As the early morning chill subsided, Lucy Sarah Diamond draped her hoodie across her guitar case. “I see a red door and I want to paint it black, no colours anymore, I want them to turn black”, she sang with a soft dystopian fury. Her hopes and dreams were very much alive, but right now her vocals were redolent of a coffin prison, closer to the mantle than the sun drenched fields above.
“Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire” a metalhead across the road roared. In decibels he was mighty, talent wise he was a mite.
“I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black, with flowers and my love never to come back” Lucy sang in perfect pitch. I got the feeling she was mourning the loss of more than a lover.
While she sipped from the lid of her flask, I dropped gold coins into her guitar case. She invited me to help her finish her salad breakfast. An assortment of edible funguses, as mysterious as her, were nestled between the leafy greens. Only the mushrooms looked familiar. After her rendition of Under The Bridge, I happily gave her another ten dollars, and watched her slip the note into her floral silk bra.
Lucy looked at me with amused curiousity as I gathered the courage, or the stupidity, to ask if I could slide a larger denomination in there myself. She looked up and down the deserted street before saying “go for it”. I didn’t feel like the generous one as slipped a one hundred dollar note over a towering dark nipple. After furtively glancing up and down the street again, she invited me to delight in her womanly softness. I traced my fingertips over liquid satin, before stretching my hand over the cup and squeezing ever so gently. By the time I’d bought her back catalogue of C.D’s, the footpath was swarming with frantic commuters, shoppers and schoolchildren.
“He’s my boyfriend” Lucy told Darius Fabian, the ruddy old real estate agent, who had witnessed proceedings from his office window. He continued to insist I’d set a precedent that couldn’t be ignored. “If you want to transfer a million dollars to Youth off the Streets, while I watch, then I’ll think about making your dreams come true” Lucy challenged. I wasn’t sure whether she kissed me solely to maintain the charade or because she wanted to.
“I’ll give you three hundred”, the real estate agent sneered.
“Three hundred will get you a song request, a few C.D’s and the happiness that comes from knowing you’ve given me somewhere safe to sleep tonight”
“If you come to my Double Bay penthouse for the weekend, I’ll give you three thousand and whatever make up and pretty new clothes you want. We’ll eat at gourmet restaurants, with the most delicious dessert you’ve ever tasted”
“This sugar babe is fussy. Only the finest Belgian chocolate will do” Lucy quipped.
“If you stick with me you can have all the Beligan chocolate you want darlin, a little padding on those curves wouldn’t hurt a bit” Darius chuckled.
“The coincidence that I grew up in Belgium, with Nigerian parents, was not lost on me. Most people thought I was French, I was surprised Lucy had picked my accent. Strangely, Darius Fabian seemed to believe I was a member of the local indigenous tribe, because at one point he asked if I’d left my didgeridoo at home. Eventually Darius stormed off, muttering something about seeing to it that Lucy’s busking license was revoked. He came back to hurl more abuse and she responded with a parody of The Angels hit, “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again.” Australian audiences are renowned for replying to those lyrics with “no way, get fucked, fuck off” naturally, under the circumstances, she performed that part too.
Lucy’s goodbye kiss was more intimate than the one intended to dupe Darius Fabian into believing we were a couple. She tasted like passionfruit. Presumably she was living the precarious life of a couch surfer, opposed to roughing it on the street because she smelled as nice as her freshly laundered clothes.
“I’m an art lover, do you have any reccomendations for where I should go first” were my parting words. Lucy directed me towards an old hotel in Alexandria, now known as Quirk Gallery. Just before I turned to walk away she handed me a poem she’d written, while we ate breakfast together. Lucy grinned mischievously as I leaned in for another goodbye kiss.
Quirk Gallery was an eight storey art deco masterpiece, filled with some of the most enchanting impressionist and surrealist paintings I’d ever seen. On that Monday morning it was empty enough for the zany marble statues to outnumber the patrons. My first stop, after the cocktail lounge, was “The Prince of Darkness”, if the horns, fangs and tattoo on its forehead were any indication. The tailor made suit clad devil was busy pouring petrol on Middle Eastern, Tamil and Somali refugees. This abomination bore an uncanny resemblance to the Minister for Immigration at the time.
One room was full of what appeared to be taxidermied extraterrestrials, ranging from what I can only describe as a blue skinned manatee man, shepherding reptilian tigers, to slug like quadripeds using their tongues to play strip poker. I could envisage them performing surgery with those deathly pale protuberances.
