The Commission


There's a clock tower in the left-hand corner. It's painted a red the colour of blood, which might seem an overly dramatic colour and may hint at grisly revelations to come, but were you to cut your finger and observe the colour beginning to bead, it would be that of the clock tower. Off to the right, a ten-foot penguin is framed by a sky so blue it burns. But don't let this conjure a sky that invokes in you a wanderlust, it is nothing that isn't seen in summer five days out of seven. Nothing special and something completely taken for granted. A ten-foot penguin might be slightly more unusual, but its only a billboard for the latest IMAX documentary.
In the center of the photograph, a couple are locked in a kiss. But its the composition that at first intrigues me more than the subjects. The couple are clearly meant to be the focal point, but they are dwarfed by their surroundings; the clock tower, the billboard, the yacht masts and glinting glass and all the finery of this waterfront tourist mecca. I find myself preoccupied more at the thought of who the photographer was then I am with the couple. Was it simply the unversed eye of a stranger? Someone who with the click of a shutter fulfilled a simple request for a couple they would never see again? Or was it someone connected to them, someone who's unspoken secrets may have been revealed by aperture and lens.
Blood, burning skies, unsettling compositions; I'm not sure which of these contributed to my initial unease, but I accepted the commission anyway. I'm not an artist who can afford to turn down what should be easy money. Mark and Jenny were as much the couple in love sitting here in my lounge as they were in the photo. Their wedding was a month away, and a friend of a friend of a friend had told them I was someone who worked quickly and reliably. Once the honeymoon was over and they'd moved into their new place, my painting would be hanging above their bed.
So I left the photo clipped above a clean canvas for a few days, a process I normally follow while I create those first few brush strokes in my mind. It was something I did just to ensure a completed vision; more often than not, when I committed that first stroke to canvas, time tended to fold like one of those origami sculptures I hated so much, and the work would be finished before I'd even had the chance to reappraise progression.
I had become rather entranced by the Cerulean Blue Hue I had selected for the edges of the sky, when a shadow flitted behind me. You know exactly what I speak of. When you're alone, and from beyond the edge of your vision you swear there was motion. No matter how quickly you turn, nothing is ever there. So you convince yourself that perhaps it was a lock of your own hair that strayed in front of your vision, or a trick of the light.
But that never happens to me. When I turn around, I always see something. Sometimes its soft, warm and smells of beach sand and apple blossoms. Or it's the mist that settles over a lake at sunrise, the sound of the moon reflected by the rain. But not this time. The shadow was shredded human flesh, the smell of trenches the night after battle, the sound of an avalanche, the burnt bronze of rusted metal. It was cold and jagged and screeching.
Later that evening, I complete the sky. A few buildings have begun to take shape in the background, the slightly misshapen figures of Mark and Jenny in the foreground. There's a sudden flash of desolate emptiness behind my eyes and my hand jerks involuntarily, the brush striking a line of Mars Black across the canvas. Defeated, I collapse on a nearby sofa, willing sleep to claim me forever.
I barely have time for self-pity. Two days later, I am informed by the friend of a friend that the wedding is off. The reasons are unknown, but rumour whispers that Mark has hurt Jenny beyond any hope of redemption. The shadow was right, again.
* * *
It should be a happy photo. A mother and her two children, dressed in outfits that would never be seen outside of the photograph. The girl, who looks four but is probably older, has her hand on the mothers lap. The younger boy is smiling, but there is no trace of impudence or mischief in that smile. I try to glean from the mothers eyes a hint of anything that would make her transformation onto canvas easier, but whatever is there is hidden from me.
I mix some Ivory Black for her cascading hair and reach for a round bristle brush. Behind me, like the last breath of a dying man, a shadow flickers.
I know this particular theme has been dealt with many times before, and by far more skilled writers. But mine has something the others didn't. Mine is based on a true story.

Are we there yet?


