I took a break last week owing to national holidays in the UK for Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, but today I’m publishing the last three chapters of my novella The Rings of Saturn.
In the previous chapter Emmanuel, Katarina, and Agnes had discovered the malevolent truth behind the artist Edouardo del Bosques’s plans, with tragic consequences. In the concluding chapters, Emmanuel faces up to the truths that have hitherto been hidden by Edouardo and himself, and sets up a hideous finale.
I have a confession to make.
But first: I did not kill myself that foul night. Neither did Kat, though she made her way from Madrid, back to wherever she came from, slinking away into the ether. I returned to my little apartment, and thought about this. I believe Edouardo wanted us to destroy ourselves that night. It would have been the apex of the art. Agnes did so, consumed by grief and lack and the frailty of her failed human connections. Katarina, a woman deconstructed into nothing more than a super-sexualised cipher, disappeared. And me, a drunken Englishman hellbent on self-destruction. He wanted me to drink myself to death. His aims were my own.
But I will not die. And I will not cede my ground and my art to that ancient and godly giant who bestrode us with the colossus of his intellect and skill, who seduced us with his promises of fame.
To my confession, then. These letters I have been writing you. You will never read them. You’ll never read them because I never sent you a single one, and I never will. Each one, lovingly handwritten, never made it so far as the inside of an envelope. I pasted each one to the huge canvas I had hung upon the feature wall of my apartment, the wall which faced the balcony window for the best light. You know, a single page of cursive script doesn’t really look like much when stuck to a huge, Monet-sized canvas. But a whole letter of five, six, seven pages or more? And a whole gamut of such letters? It’s wondrous, Em. The words make unbidden shapes and patterns, implying the whimsical movement of my mind arcing through time, the variations in tint and hue of the paper itself, the thickness of nibs and ball-points, the regretful corrections and the frivolous doodles, and the lamentations as the hand styles itself to the job in hand. Altogether they become something more.
It is the job of the child to surpass the father. It is the job of the father to enable it, not to sabotage it, and especially not to then exploit that act of sabotage for narcissistic gratification. The social contract may lie broken from one generation to the next, but the severance of this umbilical dependence is not doom. It is liberty, Em! I no longer orbit Edouardo, acting as the subject of his desperate delusions of immortality and pathetic need to surpass the acts of his descendants.
My words guide my brush over this image. This letter will also go on to the wall. The result is something monumentally beautiful. As I paint, I have a great pang of sadness as I recall the body of Great Aunty Baby reclining on the bed, as though she were still alive. She used to call me Em.
Edouardo keeps calling me, but I’m ignoring the gregarious bastard. He may stew in the fat of fawning for a little longer. One might almost say I’m deaf to him. I’ll keep writing these missives, Em, even though I’ve lost the line between us now. I’d built it up so perfectly, and now I can’t remember how. Sometimes I can’t tell night from day. I went out yesterday. It was a grey day, and I filled it with pontification before returning here.
My beard is long and scratchy, and my eyes seem bigger. My fingernails are long and haven’t been trimmed in some time. I’m fucking wild, Em.
My painting of you, of me, is almost complete. But there is still room for a little more.
I check my suitcase for the last of Great Aunty Baby’s money. There is a little left. Enough to call for a courier to remove this art and have it delivered to the studio of the toast of the Madrid art set, one Edouardo del Bosques.
Two things that Bosques would not have banked upon. One: the tenacity of those who have survived humiliation and stared at death. And Two: the fact that I know his weekly movements like the backs of my gnarled, cracked hands. I arrange the delivery for when he is out, and take delivery of it myself, being still in possession of the code for the studio entrance.
The marvellous self-portrait is hung in pride of place in the studio, and I wait for Edouardo. While I wait, I begin this letter, the final piece of the puzzle.
Finally, he arrives, and comes up the stairs with his trademark heavy gait. At the moment he steps into the studio and sees me standing before my own masterpiece, he freezes.
“Manu,” he says, fumbling for the phlegmatic, and quite failing. It was a pleasure to see him ruffled. My fingers itched as he moved forwards a step. “What are you… I’ve been trying to reach you. I was worried.”
Worried! It’s the lies that cut the deepest.
