Black Petals Issue #107, Spring, 2024

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(After) Life is What You Make It: Fiction by Richard Brown
Gauche Cuisine: Fiction by Gordon L. Stewart
Here's to Forgetfulness: Fiction by Roger Johns
Insights Into the Trajectory of Human Cetacean Communication: Fiction by Andre Bertolino
Mal Ojo: Fiction by M. N. Wiggins
No Dark: Fiction by Bill Dougherty
Overtime: Fiction by Dennison Sleeper
A Cut Above the Rest: Fiction by Roy Dorman
Resemblance: Fiction by James McIntire
Sign of the Times: Fiction by Liam A. Spinage
The Attic Party: Fiction by Michael Fowler
The Renovators: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Balance: Flash Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Bawk Dark: Flash Fiction by Michael C. Jessen
The Incident With the Mismatched Man: Flash Fiction by Charles C. Cole
Radio Tower: Flash Fiction by Blair Orr
Take Me With You: Flash Fiction by Steven French
Slippery: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Where Dead Babies Come From: Poem by Nolcha Fox
302 Asylum Avenue: Poem by Joseph Danoski
Another Story: Poem by Joseph Danoski
Home Repairs: Poem by Joseph Danoski
A Creepy Leap Year: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Funeral Memorial: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
BatGrl: Poem by Casey Renee Kiser
Twin Flame: Poem by Casey Renee Kiser
Shadow Play: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Dark Ride: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Leviathans of the Void: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Sunbursts: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Into the Eyes: Poem by Anthony Bernstein
Airtime: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Gloria: Poem by Peter Mladinic
The Sorcerer: Poem by C. Walker
Frozen Eve: Poem by C. Walker

Michael Fowler: The Attic Party

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Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg 2024

The Attic Party

by Michael Fowler

 

Pirc, an artist, removed the cloth drape from a painting in progress, The Attic Party, left to dry since last night. Midday light flooded his attic studio, and he desired to see if the work as set down matched his still awakening imagination in terms of composition and color. Did all the committed elements, partly dried, fulfill his artistic vision?

He was shocked when The Man in White Gloves, seen in profile at one end of a card table, and painted to show a jovial and somewhat drunken expression in pink and tan, at once raised his gloved hands from the canvas and placed them around Pirc’s throat! It was doubtless intended as a murderous choke, since the pleasant face was now incensed, its calm pink and tan turned a radiant red all over. Who had revised his work, if not The Man in White Gloves himself? But who knew the fellow harbored such hostility?

Still it wasn’t much of a choke, since the hands and supporting arms were only thin layers of oil and pigment. To Pirc’s neck they imparted the force of mere empty gloves, or a not particularly substantial ghost. In any case, Pirc easily severed the rebellious limbs with a scraper and watched them fall to the studio floor like crumbling leaves. What then? Pirc thought a minute, preparing to give the man new arms and a new expression, or perhaps restore the first. If The Man in White Gloves thought he could control this work, he was mistaken.

This was not the first time his work had awakened, Pirc supposed, and changed its attitude to one of defiance. A sculpture downstairs in his bedroom, a benign wooden serpent wound around the base of the lamp on his nightstand, the whole of the lampstand carved by him from oak, seemed to have moved during the last few days. The reptile’s head grew closer to his bedside, the mouth opening in a hostile manner, and when he last looked its tongue had begun to protrude. He had taken no precise measurements of this movement and continued to wonder about its extent, but he planned to get out a ruler if the tongue continued to lengthen. For now he was keeping an eye out.  

But how explain the change in the sculpture, and in the painting too, whereby the wooden snake and The Man in White Gloves both sought to harm him? A thriving and naughty vein in the wood, perhaps? Some receptive ingredients in the paint that allowed his portrayed subjects to assume the worst thoughts and actions of their life models? Whoa, what about those new brushes he had acquired from an artist friend, now committed to an asylum, who was quite bipolar and painted mainly gargoyles and medieval monsters? Did that wretched fellow have a role in this? And had he not read of increased sunspot activity that sent powerful energy waves from Sol to the Earth, causing untold havoc? He should watch out for havoc, no question about it.

