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the last canvas - chapter 2
Published Jul 13, 2013


Written By

andantezen

Storyteller
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miracles do happen.



thanks for reading my first story on TSR.
comments are welcome.
sorry for my broken English.

miracles do happen.



thanks for reading my first story on TSR.
comments are welcome.
sorry for my broken English.
Hi, I'm Laurent, and I'm in town for the opening of my solo exhibition in the prestigious Vice's Modern Art Museum -- and I've decided to meet Carlo, my father, for the first time in 20 years.

Both of us being painters, in the first chapter we've politely talked about art and Carlo started telling me about his rough start, when he was a penniless young man struggling to make it as an artist. Digging the trash to find food leftovers... I was shocked, I had no idea about that! He's a master now, one of his paintings has been sold for a million...

As I sat there listening to my father, I had to think how little I knew about him. He'd been not only distant, absent all those years -- he'd been a stranger to me. All I knew about him came from my mother, filtered with resentment and prejudice -- that I could right now recognize rising inside me, maybe as my own.

I tried wholeheartedly to get rid of them as I listened to Carlo.
Seeing him grown old and with a sadened expression, I felt my heart melt.

Maybe it would take longer to forgive my father, but it wasn't that hard to feel compassionate towards the person in front of me, who had suffered so much chasing his ideal, trying to fulfill his heart's wishes to make a living as a painter.
One day I vomited so much -- Carlo continued with his story --, or not that much actually, since I had had just stale bread for breakfast, and canned soup two evenings ago for dinner, that I fainted. I woke up many hours after that, still leaning over the toilet, shivering with cold and coughing. I was asfixiating with the bad smell of my own vomit, and I felt I had to throw up again -- but there was nothing left in my stomach.

I decided I had to go to the hospital.
Naively I thought they would give me some kind of medicine and send me back home -- but they kept me in the infirmary for almost a week.

And when I was liberated, being again accustomed to being with other people, I decided to go the post office to check my postal box, hoping to find a letter from my gradfather, who would once in a while send me money.
And indeed there was a letter from him, with a very modest sum of money. The crops hadn't been good, he justified himself (and I knew that was his way of saying 'please come back to help me'; I did not consider ever going back) but nevertheless he had sent more than enough to allow me to buy meat and some bread. It was my first proper meal in 6 months! And there was a letter from my ex-roommate, Armand de Montbelle. I did not open it straight away because I knew it would be long lines of a poetical account of his travelling around the globe, and I wanted to savour it calmly as my dessert .

He wrote about his many adventures in Asia, his words tasting to mangoes ripened under the sun, but the astonishing news was that he was acquiring an island in the Indian Ocean! "And I need your help with this place! Please come!" There was a telephone number with a long prefix to it.
I called him that same day. His letter had been sitting in my box for almost two months now, and I was not sure I could reach him still.

My heart was painfully banging in my chest as the phone rang and rang and there was no answer.

I was aware this was the miracle I had been praying for. I hoped it was not too late...
-- Mate! Finally! -- I hadn't felt that happy recently as when I heard my ex-roommate's voice -- What took you so long to call? How could you leave me stranded for an eternity on this lonely island? Or did my letter take that long to get to you? Man, I need you here!

-- And I'm coming... Yes, of course I am! I mean, I want to come... But I have no idea where this Île du Blanchomme should be...
-- I think I told you on the letter, didn't I? Check the ships at the port. It shouldn't be hard to get to this part of the Indian Ocean, because I'm not far from some major ports for this region... There is always a cargo ship on the horizon here... Actually, I can see one right now! And once you know your destination, I can pick you there and we come together to Blanchomme... How does this seem to you? -- Seems like I'll be working as a sailor soon... That should be fun, haha! I'll go to the port today, and I'll see what I can find, and I'll let you know... I think you mentioned it's a deserted island... That means no one around? -- Mon cher Carlo, I think I included a few hot numbers and names in the letter... they are my father's contacts at the port, for the cargo companies. Everybody owns my father a favor, or even money, and you should be treated as VIP... You won't have to work as a sailor! Mate, I'm so glad you can come! I was afraid you'd say no, or remain silent, or procrastinate... -- Si, Carlo, you can rest. There's no one else on the island. It's so tiny, you'll see... There used to be some workers here, a few weeks ago, making the abandoned house again livable... But they have left, and now it's only me... and the sun... and the moon.. and the mess. Will you call me again? Promise? That same afternoon, I found a ship bound to the Indian Ocean in a few days. The captain had never heard of the Île du Blanchomme, nor had he heard about Monsieur de Montbelle, Armand's high-powered father -- but the owners of the ship had, and I so he agred to have me on board. The captain also agred that I could bring my easel and paintings on the ship.

