It was a solid turnout.
The best of my career—or so everyone kept telling me.
Every piece in the collection had been sold, some for far
more than the asking price. It was the biggest gallery showing I’d ever had.
After years of scraping by, doing the whole starving-artist routine, begging
for my work to be shown in a place like this, I’d finally done it—made a name
for myself as an artist. Aiden Fisher, master sculptor. Finally, people were
clamoring to get my pieces into their
homes. Well, the overly inflated, self-indulgent wealthy people were. The
regular man-about-town type still had no idea who I was, but in certain
circles, I’d become a legend.
A legend who currently had nothing left in his wine glass…
Looking down at the crowd from my private perch on the
balcony, I watched as people binged on the free booze and appetizers, pointing
and chatting about my work. My eyes naturally gravitated to the heavy-stone
pieces I’d put so much of myself into, and I couldn’t help but let out a heavy
sigh. It really was quite a sight. How many hours of blood, sweat and tears had
gone into everything here today? How much of my soul had I sacrificed? Part of
me hated to see some of them go.
My hand fell to my pants pocket and my heart clenched,
remembering what lay inside. Reminding me that, only a handful of hours ago, I
was just as happy and carefree as they were. But in the blink of an eye,
everything had changed.
Funny choice of words,
No, let those pieces find new homes, I decided, as I stood
there watching everyone gawk at them. They weren’t mine anymore. Seeing each
piece now, after the day I’d had, it only tainted everything.
All that hard work meant nothing now. All those memories…
As I leaned against the balcony, my hand threaded through my
jet-black hair as I contemplated my next move. My glass of red had been empty
for quite some time, and tonight was not a time to be sober.
Out of the corner of my eye, I recognized something. Turning,
I caught James entering the gallery.
He was the last person I wanted to see right now.
He shook hands with the director of the gallery, who gave my rat bastard of a brother a
welcoming pat on the back as James took a look around. He’d changed since I saw
him that afternoon, opting for a slim black suit that looked like something out
of GQ rather than the white lab coat
I remembered from his office.
My eyes narrowed, trying to find a glint of something in his
But he appeared to be nothing but happy grins and handshakes
as he made his way through the room. Fucking
Looking down at my empty drink, my hand gripping the glass a
bit tighter than before, I took my growing frustration as a sign that I needed
With one last look at the scene below, I headed for the
No, tonight really wasn’t the time to be sober, especially
with my brother around.
Scratch that, ex-brother.
As I made my way down to the gallery, several people patted
me on the back and tried to make small talk. A few women tried to stop me,
fawning over how hot my English accent was, like I was the first bloke from
Britian to come to this country. I
mostly ignored them, focusing on the stairs instead as the dim light made it
difficult to see. I held on to the banister, ignoring the female chatter,
knowing I was probably coming off as rude. Or perhaps a bit drunk.
Maybe a little of both.
But I didn’t mind.
Let them believe whatever they wanted.
I was an artist after all. Weren’t we supposed to be
temperamental and unpredictable? Now that I was considered a legend in my
field, this was just me settling into the role.
Or vacating it, a
tiny voice echoed in my head.
The last step onto solid ground felt like a monumental feat,
and I mentally patted myself on the back for not stumbling down the stairs like
a damn fool. Not that that wouldn’t have put a cherry on this epically fucked
up day. Or confirm everyone’s suspicions that I’d become a hopeless drunk in my
rise to stardom.
Heading straight for the bar, I opted for something a bit
stronger, forgoing the wine for straight-up whiskey.
“I just heard the good news,” a familiar voice said behind
Downing the entire glass, I felt the liquor burn all the way
to my gut. Turning, I found myself face-to-face with the one man I’d hoped to
avoid for the evening.
Hell, maybe even forever.
“The good news?” I said, nearly spitting out the words, my
accent growing thick with anger.
James recognized the subtle change and did his best to keep
the conversation light. I’d been in this country for well over a decade,
watering down the British accent I’d brought with me. But times like these—when
my fists were clenched tightly at my sides and I couldn’t do much but breathe
through the rage? That accent grew thick.
A warning to leave me the fuck alone.
But James didn’t back away from a challenge, especially when
it involved me. He was a bastard like that.
“You’re sold out! That’s fantastic, Aiden,” he said, his own
accent very much accentuated. Honestly, I thought he sat at home during the
weekends and took lessons on how to sound like a pretentious asshole. “The
gallery director says he already has people asking when you can get new pieces
I didn’t justify his words with a reply. Instead, I turned
back towards the bartender and demanded another drink.
