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#44 A 21st Century Odyssey
44th Story Press! We march on! Today, a young artist Sam is challenged by the archaic views of his Dad, and faces the question: pursue his personal truth or acquiesce to an oppressive Dad’s will.
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#44 A 21st Century Odyssey
Recently, Sam had taken to drawing or painting at night. It was the only time he got any peace. He would open the curtains to let the moonlight drown his room, pull up a sketchbook and sit at his desk, drawing anything he could think of: the intricate details of a horse’s muscular legs, dancers in a studio, a boy kicking a football against a wall.
A few weeks ago, he was watching the tellie and his mind drifted. He picked up a pencil and pad - the one his Mum, Julie, used to work on her crossword (all her rejected words crossed out down one side of the page) - and began working on a portrait of one of the characters from whatever show was on. Then Alan, his Dad, came in and saw what he was doing.
‘What the fuck is that? Drawing men’s faces? Are you a poof?’ He snatched the pad from Sam, tore the page out, and threw it in the bin. ‘Not in my house, you hear me.’
Sam nodded politely but didn’t understand, really, what his Dad was saying.
‘Come with me.’ Alan took Sam outside to the shed that he was building. ‘Do some proper work with me. Hold this.’ He had Sam holding some planks of wood while he took a great big hammer to them and battered in some nails at either end. Sam felt the impact in a great, reverberating shock through his hands, his bones rattling within his arms.
‘This is what you should be doing. Getting the fresh air in your lungs, and doing a man’s work.’
When Sam returned inside, he reminded himself not to draw or paint in front of his Dad. He sat back on the sofa and continued watching whatever was on, and massaged the soreness in his arms.
Tonight, Sam sits up late. Sleep is the price for his happiness. The moon is big and bright and lights his whole room. He pulls his sketchpad from his drawer and takes his pencil to it. He’s working on a large montage with lots of figures in. But really they are all either him or his Dad. An epic battle of Greek proportions. He’s only worked on a few scenes in the bottom left corner that blend out into the white of the rest of the page. He stares at it, and stares hard, and rather than feel happiness at what he’s creating, he feels a sadness. A tear caresses his cheek. His hand shakes, and the pencil within it. His eyes go red, and his brow creases.
In the darkness of this night, Sam comes to a realisation: the only way he will ever be happy is if he can get away from his home and go and sketch and paint somewhere all the time. He jumps onto his bed and thinks about the pain, the rift this will cause with his Dad. All he ever wanted was to make him smile. Isn’t that what every boy wants?
He knows it will stoke the flames of their relationship, but he also knows that he has no other choice.
The next morning, he researches online and finds a university in London that specialises in art. He finds the artists’ course and looks at the terms for application. Without thinking he starts one.
Some months pass and his father sees him sketching once or twice - of course, Sam needs a portfolio for his application - and not only rips up whatever he’s produced, but he hits Sam hard across the head. Smacks him dead across the cheek. Sam doesn’t react. He only grimaces and nods and disappears to somewhere his father won’t bother to look for him.
Then, one day, he receives an email inviting him to travel to London to interview. He pretends that he’s at college, but he sneaks a great big folder out of his room and onto the bus. He takes the train to London, taking the best part of two hours, and a tube to the university. He’s wearing a shirt and trousers he bought with what little money he had.
When he enters the interview room, there’s three people: two men and a woman, all wearing suits, smart glasses. The woman’s blonde hair is in a curly Medusa’s twist above her head, and there’s a tattoo on her ankle he notices beneath the desk.
‘Welcome, Sam. Can you tell us about yourself?’
Sam proceeds to tell them what he can: his name is Sam, he sketches and paints obsessively in his spare time, hiding it from his Dad who disapproves. He wants to go to art school and become an artist.
‘Let’s see what you’ve got then.’
Sam hands over his portfolio and they spread it out across the table. They study each piece closely, lifting it up to their glasses and focusing on different sections of a page at a time. They’re critiquing his style, his form.
‘Who taught you to draw like this?’
‘Nobody. I taught myself.’
The man nods. Makes a movement with his lips. As though, is that an indication of approval?
‘Extraordinary,’ he says.
And suddenly, at those words, Sam breaks down into tears. ‘Excuse me.’ He leaves the room, his portfolio still there with the interviewers. He runs to the bathroom and grabs some loo roll, wiping the tears from his eyes. He looks at himself in the mirror, expecting to see an oppressive Alan standing over his shoulder, asking him what the fuck he’s doing. But instead he sees a future where he paints freely, in an open studio with great big windows, lit by a morning sun, and fresh air blowing through the place. He sees himself among a group of colleagues, friends, who paint and sculpt and sketch, critique each other’s work, and support one another. He smiles through the tears.
The door opens; it’s the interviewer who said his work was extraordinary.
‘Sam, you have an incredible talent. I hope those are tears of joy.’
‘Yes, yes, it’s just - my Dad - he’ll fucking hate this.’
The interviewer nods. ‘Sometimes you need a little fire in your life to spur you on. I can see it has you.’
He leads Sam back to the main room, passes him the folder with his portfolio in, shakes his hand and says: ‘We’ll be in touch. I look forward to seeing you again.’
On the tube, Sam takes a seat and looks down at his portfolio. Through the plastic cover, he can see the busy mural of Grecian bodies, scrapping and fighting, swiping with their swords, and he bursts into laughter in the middle of a full carriage of people.