"-- But you have to consider you don't know where you're going, son. Nor how you gonna get there. Of course you can bring your stuff onto my ship, but maybe you won't be able to get with them to your final destination... Île du Blanchomme! You might have to build a raft out of your easel and canvases to get there, haha... Be practical, son. The wise traveler always travels light."

And so I painted the last canvas in that abandoned factory.
It wasn't easy, but I decided to burn most of my paintings...

I'd been practicing letting go in my meditation sessions, letting go of my thoughts and feelings, specially the painful ones, and I'm sure this practice helped me survive those rough months.

But I wasn't ready to get rid of my paintings. I was more attached to them than to my own health. I had already rolled quite a few of them, those I considered to be the best, because they were then easier to carry, even if it damaged the paint a little... And since I could not simply abandon the rest, I decided to burn them.
It was the night before embarkation.
It was a cold night, and the fire warmed me.
As the canvases were being consumed, it occured me I should have an indelible memory from that evening -- I took a piece of burning wood and applied it to my hand.
This little bruise here.

But big enough to help me remember, for the rest of my life, what probably was the most important period of my life... And maybe you don't remember asking me about it when you were a small boy, do you, Laurent? You touched the bruise with your little fingers and asked me if it had hurt... and if had I cried... You touched it ever so lightly, as if you didn't want to make it hurt again... do you remember it, son?
-- No, I don't remember that... But I do remember being intrigued with your bruise. And I think I was afraid to ask how it'd happened... Apparently I did ask, but I don't remember your answers... When was that, Carlo?

-- Never mind, Laurent. This happened during the first time your mother left us to travel back to France, when you grandfather was very ill. Do you remember that? -- Carlo inquired.

-- Of course I do! I mean, I remember her absence. That's all I remember from that period.
It hurt a lot, Laurent. Not my burning skin. The canvases on fire. Most of my works painted during the École. But I didn't cry over the ashes of that bonfire.

The next morning, as the sun rose, we left the port. I wasn't sure how much I was leaving behind... I had all my posessions with me, but it seemed that the years spent at the École were also staying behind. Memories turned into smoke, vanished.

If I'd known I'd never return, I might have cried a little.
But I didn't.
It was my first time on a such a huge ship. My first international trip, actually. I'd never thought of myself as a traveler, and now I was crossing oceans to the other side of the world! At first, the novelty of its routine and the sensation of movement, made me happy.

But as time went by, it started feeling like a prison.
I felt like Rilke's panther in the zoo cage, going round and round and round, going nowhere.
Ports went by. Places I only saw from the distance. Places I didn't know, not even their names, and that I would never visit. Nor wanted to.

My heart felt peaceful.

I didn't suffer from the growing distance that now separeted me from the places I'd spent my years of studies. Bland.

And I didn't feel any anxiety towards my destination -- the Île du Blanchomme was no more than an exotic name that did not correspond to any images in my mind. Blank.
I felt detached from everything.

Days seemed incredibly long and plain, and at night I felt I was floating in a vast emptiness. Stars shone in the sky just like the distant cities blinked on the horizon, and when they slowly moved, I guessed they were ships. If they blinked and disappeared to again reappear, they were lighthouses. And there was nothing else to be seen.
Those days while on the ship, I droped my meditation. Everything seemed to meditate around me -- everything was silent, neutral, empty, vast, uncertain, signless .

I did not paint, not once, on the ship.

And I didn't make any friends -- I did not try, I did not want them. At the end of that journey awaited Armand --my best friend, my only friend, and that sufficed.

