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IR Online Fiction: “The Artist” by Robert Julius

“The Artist”

by Robert Julius

I took the usual route home. Passed underneath the 22. Must’ve been a dozen colored tents, tattered and torn, tarps flapping in the Santa Ana winds like they’re a good gust away from sailing to someplace nicer. Maybe someplace with less of a stench, away from the cud and muck and scum and sluts. That ain’t no way of living. That’s what my uncle, the Governor, tells me. And I believe him, for the most part. See, I knew this woman who used to hang out underneath the 22 some weekends. She don’t got a name, or if she does, she wouldn’t tell me because maybe she’s too old to be with someone like me. She’s a nebulous sort of woman, hair all over the place, you know, in the places that matter, and her eyes do this dodgy kind of thing where they look you straight in the soul but not long enough to mean it. But that don’t matter, not according to my uncle the Governor.

Those tents flapping in the wind always got me hot and heavy. They churned up all those memories of me and those see-soul eyes that pierced me like daggers. But the impact of her eyes was nothing compared to what she did to the rest of me. Things that I couldn’t mention here, not even if I wanted to. There’s an old expression they used to say before the War, you know, to mean, like, when you were fucking a slut real good. Called it “making love.” I daresay that woman who used to stay in the black tent some weekends made love with me. But she’s gone now. They locked her up. I pity to say it, but she was an artist. And that sucks real well, for the most part.

In our State, art was outlawed after the War. My uncle the Governor says that it’s the artists who started World War III, so nixing the artists means nixing the problem. Artists are instruments of chaos. We don’t need that, not here in our State. So my uncle the Governor started a program, like, to get rid of art and poetry and things that made you feel lustful or rebellious. Things that caused a stir, as he would say. Called it the “dénouement” of art. Now we live in someplace better, someplace more concrete. No more fuzzle-duzzle abstractions to keep your noggin rocking late through the night. And without all abstractions and raisons d’être, there’s no real reason to start a war. Everyone in our State works for the common good of man. I like that. I like that real well. So life’s good, for the most part.

You see art sometimes. Just last week they found a bunch of street paintings beneath one of the overpasses. They don’t know who was responsible yet, but when they find the crook, they’ll lock him up real good. They used to send the artists to institutions, you know, where they could get the art knocked out of them. But now they just lock them up right behind bars. You can’t cure insanity. Can’t put a bottle stopper on chaos. You shake up the champagne, you’re gonna get a pop. At least that’s what my uncle the Governor tells me. Sometimes my noggin gets rocking, and I think about if I could’ve stopped her. I mean, I didn’t know she was an artist. Not really.

So there I was, walking past those tents, and how I wished that she would come out of the black one and greet me with those big green eyes, sparkling copper fire like she used to. Instead, I was hissed at by beardy old men with missing teeth and their rompo-chompo toy dogs rolling around in their own piss. Still, I threw them a bone. Charity is a virtue, my uncle the Governor says. He likes to run his mouth about helping the poor, but the same old folks are always underneath the 22. Ain’t no one helping them, except me. Felix the Hero. Felix the Charitable. I like that. I like that real well. When I got home, Norelia was cooking dinner for when my uncle the Governor returned. It was a Friday, so that meant a weekend off away from the government building. He’ll probably spend it playing golf or watching the propaganda programs on the television. We love watching those together. It gets us both fired up real well. I waved to Norelia and retired to my room.

I wanted to work on some geometry homework, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those damned eyes, her hair, the way her humid heat lightning breath used to feel on the back of my neck. Electric-like. I knew lust was wrong, so I tried to think about her anatomy objectively, the way a mathematician thinks about geometry, dreaming up graphs with all those beautiful lines and sine waves and parabolas, up, down, tracing the gentle soft curves, up, down, up again, how he wonders what sequence of numbers could have rendered a shape so perfect and absolute. Still, she was beyond the x and y axes. She belonged to another dimension, another plane, something along the lines of z or whatever letters come after that ‘cause maybe we haven’t discovered them yet, or maybe we aren’t using the whole alphabet. She made me want to search for lost letters.

***

I have some good news. I’m not really sure if I should write it in here, but my therapist said “go ahead” so I’m going ahead. I should probably introduce you to my therapist. I’ve only seen him once so far. His name is Dr. Fang and he’s been in the business for a while, like a real long while. Says he’s cured hundreds of artists, no problemo. Well, I really hope he can cure me.

Dr. Fang tells me the first step is to accept that my brain operates differently from others. But brains can be fixed. Wrongs can be righted. It can help to write the words, Dr. Fang says. “I am an artist.” At least that’s what my uncle the Governor thought, that I wrote like an artist. He found my journal lying open on my bed, how silly of me to forget it there, really, and he read a few pages about the tramp from that painted underpass and he goes and says it’s art. “Art? This is just my journal, my log of the days.” But nope, it’s art, my uncle the Governor says. There are words like “journal” that tip off the authorities to art. You can’t call it a portrait, but a photograph is okay. You can’t call it a poem, but maybe it’s a list, if you’re lucky, and you weren’t very poetic about it. I was lucky, he said, because he couldn’t bear to throw his nephew the orphan behind bars, so he says that he knows a therapist, a real good shrink who will set my noggin right in place so I can be a good citizen of the State. Right on. So now, Dr. Fang and I meet once a week. At first I thought he was gonna knock the art out of me, but it seems like we are just gonna talk. He seems like a right sort of fellow. I like him, for the most part.