“I’m not the enemy here,” he urged, stepping up to the bar
so his words could be heard only by me. “If you’ll just come back to the office
and talk with me—”
“I don’t want to fucking talk about it, James.”
He turned to me, his brown eyes round with concern.
No, not concern. Pity.
He of all people should know I didn’t need his pity.
“This isn’t something you can run from, Aiden.”
I swallowed hard, the test results he’d so conveniently
printed out for me earlier in the day burning a hole in my pocket. Staring
straight ahead, I waited as the bartender slid another shot of whiskey my way.
Wasting no time, I emptied the glass and turned toward my big brother.
Scratch that, former big brother.
“Watch me,” I said, and then I walked out of my own gallery
opening and never looked back.
I wandered around the streets of New York City, the bright lights
serving as a path for my solitude, but after several hours, I felt no more a sense
of peace or solace than I had when I left the gallery.
How many movies had I seen where the hero or heroine simply
wandered around a big metropolis and within a few magical movie minutes—backed
by a popular soundtrack of course—all their problems were solved?
By the time I made it back to my apartment, I was feeling
incredibly let down by the movie industry and life in general. After making my
way through the door, I threw my keys down on the kitchen counter and
immediately went for the necktie around my throat. The saleswoman at the
upscale store had said the dark green satin brought out my eyes. At the time,
even though I had known she was flirting with me, I had taken it as a
compliment and bought everything she had thrown at me regardless of the price.
Looking down as the tie hit the floor, I couldn’t help but
feel anger as I tried to focus on it in the darkened room, but I couldn’t. My
eyes blurred and strained as that anger boiled up to the surface.
Anger toward James and his constant positivity. Anger toward
life and how it never failed to keep throwing shit at me. Anger toward…well,
Yes, that about summed it up.
My phone vibrated in my pocket as I kicked off my shoes.
Pulling it out, I saw James’s name flashing across the screen.
Undoing several buttons of my shirt, I headed into the small
kitchen, hoping to find a silent companion for the rest of the night—one that
didn’t deliver bad news or give me sad, pitiful eyes. I found just the thing I
needed in an expensive bottle of scotch I’d been saving for a special occasion.
Sold-out gallery showing sounded pretty special to me.
Especially if it might be my last.
My stomach clenched as I popped open the bottle. Forgoing a
glass, I brought it straight to my lips. Taking a long, hard pull, I tried to
drown out my pain with a single gulp.
Coming up for air, I nearly choked on it, the very real
feeling of my emotions still so present. Still so real.
So, I drank again.
Until the tears fell from my eyes and the sobs tore from my
lips, and I fell into oblivion.
I awoke to the blinding glare of the sun streaming in
through the windows and a buzzing sound against my forehead.
“What the…” I mumbled, waving a sleepy hand in front of my
face before I realized the buzzing sound was in fact my phone. Lifting my head
proved to be a monumental task, last night’s alcohol making me feel like I was
being split in two.
“Bloody hell,” I cursed to no one in particular as I grabbed
my now-silent phone with one hand and my throbbing head with the other.
Deciding I might never get up again if I lay back down, I
forced myself up and toward the sink, trying to focus on my phone as I walked.
There were several messages and texts from James—all of which I ignored or
deleted—a final total from the gallery director, Harry, as well as a request to
set up another showing. I chose to pass on replying to that and several others
like it and moved on to a rather curious email from a Dean Sutherland.
Why did that name
sound familiar to me?
In the fifteen years since I’d left England in pursuit of my
artistic aspirations, I’d worked with a lot of clients. In the beginning, I’d
done just about anything for a sale even if meant practically giving away a
piece. Now, my artwork was world-renowned.
But one thing never changed.
I always remembered names.
But Mr. Sutherland wasn’t a patron. No, he was something
I couldn’t stop thinking about it as I made my way into the
kitchen. After I downed several Advil and started an entire pot of coffee made
entirely for myself, I decided to finally open up the email and give my poor
memory a refresher.
Dr. Mr. Fisher,
My name is Dean Sutherland, and I am writing on behalf of the
town of Ocracoke, North Carolina. You were kind enough to lend your artistic
abilities to our small town not too long ago when we were in need of a memorial
for the thirteen locals and tourists who had lost their lives in a ferryboat
The reason I am writing you today is because, unfortunately,
our town finds itself in need of your talents once again. Just last night, the
monument you’d created was vandalized and destroyed.