I drifted around my own essence, as the ship slowly and steadly moved towards my destination.
And my essence was that of the loner. But I never felt lonely.
An introvert, I rejoiced in isolation.
Recluse. Intentionally, spiritually -- I felt that was as much my destination as my destiny.

As usual, I felt more peacefull than happy -- and that seemed perfectly fine to me.
But because one of the ports of call had been on strike and the ship could not unload, I arrived at the Marquis Island 3 weeks later than appointed with my friend.

I was not surprised when he was not there waiting for me.
The few locals with whom I could communicate, were very nice but not very helpful.

No one had ever heard of the Île du Blanchomme.
I had not thought of a plan B.
Actually, I had not thought of anything refering to my destination.

My friend was the only plan.

That evening, I was so tired that I again slept rough, at the port, under the moon. Onto a table, because I was afraid the big tropical rats I saw would bite me in my sleep, as if I were some kind of exotic food.
My body covered with seamist, feeling hungry and miserably cold from the wind blowing, I opened my eyes to the sunrise. I was beggining to think I had made a huge mistake.

Anything could have happened to my friend, I thought, and by now he might as well have been dead. I had crossed oceans, I had changed continents, and the only reference I had was this stupidly named island that no one had ever heard of.

Was I lost? Because I certainly was alone in a foreign land.
-- Carlo... Mate! -- Buongiorno! Bienvenue... I'm so happy that you are here, mate! I've missed you so much, mon cher Carlo! I thought I was coming early to the meet you... When did you arrive? I was informed your ship would call in today at 7 am... -- I guess the ship was 3 weeks late... but 12 hours early!

-- Where did you spend the night, mate? You look like a wreck, literally -- was it this night? Or life on the ship was that terrible?

-- Don't worry, Armand. The ship was fine, and last night was nothing compared to how I have been living... I'm so happy to be here, fratello mio! When are we going to Île du Blanchomme? No one has ever heard about it -- not even the locals!
-- Haha, I guess they all know it by another name... Luckly, the boat that goes that direction leaves tonight... If you'd arrived tomorrow morning, we would have to wait one week for the next boat!

-- You mean there is only one boat a week going to your place? -- I was surprised.

-- Depending on the weather conditions, there is no boat at all! But we are lucky! We can spend the day in town, maybe do some shopping if you need anything... Do you need anything? I took advantage of the days I waited for you to buy enough food for the next couple of months, so that we don't need to come back here... any time soon... or at least, you don't have to... Where are your things?
-- I don't have anything, Armand. Just a small backpack, my easel and a dozen rolled canvases. And my painting supplies. The captain said wise travelers always travel light. I've taken his advice earnestly. Don't I look wise to you?

-- Mate, you look like a bum! Are you serious? Don't you have any other clothes...

-- No I don't, Armand. Is it a problem for the Île du Blanchomme? I was hoping it would be barefoot elegance style...

-- Haha, you're funny, Carlo. As you like it. Let's go into town, and if you think there's anything you like or need, just let me know. You are my guest on this part of the world!
And so we spent the day in town until sunset, and I ate mangoes ripened under the sun, as sweet as Armand's presence.

Bittersweet.

There was an unexpected sad note in our reunion.
-- We'll go tonight to the island, mon cher Carlo, but I have to be back here in a week, with the next boat... I'm leaving to France. My mother is seriously ill. I should have gone already, but I was waiting for your arrival, and I prayed... to honor my appointment with life -- with you, my dear friend --, and the other one too, with death... I hope I can honor both.

-- I'm sorry to hear about your mother, Armand. And I'm sorry for being late... And... I don't know what to say... I hadn't planned leaving so soon... I don't think I have somewhere else to go...

-- Why are you talking about leaving, Carlo? You've just arrived! I'm sorry to tell you these news so soon, but I thought you ought to know... So that we can really enjoy our time together! And when I leave, I thought you could stay and run the house on your own until I come back... But we can discuss this later on. Let's get back to the port, our boat should leave soon.
9 hours later, we arrived at the Île du Blanchomme, just in time to watch the sun rise. I cheered excitedly and ran like a boy towards the rising sun.

