Just another sip I told myself. I finished the glass and saw all the colours again, those fantastic shapes again. I stood watching them in amazement for several seconds before a wave of pride swept over me. I had produced these beauties. This marvel was happening in my head. It was me.
With a little help, of course, from… well, never mind. Everyone needs motivation, a dose of inspiration.
“Alcohol isn’t inspiration, it is an addiction.” I knew my marriage was over when she’d said that. Because when she’d said that to me, she’d essentially spat at my work, my art, my life. I’d painted The Attic after a bottle of Sapphire.
I could barely stand but I’d painted through the night and the kind of money I made from that single painting was something other artists could only dream of. It had bought us a car, it had helped us clear off a large chunk of our home loan.
Screw her, I breathed to myself and staggered to the shoe rack at the end of the hall. The colours were disappearing. Thoughts of her always brought me down to the harsh cold place they loved to call reality. I pulled out my last bottle of Sapphire from a boot. I’d been saving it for emergencies. The colours inched their way back into my vision. I picked up my brush and collected a large dollop of maroon. I began to work.
I worked all night, my brain dancing with a hazy beauty that I easily transferred to canvas. The curtains had just turned orange and sunlight was seeping into my apartment. It was dawn. I took a long glimpse of my work and felt myself collapsing on the floor, a smile on my face. I woke up two days later at a hospital with a sharp pain near my stomach. I was going to die if I didn’t stop drinking, they told me. Well, I am going to die before I stop drinking, before I stop creating – I told them. Fuck you.
So it was the kind of hospital that had security. I tried to leave but the ‘watchman’ there stopped me. When I pushed him and asked him to piss the hell off, another ‘watchman’ appeared and they both hauled me back into my room. I realized they’d brought me to a rehab. I decided to kill my wife and parents once I was out of here.
The colours left quickly. I spent the most painful days of my life there in that room, losing my visions, my inspiration, my hues. The world around me grew grey and gloomy, austere and lifeless.
Once I was done, I had nowhere to go so I had to go live with my wife. I asked her about rent and food on the table. When she told she’d got a job as a teacher, I laughed. Told her that we couldn’t afford anything with a teacher’s bloody salary. I eyed the money plant that was growing out of an old gin bottle. A familiar clawing began inside of me. She followed my gaze and shook her head. She promptly told me there wasn’t a drop of alcohol at home and not a rupee either. “Go beg for drinks, if you want.”
Once I sold another painting and made some money, I’d leave her – I told myself. Fuck her.
I sauntered off to my usual guy and told him that I was getting money in a few days. I just needed a couple of bottles. But the asshole didn’t give a shit about my loyalty. I’d given him business for years and years, damn good business.
Outside the shop, a man waved at me from his car. “Hey.” I didn’t recognize him.
“Aren’t you… You painted the Attic, right?” he said.
“I am the one who bought it…” he said with a warm smile.
“Nice to see you, man. Haven’t seen much of your work since… what’s happening?” he said. And then he got a call. Said he needed to go.
“Let’s catch up. I want to talk about your work,” he said.
“Sure, a drink?” I pushed my luck.
I nodded. Numbers were exchanged and plans were made. 7pm, at the Iris Pub.
I’d downed two drinks by the time he showed up. No one asked him to show up late. I blame him. A part of me wondered how I’d pay for this if he hadn’t come at all. I imagined making a run for it. I suddenly felt exhausted just thinking about it.
He got down to business immediately. He wanted to commission a particular piece of work. He’d always been claustrophobic as a child, anxious and jittery about closed spaces. Now that he was over it, he wanted a representation of this part of him on his wall.
“Soul. I want you to put your soul into this one,” he said animatedly. I always left a part of our soul in every one of my painting.
I pushed my luck further and told him I needed an advance. He agreed so quickly, wrote me a cheque so promptly – I wondered if this guy was even real. We spent the next half an hour talking about his boring life. He was a well-connected fellow and his family owned all kinds of manufacturing units for all sorts of boring things. Fuck you, I thought before leaving. Fuck all rich people. The cheque would take two (dry) days to clear.
I started painting only after the money came. I used most of it for a large crate of bottles. I didn’t go to my usual guy for it. Lost out on a lot of business because he was such an asshole, I thought to myself while I cleared a box full of light bulbs to store my bottles.
She always asked me to change the light bulbs, I thought bitterly. I cursed my wife.
That night, the colours returned and how. I took my art supplies to the smallest room in our house – the store room. I also took three pounds of bread with me along with a couple of bottles of gin. Locked myself up. Told my wife not to bother me. I boarded up the windows. Kept a separate empty bottle for myself to pee in. I wanted to feel trapped, claustrophobic, anxious, sick. I painted for two days and nights straight.
There was a dull pain in my stomach which I ignored till it exploded the third day. I vomited violently right on top of the canvas. I quickly tried to get it off but it was of no use. The more I rubbed at the canvas, the more of that sticky smelly whiteness oozed out of those paints. Was I hallucinating?
It got stickier. And stickier. Fuck. My hands were now stuck to the painting. Wait, I was being dragged into the painting. I gasped. Started screaming. But I think my wife was at school that fucked up school. I didn’t know what was happening.
I’d now tumbled into the painting and I could see the storeroom from a large window, the size of the canvas. I was in a dark space. A quiet, claustrophobic dark space that extremely eerie and unsettling. I screamed some more but I couldn’t hear my own voice.
And then I saw it. It was me, lying at the foot of the canvas. I tried to climb out of this weird window thing but it was like trying to climb into a TV. It wasn’t possible. I could only watch.
I watched as my wife appeared a day later. She’d got someone to break the door. She screamed when she saw my body crumpled on the floor and knelt down before it, crying wildly. I began to cry too. I screamed, shouted, yelled her name. But no one could hear me.
The painting was shifted to his house a week later I think. The window showed me a plush room full of beautiful paintings. His art gallery. I could even see The Attic from where I was.
I watched as people came, stared at me through the window. And left. They came and left. Came and left. All I could do was simply watch. From the inside.