“I know. But I’ve been working. Your centrepiece at the galleria inspired me. I’ve been putting this together. I’m calling it The Rings Of Saturn. What do you think of it?”
He frowned suspiciously, and approached the painting. When he saw it was comprised entirely of my own letters, he looked at me with shock. “My God, Manu. Are these your letters?”
“Then this…” he stepped back, and looked at the piece as a whole. “This is then flow, and course, and it is you. This face is you, but is filled with movement, and light, and darkness, and humanity.”
“It’s who I used to be,” I said.
Bosques smiled, and rubbed his forehead with his disgusting pincers. “It shows real work. This is the potential I saw back at Prado. You alone.”
My jaw twitched. What of Agnes, then? Of Katarina? Were we simply disposable to him? Had he nothing to say?
He looked at the painting once more, and then turned and smiled at me with open arms. “You know, Manu, I think this will be our greatest achievement!”
My hands balled into fists, and finally I ran at him, the heat in me too great to contain any longer. His eyes widened the second before I crashed into him and knocked him onto his back on the studio floor, where I grabbed him by his long, grey hair, and drove the back of his head onto the floor. He flailed, trying to punch me with his useless fists, but I straddled him with all my strength, tensing my limbs until they were flooded with acid and poison and I just rattled with fury. Again I pushed his head to the floor, and again, until he went limp with a breath, and I rolled off him.
“Our?” I cried, as he lay panting miserably, his eyes flickering this way and that. “Our achievement? You have no idea what I am doing, old man. The time of all men and women must come to pass.” I looked down at him, pathetic, wretched. There was no art in his pulped body. He tried to speak, but nothing came out except hissing breaths. One side of his face had collapsed. His eyes were bulging with terror.
He is no longer my anchor. I was am free to choose my own path.
I step forwards to the painting, and carefully peel the pages away from the canvas. They are all stuck together with paint and adhesive, and it comes off as one, with a satisfying squelching sound. As I do so, I could hear Edouardo’s phone spill from his pocket, but his useless fingers could not make any sort of call. Soon the entire painting is off the wall, lying before me on the floor. I begin the final process.
I start by bringing the corners together in the centre, carefully, and then, using water to make the pages moist and malleable, I begin to shape these painted letters to the vision in my mind. First I mould a trunk from the amorphous mass, and then from this trunk I tease out the arms, and legs, and head, until I’m left with a slimy but perfectly formed little homunculus of myself. It even has our eyes, Em. The little handwritten paper creature looks at me with pale eyes and dark, dripping skin, with a look that says, “Et tu, Manu?” and its little arms try to wriggle free from my grasp, but I’m too strong. I’m a God. I feel it, now. In clutching this mewling, bitching thing in my hands, I see how it will surpass me, outlive me. All our creations do. Thoughts are more tangible than flesh.
“I will one day become grown,” says the little homunculus. The ink and paint marks all over his flesh make him seem fearsome, like a miniature Maori warrior, and yet faintly ridiculous. “And when I am, I will become more powerful than anything you could ever capture in your art!”
I know it to be true. And, God preserve me, I fear it. I fear what comes after me. Great Aunty Baby did, too. She saw me and must have balked. I’m not natural.
I bring the homunculus to my slavering mouth. It wriggles ever more violently, screaming now like a wounded pig, but I dig my unkempt nails deep into its torso, and thick, crimson paint oozes from the wound. I take a bite of the forefinger of its left hand, crunching down upon it and chewing it until the morsel is gone; then I bite off the others to the knuckle, then to the wrist, then to the elbow. My eyes widen with the glee and horror of it. Behind me I hear Edouardo trying and failing to scream.
Crimson paint spurts from the homunculus’s wounds, dripping down over its stump and smearing my mouth with it. I bite again, up to the shoulder. The homunculus screams again. Its screeching is unbearable, like a hideous buzz that rips into my soul, and it just won’t stop, no matter how hard I shake it.
So I open my mouth wide, and bite off the creature’s head.
To those of you still with me at this point, thanks for sticking with my strange little story. I hope you enjoyed it! By the time this post goes up the whole novella will be stickied to the main navbar, under the Novellas menu.