-- This is all so beautiful! I'm going into the sea to salute the sun, Armand! He is calling me! Aren't you coming, too? I'd like to swim... follow this golden corridor towards the horizon... Man, this is so gorgeous!
-- You can go on, mon cher Carlo. Enjoy it! But don't go too far! Beware of the tricky currents around the island. They are really dangerous! That's just one of the reasons no one wanted to live on this island... I'll explain to you later... Now I'll be watching you, I'll be your life guard, haha... I think I need to take a nap... It wasn't easy sleeping in town, I guess I've grown accustomed to the incredible silence on this island... Miracles do happen. -- So how was it, mon cher Carlo? -- Armand had taken a restoring nap under the sun.

-- Call me 'Renato', from now on... In Latin, it means 'born again'... And that's exactly how I'm feeling! Armand... this is the most beautiful place I've ever been on Earth! I cannot ever thank you enough for inviting me here! How did you ever find this place?! And you said you've bought it! Mate, it is all so amazing!
-- I haven't actually bought it... No one owns this island, but I now have the permission to live on it... And this island has actually no name... It is called Blanchomme by the Colonial Government due to the only person that ever lived here before, a German engineer named Herr Weissmann... He built this house, he was quite ingenious and developed ways of having energy and water on this tiny island... And then he died... Natural causes, it seems, but locals like to believe otherwise... -- Armand had a sweet, dreamy way of speaking, and his deep, silky voice, along with a precise pronunciation, made listening to his tales an addictive pleasure -- This island has never had a name but it did have a function for the natives in the past... This was a 'Portal Island'... Women were not allowed to give birth on the bigger islands, they had to come here to deliver... as much as the old and the sick were taken to another Portal Island to die...

-- So this is the 'Birth Island' we are now on, even though ocasionally a baby or a mother or both must have died here, I guess. Herr Weissmann was given the rights to build and to live here because the Colonial Government did not want these native habits to continue -- they wanted women delivering their babies safely at the hospital. That was quite a while ago, and now the island is considered to be sacred -- or taboo -- by the natives. It wasn't easy to find a boat who would bring me here for the first time... And it was even harder to find workers to rebuild the house, that had been abandoned after Herr Weissmann's death. Natives believe the island is full of spirits waiting to be born... According to local legends, that should explain the strong and dangerous currents around the island, to be found nowhere else in the region, creating a safe and isolated environment for the wandering spirits... -- C'est formidable this story, Armand... So this island is crowded with spirits... Even this beach is crowded, we just don't see it, haha!

-- Of course, I don't believe in any of this! As much as it creates a safe environment for the spirits, it creates an isolated paradise for us -- and that's what matters to me! The hardest thing yet was to arrange a boat to come here weekly and deliver supplies... This is an untouchable island after all... but money does wonders everywhere, even here! And since the workers have fled... they said they were being chasen away by the spirits... I did not try to find anyone else. But doing it all on my own is quite hard, and boring, and that's when I thought of you... My dear mate and best friend! And I'm so happy you are here, mon cher Carlo! I want to share with you my plans for the house... Maybe even turn it into a small guesthouse... Aren't you hungry yet?
-- I confess I am... -- Carlo answered -- But I'm also hot, and I'd like to go for another swim...

-- Ok, enjoy it then! I shall start cooking lunch... Like I said before, watch out for the currents. They are tricky. Very dangerous. That is no legend!

-- Don't worry, Armand, I will. I'm not going far this time. And then I'll help you with lunch.
It was not until late afternoon that Armand and I finished lunch. We had a lot to talk about and catch up for the months gone by since we had last seen each other, at the École.

-- But now I want to invite you to go to the movies... Let's go back to the beach, mon cher Carlo!

-- Movie... what movie?

-- You'll see.
-- This is it, mon cher Carlo. I hope you'll enjoy it.

I gasped. Everything was beautifully illuminated by the golden sun. And I had never seen such a lovely light.

-- Armand, do you want to swim towards the sun? I think I have to! Like I saluted him this morning, I want now to say farewell...

-- Hum, actually I had something else in mind... You know, it's not just one movie, it's more like a film festival on this island... I'll wait for you here.

