Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Fiction: The Note

As part of my creative writing class, I was asked to write a short story about an emotion. In this story, I played with sequencing, dialogue, and expressing a character's internal thoughts. Overall, I'm very satisfied.



The Note

Claire was gone. Nick paced back and forth. His mind raced.

How much does she really know? Will she go to the police?

Nick felt cold. He began to have difficulty breathing, and then the room began to close in on him. Just a few hours ago everything seemed fine.

It was Saturday morning and Nick was emptying the dishwasher. Who is knocking? Those Mormon’s again? He opened the door anyway. 

Claire felt sheepish about knocking. She rarely acted on impulse. A few days earlier she had discovered a small handwritten note on the back of a John Kern painting. The museum curator had dismissed it as something scrawled by a gallery owner or appraiser.

Kern was one of those artists who had recently gained a reputation as one of America's great undiscovered painters. No doubt his rise in popularity was helped by his mysterious disappearance in the 90s – still unsolved. In the art world, a cloud of mystery was even better than dying impoverished.

Claire was working on her dissertation and had gotten permission to examine an archive of John Kern paintings. She was thrilled when she came across a classic example of Kern's work. Its canvas was covered in broad splashes of yellow and black. It had been painted in 1995, the year of Kern's disappearance. It still had its original frame, and when Claire inspected the back of the canvas, she noticed some writing in the lower right hand corner: 57 Pleasant Street, 6:00.

Every town has a Pleasant Street. Could it be the one in this town, the town where Kern had lived? 

Claire pondered the significance of the address. Maybe it's the address of someone who had known Kern. Better yet, it might be a collector or even someone who has a stash of Kern paintings and didn't know their significance. What a coup! Settle down, Claire, it's probably just an appointment with a cat-sitter or something. The door opened and a 60ish man stood there. 

“Hi, my name is Claire Wilson. I'm a graduate student at the university. I hate to bother you on a Saturday morning, but I couldn't help but notice your mailbox and that wonderful little mural on it.”

“Thank you. I painted it a long time ago. I used to like a bit whimsy.”

The man looked familiar to Claire. “Aren't you Nick Reynolds, the artist?”

“Why yes. How did you know?”

“I've seen your work around town, and when I saw your name on the box, it clicked. I'm an art history student. I'm here because I found your address on the back of a John Kern canvas. Say, did you know John Kern?”

A chill crept down Nick's spine. He could feel the hairs on his neck begin to rise. 

“John Kern. No, I didn't know him,” Nick said automatically. It had been a long time since he had been asked that question.

“But weren't you a contemporary of Kern's. You lived in the same town, and the artist community here is pretty small,” replied Claire, perplexed by Nick's answer. 

Nick took a deep breath and forced a more sociable tone to his voice. “Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't get your meaning. Of course, I knew of John Kern, but I never really met him. We just exchanged a few pleasantries at this or that gallery opening.”

Nick could feel his heart pound. He felt a layer of sweat shimmer to the surface of his skin. Why was she so inquisitive about this, he wondered. 

“A John Kern painting, and my address on the canvas. How odd,” he managed to utter as a small lump formed in the back of his throat.

“Won't you come in,” he stammered, feeling a weakness in his legs. Damn, why did he invite her in. But then again, not inviting her in might seem strange. In any case, he wanted to find out what she knew.

Claire entered the house, so sparsely decorated that it looked as if no one lived there. The white walls were devoid of art (strange for an artist). As Claire followed Nick into the kitchen, the wooden floors echoed. 

Nick's hand trembled as he handed Claire a cup of coffee. Nick hoped she would think it was old age. Young people easily attribute anything odd to that, he thought.

“Was there anything else on the canvas besides my address?” Nick coyly asked, trying not to sound too inquisitive.

“Yes, there was your address, and '6:00,' a time, I assume. That was it.”

Sit tight, don't say anything, remain calm. After 20 years were his fears finally coming to fruition. Control yourself Nick. 6:00 means nothing to her.

He was beginning to feel queasy.  

“Mr. Reynolds, is everything okay,” Claire asked, seeing his face turn ashen.

Nick suddenly turned away pretending to get another cup of coffee. 

Nick started to regain his cool. “That doesn't seem like much,” he said casually.  “Why did the writing capture your interest?” 

“Oh, it was just a hunch. Silly, I suppose. But then it led me to you, so it turned out rather well,” she said chirpily.

How am I going to politely exit, she thought. This guy is dull and obviously isn't going to give me any fresh insights into Kern. 

“I showed the canvas to the museum curator. He'll be surprised when he hears that it was your address on the canvas and that I met you,” Claire said proudly.

“So do you have any idea what the note might mean,” Claire added as she took another sip of coffee. 

“I haven't a clue,” Nick said as his upper lip quivered. The nausea was getting worse, and his left side felt numb, as a sharp pain shot through his arm. My God, am I having a heart attack? I can't deal with this now.

“Oh my, it's nearly 11, and I do need to get to town before the bank closes at noon. I'm so sorry to be abrupt, but you understand,” Nick said hurriedly. Both were relieved when she politely left. 

Claire wandered down the street toward her car. Of course, she thought, the curator was right, the writing was just an insignificant scrawl.  

Nick paced.  Calm down Nick! She has nothing really. It's just your address and a time. On the other hand, it does connect you to John Kern. That's all the police would have needed to know 20 years ago. No stop! Don't panic.

He thought back to how it felt those first two or three years: his heart skipping a beat every time the doorbell rang, those nightmares and awful night sweats. It seemed that everyone had forgotten the puzzle and moved on. Now it was stirring up again.

God! I need air. I can't breathe.

He had gotten rid of the paintings, the books, and all the unnecessary furniture. They all reminded him of that day. The house itself reminded him too. Unfortunately, he couldn't get rid of that. He couldn't sell it, couldn't rent it, couldn't even remodel it. He simply couldn't have people poking around inside it. 

He thought he had finally pushed the fear of discovery down, but this visit had started the thoughts going again.

Maybe I could destroy the painting? Don't be stupid. It's in a museum. Anyway, that silly girl already knows about the address. Okay, remain calm. She doesn't know what it means and nobody else cares. But she'll tell her amusing story at dinner parties for years until somebody puts the pieces together. Then what?

Nick's heart continued to pound furiously. He wandered aimlessly around the house. Emerging from his daze, he found himself in the basement. On the floor, Nick could still discern the six feet long area he had chiseled out and refilled all those years ago. Nick shook his head. He let out an unconscious nervous laugh and muttered to himself, “I never could get that concrete to match.” 

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