My divorce. Signed, sealed, delivered. Rid of the bastard. Sitting in my new apartment, free, reborn, Miss. Not Mrs.
My art collection, Pollack, Klee, Jim Dine, a few Atget photos and my prize, a signed Picasso sketch from his “artist and models” series I bought years ago when I ventured to Mus’ee Picasso in Antibes. Art all up. Left facing a large, empty white wall. Nothing to hang.
My friend, Geisho Moraki, told me of an up and coming Japanese American woman who just won a Guggenheim fellowship. She had been trained at The Mona Lisa Room, in the Louvre. Her name was Moishi Suroshi. She took commissions. I called her. She was charming and outgoing. “Come on by anytime. I’m always here”.
“Cool. I’ll steep a fresh pot of green tea. We can chat, do a little bonding, like to know something about who wants my work. See they get a good home”.
Moishi’s studio. Washington Square, Greenwich Village. Uber pulls up to an old brownstone, scaffolding up the face, under renovation. I climb the steps, find Moishi’s name on the intercom. Press. Nothing. Press harder. Nothing. Then, the door jars open wide enough for a short, Asian crone to stick her head out. She has a squinched, wrinkled face, long uncombed white hair streaming down her back, no teeth. Hoarsely screeches, “Intercon don’t work. Can’t fix it. Donno know why. I’m the caretaker. Have to open the damn door all day. Who you looking for?”
“I have an appointment with Moishi Suroshi”.
“Oh yeah, that artist girl in the penthouse loft. Take the elevator. If it works. If not, long walk up steps, six flights. Good luck”.
Thank god the rattle trap elevator works. I walk down the hall toward an open door, bright daylight streaming out. Smell of oil and Turps fills the air like perfume. I lean in. Call. “Moishi, Moishi Suroshi?”
Musical voice echoes, “Maddy Guilford?”
“Be right out. Teas steeping.”
The loft was gynormous, half studio, half living space. Moishi’s paintings adorn the walls. An abstract expressionist, Moishi’s use of color, texture, stunning. A beautiful young woman in paint splashed Oshkos overalls comes from behind a large ornate tapestry dividing the space. She carries a tray with a black metal teapot and two cups. Sets it on a small table.
“Nice to me you, Maddy. Holds out her hand. “Moishi Suroshi. We shake. Moishi artfully pours the tea. I lift my cup, take a sip. Hot, hot, hot. Intoxicating. I feel exhilarated, yet relaxed.
Moishi sits on her stool in front of her easel that holds a painting in progress.
“Geisho, told me you have a Klee, a Dine, an original, signed Picasso, thank god no Warhol, a fine place for a painting to live. So, what do you have in mind?” Knock at her door. Moishi answers. The old crone’s head pops in, ”You rent due soon. You always forget. Remember this time”. Old crone’s squinted, cloudy eyes stare too long at Moishi. Wild crooked grin. Never breaking eye contact, crones pulls head out, closes door. Uncomfortable. Moishi, “Sorry about that. You were saying…”.
Me, “I don’t have a clue. I have a big white wall, so, something, something…?” Suddenly the studio turns cold, ice cold. I shiver, continue, “Something that…”Moishi abruptly cuts me off. Her face ashen, her eyes wide, motionless. Moishi, brashly, “Horizontal. Two feet by six, black on white primed canvas, Japanese calligraphy.” She snatches her sketch pad, a hunk of charcoal, slashes out twelve Japanese letters. Collapses on her stool, charcoal drops to the floor. Face color returns, “That was so weird. Flashes through my mind. My hand, I don’t know. It wasn’t mine, just wrote”.
Me, awkwardly jocular, “Your, your muse took control”.
Moishi, elsewhere, “Something like that.”
Me, spell-breaking, “Well, it’s extraordinary, bold, stark, commanding. I…I love it”
Moishi, resolute, “Finish it tonight.”
“Wow. Do you always work so fast?’
Softly, “Never. Never. A slowpoke”. Then curtly, “This piece…demands…fast!”
Take out my checkbook, “Your fee?”
Still brash, “I’ll price it when it’s finished. Pick itup in the morning. I have to get it to where it belongs”. Now wearily, “If…if you don’t mind, I’m suddenly terribly tired”.
Me, perplexed, “I…I understand. What’s a good time to…?”
“Early, very, very early.”
Curtly, again. “Earlier. Earlier. Six, seven. It will be ready”. She stands. Body trembling. Slips behind the tapestry.
Momentarily motionless. I feel confused, unsettled. Moishi’s mood swings strange. Go figure.
In the hall. “Damn!” The elevator’s out. I take off my heels, stumble down six flights, through the front door. Holding my shoes, barefoot, I
hail a cab, go home. Hand shaking, I pour some scotch. Too much. Pop a Xanax. Out like a…
Morning. My cell alarm pulls me from a deep sleep. Six am. I quickly dress, call Uber.
Moishi’s building. I don’t ring. I knock. The old woman snarls out. “She not here. She gone”.
“Gone? I came to pick up a painting. She said she’d be waiting.”
“Well, she ain’t here. Left this note.” I grab it. Rip it open.
Note: “Couldn’t wait. Had it sent.”
Sent? What the hell? Call Uber. Head home. Package room. Immediately. Murry behind the counter, “Perfect time, Mrs.…”
Irritably. “Miss, now. Now, Miss”.
“Big package. Think the guys will have to take it up when they’re free.”
“Fuck that! If the damn thing’s not in my apartment immediately I’ll…”
“Ok, ok. I’ll…I’ll take it up myself”.
