with it. Atheists can pretend to be good all they like, show virtue and respect, but at the end of the day, good will towards fellow human beings won’t guarantee them an escape from the afterlife.”
I looked for a way to move myself away from the nearby voices, but couldn’t get out of the human trap of surrounding bodies that I had cornered myself in.
“Pessimists and free-will advocates will always try to tell you that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are merely human judgements and nothing more, yet our redemption through the saving power of Jesus is proof that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are real concepts that exist as part of God’s great plan.”
“Bad day at work, Jim?”
“Huh. Just sick of atheists trying to pretend that good will represents some kind of be-all and end-all of behaviour. I respect them for having that moral code, but not trying to lord it over the rest of us as a defining good.”
“Are you implying that atheists are inherently bad?”
“Well, if they have chosen to ignore the call of Christ, and allow their souls to perish in hell, then yes, that is bad. Would you dare let your son grow up without Jesus in his life?” There was a round of “No”s from the rest of the group – the women clasped themselves in astonishment, as though the unthinkable had been spoken. One of them seemed to get up enough courage to say “No. Then I think that would be bad of me, and unfair to not allow him that opportunity of knowing Jesus – it would be bad to deny any of my children that opportunity.”
That would mean that my mother and father had been nothing but good, as they had insisted that I be at church every Sunday morning getting to know Jesus. I wondered though what that made me. Had I deserted Jesus, or had Jesus deserted me? I wanted to believe that it was the latter, but knew deep inside that it wasn’t. Knowledge of this made me feel terrible, so guilt-ridden and ashamed. I hated Jesus for making me feel this way.
The woman, on the other hand, was obviously feeling quite righteous as she let go of her husband’s arm and began taking a stand for her own opinions. “It would be nothing short of immoral, degenerate!”
“That is right. Atheists are handicapped from living a full life because they have no support from a higher being, no one who will love them unconditionally. Putting faith in Jesus allows us to live the greatest human experience without fear of falling. And without Jesus to lean on, atheists fall. A long way. They fall into the never-ending spiral of moral decay, and it is only Jesus that can ever save them from that.”
“Why, no wonder there are so many young people on drugs, so many homeless…”
I stopped listening. Some conversations can’t help but reduce themselves to displays of ignorance. Not knowing Jesus had nothing to do with why people did drugs, or why there were homeless in the streets (I had no idea what she was talking about in the latter case – she must have been thinking about the homeless in other cities, other countries…); but knowing Jesus had certainly given me focus and something to believe in outside of myself.
But where was that now? I felt like I had nothing. Handicapped and unable to bring myself out of this hole that had been dug for me.
A streak of wavy light brown hair caught my attention: it belonged to a girl standing amongst some fellow companions. And all of a sudden my heart raced. The head began turning; I knew who it was: Lisa. She saw me; we both turned away.
When I had stood in the same place for long enough staring at the same painting without any recognition of its artistry, I glanced back to where she had been standing but there were only strangers there. I thought I was as far into the corner as you could stand, but I felt a finger tap me on the shoulder. It could only be one person… and she was no longer standing where I had last seen her.
I turned – ever so slightly – remembering everything as they came into my vision: the shoulders, square with a woollen jersey casually hanging from them and falling down to a large waist; feet firmly planted on the ground in loose fitting sneakers – the shoelaces hidden under the ends of casual slacks.
“At least you’re not staring at my breasts.
I looked up from the floor. Her eyes stabbed me, like knives in my chest, but I held her gaze long enough to let the pain fade away. “Yeah.” Man, I wanted so badly to say something witty, but all I managed was a weak “yeah”.
“It’s been ages, David.”
“Yeah, it really seems like that.”
“So how have you been?” The question seemed genuine.
“Okay, I guess. All things considered. Lisa.”
“Yeah.” She fidgeted with her wine glass. “You know, you could have made an apology. It probably would have gone a long way to making things better. I might not have left even.”
Yeah sure. “They tried to make me. But I wasn’t sorry.”
“Right.” She seemed unconvinced. “Well, if it’s any consolation, the church just wasn’t the same without you.”