For now, he decided, it was best to placate The Man in White Gloves, the origin of whose anger he easily guessed. Pirc painted from memory rather than posed models, and realized that the real Man in White Gloves, a frequent companion and sometime rival for the affections of The Lady With Red Fingernails, a woman each knew intimately over the last year or two, must find this tableau offensive. The Lady With Red Fingernails, who had recently been two-timed by The Man in White Gloves, was preparing to shoot the latter, and a pistol was visible in her crimson-tipped hand below the card table, as was the fierce twinkle in her eye noticeable above it. Indeed, the man and the lady were always two-timing each other, in real life and consequently in Pirc’s artistic fantasies. The Man in White Gloves must resent being gunned down, even though he was only paint, and naturally he took it out on Pirc, who arranged this denouement.

An assassination due to jealousy, at any rate, was Pirc’s imagined model for the work. He might have thought of a more original backstory and scene, and perhaps would if he thought longer about the matter. But he felt his models came together to good aesthetic effect, at least until The Man in White Gloves openly rebelled–those infernal sunspots or evil brushes no doubt lending thought and action to the painted figure. No, the unfortunate fellow hadn’t any desire to be shot, even if he was only a picture, and Pirc didn’t blame him.  

Pirc therefore repainted The Man in White Gloves’s arms and hands, firmly anchoring them to the canvas once more rather than around his, Pirc’s, neck. He also gave his erstwhile assailant a better hand at cards…four aces should do the trick…and a corresponding calm and smug look to replace his murderous red one. That done, he refocused The Lady With Red Fingernails’s glittering eye on the third partygoer, namely the handsome Youth With the Tattooed Wrist, and changed the pistol in her hand to a slim volume of poetry. She was in love with The Youth With the Tattooed Wrist, after all! Finishing these touchups in a hurry, Pirc then stood and threw the cloth cover over the easel, so that the figures might dry in peace and be prevented from reaching out to strangle him.

Before retiring for his afternoon nap in his bedroom downstairs, though, he withdrew the cloth sheet from the easel that stood beside the one he had just covered. This was another work in progress depicting the same bunch of his friends–for these were Pirc’s only friends–titled The Cellar Party, as it was set in the  recreation room in his basement. When last seen by him, the still damp picture showed the usual threesome dancing merrily to an antique Victrola with a big brass horn, an anachronistic album cover proclaiming Greatest Metal Hits of the Eighties strewn on the ubiquitous card table that also supported the old turntable.  

But the scene had changed. He himself was included in the gathering, replacing The Youth With the Tattooed Wrist who had vanished. Yes, that could only be him, the overweight fellow with the balding crown and out-of-style shirt dancing the electric boogaloo in a corner, half obscured by shadow but drenched in glistening sweat. Moreover, The Lady With Red Fingernails had handed off the pistol to The Man in White Gloves, whose glinting eye, as well as the polished nose of the gun, now focused on The Dancing Fat Man.

Pirc’s moments were numbered, in this new setting at least, and though he didn’t overly fear a painted gun, he started into action when the gun rose up from the canvas and turned its probing barrel toward his actual person. Was he losing his mind? With scraper and brush, he quickly expunged the gun and The Dancing Fat Man from the group entirely, and restored the more pacific image of The Youth With the Tattooed Wrist, made to stand calmly holding a lighted cigarette in his blue-inked hand. That finished, he threw the cloth cover back over the easel and, trembling, stumbled downstairs for his overdue nap, leaving behind him the two paintings to dry in his attic studio.     

He fell asleep at once, and dreamt of his friends’ faces—The Lady With Red Fingernails, The Youth With the Tattooed Wrist, and The Man in White Gloves—swirling about his card table in a small, remote room. The gun returned to haunt him, passing from one hand to another, first one with polished red nails, then one encased in white linen, and next one tattooed in blue…  

 He awoke to a distant tapping at his front door. A glance at his darkened window told him night had fallen–who could it be? It was a most delicate knocking, reminding him of the frail bodies of his painted friends and gun, when these came alive and rose up from his canvases to hurt him.

He opened his front door and beheld the familiar trio, The Man in White Gloves, The Lady With Red Fingernails, and The Youth With the Tattooed Wrist–not their painted figures but his real friends in person–standing on his front step, dressed as they were in his paintings, and each bearing an expression of some impatience. The light by his doorstep, though dim, showed their features plainly in the dark of night.

