The hours ticked by, long, long, one crutch at a time; the needle seemingly stuck
on each scratch of the mantelpiece clock's face. He applied each downward strike
of his red imbibed brush as though it were a sword.
Frowns of brown appeared on the workers' brows. Straight jackets
and pressed pants, tight, encased their limbs. He shifted, a crick
in his lower back. Gustav's strain of concentration vibrated in each
strand of his nervous system to wheeze out of his throat in a hiss
of a high-pitched, barely audible whistle, like some alien signal nagging at his mind.
'At six sharp, the Master and the Herr Kommandant will stomp
into the Great hall to survey, eyebrows knotted, the martial mural,' he thought,
trepidation and dread beating like dissonant gongs in his chest.
'All I ever hopped for was a logged-walled home up on a lush hill
overlooking the thick, reassuring forests with white-capped peaks beyond;
greens, bright yellows and orange-streaked ochres in the shadow
of my eyelids to enhance beauty on a crisp canvas,' he daydreamed.
His reverie spanned a century, a whole lifetime, imprisoned
in these few endless minutes fixing the final touches on months
of intense labour: the sum of his apprenticeship
that would either enslave him or cut down all future prospects.
The double oak door exploded with the din of dictatorial hard boots.
“Let's see what you have to show me today, Klaus.”
“Um, Herr Kommandant, here is the result of our Workers' Union efforts,”
the Master crooned, turning his head sharply to Gustav
as a warning and hissed “step back boy.”
The Kommandant moved his eyes away towards the wall to his left,
feigning not to have heard this à parte, and raised his monocle
like an aristocrat from the past century.
While bending to examine a detail on the tunic of one of the Patriot Soldiers
depicted on the mural, he let out a gasp of horror.
“Was ist dieser Speck ab diesem Arm?” he boomed curtly.
The Master squinted behind his thick lenses and gazed intently,
straining to make out the offensive blob, not risking to take a step closer
so as to remain firmly behind his superior and not cast a shadow on the fresco
Gustav lowered his gaze to the toes of his galoshes, noticing as if for the first time,
the film of white dust on them. He heart lurched as it clonked in his chest
and he wondered that they didn't seem to notice, as it appeared to echo
and bounce from floor to ceiling.
He balanced from one foot to the other stealingly
rubbing each shoe behind his ankle while a mischievous smile twitched on his lips.
“It's a bird, a dove ! White ! What means this insult to Demokratisher Deutschland ?
Wer hat dieses getun ?”
Klaus, the Official Master Painter, fidgeted, rubbing his nail skin
with his opposing thumbs and looked fixedly at the floorboards,
an appalled face frozen on his features.
The Herr Kommandant wasn't expecting an answer, Klaus and Gustav knew.
They both waited, dreading what would come next.
“Master Klaus, you will get to the bottom of this and bring me the culprit
or it's your Kopff that will roll!”
With these definite words, the Herr Kommandant wheeled towards the open doors
and stormed out, Klaus tripped rapidly behind him, but not without a backward glance
at Gustav, eyes burrowing holes into his soul. Gustav, innocence itself painted
all over his cheeks, shrugged his lanky frame once
and shook his head decisively. Klaus resumed his march down the corridor,
Gustav could still hear the ghost of the Herr Kommandant's outrage,
mingled with the click of his boots down each marble step of the majestic staircase,
long into the night.
Before disappearing down a side exit, he had quickly taken up the brush,
stuck it into a tiny mud of a puddle on the half-caked palette, raised his wrist,
digging his forefinger and thumb into the tip of the handle, took a step forward
and halted his intent. A thousand bursts of pure thought had ricoche'ed
through his brain. For a few seconds, he had stood there, mesmerised
by his own daring and had even feared his exhilarating sense of digression.
However, his disgust and craving for freedom that had somehow been buried
under eddies of space and time had erupted like a volcano. The rush of adrenaline,
his decision now fully formulated was like lava destroying any reticence
that still lingered in the rumble of his life. He had taken a step back, resolute;
eyed the dove, its uplifting wings, his poetic handiwork.
The grin on his mouth turned into a harmonious laugh, like a birdsong soaring
out of the door to its cage. Then followed a sonorous “Sheiℬe” as it had dawned
on him that he had no choice. The brush had clattered onto
the immaculate floorboard, his apron had been discarded halfway across the hall.
Gustav had calmly stepped through the concealed door to the workshop
and flew back home as if his feet hovered on an invisible breeze.
In the morning he would step onto the train with his pass to visit his grandmother,
born and still living in a small village near Göttinger. With the recent uprising
in Budapest, controls on the lines were notoriously rare.
There he would shout out the truth about the iron curtain
which had cleaved his homeland into two by painting a real picture
with his colours and his words.
- what is this blemish on this arm ?
- who did this ?
WORD COUNT 930 FCA