The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. --André Breton
Space was important. there’d never been space in Vienna. Space provided room for ideas to grow.
Charlie unlocked the door, slipping the key back into his pocket. It was the ornate one Sable had given him the morning they’d met.
”You look like someone who needs space.”
He’d followed her, the little tramp and his darling. He’d sketched her across the street, up the stairs into the empty room above the pottery store. They’d talked about the war, about Manchuria, about her cafe. They’d gotten closer and closer. And then she’d left.
“Don’t worry, just drop the key back when you’re done.”
Charlie sat in the whitewashed room snapping his suspenders as he stared at an empty canvas. He was surrounded by the debris of those who’d gone before. Here lay metal shavings, there fashion designs.Other artists had come and gone, leaving nothing but their cast offs. He’d met at least one with the same key. Yet though they’d traded ideas they’d never mentioned the room. Courtesy of the trade. No one needed to see the tears and torn hair, only the finished product. A narrow window provided the only reminder of the world outside. It had a slim view of the cafe front. It was a balmy Sunday morning but there was no weekend here. The cafe only closed when Sable slept.
“Why would I need to sleep? Everything you can dream of is here.”
He spent hours just letting his hands work, creating sketch after sketch. For the first time he looked down and regarded his latest effort with pity. Far too glib. Everyone would think it clever the first time and be sick of it the fiftieth. He tore out the page, relishing vandalising his own work. Crumpling the paper he tossed it on a pile of clothing, all with various modifications. It moved.
A head popped up “I am the happy hunting dog! Each day I return to the kennels, blood on my teeth, meat in my belly.”
Charlie bolted upright. From the pile emerged the likeness of a man. His western business suit screamed mundane, but his pockets bulged with concealed weaponry. It was Xac, the secret policeman, Department D. He rummaged through the fabrics, retrieving a hat. “Good morning, Herr Charlie.”
“Herr- Herr Xac, but it is afternoon,” Charlie grabbed a paintbrush, holding it up as a ward against evil.
“But dear Charlie, it is morning if we say it is morning and if we say it is the moon henceforth you know it to be! Still doing Aine’s bidding?”
“The Frau has commissioned me to do a series of propaganda posters, advising citizens to report suspicious activity.”
Xac shook his head “Propaganda, Charlie, is for the lesser races. Men of mental fortitude do not need encouragement to love the Fatherland.”
“Of course!” Charlie stared intently at the canvas, trying to think of something, anything.
However Xac was peering out the window. The stairs creaked. Xac held a finger to his lips.
Someone knocked on the door. The policeman fell backwards into the pile. It consumed him, all that was left was his bowler hat. For a moment Charlie wasn’t sure what to do.
The knock came again. He scrambled to answer. Behind it stood Sable, a professional smile in a waitress’ apron “I’m not disturbing your muse?”
Charlie blocked the doorway, as innocently as he could manage. “Of course not! Just working on my magnum opus.”
Sable peered past him “How is that going?”
“It is a magnum opus! The work of a lifetime, a lifetime of work. And an intensely private affair.”
She presented a tray with a flourish “A little afternoon tea. Old British tradition.”
There was fruit salad with tomatoes and cold coffee. Charlie’s favourites. He hesitated and she seized the moment, placing a hand on his chest and pushing him backward into the room “Why so shy? you couldn’t wait to get me in here the first time.”
He coloured “We agreed not to bring that up.”
Charlie felt a cold sweat. She was playing with him. He’d met her partner, a brute of a man near seven feet tall. “You’re not planning anything improper are you?”
Sable shut the door, smirking “You artists are all the same. Actually I wanted to ask, have you seen anyone around?”
Sable’s eyes travelled the room, hair slipping down over her shoulders “Today. Anyone odd?”
Charlie desperately tried not to glance at the pile of clothes “How could I, locked in here with my muse?”
“Uh huh,” She indicated the blank canvas.
“I can’t start until it’s finished in my head,” He put an arm around her gesturing to the empty wall “All at once Art enters the world, not in pieces but fully formed, reshaping what we know by what we see.”
She gently disengaged “Well be careful it’s the right kind of art. They found another body down the bay.”
Her tone hardened “The police treat their guests with such care.”
Charlie looked to the canvas, his eyes a helpless puppy’s.
She sighed “I envy you, living in your own little world.”
Her lips were cold on his cheek. “Just drop back the key when you’re done, will you?”
She left the tray.
Charlie shut the door, leaning against it.
“Why do we lie to each other, do you think?” Xac’s voice was muffled beneath the clothes. He extricated himself, coat catching on stray pins. A little girl’s dress clung to him and he chased his tail in consternation. The little tramp pried it off of him.
“I think we lie to each other no more than ourselves, Herr.”
Xac marched over to the canvas, boots clicking. Charlie followed him, collecting the brush on the way. You never knew
“Communist, fascist, they’re all excuses, Charlie. We lash your back and say this is why but the why doesn’t matter,” Xac pulled out a baton “Just the lash.”
Time slowed down for Charlie he beheld the baton rising, then descending, into his palm. Xac had placed it there.
Charlie stared at the baton. It was sleek, dedicated to function over form so much that it took on an elegance all its own.
“Go ahead, strike down the forces of oppression!”
Charlie shook his head.
“Hit me or I’ll have you arrested, beaten and starved. We’ll dump what’s left in the bay.”
Charlie dropped the baton “Herr Xac, please!”
“That’s good, real fear,” Xac patted him on the shoulder “Relax, I was only joking.”
He offered Charlie the paintbrush. Charlie couldn’t close his fingers and the brush fell back into Xac’s hand “We are brothers in our craft, you and I.”
He glanced out the window.
“Don’t worry, I know another way out.”
Anyone who, at least once in his life, has not dreamed of thus putting an end to the petty system of debasement and cretinization in effect has a well-defined place in that crowd with his belly at barrel-level.