The Man Behind the Canvas

A Fiction Story

I moved to this apartment complex three years ago. I live alone, so I only have one bedroom. My neighbors keep to themselves and apart from the courteous “how are you” not much else is ever said. It’s strange. You get mad at the loud noise coming from downstairs and impose your irritation and anger on that freak who listens to heavy metal all day and night, only to find out he’s gone a month ago and it is a new guy giving you the pandemonium. Other than that, the life in our community is pretty lethargic here. The silence of our courtyard is rarely splashed by lonely jumps into the swimming pool and hurtful yelps of volleyball players. Sometimes I watch their games thru the window, a bunch of boozed middle-aged arthritics witth borrowered enthusiasm passing the ball and dryly spitting in the sand. Once I ventured to go to our gym. First you wonder why the exercise equipment is covered with dust, several minutes later you realize it is better to leave as it is, for it is so hazardous that you may break your hands and legs before you have a chance to strengthen your muscles. No one seems to care about anything. The fact that my car was broken in and no one gave two shits about it, that is, no one reported it to the office before I saw it with my own eyes in late afternoon, did not surprise me after all. Faceless and indifferent, we are gathered by chance to live in a “community”, which sounds like a joke.

One night I heard weird sounds coming from behind the front door. I got up to look into the peephole. There was a man, possibly my neighbor, sitting in the chair and snoring so hard it woke me up in my bedroom. What the hell. It was a hot night, what was he doing there right amidst restless mosquitos and dancing moths under the wall lantern? I had to endure that gurgling ranting till early morning. But somehow it evoked my slight curiosity about my neighbor because I practically knew nothing about him, we said hi to each other a few times. But what really puzzled me was that several days later I saw fresh canvass paintings standing by his door. My fantasy skyrocketed. He’s a painter? First of all, you should see his face. Red sweaty skin of a sausage-eater and beerdrinker. Fat as a truckload. But the paintings! They were of a extreme beauty, the colors were alien and strangely mixed and that was my only brief impression from staring at them for a few seconds. But then I came to the most ordinary explanation that he had simply purchased the paintings at our local museum shop. Still, quite an art lover, isn’t he?

After that I started to pay more attention to what was going on next to my door. My life revolves around my job and home with supermarket shopping in between, what else is there? By all signs my neighbor was living alone, although I heard shrill screams and cursing thru the walls. Maybe drunk? He also had a strange habit of opening his window shades with the light on at nights, so everyone could see his messy apartment. But one night I heard again strange sounds behind the door. I looked out and saw him spraying giant canvasses with a white paint. So an artist, after all; I could not believe it. A next-door Gauguin working as a policeman (or whatever his uniform is) during the day and creating pictures of alien beauty at night? Now it all made sense, screams and yelps: there was a painter enraged at wrong passage, touch, wrong light... I felt ashamed that I belittled a person by his appearance.

One Sunday afternoon I was sitting in my chair outside, relaxing with a glass of wine.My neighbor was out there, too, reading a wrinkled stained newspaper in his lounge chair. Half an hour later we found ourselves talking lazily about this and that, why and how each of us moved in here. Mick – yes, that was his name – told me how five years ago he threw out the woman that lived with him, cut all ties with friends and without a halt shifted towards alcohol that quietly took him to the workshop of loneliness. By then he had lost his job and was in bad shape. Then he moved on to his younger days. It went into an hour long lament about his youth mostly wasted, his failures and disappointments. How he wanted to become an artist. How his drawing skills were denied even by modest tutors. And how he gave up on art and had to work meaningless jobs.

“But, Mick, these paintings…” I briefly felt a light stream of oil scent in the air.

“These paintings have nothing to do with me. I’m not a painter”, Mick fell into a hysterical laughter. His face got even redder.

“Then I don’t understand. I see you every evening with these canvases”, I said after he gained control over himself.

”You’re precisely right, with canvases. Have you ever seen me holding a brush?

Now I was completely puzzled. Certainly I was moved by the unleashed crowd of suppressed feelings, anger and self-pity but I could not make sense out of all that. I wanted to ask my next, so obvious question, when he suddenly got up and said he had to go. He thanked me for having listened to him and wished me a goodnight.

It was a month ago. I heard weird moaning that did not stop thru the wall dividing my apartment from Mick. Now what is going on there? The sounds were so spooky that I could not help but come out and knock on his door, actually concerned if everything was alright. No one answered but the weeping continued. I called the attention of the gardener working nearby, he had a master key. As we opened the door, it became very silent. We cautiously stepped in. “Anyone here?” I saw Mick first, laying face down on the floor by the fireplace. The gardener leaned down to Mick and nodded to me that he was alive and then dialed 911.