“Right.” Churches rarely change, even with the loss of certain members. One person leaves, someone takes their place. It’s how the guys pulling the strings work it. And anyway, I had been nothing up until my excommunication. They would vocally lament the loss of this member, make a big song and dance about it, and then three weeks down the track they would preach about how much stronger the congregation had become. Losing me had been nothing, if not a blessing – it was the image that I had tainted that had them all in such a fury.
Her fingernails tapped against the glass. “And after the death of that girl… well, I heard that they became even stricter than before demanding absolute obedience.” Her feet shuffled slightly and I’m sure she made attempts at moving backwards, away from me. “It’s just so sad that she was from your church…” Complete and utter disassociation with her ‘other’ church, like it was so tainted now that it was rubbing off on her. “Do you know anything about that?”
“No. No, nothing.” I made to laugh but only managed a small gasp accompanied by a shrug. “Been out of contact with everyone. Over a year now. Y’ know.”
Now she looked sympathetic. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.” …and sorry.
“Only found out about it… from what I read in the papers.”
“Right. I guess so. Well, I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you – and it was so good to see your mother yesterday too. She’s so nice. She seems to be coping really well.”
Actually, mum had started drinking (again) the same day that I had ‘defiled’ the church so ‘appallingly’ (as the papers had put it). But still, I guess she is coping well – it gets her through the day. “Yeah, mum’s doing fine.”
She took a quick swig of her wine. “Hey! I want you to meet some friends of mine from City Light Church.”
So Lisa had deserted our old and crusty church and gone for something lighter and younger? A new church that was more fun?
Before she had a chance to pull them over to her, Lisa turned back to me and said “actually! My friend Claire is singing at the Sunday morning service. I left a note with your mum to invite you in case we didn’t catch up tonight. I left my details with her as well – you should definitely get a cellphone David, it would be so much easier for us to keep in touch.”
I fingered the phone in my pocket wondering why it had taken her this long to finally get back in touch in the first place.
“They really aren’t as evil as you think.”
I hate cellphones with a passion, but I didn’t have the guts to tell her that I had finally caved in some time ago when my own flatmates purposely went out of their way to make me feel left out because I didn’t have a cellphone. It was a cruel joke that had lasted an entire month of both Tinsdale and Martin giving me shit because they couldn’t get in touch with me and then purposely excluding me from their conversations. It was easy to ignore for a while, but it became so overt that it just ground on my nerves to a point where I gave in just to satisfy their own sick perversion. I was surprised Mum hadn’t given her my number.
“Well anyway, you should definitely come along on Sunday – Claire’s got the most amazing voice, and if her singing doesn’t bring you back to the church then I don’t know what will.”
What a bitch. “Yeah, I’ll definitely think about it.”
She looked at me dubiously. “I know what that means, David.”
“I’ve gotten used to sleeping in on Sundays.”
“God hasn’t forsaken you.”
I felt like taking a swing and knocking her to the ground. Who the fuck was she to preach to me? “Why’d you invite me here?”
She smiled – uneasily. “I missed you.”
Bullshit! A year and a half without any contact, without a single word and here you are saying you missed me. Yeah right.
“And plus, I thought we could make fun of the paintings, y’ know, like we used to.”
The host was clanging a wine glass again.
“…the work of a new artist who has settled in this city of ours just over two years ago all the way from the other end of the country, to begin earnest studies here at the Invercargill Polytechnic. Naturally, this has given her enough time to soak up the lifestyle, the sights, the people, their generous and selfless character – and all of this she has poured into her artwork to give it a sense of colour and design not seen around here before. But a voice that cries out in the wild without recognition in one town, may just be the voice that is heard above all others in another. To encourage her, will you please welcome Miss Callasandra Schuar.”
A young woman with dark tousled hair and a solid, but not large – ‘cushiony’ as an old friend would say – body stepped up in front of the ribbon that led to her exhibition with an assured smile on her face.
“Thank you so much for coming.” She pulled her hair away from her eyes with a single finger. “First I guess I should thank the Polytech for supporting me as a student and my awesome tutor who suggested this exhibition, but also the curator who agreed to it. It’s hard when you are an artist working on your own, but with the constant collaborating between the Polytech and the gallery that I hear so much about, I couldn’t help but think what an awesome opportunity that would be to present these new works. Having an exhibition has been made so much easier!
