Guest Blog: The Artwork by James Goodridge

guestblog2

The Artwork

by

James Goodridge

Stacey Allen was a rising star on Wall St. as a senior trader at Wexford Capital, a top shelf brokerage house. She began her career in the stock swap department of Wexford. Because of her hard work and guile, she is now in the running for the management of a new mutual fund being rolled out by Wexford. Caramel skinned, toned body with auburn twists, Stacey could be a very striking figure in a business suit. She was even featured on a segment of CNBC profiling the new generation of movers and shakers. A condo in Battery Park City with a view of the Hudson river, a vacation home in Martinique and a loving boyfriend in Jamal West, Stacey had it all, or at least she thought she did,

I like it. It’s cute and for some strange reason I’m drawn to it.” Stacey said admiring the three feet long by two and a half feet wide oil painting.

Your kidding right?” Jamal said frowning.

No.”

Oh come on for Christ sake.”

It’s simple not too artsy.” Stacey was now in defiant mode.

Stacey your joking?” It was Jamal’s turn to entrench.

Stacey was now going to pull her friend Millie Riggs and Millie’s lover Flora who were in another area of the thrift shop browsing into her and Jamal’s art conflict.

You and Flora like it right ?”

No comment sister. I will let you and Jamal work it out . Flora and I have our eyes on a really neat, antique love seat. Right babe?”

Yes, Honey.” Flora said.

Millie who looked like the second coming of Dorothy Dandridge to people old enough to remember the ill-fated. film star, wanted to really tell Stacey the damn thing made her light headed and nervous.

Whatever get you going.” Flora offered with a chocolate smile, countering Jamal’s frown.

Well, I’m going to buy the damn thing take it home and hang it on my wall !”

The couples trendy day off, hanging out on the lower Eastside of Manhattan was in danger of turning sour.

How much for this artwork sir?” Stacey was reaching into her cargo pants for her wallet.

Ah give me fifty bucks and it’s yours. I will even deliver it to your address too.”

Buck Zorba offered, being that the couples had come into the thrift shop with their bicycles. But really he just wanted the damn thing out of his shop , it was kitsch, eerie and took up too much space.

Oh no.” Jamal, Millie, and Flora mumbled in unity.

***

Perfect.” Stacey was satisfied with the way Jamal secured the canvas to the wall in her living room under a row of track lights . The oil on canvas artwork was an unknown artist’s interpretation of a circus clown. Loud three piece suit of red and gold plaid,spats, black oversized shoes, red derby two sizes too small for the clowns large head ,white shirt, white gloves and of course the perennial daisy flower in the lapel.  The clown’s face was typical white grease paint, bright red triangles painted around the eyes red lips and bulbous red nose. The unease came from the intensive green eyes that seemed to follow Stacey. But while the eyes unnerved her another part intrigued her. What not one of her group of friends noticed was (Millie did everything but look at the painting directly ) was that the wrist area between the clown’s shirt and gloves had a caramel skin tone. 

I know you from somewhere.” Stacey mused between sips of white wine.

It was evening and Jamal had left for his apartment on the upper west side. The purchase of the kitschy artwork roiled Jamal but was helpless because Stacey was determined to keep the painting. The condos quietness was only challenged by some reality show on Stacey’s HD flat screen television in her bedroom. Stretching and rising from her bed Stacey wearing only a rose print kimono headed to the kitchen for a glass of water , the wine had put her to sleep and now it was about one in the morning. making the turn , she caught a glimpse of green eyes.  The cold glow of the clown’s pupils began to transpose strange images in Stacey’s mind eye people and places that she had never known or visited but longed for. Yet an unnerving feeling shook her back to reality, alpha jerked to her surroundings Stacey retreated to the bedroom and locked the door but not before turning on all the lights in the living room.

Better safe than sorry,” She thought to herself.

This is not me.”

Monday found Stacey half sleep at her desk. She just was not into work today.  The house music ringtone on her i-phone snapped Stacey back to reality. 

Hey, babe what’s up?” Jamal said greeting her from the other end.

Hi honey, I’m just a little tired maybe we had too much fun this weekend.”

Stacey said between yawns.  Stacey decided not to tell Jamal she’s been sleeping with the bedroom door locked Saturday and Sunday night. 

So how’s your clown doing?” Joked Jamal.

The clown artwork is fine . Why do you ask ?” Stacey was getting testy.

It’s just that Sunday when I stopped by with the Sunday Times you spent more time peeping into the living room than anything else . That’s why I left so soon that evening.”