On the eighth floor, I gazed at a uniformly black canvas in bewilderment. If there had been any suggestion a mystery painting was hidden underneath or the artist had created sophisticated patterns invisible to the naked eye, I would’ve been instantly enchanted. What was the point? Apparently I was supposed to glean something from the one word title, EPIPHANY. A house painter would’ve been sacked on the spot for replicating such an uneven job. That dastardly darkness was as clumsily applied as shit from a toppled fertiliser truck.
Maybe the art lies in the way the paint was spilt. “It’s all in the wrist” the critics might’ve quipped, if there had been a video of the methods employed. Sadly there was nothing to analyse but a canvas draped in black, it’s runny topography as dull and annoying as an eternally dripping tap. The last thing I noticed, before slipping into a psychedelic state, was the curtains beneath the painting. I briefly wondered if they were hiding some sort of puppet show. What the hell was in the salad Lucy gave me?
For reasons unknown, I found myself repeating the word topography over and over again, like it was some sort of shamanic mantra. This chant transported me to the tropical darkness within the painting. It was barely possible to discern the forest from the sky. The jungle was a more enchanting mystery than anything in the gallery.
I reached Imagination River and quenched my artistic thirst there. Strangely, the deeper I dived, the less I feared drowning amidst its schools of haiku tattoo sporting Demon Fish. Eventually I realized they were hallucinatory, by about the fourth bite. A hallucination within a hallucination, interesting, I mused as visions spawned by the Demon Fish’s flesh shapeshifted from starfish shaped submarines to cyborg mermaids, who cried tears that froze into the sweetest silk. Intersecting rainbows, from alien spectrums, escaped from their cavernous wombs and rapidly cloned themselves. Eating two more of those hallucinatory Demon Fish wasn’t enough to spur the rest into evasive action. What kind of drugs were they taking?
Imagination River transformed itself into a winding fruity cocktail, as confounding as time travel. It seemed I had travelled in time. Eight hours had elapsed since I’d almost collapsed from boredom, in front of that sloppy ten by eight foot patch of darkness. I was standing at the bar, in the cocktaill lounge, with no memory of how I’d gotten there, any idea how long I’d been there, how many drinks I’d had, or what was in them.
I did some exploring to prove to myself I’d ever left the cocktail lounge and saw the same taxidermied extraterrestrials as before. The blue skinned manatee man, shepherding reptilian tigers and the slug like quadripeds using their tongues to play strip poker, did they have sly grins on their faces the first time I saw them? Had I left the cocktail lounge bodily or astrally? It certainly seemed like I’d been walking around on both occasions. Soon I was delighting in the creations of the most innovative drink mixers in the country once more.
My favourite waitress’s name was Tiffany. Her pixie like features, the brightest, most entrancing green eyes I’d ever seen and the feline grace with which she did everything from wiping the table to swiping my credit card rendered everything else in the universe invisible for a time. Eventually my nagging her for a final drink brought out her dark side though.
“For the last time, no I can’t sell you any more of those vodka, cucumber, strawberry, watermelon, raspberry and blackberry cocktails, infused with hints of lemon grass, elderflower, aloevera and crushed ice, #### off we’re closed, Tiffany yelled. Why was somone who was waiting so impatiently for me to leave, listing the ingredients in their most complex cocktail?
“I see a red door and I want to paint it black, no colours anymore I want them to turn black” drifted from the Jukebox like an acrid cloud of melancholy, infected with crippling nostalgia. Suddenly it dawned on me what I needed to do.
“Sir, the gallery is closed, the security personnel barked. It seemed my psychedelic state was yet to leave me. The guards had apparently turned into snarling black dog/sequoia hybrids, a surprising alchemy of sorcery and natural selection. The guards panted heavily as I accelerated, ascending the stairs in fours. They sped up like flames bursting from an accelerant. I went to a gear that left them gasping like fish on a jetty “I see a red door and I want it painted black, no colours anymore, I want them to turn black” echoed softly off the Victorian ceiling.
At last, the solely black painting came into view. It was supposed to have transformed. Disappointment struck, like a slow monotonous sledge hammer. Tap, tap, tap, tap, went that metaphorical sledge hammer in my tired, tortured ears. The sound of that painting was still as dull and depressing as an eternally dripping tap. Aren’t paintings supposed to be gushing with inspiration? I walked up to the one word explanation beside that swathe of darkness, hoping to find something between the lines which alluded to more than the blandest midnight.
I desperately needed to see the music again, to dive into the cool rippling, spiralling swirls of stereophonic heaven. For the first time I noticed the copper coin printed beneath the towering BLOCK LETTERS, that spelled EPIPHANY. I looked closer and spotted the drawing of a tiny lever nestled between parted curtains.
“Hurry up”, the woman from the cafeteria yelled in exasperation. The apparent departure of the security personnel was as welcome as an oasis among aeons of sand dunes. Had they gone, or never been there in the first place, I wondered as several sculptures in the distance appeared to blink in and out of existence.