Apparently Mick had had a heart attack but was going to be alright and I cringed at the thought of not finding him in time, because Mick was always alone and seldom had visitors. I went a couple days later to the hospital to check up on Mick and found him in good spirits and he mentioned that they did some repair on his heart and that he would be alright as long as he didn’t drink so much anymore. I was happy that Ole Mick was going to be okay then and I took my leave, he thanked me for coming by.

A few days later I was returning home from work and discovered that there were several men taking things out of Mick’s apartment. They looked like movers and were taking all of his paintings with them. I was perplexed because Mick never mentioned that he was leaving, perhaps he was going to stay with relatives not trusting himself to take better care of himself. At any case I never saw Mick again and often wondered what became of him. He left the mystery of his paintings unsolved and perhaps Mick was just toying with me and he himself was probably the artist being a little modest, as they were quite good. Before the movers left they asked me what my name was because Mick had left something for me, it was a painting and it had my name on it.

I still have Mick’s painting. It shows a red man standing on a dark hill with his shadow casting into the sky. Whenever I look at it, I recall all over again what happened and think of Mick and his strange life, and a man who found his own way to come to terms with his experiences and for his love of art.

Do you ever wonder what goes on next door to where you live?

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Comments 31 comments

kowality profile image

kowality 6 years ago from Everywhere

We started a block watch in our neighborhood last week because of some local problems. It's interesting getting to know folks. Everyone has a story.

Is that a pic of your nieghborhood?

Great story LadyJane


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

I liked it...my brain made a mental painting of your apartment, Mick's place, and even a small portrait of Mick as well. I guess you could say that I got the picture. You should venture out and write more fiction...I think you have a knack for it. Thanks LJ. WB


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Interesting story. Some people like to keep to themselves but when they act in an unusual way you can't help but wonder about their life and what happened to Mick? Good hub.


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

Kowality thanks for stoppng by I apprecite your kind words. You are right it is interesting to get to know folks. Cheers.

@Wayne Brown thanks for reading and for the compliment it means a lto coming from such an esteemed writer as yourself. Cheers.

@Pamela99 thanks for reading and I guess it will always be a mystery of what happened to Mick. Cheers.


msorensson profile image

msorensson 6 years ago

My son and I live in a small old neighborhood strip so I know the names of the neighbors within five houses of ours, in both directions. We never really interact that much except for a couple in their 80s and another couple in their 50s, but that is about it.

Wow, it must have spooked you when you were presented with the paintings!


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 6 years ago from TEXAS

Interresting story about Mick,LadyJane. Incidentally,I have a next-door neighbor Mick too. He's from Ireland with a thick brogue & his beautiful wife is from Czechloslavakia. They're some of the youngest of my neighbors. Very active. They made their back yard into a swimming pool with a very tall fence around it.

I'm fortunate to have several good neighbors I could call on if needed, though for the most part people keep to themselves these days. These houses on my street were built in the early 60s, so many of the occupants have aged along with the houses! LOL.

I once lived in an apartment on a courtyard. It was before we married & George & I used to sit on my couchlooking out on it pretending to be radio reporters covering imaginary stories about the occupants. I taped it once, - so funny.

Thanks for sharing that story. Quite a mystery what happened to Mick and whether he was or wasn't the artist! Will there be a sequel?


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

nellieanna thanks for reading and commenting on my story. I think it is funny that you and your husband were so active in the goings on outside your door. Interesting. I am not sure that I will have a sequel I guess it just depends on how it pans out in my head lol. Cheers.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 6 years ago

Interesting story, you kept me reading.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

YOU, are good! Your stories develop and become better every time I read one. There is something there, Kid :-)


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

Terrific story. It held my attention all the way through. I can't wait to read more.


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Ladyjane you have a talent for writing as an artist with there brush. Sadly to say you have portrayed many lost souls like your Mick, who have gone through their lives following dreams that never came to fruition. There are to many to write of here, poets, painters, musicians,dancers who found themselves in the same position as your neighbor Mick. Despair, hopelessness, booze, drugs, divorce and more have claimed their spirits and put them on a path of destruction and their talents flushed down the sewer. I hope the Micks of our world find solace in their memories of what was or could have been. Great hub, thank you.


Whidbeywriter profile image

Whidbeywriter 6 years ago from Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, Washington

Very good story - you certainly do have talent - I can't wait to read your first novel.......