That’s really immature of you to have done that Jamal.” When upset she usually took all the pens and pencils out of a coffee mug on her desk and flings them one by one across the room. Well, Stacey was doing it now.

Ok, ok I’m sorry Stacey damn !”

I’m sure you are!”

Look can we meet at the North Cove for lunch?” Jamal pleaded.

Jamal I’ve got work to do Wexford Capital beckons.”

But Stacey …”

Bye Jamal ,I’ll call you when I’ll call you. Stacey ended the call.

***

In better days Stacey liked to tease and let Jamal twist for awhile before kissing and making up but now she wasn’t so sure. Stacey was not so sure about a lot of things these last two days. 

This is not me,” Stacey mumbled before flinging a pencil across the room  As punishment Stacey would only allow Jamal to text her no Facebook, emails, and no phone calls.  She figured they would mend fences on Wednesday over dinner. Stacey was now having trouble sleeping. She tried to vent to Millie, but as soon as she mentioned the artwork Millie would change the subject . Nothing for nothing Millie seemed to be scared of the painting. 

Enough of this nonsense I am going to pamper myself Tuesday. When Tuesday  arrived Stacey left work early , after another night of the bedroom door locked and all the lights left on , she got herself a massage at Pax fitness , then shopping and finally a trip up to Harlem to get her auburn twists touched up.

The twists made Stacey look awesome. Stacey entered her condo walking pass the painting without so much as a glance at it. Stacey could feel the hypnotic like the pull of the canvas but fought the impulse, not just the impulse to surrender herself to it , but a likewise impulse to throw the damn thing off of her twenty third floor balcony. She should have heeded the latter.  Evening melted into the night. A pasta dinner , white wine , texting Jamal and more white wine. Stacey fell into a sound sleep about midnight.

Some people would recognize the faint music emanating from the painting as Thunder and Blazes” , others would identify it as the “Circus Song” but its proper title is Enter The Gladiators” by Fuick , either way, Stacey woke up to it. Stacey wrapped her naked  body in the rose print kimono and unlocked her bedroom door. A mysterious purple neon glow shined from the painting drawing her like a lightly addicted moth . Looking into the painting, Stacey could see shimmering abstract images of circus tents in the back round of the intently staring clown in the foreground.

Who’s there ?” Stacey nervously demanded.

COME CHILD !” A baritone voice boomed.

AAAH …. NO…..NO ….!”

Stacey’s poor soul screamed out, the clowns gloved hand had her by her twists pulling her towards the surreal world inside the artwork her heart pounding wildly in the struggle. Terror and adrenaline gave Stacey the strength to break away. Stumbling to the wall near the front vestibule , She fumbled to flick the track lights on everything was normal except for the urine puddle on the floor , made by Stacey’s bladder letting loose during the fight to free herself from the clown’s grip. Stacey sprinted into the bedroom and locked the door , it would be hours before she regained a calm state of mind sitting on the edge of the bed she came up with a plan of action. Keep the lights on, DO NOT go into the living room, call out sick , have Jamal come over and clean up !

I must be losing my mind. This is not me!” Stacey pleaded to her sanity.

***

I’m coming over tonight and take that freaking picture down!” Jamal finally said after listening to Stacey’s recap of last night’s events, he was feeling smug but also ill at ease.

Yes . No ! I mean please just come over Jamal.” Stacey had spent most of the day along the Promenade walkway near her condo complex and was now calling Jamal there. She intended not to enter her place until she met up with Jamal first. It was not just the fear of the clown but a fear that she just may give in to whatever the painting wanted of her.  She met Jamal in front of her Battery Park City building. Stacey felt reassured when she saw Jamal walk up to her , Chestnut hued , dapper in a nice gray suit , clean headed and shaven, they embraced kissed and headed up to the twenty third floor. The trendy duplex was quiet artwork and all. Removing the picture took a back seat to mutual “ I’m sorry babe”, to make up sex, ordering Asian fusion food on grub hub.com , and sleep because both traders had to be up in the morning fighting the bulls and bears.

The barely audible circus music started around two am . Stacey alone heard it and turned to Jamal who was fast asleep and would not wake up to her timid nudges. Reluctantly letting Jamal sleep being that they had just made up ,naked Stacey made her way through the darkness of her bedroom to the door and unlocked it. The purple glow in her eyes and the now pounding sound of “Thunder and Blazes” in her brain made Stacey throw up.

Grabbing a hammer off of a small table near the bathroom, Stacey snuck into the living room. The hammer was to be used by Jamal to take the painting down, the odd thing being that the painting seemed more braced to the wall than when he first hung it. Stacey sneaked up to the work , she was going to make the artwork pay a price for creeping and freaking her out. The new configuration of the ARTWORK took her breath away.