“This was not the case in my hometown of Auckland, where sometimes it really did feel like I was a voice crying out in the wild: unheard and unappreciated. But here in Invercargill I never truly felt like I was alone. But with that sense of support I also found something else that seemed to inspire more detail in these paintings, and you may recognise aspects of your own town here in these works. I hope you do, but also appreciate how they are depicted.
“Thanks again, to the gallery,” the curator and host nodded politely, “my fellow students,” a set of starving faces lifted their heads from the snack tables momentarily “my tutors, and all of you art enthusiasts that have turned up here tonight. Thank you.”
She nodded some more and stepped to the side as the crowd gave a round of applause and the host stepped up with a pair of scissors offering them to Callasandra to cut the ribbon. She took them, smiled as some photos were taken and proceeded to cut the ribbon that would open the door to the rest of her life… as they say.
I waited for the crowd to disperse. Lisa managed to slip back into her own group of friends without saying anything more to me. I left my corner and began weaving my way through some of the bodies to have a look at the work that hung on the far wall.
There were some smug looking people on one side and then some others with their hands over their mouths on the other – some of these were turning away in disgust, others were wide eyed and trying not to laugh. What could be in those paintings that were dividing the room before me? What would they represent to me, a disillusioned young man trying to escape his past? Trying desperately to forget everything that had caused him such isolation in the world?
I walked up to the first painting as though it was some kind of monolith waiting to transport me into another world where I could evolve into a higher state of being and not care for the banalities of everyday life; something that I had longed for for so long but had somehow eluded me here on earth. But the painting remained as an impenetrable reminder of the world that I did live in and that had cruelly cast out the knowledge of Jesus that I had once known.
I didn’t like it. There was something nasty that was trying to reach out from its stark black background and engulf the viewer. It scared me so I moved to the next only to find vicious images suggesting anger and frustration directed quite clearly at a religious target. As I moved from painting to painting, I started feeling a deep and penetrating reminder of what I had done, yet there wasn’t a single painting that I could point to and say this is it, this is the statement that the artist is trying to make – about me. The images were so obviously making a statement towards an event that, by the looks on the faces, most of the audience knew about, but no one could possibly tell from one single picture that hung on the walls; but stepping back and viewing them all as a whole meant that a much larger and much more damning insight had been painted by the artist, an insight that many were beginning to take exception to.
And it was an insight that I was starting to feel extremely uncomfortable with. I shuffled backwards, trying to disappear into a corner again, hanging my head as low as possible without looking suspiciously guilty.
Murmuring began to dominate the air and some strong opinions were being banded about. There was an attempt at bringing some order when a man spoke up over the crowd saying, “Well, these pictures are certainly a clear indication of how Miss. Schuar was treated by her previous city. Thank the Lord that she found her way here.”
There was some agreement that went a long way to calming the air, until a woman with an obvious chip on her shoulder said “No! No, no, no! I remember her saying quite clearly that these paintings are about her experiences in Invercargill.”
“Calm down Mrs. Stewart. I’m sure Miss. Schuar has had good reason for painting what she has painted.”
“Well, then lets get the girl over here explaining it so that everyone can understand.”
Callasandra walked up to them. “Look, I’m really sorry that it offends you but I have said all that I have wanted to say. My art speaks for itself.”
“Your art speaks for you young lady. Do not think that you can divorce yourself from it so easily. It is obvious that you have no desire to respect the town that has given you such a helping hand. All you can do is fling mud back into its face.”
“No, that’s not true.”
“Are these paintings about your old town or the one you live in now?”
“This one.”
“Then you have done nothing short of stabbing us in the back.”
“It’s not like that…”
“Then tell us what it is like!”
A man from the side of the room that wasn’t doing any attacking decided to stand up for Callasandra. “I think the paintings are courageous! They show an artist stepping up to the plate and having her say.”
Mrs. Stewart shot him a piercing stare. “You would you heathen!”
