Don’t Paint to Forget. Paint to Remember. (Adapted from Muse)

The door was open. Given what he had seen on the climb up to the nineteenth floor of the Kirkton apartments he could only imagine the horrors he would find inside number 19/6.

The lift was broken. The stairways were clogged with people of varying age and varying states of undress. One man – probably mid fifties – was spread across the stairs on the fifth floor. One of his boots were missing, leaving only a threadbare sock with filthy toe nails peeking through. He would appear dead if it weren’t for his rolling eye balls. Like the others he was out of his mind on pills, needles, alcohol or a combination of all. Coldford Police or CDP raided the place like they were spraying for termites on a weekly basis but there would always be one that would escape down one hole or another, scurry back out and breed until the apartments were filled with the dregs of society once again.

Alex had been afraid the first time he came to the Shanties of Coldford City. His parents had sheltered him so much the poorest part of town was like a whole other world. He was still afraid then. As he stepped over the bodies they seemed like macabre bread crumbs David had scattered so he could find him.

David wasn’t afraid though. He was born and raised in the Shanties for their fourteen years. Alex had tried to encourage him away to a better life but he still returned. The shanties were like a wild siren calling him home. Returning to the Shanties was one thing but coming to the Kirkton apartments meant that David had intended to score.

Only his fondness for David could have brought him into the middle of what seemed like the set of a horror movie. The smell of urine in the corridor was overwhelming. The lights that weren’t broken flickered in a headache inducing trance.

“You’re too young,” Alex had said when David told him of his intention to buy needles. “They won’t sell to you.”

David had smiled at his friends naïve assumption that dealers had age restrictions.

Alex entered apartment 19/6 cautiously. A woman was lying in the corridor, propped up against the wall. Her shirt was undone and her left breast exposed where she had removed her arm to take a needle. The name KELSEY was tattooed on her upper arm, probably a child’s name she no longer had in her care. Alex had never seen a real woman’s breast before before. Perhaps his mothers when he was a feeding infant but that didn’t really count. He was torn between finding David and covering the woman up.

There were two men drinking in the kitchen area which was to the left at the end of long hall. They turned and looked at Alex. They were cooking a brown substance on a spoon over an open flame on the cooker hob. The were sharing a bottle of cheap cider between them. Alex guessed they were preparing needles. The men in the kitchen turned back to what they were doing. They had stranger kids wander in looking for absentee parents. They knew Alex – with his fresh face, neatly combed hair and new clothes – didn’t belong there but they left him alone all the same.

Alex’s heart was at a sprint to the finish line when he looked around the lounge area. There was David propped up against a wall like the woman in the corridor. He was still a little spaced out but thankfully not completely gone. The room was empty furniture except for a filthy, soiled old mattress which two men were lying on. They were holding each other and one had reached for the others genitals. Both of them were lost to the world around them.

David looked up. At first he stared at Alex as though he were an apparition. His eyes cleared a little as he registered the reality.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” He asked in a mix of frustration and fear. His words were barely audible though.

“I came to get you. I’m taking you home,” stated Alex.

The men in the kitchen stopped their conversation. David reached his hand out and Alex pulled him to his feet.

“Get out of here, Alex. You shouldn’t be here.”

“I’m not leaving without you so either you come with me or I settle down and take some needles too.” Alex knew David would never allow him to take the drugs.

“Don’t be stupid,” was his reply.

Alex remained firm. “So it’s stupid for me but not for you?”

David shook his head and brushed his bleached blonde hair back.

“It’s different,” he tried to say.

Alex shrugged his shoulders. “Is it though? The way I see it it’s one and the same.”

One of the men stepped out of the kitchen.

“Finn?” He spat. “What the fuck is this?”

David clutched onto Alex’s arm. “It’s nothing,” he said calmly, his words still a little slurred.

The boys left.

As they steadily descended the steps David said, “I ought to kick your ass. Do you have any idea what trouble you just put yourself in? Fuck sake, man!”

Alex grinned, helping David down the last of the steps. “Right now you couldn’t fight sleep. I’m so scared,” he mocked.

***

By the time they returned to the Ferrald home in the upper west David’s stomach had started to cramp. He vomited at the bus station but having ate very little in the past 24 hours it turned quickly to dry heaving, forcing them to stop several times en route.

When they got the the home they went straight upstairs to the spare room David always used when he stayed with the Ferrald family. It was used so often Mrs Ferrald called it David’s room and its walls were covered in drawings of David’s.

“Is that you Alex?” The mother called up to them.

“Yeah, mum,” Alex replied. “David too.”

“Have you boys had dinner?” Stephanie Ferrald enquired.

David rubbed his stomach in protest.

“No, we’re fine,” he told her.

Alex switched on the television to draw out any sound of there being something wrong. David lay down on the bed, looking up at the ceiling with his hands across his gut.”

“I don’t understand why you would go to a place like that,” Alex said.

Even if David tried to explain it Alex still would never understand the need to numb the pain, to escape the body even just for a short time. Alex had been by his side when he faced a terrible trauma. He was there on the day he became orphaned but Alex didn’t know the worst part. He didn’t know why it happened. David wouldn’t talk about it. He would rather escape, even if that escape was back at the Shanties where it all occurred.

***

They sat together for a few hours. As always David wouldn’t discuss his reasons for his obvious spiral. Instead they played video games, discussed the kids at school and Alex made David drink plenty of water. Sometime around midnight he devoured a bowl of sugary cereal.

David fell asleep. Alex went to his own room, glad to have the safety of his home around him. Only when he tried to fall asleep did he start reflecting on the true danger of the Kirkton apartments.

4am glowed silently on his bedside clock in very precise green numbers. Alex turned to go back to sleep but a full bladder called. He couldn’t ignore it. On his way to the bathroom across the hall he noticed David’s light was on. After voiding his bladder he knocked on the door gently and found him at the small desk in the corner. He was sketching. He paid no attention to Alex behind him. He was so lost in his drawing.

David was an incomparable artist. Even without any official training he had such a raw talent in painting, sketching and sculpting when he could get the clay. It was part of the reason why Alex would continue to pull him back no matter how many times he strayed. Seeing him propped against the wall, surrounded by junkies and low life’s it was not just a life wasted but talent too.

David, at fourteen, started to absorb himself in art instead of needles. He even began building a promising future but there was always that demon looking over his shoulder, reminding him of that trauma.

When his inspiration starts to falter he will have to address that childhood experience. He will have to search deep to the pain he tried to numb and look into the faces of the monsters that caused it.

David was considered one of the finest artists in the city but when his artistic vision starts to fail him Alex is forced to pull him back from the brink. It may be too late. He’s now in the grip of his latest muse.

MUSE is available now. Click HERE to read.

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