This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1600 words.
Cedric hesitated before entering the run down shack that he liked to think of as his ‘Studio’. He stood outside the door, his hand on the loose doorknob, reluctant to turn it. Wearing a shirt stained with months of paint splashes, unwashed feet slid into sandals that were frayed and filthy, wild hair, and a face that had not been shaved in an age. Anyone observing Cedric would see a man who was definitely not taking care of himself.
He crept in, looking around the room as if he expected someone to be there. But it was all as he had left it. The easel, with the painting from yesterday, the broken down chair in front of it still missing part of a leg, and propped up by an ancient telephone directory. The work table, paints, and brushes. All the same. Undisturbed. Cedric approached the finished canvas with the familiar sick feeling in his gut. Across the room, an old oak table still bore the subject matter. A carefully arranged still life, assorted fruits placed just so. The bananas were beginning to turn brown, and the large orange looked dry and uninviting. It would soon be time for another delivery of fresher goods.
Eventually, he cast his eye over yesterday’s work, allowing the prospect of the inevitable to subdue surprise. There it was again. Instead of the fruit, a painting of himself, seen from the side. In the painting, he was looking across at something, brush touching canvas, but what he was looking at was unseen to the viewer. Cedric sighed, and rubbed his hands madly through his hair, as if trying to shake the confusion from his brain. Like every day before it, yesterday had been no different. He had sat and painted the fruit, attempting the perfect still life composition. He worked until the natural light had faded, and was very pleased with the outcome. Walking back over to the house, he had collapsed onto the sofa, and was soon in a deep sleep. But when he came back to see his work this morning, there was that same painting of himself. A portrait of him working at the easel.
Cedric had once been a pillar of the community. His family owned the prosperous car dealership in town, and everyone knew the people who lived in the big house in Yew Tree Road. As a young man, he had always wanted to study art, but he had to follow in his father’s footsteps and run the business. When he was old enough, he sold up, and took up painting. He taught himself, and practiced hard. Some of his work was really quite good, but he was never truly satisfied. One day, he made the trip into the city to see a visiting exhibition. One of the paintings was by Caravaggio.
It was called ‘Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge.’ Cedric had marvelled at this work, and sat before it for hours, until the attendant had to tell him that the gallery was closing.
Back home, he bought some fruit, and arranged it on the old oak table, carried from the hallway in the house. He set up a canvas of suitable size, and proceeded to paint the scene. After two days, it was finished, and he stood back to admire it. Undoubtedly his greatest work. He was moved by the light and shade, the bright colours against the plain oak. He had found his style, and resolved to get more fruit, and to continue with the theme.
The next morning, he arrived fresh and excited to the studio. He would hang his still life, and gain inspiration from it as he worked. But where it had rested on the easel was a different painting. It was undoubtedly a representation of him. Dressed in his smart painting overalls, shirt and tie visible at the neck, sitting on the antique Edwardian chair looking across the room, his brush touching the canvas. Cedric was confused. Who could have painted this? He frantically searched every inch of the studio, but his still life of fruit was nowhere to be found. Certain that someone had stolen it, and substituted this inferior portrait, he rang the police, and reported the burglary, and theft of his art. The officer that arrived asked him lots of questions. He checked the door and windows, but could see no sign of a break-in. He didn’t seem to be taking the matter very seriously, but agreed to write down a description of the missing painting, and to file a report back at the station.
Cedric found that he couldn’t paint that day. The prospect of someone stealing his masterwork and replacing it with the awful portrait played on his mind, and unsettled him. He had no enemies he could think of, and didn’t know of anybody bearing him a grudge. He would liked to have talked to someone about it, but had never made any friends. He was determined to defeat any prankster who was at work here, and decided to paint the fruit again. If anything, it was an improvement on the original. When it was finished, he was too tired to eat, or to take a shower. The next morning, he was still in the same clothes, and had slept in the armchair. But he rushed over to check, without having breakfast, or bothering to change.
Sure enough, the painting was once again of him. He was sitting before the easel, looking across the room. The fruit was gone, the wonderful composition nowhere to be seen. It occurred to him that someone was painting over his canvases. He got some fluid from a shelf, and smeared the painting with it, hoping to discover his own work underneath. But no, it just made a mess, revealing only bare material. Cedric had an idea. Grabbing a clean canvas, he feverishly painted the fruit once again. This time, he completed the painting in record time, and left it on the easel as usual. That night, he secreted himself in the far corner of the studio. He was almost covered by a thin blanket, under which he clutched a loaded shotgun, one of his father’s sporting weapons. He would catch the culprit in the act, and give him what for, or at the very least hold him until the police were called.
But when the morning light came through the windows, nothing had happened. Despite being able to stay awake all night, Cedric had not managed to catch an intruder, and the room was as it had been before dark. Wearily, he stood up and walked over to the painting. What he saw made him drop the shotgun. The fruit was gone once again, and in its place was a painting of him sitting before the easel, his brush touching the canvas.
After that night, he lost all track of time. He was unaware that his savings were almost gone, spent on canvases and paint, as well as the fruit delivered from Mr Patel’s grocery shop. He rarely ate anything, and spent his days painting the fruit before collapsing in a deep sleep back in the house. Rushing over to the studio at first light, always to find the painting of him once again, sitting before his easel.
Young Vijay had never seen the old man in the big house. He took the fruit and groceries up there, leaving them in a box on the front step. The previous box would be waiting for him, with the money for the last order inside. But today, Mr Patel had told him he must make sure to see Mr Cedric. The man had not been leaving enough money for his goods, and the difference was mounting up. Vijay should tell him that he had to pay the balance, or there would be no more fruit. There was no reply at the door, and no empty box from last week either. Vijay wandered around to the back trying to see through the windows, but they were too high off the ground. Just as he had decided to leave, and take the fruit back to the shop, he spotted an old shack at the end of the side path. It looked like it had blown over, and then been pushed back into place. He wandered up there, and could soon see that the door was ajar. Looking in, he immediately spotted the tiny emaciated body on the floor, next to an old broken chair. It was wrapped in overalls that were far too big, and the back of the head he could see was like a lion’s mane of white hair.
Vijay ran back to the shop, and told Mr Patel what he had seen. The police were called, and an ambulance too. But the ambulance wasn’t required, as the first police officer on scene knew straight away that this old man was long dead. When a detective arrived to take over, he told the officer that he was going to wait for a crime scene team, just in case. As the officer walked back to his car, the detective called out to him. “What did you find in there, anyway?” The officer turned and replied. “Just crazy old Cedric, the painter. He’s lived there all his life. The family used to own the car dealership in town, the one that closed down in ’98.”
“Anything suspicious?” The detective continued.
The officer walked back up to the doorway of the shack. He rubbed his chin, a wry smile on his face.
“Nothing at all, Unless you count over seven hundred paintings of some fruit on a table.”