Just then a hand touched her right shoulder and in return, Stacey swung around and came down hard with her hammer. 

Damn it!” Jamal cried out in pain. The wood part of the hammer caught his shoulder.

Oh god Jamal!”

What were you thinking woman !?” Jamal yelled. Stacey quickly turned on the lights and tried to comfort Jamal who was sprawled out on the floor in his boxers.

Oh god, I’m so sorry Jamal.”

What were you thinking woman?” Jamal repeated but in a lower moaning tone.

This is crazy.! He thought.

The lights? You did see the lights from the circus, didn’t you ? And the music ?

You heard the …”

Enough !” Jamal exploded. Jumping up in spite of the pain in his shoulder , Jamal went up to the painting to lift it off the wall.

Oh, crap ! What the hell is going on!” Jamal’s fingers were now bleeding across the knuckles , the only problem was that the way he had tried to lift the painting should not have left a gash like that. Almost as if something reached out and slashed Jamal across the knuckles.

Ok, I’m done ! I am out !” Jamal was getting dressed and at the same moment letting Stacey awkwardly bandage his knuckles. To add to the confusion she was dressing too.

The rest of late night and early morning was spent at Downtown Hospital’s Emergency room having Jamal’s hand and shoulder tended to. A wall of silence had built up between them by now , Jamal wanting to suggest Stacey seek help for her mental health issues and Stacy losing faith in Jamal’s devotion. At dawn, the couple left the ER , Jamal to his apartment to rest and Stacey after turning down his offer of comfort, headed to a hot sheets motel on the upper west side to rest then later go home and get rid of that artwork no matter what power it had over her.

Stacy unlocked the door to her condo in the early afternoon. “No dead of night witching hour crap this time .” She mused to herself. Walking past the artwork , Stacey entered the kitchen and returned to the living room with a butcher knife. Raising the knife in front of the oil paint on canvas clown, Stacey evoked these words like a priest during an exorcism

You bastard I should have never brought you , because……”

That was the last thing she said before a gloved hand slapped her across the face and pulled her into the artwork.

Millie! Millie ! My god wake up child !” A baritone voice boomed. Millie Riggs woke up as if out of one nightmare an into another. Standing in front of her was a circus clown dressed in a three piece plaid gold and red suit ,spats over black shoes, derby two sizes too small, grease paint make up half whipped away to reveal a caramel colored face with  soft green eyes. Millie Riggs raised up off the cot she lay on to give her father

Wexford gave her a glad to be a home hug.

Oh, daddy my head hurts so bad,” Millie said whipping tears on her simple blue dress. Some of Wexford’s aka Booby the clowns make up smeared onto her face leaving abstract designs.

Ever since that damn Bucky Zorba gave us that ugly New York skyline painting you have been having constant nightmares, fine magician he is and fine going away gift that is , with his rum pot talk of New York in the future!”

While Millie was finding comfort in her father’s arms she could not help but look pass him to read the year on the Old Style Beer calendar which read nineteen fifty four not, the two thousand fourteen of her dreams .

But dad I…..” Millie hoped she could get her father to listen to her dream or nightmare journey but gave up. “This is me!” She mumbled.

Well at least we have just one more month to travel with Cole Bros. circus and then it’s on to Hollywood and those television parts I’ve been offered and a proper schooling for you no more living in a trailer, no more bad food and no more Zorba.” With that said Wexford Riggs pulled the artwork off the trailer home wall and preceded to punch a hole into it.

***

Mr. Bashir had finally received permission to clear out Ms. Allen’s condo . As a realtor it was his job; tragedy or not to sell high end property. Stacey Allen’s disappearance after so many months now started to take on the look of a cold case file. Detectives still kept an eye on Mr. Jamal West but couldn’t find anything suspicious on him and had empathy in a way for his lost. The oddness of the affair was a Ms. Millie Riggs. When a list of friends and family was supplied by Jamal no next of kin could be found and the only Millie Riggs was an internet search that turned up the name of an actress living in retirement in Riverside California.

*********

jamesgoodridge headshotBorn and raised in the Bronx , New York James is new to writing speculative fiction. After ten years as an artist representative and paralegal James decided in 2013 to make a better commitment to writing. Curently writing a series of short twilight zone inspired stories from the world of art, (The Artwork) and a diesel/punkfunk saga (Madison Cavendish/Seneca Sue Mystic Detectives) with the goal of producing compelling stories.

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