Hurry up with that promised post, already, Mr. Ten Miles ... else I'm NOT going to make waffles in the morning, for sure. Dumdedumdum ... (I'm going to get such a good clap on the back of the head, now) hee hee


Don’t know about you lot but I’m very fed up that my Cape Town connection is currently on his “sabbatical” whatever thingie-ma-jiggy but I do hope that he is enjoying his exams – if that is at all possible. I’m having withdrawals. October saw the beginning of the Christmas marketing swindle – odd stuff started appearing on shelves, things that vaguely resembled Christmas cards and baubles for Kersfees booms. I thought I was having a flashback. But then, this week I also saw Christmas crackers in abundance all over the place and today, the whole marketing behemoth got into full capitalist swing as the bombardment of ads began in earnest on TV. Because I am terminally feeling like the Grinch, I will not say anything at all about it on here, cos I will just swear a lot.

I remember Winter, now.


Even the rain refuses to collide with the house, droplets on the window pane fleeing upward, bustling past each other in the effort to escape. The sun mumbles an unconvincing protest at the presence of clouds, no doubt more than happy at their timely obstruction. The snow should melt at this onslaught from the heavens, but there is no snow. People think Winter is about snow, but there is no joy to be had from Winter. I know, I've tried to prise it from Her cold dead fingers. All She did was laugh.
Have you ever heard the dead laugh? I'm sure you have. At 3am, when you're two hours from home and it feels like the only heat in the world is coming from the lights of passing cars. When you're switching off the bedside lamp and it only goads the wind into screaming louder, and the shifting figure beside you is one you no longer know. That's not a scream, its a laugh. Ah, but the house. Strange. I have tried in vain to find a moment free from it's imprint on my mind, yet now as I hope for a release through these words, it hides from me.
And the rain, fighting to find a more direct route through my jacket, clinging to the branches above me with an inhuman ferocity. I feel safe on this side of the street, but I still shudder involuntarily at the thought of putting my foot on the tarmac. The light in the upstairs window is on. The irony of it should be funny. A light. A window. Yet everything around it is darker because of it. As dark as an abyss. But the abyss doesn't scare me. I've stared into it so many times, its like looking at my face in the mirror. Not the abyss, no. It's the window that scares me.
I imagine floating up, peering in from the refuge of shadow. Hearing the stumbling footsteps, as he makes his way up the stairs. The slurred voice whispering a name, as a young girl gathers her duvet tighter around her. I can hear what she's thinking. Its louder then the rain, louder then Winter's laugh. If I'm quiet enough, maybe I can be invisible, maybe he won't see me. Again, he breathes the name, makes it sound like it belongs to him. But it doesn't, it belongs to me.
And I'm not in that room anymore, not for a long time. I'm standing across the street, trying to steal strength from somewhere, anywhere. Hand in pocket, my fingers curl around the handle. It tells me my next step, but doesn't give me the strength to take it. I close my eyes, smell the gin on his breath, feel those calloused hands stripping me away one night at a time, his cloying breath on my neck; and take a step forward.
Tarmac. Sidewalk. Grass. Porch. Front door. And I'm home.
But Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack pours himself another, something with a kick.
And this, this is the house that Jack built.

My heart


In about 15 years from now, you will meet a young man. He is a strange young man, who keeps an intricately carved chest under his bed. You will learn the contents of that chest, as he wears a different one each day. Masks. Each one carefully crafted, every contour a response to years of sharp observation. Whorled patterns cover almost every inch of smooth wood, even concealing the eyes. Most importantly, the eyes. Daedal spirals, designed to elicit a specific response. Masks for a different kind of masquerade, everyone else the unsuspecting guest. Should any of the masks be removed, you would perhaps be taken aback, the pristine exterior a subtle misdirection. For on the inside, sweat has hewn thin grooves, flecks of blood have merged with the grain. But no-one has ever taken off the mask. He shows no outward signs of this hidden toll, why would they? Slowly, the young man will become confused, You do not react as he anticipates, almost as if you do not see the masks. But that is not possible; even he cannot recall the curve of his mouth, the colour of his eyes. So he draws from deep within himself, he constructs a performance worthy of the masks. He forgets himself in it, every minute inflection has but one purpose. To make you see him as the rest do. That too, fails. For the first time, he will understand the nature of grace, as your fingers reach toward him. Your touch will startle him, like a sliver of glass. The first touch always does, on a skin that has been indifferent for so long. Your finger will trace the curve of his mouth. His eyes are blue. But you know that, you've known for as long as you've known him. They were never hidden from you. What you see in those eyes will remain a riddle to him, even after you marry him. He will not waste time in the attempt to solve it, rather, he is thankful every day. Thankful for what it is to wake up next to you. For what it means to love you. To know you. He is giddy at the sound of your laughter, brought to his knees every time you smile. You will both fetch that chest from beneath his bed. You will carry it to the shore, to the rocks where he spoke those words that bound you forever. He will hesitate as you hand him a match, but one glance from you brings him peace. And you will stand together and watch the flames rise into the air, the smoke dancing whorls and spirals. ********************* It's Mrs TenMiles birthday today, and I try to clutch at the words and meaning to convey what it is she means to me. And what is a facetted meaning, is perhaps best expressed simply. My heart, my lover, my wife and best friend. Happy Birthday. Loving you is like breathing.