***

Dr. Fang says progress is slow, but I’m making it. I met him for the third time last week, and well, I haven’t been writing much, so maybe it’s working. I miss writing, like, the way I used to. It was nice to just get my thoughts out and have a place to map out my mind, like a think-space. But if this is what cures me, then by the State, I must be cured. Dr. Fang prescribed me something today. He told me that it’s the best cure they have against creative minds like mine. It hurt to hear him say that, to actually call me a creative mind. I never thought nothing of it before, never thought I was creative. Never wished it upon myself. But Dr. Fang says that some people are born creative, or maybe some people are exposed to creative minds, and it works like an infection, you know? So Dr. Fang asks me if I’ve been exposed to any creative minds, and I get to thinking, and those green eyes popping out of that black tent hit me like a semi on the 22. I think about that semi, how it would’ve been better to get hit by the truck than to start talking to that woman. I tell the Doctor, “Yes, sir, there is a creative mind I’ve been exposed to.” And he tells me: “There’s the problem!” So I ask him what we gotta do, you know, like how do we fix the problem ‘cause I still think about her a lot, especially at night when I’m all alone in my room with nothing better to do. He tells me I’m lustful, and that lust is art’s catalyst, and that lust can be cured through right action and right thought. So now I’m supposed to attend corrective thought therapy with a certain Mrs. Noelle, and that’s gonna cure me of my thoughts about the woman who gave me my illness.

***

The first corrective thought therapy was good enough. I sat in front of a computer monitor, and Mrs. Noelle showed me photographs and I was supposed to say what I thought. I told her that I didn’t feel comfortable telling her because she was an older woman, especially when the photos of the hoo-hahs started flashing. She told me that she was a professional, and that I should do my best to tell her what came to mind. If I felt really uncomfortable, she said, I could write down what I was thinking instead. So I did that, for the most part. She flashed me a photograph of a young boy, maybe seven years old, completely naked standing in a pool of water. “Childhood,” I wrote down. Though he looked kinda cold. She flashed another photograph of a young girl with clothes on. “Girl,” I wrote down. Too easy. She kept flashing photos of little kids. I didn’t really understand the point and after a bunch of photos all labeled “childhood” by me, I was starting to think that this Mrs. Noelle was a hoo-hah herself and I just wanted to get back to see Dr. Fang already. He was the smart one. Then Mrs. Noelle flashed a photograph of that woman, those ghoulish green eyes staring at me like I was the one who threw her in jail. It was a mug shot. She was in an orange jumpsuit, and as I stared, her eyes grew softer. They confessed in this lonely hour that she was lost and scared. My noggin got rocking to all those times we shared in her black tent, and I just had to stand up and leave without writing anything down because I felt like I was gonna chuck it real hard.

***

“You’re progressing remarkably well,” Dr. Fang told me last meeting. I had lost count of the meetings. The only reason I’m writing in this log is because Dr. Fang wants to read it, so he can examine what I’m writing. The therapy sessions with Mrs. Noelle are almost finished. The thought of the “A” word makes me sick. Dr. Fang tells me he can’t be sure how much longer I’ve got to go to therapy, but he says more can’t possibly hurt. My uncle the Governor is real proud of my progress, too. Tells me that with my mind in the right place, he would have a job for me in the government building after school. I could be somebody. Make a difference for the people of the State. I like that real well.

***

I was with Mrs. Noelle one evening, and she tells me that it’s the second to last time we’ll be seeing each other, so it feels kinda sentimental like a party, only it’s not ‘cause it’s Mrs. Noelle. We go through the photographs, and this time there’s no electro shocks involved, it’s just me and the photos and what I’ve got to say about them. I don’t have to write down what I think anymore. Me and Mrs. Noelle get on like peas in a pod, or something like that is what I think she says. She shows me a series of photos and I tell her what I think. Duck. “Animal.” Naked woman. “Lust. Conquered through right action and right thought.” Naked man. “Pinnacle of creation, dominance.” A painting. “Illegal, immoral.” A photograph of the sunset, or maybe it’s a painting. I can’t tell. “Sunset, a product of earth’s rotation.” “And what do you think of this photo, Felix?” “It’s nothing special,” I say. There wasn’t much to say. A few more photographs. Then a photo of my parents. “Artists. Treason. Traitors of the State.”

***

My name is Felix. I work in the government building on City Drive with my uncle the Governor. I do good work there.

My uncle the Governor introduced me to a colleague’s daughter. Her name is Elizabeth. She is a schoolteacher. We get on real well. I like that.

I don’t think I’ll be writing much in this log anymore. I don’t have much use for it. We keep detailed logs at work of everything that happens during our day.

Still, Dr. Fang found it appropriate for me to give it a proper send-off, you know, to bury the hatchet so to speak.

I used to be sick. A woman did that to me. It didn’t help having traitorous parents. But I’m not filled with lust anymore, I’m not creative, and I don’t associate with creative minds.

I’m cured, for the most part.

***

Robert Julius is an undergraduate student at Chapman University in Orange, California. He is currently pursuing a B.F.A. in Creative Writing and a B.A. in French. His work has been featured in Calliope Art & Literary Magazine and FIVE Poetry Magazine.

One Response to “IR Online Fiction: “The Artist” by Robert Julius”

  1. Travis

    Absolutely brilliant piece.

    Reply

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