-- Ok. It'll be just a minute!
O -- Grazie, Dio. Thank you, Universe. Thank you, Life. Whatever name or form you take, thank you for keeping me alive until this moment. Thank you.

-- Carlo, please come! -- Armand cried from the beach -- the other session is starting soon!!
As I silently sat there with my friend, with our backs turned to the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen, I felt angry at him.

He was trying to be the best host, and so I should try to be the best guest... But staring at an empty sky seemed pointless. Unless it was another meditation technique he was trying to teach me...

I suddenly saw it.
O I sat there mesmerized, as an enormous full moon rose over the ocean. I felt my heart swell, and tears came to my eyes.

If there was one other person that like me cherished his privacy, it was Armand de Montbelle. That's one of the reasons we got along so well -- we understood each other's need to recharge in solitude.

It was thus such an unique privilege to have been invited to his private hideaway. And because he was like a prince and enormously polite, he had himself found me an excuse -- that he 'needed my help to refurbish the place' -- but I knew it wasn't true. He could have brought the workers he wanted from Europe; he did not have to depend on the locals -- or me -- for his well being.
I needed him, much more than he needed me. He had always been the generous, loving part of our brotherhood. Paying for the rent and the food, being supportive, patient and kind. What could I possibly have given him in exchange? "You give me the wonderful opportunity to help and to share, and I'm so thankful to you", he once had said to me, princely.

After all those months of hardship, the deep detachment I'd felt on the ship, suddenly I felt like I belonged.

To this friendship.

I had arrived. For the first time in years, I felt I had arrived, and I knew I was welcome.
-- Fratello mio... this has been one of the most beautiful days in my life! I cannot thank you enough...

-- You don't have to, mon cher Carlo! I cannot express my happiness in this moment, either... And the day is not over yet... The night has just begun... Can I introduce you to the nightlife on the island?

-- Haha, after this superb film festival I'm thrilled about the nightlife... But not tonight, Armand. All I really need now is a bed.

-- Are you serious, mate? Then I'll show you the lodging options, haha!
-- Are you sure you're gonna be fine with this tiny bed, Carlo? I suppose Herr Weissmann had a child...

-- You have no idea how I've been sleeping lately, Armand... Sure, this is a good enough bed!
-- Yeah, you keep telling me that... But I haven't heard today a word said about your life since we left the École... And by now you know most of the stories from my tour in Asia... What are you hiding from me, Carlo? -- That's why I keep saying you are the generous and kind part of our friendship! But I'm gonna tell you all about it tomorrow, I promise, Armand. I have nothing to hide from you. I've never had. No one else knows as much about my life as you do, mon cher. You know that. We've always been completely honest to one another. I had never actually trusted anyone before I met you... And I still don't trust anyone but you! Now, do you mind if I get into bed? -- Please! But are you sure you don't want to share the double bed with me, Carlo? Like in the old days of the École, when we shared the bed on the coldest nights to be warmer...

-- Warmer, here? Are you serious, Armand?!

-- No, that's not what I mean... it's exactly the opposite... The room where I've been sleeping is much more ventilated than this one...
-- I'll be fine, Armand. Thank you so much for your hospitality.

-- You're welcome, Carlo. It's really my pleasure! -- Armand took a deep breath before suggesting -- I see you are getting red, mate. Do you want me to apply some lotion on your skin? It was given me by the locals, prepared with coconut oil... powerful stuff.

-- Never mind, Armand. It will have turned into... a nice suntan... tomorrow... It's always been... like this. I have the skin of a peasant... remember? I spent my childhood and... teenage years... working on the fields... and the sun... in the mountains... Oh, I'm... so tired... Thank you... for being there... mon cher...
zzz :( :'( :"( NEXT CHAPTER...

a scary apparition?

an enlightening revelation?

or simply sunstroke?


thank you for reading.

and thanks all TSR artists for the wonderful CC!

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#1fruitopiaVIPJul 19, 2013

Wonderful story.

Love the screenshots, I especially love the screenshot 53

#2AlessaFayeJul 19, 2013

Just saw your story, and I just have to say it's great! I love the screenshots, makes me wish I was in the island with them! \:D

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