It's strange, isn't it. How and why and in what manner we form bonds with people. Is it similar interests? Is it that we recognise in them parts of ourselves? Or at least the way we long to be, if we didn't feel so broken most of the time. Or perhaps it is something beyond any attempt at explanation. And sometimes, if we are lucky enough, we manage to find a thread amongst this weave of human interaction, a thread that if we follow it patiently enough, brings us a rare gift: friends who make us better people just by knowing them. Today, I'd like to celebrate the birthday of one such gift. So please hop across to LekkerKwaiKiff, and wish Luke the merriest and jolliest of Happy Birthdays. Because she deserves it, and we could all do with being a little merrier and jollier. Lucretia, with all the affection I've been mustering all morning (and let me tell you this affection stuff is darned heavy, I think I've already put out my back...).. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! You are a true and wonderful friend, advisor, confidant and an angel. If angels were cooler and had an edge, that is.......

The footsteps should echo off the sides of the brambled path, but they don't. A hand reaches up to gently tug aside a sliver of branch, lest it should snag the flowing, white beard. He hates it when that happens.

He stops to allow a procession of ants to complete their journey across the sloping terrain, the economy of movement, the uniform tap of a thousand tiny legs skittering across the grass and sand. He likes those; particularly proud of them in fact. A slight pause before continuing on allows an emerald-green lizard to crawl across his sandaled foot. It stops for just a moment, black eyes quiescent, before darting off again into the thick grass bordering the path.

The path bends to the left, opening out onto a breathless vista. An immense lake stretches out the span of a few miles. On its far bank, a forest of regal pines have taken up watch, sheltered by a brooding mountain, its solitary peak grasping up at the sky. The surface of the lake is mirror-like, reflecting the outrageous shapes of the late afternoon clouds, every delicate shade of blue finding in it a twin. He waves an outstretched hand over the surface, which shimmers in response, and suddenly its as if a million pinpricks of light are blinking in and out of existence, a noise like static rushing out in a billowing discharge.

"Bloody reception!" The voice drowns out the noise of the static, seems to take possession of the air, a heavy and tangible reverberation.

He closes his eyes, the stirring of a slight breeze the only indication that something is changing. Then, imperceptibly at first, that lonely peak starts to shift. A little to the left, a little more, and then at a slight angle. Although to look at the scene again, the peak could have been jutting out like that since the beginning of time.

The hand hovers across the lake again, and again it shimmers. This time, however, a clear picture begins to take shape.

"Much better..." The voice is almost a grumble, if such a thing were possible.

The image in the lake appears to be part of a city. A man in a suit sits on the stairs of an important looking building, eating a sandwich as steam rises from the polystyrene cup next to him. The incessant hooting of a car horn finally stops when a burly man gets out of his car and begins to gesture wildly at no-one in particular. On every sidewalk, people are in constant motion. Some look up, others down. After a while, its confusing as to whether the chaos is governed by the traffic lights, or the lights above the storefronts.

"Gabriel!" The voice seems to tremor between octaves. "Where's my freakin' Maj Jong?"

A snap of the fingers, and the mountain, forest and sky are once more reflected in the surface of the lake. He settles down on a nearby bench, spots a golden figure materialize in the corner of his eye, and sighs.

"God, I hate reality tv......"

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