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

Ingenira thanks for visiting I appreciate your comments.Cheers

@De Greek thanks once again for visiting appreciate the compliment. Cheers.

@breakfastpop once again thanks for visiting always nice to see you here. Glad you liked my story. CHeers.

@whhidbywriter thanks and no pressure please lol. Cheers.


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Wonderful hub.


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

sandyspider thanks so much for reading.


rosemary 6 years ago

I cant wait to read your first novel as well, because i know its only a matter of time. I just love the way you write i am your biggest fan.


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks rosemary I appreciate your faith in me. THanks for reading this. LOve.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

This was a nice voyage. Thanks for taking us along!


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Micky appreciate the feedback. Cheers!


MFB III profile image

MFB III 6 years ago from United States

Many painters such as myself do not feel that they are the painter, but that rather God inspires the pigments of imagination that appear on a guesso covered canvas. I have painted things far beyond my means, and have been astounded by them the next day. Perhaps the spirits of great painters do a little ghost painting in the wee hours past the strokes of midnight. Superb story that struck a chord with me~~~MFB III


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

MFB I have always kind of thought that way about all artist I guess. I appreciate your reading and kind comment. Cheers.


ltbarbara profile image

ltbarbara 6 years ago from Cincinnati, OH

Wow! Really enjoyed your story. Your story immediately caught my attention by the intrigueing title, because first of all I am an aspiring artist and 2nd I am an aspiring writer. I just found Hub today and I am attempting to learn how to use it. I will keep coming back to read more of your stories. Thanks


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

Itbarbara thanks again for visiting and thank you for your compliment. Welcome to hubpages and I will add you as well and look forward to reading your hubs. Cheers.


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

Lady Jane, Great hub! Totally I was immersed in what you had written. I generally don't see the pictures and added items in the column to the right. This time I missed the title "fiction story". I was totally seeing this as I remembered life in California, living in my condominium, never knowing anything about the folks on the other side of the wall. If they worked or were retired etc. and I was waiting for the great discovery of an artist then came the twist at the ending, unexpected but great. Then I started reading the comments and folks referred to it as fiction and I was thinking "why do you think this was fiction?", I was sold as this is what life was to a "T" in the city, at least my experience. Then some one asked if the painting in the picture was one of his. I went back up to see the painting and "bam" upside my head I saw the fiction label on the capsule, then it all fell in place. Very accurate description of how folks seem to live, work, eat, sleep, back to work, never giving notice to those living around us. I don't think I would have noticed the noises of something wrong like the heart attack. A good reminder of reason to leave that lifestyle.

Your avatar pictures make me think of Elizabeth Montgomery, from "Bewitched" are they you? or just your liking? I think they're great!, just curious. Oh, I'll take a signed copy of your book... Peace, 50


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

50 Caliber you are very kind in your opinions of my accuracy of living. This story is really quite fiction but parts of it are real in the way that people sometimes live as you said. As for my avatar its funny because a couple of people have mentioned them but nobody seems to recognize them as I have been Grace Kelly, Anne Bancroft, and the picture you are referring to is a very young Anne Margaret who I thought resembled Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched as well. Funny. IF you want to see my real picture I am in the hub

http://hubpages.com/hub/Russian-to-American-Not-an... about my husband Im afraid Im not as pretty as my avatars but I just like vintage pictures, trouble is Im fast becoming vintage myself. Ha, as for the book you can have first copy. Glad you liked my hub Cheers.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Great narrative! I should write a hub about my crazy neighbor across the street. She's scary!


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

thanks Habee yea theres subjects all around us its funny. Thanks for visiting. Cheers.


Richieb799 profile image

Richieb799 6 years ago from Cardiff, Wales UK

He was obviously modest, the great artists usually are or are never appreciated until they aren't around to claim their glory


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

Richie thanks for visiting and you are probably correct lol. Cheers.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

I really enjoyed this story. I assume this really happened in spite of the heading, "A fiction story"? Anyway it's a good one!

Thanks for sharing it.

Love and peace

Tony


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas Author

Hello Tony thanks for visiting and for your nice comment. This story is fiction but it was "inspired" by my mysterious neighbor who pretty much keeps to himself and always has paintings on his patio to dry, very abstract paintings and interesting. I have often wanted to talk to him but he is not very approachable and kind of scary, when he says hello his eyes do not go with his smile and it gives me a shiver. Anyway,thanks for your interest. Cheers.

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