I parted the curtains beneath the painting and nudged the lever. The canvas rotated one hundred and eighty degrees to reveal a red door, on a television screen. An explorer who bore an uncanny resemblance to me approached the door, picked the lock and wandered inside. Climb in to us, whispered the optical illusions on the walls.
“What Dreams May Come”, mumbled the star breathing wizard in one.
“First, let this dream within a dream gleam” uttered the platinum armoured unicorns.
“Solve me” whispered the towering, draped canvas in the centre of the room.
“Forget him” the platinum armoured unicorns chanted in unison. Their choreography painted symphonies with the southern lights. Their accapello, which ranged from an Elysian dog whistle to an angelic baritone, was as soothing as lying spreadeagled on a tropical shoreline, as the nearest crises dissolve light millennia beyond the sunset. Those soaring, spiralling vocals unleashed a sensory storm more diverse than the ordinary modes of perception of every creature that’s ever slithered, flown, swam, hopped or galloped. To say their musical gymnastics was more intense than serenity’s equivalent of a comet and an asteroid colliding in a playground, is an insult to understatements.
“Solve me” whispered the towering, draped canvas in the centre of the room.
“Hurry up, hurry up, hurry the up for fucksake, I’ve got a wedding to go to” my favourite cocktail waitress screeched, shattering my reverie. She was even sexier when she was in a rage.
With baited breath, my doppelganger removed the veil from the towering canvas. On one side was a red door that appeared darker or lighter, depending on the viewing angle. On the other was a seas of darkness. From his coat pocket, the explorer took a copper coin the size of a frisbee and scratched at the red door, revealing the painting beneath it.
The vast canvas was dominated by a grey skinned, almond eyed, interdimensional traveller. Glowing purple blood, seeped from its self inflicted wounds. It painted the dripping phrases. “It’s an epiphany Tiffany. From the sheerest darkness emerge the brightest lights. Creativity goes to die in a flood lit room.”
The canvas swung one hundred and eighty degrees again. While I waited for the grey skinned, almond eyed, interdimensional traveller to apply the frisbee sized coin to the darkness, it strode into that opaque night, the gleam of adventure in its eyes was the last thing I saw before it vanished in the distance. Had it gone to bite chunks from the hallucinatory Demon Fish and delight in the company of the cyborg mermaids. Perhaps all I’d seen just a metaphor for a reality that would have fried my neurons to a crisp if I’d witnessed it directly.
The moment I left the building I tried calling Lucy. I was in such an emotionally charged state that it wasn’t until the fourth attempt that I realized I wasn’t making any typos, the phone number was a digit short. Over the next few days I searched for her in every popular busking spot in Sydney, to no avail. I tried every variation of her name on every social media site. By the end of the week I was asking random pedestrians if they’d seen a busker who called herself Lucy Sarah Diamond.
Eventually I returned to The Quirk Gallery. I couldn’t tell you what was in my first cocktail because the list of ingredients was longer than this story. It’s quicker to say that it reminded me of a tropical island paradise, as strange as enchanting, the kind of place where interstellar space can be seen on a painstakingly polished turtles shell, if you focus your eyes just right. My next cocktail was weirder still, yet equally refreshing.
On my fifteenth visit to the Quirk Gallery that month, I followed the eerie, acrobatic sound of an electric guitar. It’s feverish tendrils stretched from the roof to the ground floor. Hooded figures circled the masked six string virtuoso, feigning attacks and retreating. The cloak was tight fitting enough to reveal her voluptuous figure. There was a healthy plumpness that was absent the first time we met. After her astonishing instrumental performance Lucy removed her mask. There was something different about her that didn’t make any sense. Eventually I realized it was her hair, it was already a foot longer than last time we met.
We sat down in a dimly lit corner of the cafeteria “I’m not Lucy. She told me that I might see you here. She was so sure you were going to ring her that she wondered if you were dead, like her. I am the demon that grew within her until she was no more. I laughed hysterically while she begged desperately for continuing use of her brain. I can’t sing quite like Lucy but she could never play the guitar quite like me. Whenever I need a more intense vocal performance I revive her for a little while, torture her some more and kill her again. I get wet just thinking about it”
I almost lost control of my bowels, from listening to the thing that had consumed Lucy gloat. My goosebumps were about to escape my skin and strike the walls like tiny arrows by the time I remembered it was April Fools Day. Lucy was still Lucy. She was just reciting a few lines from a bizarre horror movie I’d seen too.
“I don’t know how my hair grew so fast but I think it’s something to do with the eighth floor of the gallery, a lot of weird things happen there. Then again I could be wearing hair extensions.”