Being a close-knit community, we are devastated—not only by the
crime, but also because many of our families and survivors, myself included, no
longer have a place to grieve, remember, and reflect.
This is why I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure that this
beacon of hope is returned to us—as soon as possible.
The town and I are asking if you could please find it in your
heart to replace what was lost—with compensation, of course. I know the art was
one of a kind, but I’m hoping you can possibly re-create a sliver of the beauty
that once stood on our shores, if only so our town can move on once again.
His contact information was included, and after reading
through the email again, I found myself looking up his name, still stumped on
where I’d heard it—because I remembered the man who’d hired me for the job—a
old fellow with a gruff, Southern accent with the last name Joyner.
So who was Dean?
Google proved useful as usual, and after a few clicks, I
found myself face-to-face with a real-life hero.
Although he hadn’t been when I knew him before.
Dean Sutherland was one of the names I’d researched when trying
to find my inspiration for the piece I created for the town of Ocracoke. He was
a survivor of the ferry boat explosion, losing an arm in the process. But he’d
gone on, as I discovered now in my cursory search online, to do a decent number
of good deeds—including saving a man from a boating accident and founding
several water camps for disabled kids.
“This doesn’t have to
be the end.” James’s voice rang in my head as I tried not to compare my
current situation with that of Dean Sutherland’s.
I remembered the piece I’d made for the small town that had
recently been destroyed. I’d poured my heart and soul into that statue, giving
it life and movement, grief and resolution and a fluid sense of calm.
It was one of my greatest achievements, and when it had
vacated my studio to be shipped off to its final destination, I’d mourned the
emptiness it left behind. I’d always hoped I’d be able to see it once more.
But it was gone.
I swallowed hard at that realization.
Everything in this life was so fleeting. It all just came
Dust in the wind.
Grabbing a mug from one of the cupboards, I poured a fresh
cup of coffee, not bothering with cream or sugar, quite certain my sour stomach
couldn’t take it anyway. Heading for the living room once more, I slumped down
onto the sofa, placing my phone on the coffee table in front of me.
After a long, hot sip from my cup, I found myself staring at
the black screen of my phone, thinking about the email from Dean Sutherland.
“As if I could just whip up another one. Asshole,” I
muttered, taking another drink of coffee. “And, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.
I need to stay focused. I’m a ticking time bomb.”
I didn’t know why, but the thought made me laugh. It was a
chuckle at first; low and rumbly in the back of my throat until it grew into a
full-fledged, all-out ruckus. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I laughed at my
own fucked up predicament.
“Boom!” I hollered as I clutched my side and doubled over in
Until I caught sight of that stupid sheet of paper
underneath the coffee table.
Where had that come
from? I’d thought I’d shoved it deep inside my pocket. Reaching down, I grabbed
it, unfolding it as I wiped away the moisture from my face.
I was all laughed out now.
Reality was back, slapping me in the face as I looked down
at the positive test results in big, bold script. Like I’d needed it all
written down after looking at that stupid grid. I’d known what he was going to
tell me by the grave look on his face before he even opened his mouth.
And when he did…
It was like a fucking death sentence.
Or at least, it might as well have been.
I crumpled up the paper and threw it across the room, hating
everything and everyone in that moment.
James, for choosing to be a doctor, especially mine.
Dean Sutherland and the fucking town of Ocracoke, for
reminding me that everything ended.
And me. Most of all, me. For aspiring to be more than the
piece-of-shit orphan I’d started out as.
All of a sudden, everything felt too small.
This goddamn city.
I needed air.
I needed space.
Picking up my phone once more, I made a split decision.
“Hi, Dean. This is Aiden Fisher. You sent me an email about
the monument I sculpted for your town.”
“I did. I didn’t expect such a prompt reply. Or a telephone
call,” he replied.
“Well, let’s just say, you caught me at a good time. I recently
finished up a gallery showing and I’m in between projects. I’d love to come
down and work on-site if possible. I think it would be just the inspiration I
“On-site? Are you kidding?” The shock in his voice was
“Yes. Do you think that could be arranged? I’d need lodging
with ample space to work.”
“Absolutely. When would you like to arrive? I can recommend
rentals, or if you prefer, there is a charming inn—”
“No rentals, I hate cooking. And as for my arrival, how does
We worked out the rest of the details, and soon I was headed
for the airport.
Good-bye, New York.
Good-bye, James. Take
your shitty test results, and shove ’em.
It was time for a change of scenery.