Another woman stepped forward. “Hold on a minute, Mrs Stewart. I don’t appreciate you using the term ‘heathen’ to describe someone just because they are non-Christian. It is just as reprehensible as these paintings here, and we don’t need to lower ourselves to those standards. We’re supposed to be supporting each other, but Miss. Schuar is obviously trying to be a critic just for the sake of being critical as though that’s an excuse to paint some second rate pictures without any real understanding of what actually happened and why. So in that respect Mrs. Stewart, I concur with you – she is just flinging mud! Dirty and insincere!”
Callasandra was visibly shaken by these words.
Mr. Brunner continued his attempts at mediating. “I don’t think that this is the place and time for such an argument. If any of us have anything further to say, then we should leave it to private communication so that the exhibition can continue on as it was meant by the curators.” He smiled at the party members; they nervously smiled back, leaning towards a table and picking at the remains of a bunch of grapes that the students had carelessly left uneaten.
But Mrs. Stewart wasn’t put off her rant. “Yes, yes; private communication Mr. Brunner. That solves everything doesn’t it? No need for group discussions, no need to defend your works out in the open; just leave it to private communication where no one but the recipients learn anything. Meanwhile, other artists go forth destroying all that is good and pure in the world.”
I found it difficult to understand where her concept of all that is ‘good and pure’ came from. Nothing had been so good or pure since we had left the Garden of Eden.
Mr. Brunner didn’t look too happy with her statement either, but he spoke nothing of it, instead looking at Callasandra and trying to be sympathetic to her cause. “I understand sometimes Miss. Schuar that there are times when you need to speak out, but I wonder if it was necessary to do it so early in your career. Can you not think about those also who you might be effecting?”
The artist looked devastated. “Can’t you all understand that this is me expressing myself? It’s not just a statement of dislike, or criticism; it’s also me putting onto a canvas something that I feel strongly about. Am I supposed to keep those feeling bottled up inside?”
Mr. Brunner interceded for a moment. “I think its best that we take into account the fact that this art gallery has decided to give you a chance to display your work for the very first time but what you have chosen to display will have an impact on not just your reputation, but their reputation as well.”
This just gave more ammunition to Mrs. Stewart. “It is nothing short of unpatriotic.” There was solid agreement from a section of the crowd surrounding her. “You live in a community that chooses to support each other and to be accepting of everybody’s differences, but here, you have made a horrible mistake in choosing to attack those who choose to support you.”
“I haven’t attacked anybody who has supported me.”
“This town supports you! How do you know there aren’t people in this audience who were involved in what you are trying to depict? How do you know that this person here,” – her swinging arm cut an arc too close for comfort – “or that person there isn’t going to be adversely affected by these pathetic excuses for paintings?”
General agreement supported Mrs. Stewart’s words.
Callasandra looked to the host and then the curator for support, but all they did was shrug their shoulders, raise their eyebrows in mock consideration, pop some grapes into their mouths and continue watching events unfold like disconnected observers at a crash site – frozen with fascination, but happy to continue feeding their hunger. She was left standing next to her paintings by herself, a lonely figure with arms helplessly at her side, hands outstretched and a pained face questioning what had just happened.
Her shoulders started to shake. “But…”
“These paintings are despicable!” spat Mrs. Stewart. “This isn’t art – this is trash.” She took a glass of red wine, walked up to a painting and splashed wine all over it.
Callasandra stood there dumbfounded, her pained expression turning to hopelessness – a look I knew all too well.
I felt a terrible shiver creep over my shoulders and down my spine, anticipating tears that would soon fall on the girl’s cheeks – if not my own. I had to turn away. Holding my distraught face in one hand, I cleared a way through the bodies with the other, ignoring the rising voices that cursed and shouted around me – whether at Mrs. Stewart or Callasandra Schuar, I didn’t care; I just wanted out. I walked directly for the front door. The empty paintings that lay littered about on the floor could do nothing to stop me: they were like black holes without a gravity well. I hit the door with full force and let the cold chill-stained air envelop me. Down the steps I went, walking as fast as I could to escape the glow of street lamps, and on into the darkened night where I found security in the emptiness.

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