My apartment. More Xanax. Scotch chaser. This is way, way off normal. Not new normal. Weird normal.
Doorbell. Murry with the painting. Wrapped haphazardly, in linen. Linen? I tip Murry. He leaves. I unwrap. There it is. On canvas. Moishi’s sketch realized. Mesmerizing. Need to get it hung immediately.
Measure once, measure twice. My father, a carpenter. Use three twenty-pound hooks. Unframed, it has no wire. Hang it just the way itis. Problem solved, artfully. Owns the wall. Someone has to see it. I spontaneously invite Geisho, his wife Allison, Mary Ann, my paralegal, and Randall, right and left-hand man, over to see my acquisition. They all show. I have the painting draped in the linen. Unveiling. “Ta dah!’ I whisk off the drape. Gasps, praise from all but Geisco. He’s laughing. “Jesus. She painted you that. It’s a riot.”
I snap, “What are you talking about? What’s so damn funny?’
“Your painting. The word is Shinigami. A Japanese demon, the death bringer. The myth says his name should never be written. It will free him. A fairy tale. She pulled a fast one you”. They all join in laughing, laughing at my painting.
Sensing my displeasure, they leave. I sit facing…Shinigami, feeling like a fool. Two glasses of wine, a Xanax.
In bed watching the late news. On the screen, an ambulance, police, crowd of onlookers, the Hudson waterfront. Some guy talking. “I was jogging. Saw it wedged between the rocks. Checked it out. Dead body…no fucking head.” TV reporter grimly faces the camera. “Finger print analysis identified the body as Moishi Suroshi, a local artist. Apparent macabre murder”. Freaked, I frantically grabble for the remote. Turn it off. Moishi. Murdered. More Xanax. Down for the count. Images flash. Geisho, Allison, Mary Anna, and Randall’s faces. Huge distorted feces, laughing hysterically at my painting. Deep rasping echo of a voice, reverberates through my mind. “Kill them. Kill them. Saw me. Kill all.” Nightmare.
Geisho’s apartment door. I stand wearing a shower curtain, slit cut at the top for my head. A gleaming sharp meat clever in my hand. I knock. Geisho answers. “Maddy, what are you doing…never finishes. Swish! Geshco’s head thumps to the floor. Blood spurts from his neck. Splashes the ceiling. His trunk collapses. Blood spurts, spurts, spurts from his neck stub with last few heartbeats.
Allison runs from the kitchen. She screams. Swish! Thump. Two heads. Husband and wife, facing each other on the floor.
Dead of night. Walking down an alley. Throw cleaver into a dumpster. Repeat with the blood drenched shower curtain.
Sit up quaking in my bed. Sweat running down my face. Dash to kitchen, pour a stiff scotch. Drink it down. Gotta cut back on the drinking. Shower. Go to the office. The place in chaos. Randall, tears stream down his face. “He’s dead. Both dead. Geisho and Allision. Horrible. Horrible.” Shoves the Daily News into my hand. Front page, “Lawyer/Wife beheaded”. Dead faint. Flashes. Blood. Blood. More blood…everywhere. Regain consciousness. Confused. Staff surrounds my chair. We commiserate over our horrid loss. I go home. Scotch. Xanax.
Morning, hung over, I have coffee seated at my marble bistro table. I can’t process. Moishi, Geisho, Allison. Suddenly I shake out of control. My head snaps to the painting. Cold sweat. Mind blanks. Unearthly voice. “Kill him, kill him. Saw me. Kill him.” Black out. Nightmare. Randall’s distorted, laughing face. The Voice, kill him, kill him, saw me, kill him.
Randal’s gym. Men’s locker room. He’s putting on workout clothes. I’m there. Randal, shocked. “Maddy? How the hell did you…? Cleaver. Swish! Thump.
Wake up on my bedroom floor. Blood covered. It was no dream. Am I the killer? The painting? Shinigami? Not possible. I rush into the living room. Grab letter opener from my desk. Slash! Slash! Slash! Rip the painting to shreds. Pull it off the wall. On the floor. Kick it! Kick it…manically. Smash the frame. Carry it to the utility room. Jam it down incinerator chute. What in god’s name should I do now? I go back to my apartment. Panic attack! “Dear God! The painting! Back on my wall. Drop into a chair. Mental white out. Mary Ann’s face. The voice, “Kill her, kill her. Saw me. Kill her.”
Mary Ann’s apartment. I hide around the corner. She exits dressed for work. Sneakers on, dress shoes in hand, New York style. I turn the corner. Walk quickly behind her. She hears. Turns.”Matty?”
Swish! Thump. Roll. My apartment. Still seated. Eyes locked on the painting. Slowly, slowly, indescribable monster materializes. Is it smiling? Speaks. Shinigami. It points. Speaks. “Kill…you, kill you. Saw me. Kill you”. Entranced. I stroll zombie-like to the kitchen. Take butcher knife from drawer. Automatically draw it across sharpening steel. Return to Shinigami, its voice repeating, “Kill you, kill you, saw me, kill you.” Knife pursed. I methodically slit my throat. Blood gush. Hit the floor. Barely alive. Foggy eyed. Apartment door opens. Old Japanese crone steps over my body, smiling toothlessly. Takes painting off the wall. Last words I hear. Crone speaks to painting. “All done. We go now”. That voice, horrifyingly content, “Yes, yes, go now, all dead, all dead, go now.” The crone drags Shinigami out the door. My last breath gurgles.
Mick Benderoth was a screenwriter/filmmaker working in Hollywood. He now lives and writes in New York City. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org