Chased from my studio by the taunting idleness of brushes, by cans of unmixed paint stacked neatly on shelves on walls that no longer keep out the cold, by chaste canvasses, so frigid an unwilling that the pores from which I used to sweat creativity seem to have shrivelled and closed up for good...
Repulsed by what was once the warm womb of my imagination and a temple for the Great Kit Killroy...
Rejected, I roam the snowy streets of Soho with no intent of ever returning to a life of art. Correction: with no hope ever being allowed back in.
I enter a pub and buy a Jaegermeister to warm my cockles, but the burning sensation in my gullet doesn't spread through my body like it used to do. Throughout the years of creative block, I have absorbed so much wintriness that the alcoholic fire is soon smothered. I slump down on the pavement with my back against the gate around Soho Square, and stare at my hands in my lap.
These hands have brought me so much in life, so much more than I ever expected or even wished for. The smooth skin and hard nails are real life advertisement for Herôme hand cream, which I started rubbing into them twice a day when the Muse left me. She didn't leave me because I was turning into a snob – I started taking care of myself when there was no inspiration to deal with anymore.
Imitating the Buddha, I close my eyes and put my hands on my knees, the palms facing upwards in a gesture of receiving. She keeps me waiting for over an hour. I know this, because I hear church bells announce first ten a'clock and then eleven. My bum goes stiff with cold and by eleven I can't even feel my legs ache anymore. Though I'm sick of waiting, I have nowhere else to go, nothing else to do, so I stay put.
When finally a slight breath of warm air brushes over my left hand, I don't even dare to open my eyes. Is it really Her? I can hardly believe it. Warm wet flesh drags over my chilled palm. A trace of moist remains on my skin as She moves over to my right hand. Has She really come back? This time more real, more tangible than ever before? Is She no longer an abstract idea of which I am vaguely aware, but now a warm woman with body heat and fluids, willing to rub her humid antifreeze onto my hands, and melt my inner block of artists' ice? A shiver runs through my body when She licks me again. Starting from my right hand, it spreads in every direction and switches on every body part it passes on its way. It makes my stomach churn, sparks a swallowing reflex, tugs at the crotch of my Savile Row suit trousers and snaps open my eyelids almost simultaneously.
But what I see looming over me is not Her. It's an ordinary girl in a camel coloured duffel coat and matching pilot hat. A combination based on colour, not on style. Years ago, I would have been infuriated by her decision to finish the whole fashion crime off with cognac coloured cowboy boots. But not now. I hardly even register her footwear. Because it is not this girl that the Muse has sent me. It is her puppy.
“Come on, Roxy,” she says. Without even acknowledging me, she tries to drag the Golden Retriever pup away from me. Something I cannot allow her to do. This is my miracle, my first breath of air, true inspiration, after years of suffocation. The soft snout, the shiny black eyes, the floppy ears and the oversized paws are so beautiful it hurts. I have to examine this gift of the Muse. I stretch my hand out to stroke its head while the girl pulls its leash.
The moment my fingers touch the silken fur, images flash into vision so bright the night around me disappears. I see the puppy in my studio. I am stroking its soft belly and turn it onto its back. It playfully tries to bite and lick my arm, but the moment its tongue appears, I grab hold of the thin strip of flesh, press both my thumbs into it as hard as I can, and pull. If I ever wish to paint again, I need to consume the antifreeze that the Muse has brought to me. Fry it to a crisp like bacon, roast it in the oven or put it in a stew. It doesn't matter how, as long as I ingest this stretch of heavenly inspirational skin.
With my foot on the dog's chest, I pull and pull while the puppy screams in shocked agony and tries to bite off its own tongue because it hurts too much in the back of its throat. Its agony and terror settle in my soul, clashing together with the dark tidal wave of guilt that rises up when the flesh gives way under predator teeth. I take my foot off its chest and the pup turns to its stomach, whining and spilling blood out of its mouth all over the wooden floor in my studio. A blood offering in my temple will bring back to life the God, and deep, disturbing inspiration will last as long as the brushes I will make of its fur and the paint I will mix with its ground bones...
The visionary bloodshed makes me shudder as the night around me returns. The puppy follows the girl but looks around to see me, its own tail, or both. I scramble to my knees, not minding my expensive suit, because my only saviour is walking away from me, wagging its tail.
“Wait,” I call out to the girl.
She halts and looks over her shoulder.
“I'm Kit Killroy.” I brush the snow off my cold buttocks and gesture towards the spot where Roxy had found me. “This was an artistic experiment, but I couldn't let you walk by like that. Let me offer you a drink.”
She looks at my suit and the white scarf that I'm wearing, and I can tell she knows I'm not a bum. Can it be that she hasn't heard of me? Perhaps she's too young, or not into art?
“You mean The Kit Killroy?” she asks. She's got a thick Polish accent but I can still hear disbelief in her voice. “Of Flying Daisies and Mask 101?”
“That's me.” I'm suddenly proud again, though it is over twelve years ago that I finished the Mask series, and Flying Daisies was from even before that. “So how about a drink? My treat, of course.”
“Sorry,” she bends her head towards Roxy, “they won't let me take her into any pubs, I think.”
“That's all right, I've got an excellent bottle of Merlot at my studio, only five minutes from here.”