 

“Turned in already, dear?” said the lady, eyeing his flowery x-large flannel pjs. “It’s not nine yet.” Before Pirc could reply, she scooted past him and headed upstairs.      

“We’re not staying,” said the man, “our taxi is waiting.” Tugging at a white glove, he looked over his shoulder at a spiffy sports car parked at the curb that to Pirc looked like no sort of taxi at all. It looked, instead, just like the man’s Mercedes coupe. “Lydia left her keys in your studio last night. She’ll be down in a flash.”  

“Listen,” said Pirc. “I don’t know which ones of you are fooling around with my paintings upstairs, but it’s got to stop. Earlier today I found my two latest seriously altered. Get your own studios if you want to be artists.”

“Pity you weren’t invited to come with us this evening,” said the youth, scratching his fuzzy jaw with his tattooed hand. “Do you good to get out of this stuffy old house. We worry about you, you know. You’ve been acting damn strange lately. As if any of us wanted to be artists…”    

“Well there’s Lydia,” said the man, grinning. “She does have aspirations…”

“Does she now,” said Pirc, and turning his back on the two, took off up the stairs after the lady. He discovered all the lights ablaze in his studio, but no Lydia. Instead he found the cloth drape removed from one easel, and in place of his meticulous rendering there remained only a white blank: his three figures had been scraped away from the canvas and the blanks filled in with stretches of white paint, now dripping wet.

The other easel demanded his attention with even more insistence. Still covered, its cloth overlayer bulged and writhed with something alive beneath it, though Pirc spied no legs or feet on the floor where Lydia or some other human would have to be standing. Were all three of the painted figures beneath it struggling to burst free? Or, what if it were that serpentine lamp from his bedroom, crawling now and sabotaging his work?

 As the drape continued to quiver and rustle, Pirc darted to one of his supply drawers and withdrew the pistol he kept for self-defense, and had lately featured in his art. With the loaded weapon gripped in his right hand, with his left he lifted up the moving cloth that lay over the painting, flung it behind the easel, and revealed Lydia, brush in hand, knees supported by a stool, who turned to face him with a smirk.  

“I nearly shot you,” said the breathless Pirc. “I thought you were my lamp. What are you up to?”

“I couldn’t pull that cloth cover away,” said Lydia. “What did you do, nail it to the frame? I could hardly see under there.” Now freed, she climbed off the stool and stepped back from her work. “Do you recognize the subject? I apologize for being blunt, but you must know how we see you.”

Lowering his gun, Pirc studied the painting which had been utterly transformed by her hand. It was a portrait of himself alone, against a background of plain white, showing him bound in a yellowish jacket, his crossed arms within long sleeves tied tightly against his chest. His face was a flushed mask of pain, and his balding head glowed orange as if on fire. The work was executed in haste, faster than a Bob Ross masterpiece, but quite clear. It was him, all right.  

 “So you see me restrained for liposuction, I get that,” cried Pirc. “All right, I’m chunky and need it badly, but where’s your authority? You’re not doctors.”

In answer, the comely youth, appearing abruptly at Pirc’s side, turned him bodily by his  pudgy shoulders to face him. “Call it an intervention of friends then, fatty,” he said.  

“I’ll take that,” said the man, and the stunned Pirc released the gun into his gloved hand. “You were supposed to secure this weapon and find your keys, Lydia, not muck about with the poor boy’s paintings. I suppose you couldn’t resist the dramatic flourish, to repay him for his clumsy advances.”

“Right you are, darling,” Lydia replied, baring her white teeth. “Compared to you, this clown is bush-league.”

“I wonder,” said the youth, glaring at Lydia’s work, “do they still do electroshock?”     

“Let’s go,” said Lydia, jingling her keys in her manicured fingers. “We’re done with this senseless dope. I’ll drive your car to the party, dearest.”

Watching his friends depart, a helpless Pirc muttered after them, “See if I paint you three again.”

END

Michael Fowler writes humor and horror in Ohio. Three of his plays have received staged readings, and two have been published, but there have been no staged productions or calls from Netflix. Something of a bon vivant, Mike enjoys going through revolving doors with women. 

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