His wife smiled tenderly. "As you can see, my husband suffers from paranoia."
"When we're butchered, will you still call me paranoid?" he barked.
"Can't you see that these people are harmless?" She pointed to them, rolling her eyes to the ceiling.
"We are . . . ," Kobi, the self-chosen representative of Ben's friends, began, before losing his nerve at the sound of the artist's hate-doused voice.
"Art students? Art teachers? Art critics? Artists? I can't stand any of them."
Tali, Kobi's wife, cleared her throat. "Mr. Kolanski, we have nothing to do with the art world."
The artist swiveled in her direction and shouted, "What do you want?"
"Mr. Kolanski, we have a very close friend; his name is Ben. He has always admired your work, never missed an exhibition. A year and two months ago his wife Marian died. They loved like children. The kind of love you don't see every day. Ben mourned her so intensely he severed ties with the outside world. Till yesterday. Yesterday we were all invited to her birthday party. We thought about what would make the best present and came to a decision that nothing would make him happier than a portrait of him and his wife, drawn by his idol. . . . We know that . . ."
"Okay, I've heard enough," the artist said, "You want me to paint your wacko friend and his dead wife. Love conquers all and all that shit. She's dead, he's alive, and they're still in love. Kitsch. Camp. Colors. Romance. Get out of my house or I'll vomit on you."
"Rafael!" his wife called, giving his chair a kick and stiffening her lips.
"Oh, of course," he mocked, "you're probably moved by this nonsense, right? Think about it Bessie. If I were dead, would you be happy to get a portrait of the two of us?"
She responded at once, "Absolutely."
"Absolutely," her husband mimicked, "but not for one moment do you consider what he will do with this portrait? Shove it up his ass? Stare at it all day? And since when do I paint portraits? I've never done a portrait.. I don't believe in portraits. They stifle creativity. They habituate the mind to a single paralyzed expression, and over time your loony friend will look at the portrait and forget, more and more, what she really looked like. All he'll have left of her is a single, awful expression. Listen to medon't document a thing! Not a thing! The more a person documents, the faster his memory betrays him. He knows he can rely on his wretched little photo album. You follow? You've all grown accustomed to indulgence! You can keep everything, everything, up here!"
Ben's friends huddled together, exchanging bashful glances. Tali, summoning her courage, pulled out a picture of Ben and his wife and extended it to the artist. She whispered, "Just in case you change your mind . . ."
The artist snatched the picture, glanced at it, and nodded. "Hmmm . . . your friend was a lucky man. The woman, on the other hand, must have had some trouble with her eyesight. Or maybe there's really something special. This is good, like me and Bessiethe flower fell in love with the thorn, that's the strongest love. The thorn pokes the flower and the flower drugs the thorn. Awake and asleep. Clamorous and quiet. No other love can endure. Two flowers bore each other to death, two thorns prick each other to death, and all the rest are just weeds. I'll give you some free advice. You say the thorn is celebrating the flower's birthday? If you love him, ignore him. After all, it's the woman's birthday, right? Hers! Any present for him will carry the mark of unnecessary pity, as though you know the present is for him since she's dead, and in a failed attempt to make things right you've tried to skirt the problem with a present that ties the two of them together, like the portrait. Think of the woman, eh? Get something she would like if she were alive. And try to find something she would love and he would hate. As far as he's concerned, she still exists, so if you get him a present that hints at death, he'll be offended. That's my advice. If you take it, great; if you don't, go to hell!"
The World of the End © Ofir Touché Gafla 2013
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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