“‘Collection Of The Artist’ is absorbing in its intricacy of approach. I found characterization to be an outstanding technique in this story that picks every lock its protagonists place on their lives. I was also deliciously disturbed by the poise with which that lock-picking is done.” That’s what Helen Oyeyemi had to say about Corey Flintoff’s magnificent entry to our 2020-2021 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers when selecting the piece as our 2nd place finalist. Read this intricate story below:
The painting was a big abstract in the colors of a long-ago war. Jungle shadows dripped malarial green, spattered with red specks as small as insect bites and big as bullet wounds. Vaporous clouds imploded like gasps for breath. Hector found it disturbing, but he was pretty sure it was good.
Hector’s wife Lorna was the one who really knew about art. They’d come over from Seattle to spend a few days on Fox Island, helping their friend Ani sort through the hundreds of works left behind by the painter, Ross Telemann. Stacks of pictures leaned against the walls in every room of the artist’s small house and studio, unused since his death three months before.
Ani propped the abstract on a paint-flecked easel they’d set up in the living room. “This one’s called ‘Two Klicks from the LZ,’” she said, reading the painter’s pencil scrawl from the back of the canvas.
Lorna spanned it with her tape measure. “Thirty-six by forty-eight inches,” she said. “Oil on canvas. No signature, no date that I can see.”
Hector tapped the information into a spread sheet on his laptop. The three of them were developing a rhythm, measuring and describing each piece, then recording it with a photograph. An important Seattle gallery was dangling the prospect of a retrospective show, if they could come up with enough of Ross’s best work to justify it. Ani hoped it would be his legacy. Outside, a soft but steady April rain darkened the sky, forcing them to turn on all the lights, even in the middle of the day.
“What does that mean, two klicks?” Lorna asked.
When Ani didn’t respond, Hector said “It’s kilometers, two kilometers from the landing zone, where the choppers would come in. Would this be something he saw when he was on patrol?”
“I don’t know,” Ani said. “He didn’t like to talk about the Viet Nam paintings.” She knelt in front of the canvas and took a photo with her Nikon. “You know he killed somebody over there, right?” She frowned at the camera screen, then shifted the painting slightly to eliminate some glare from the ceiling light. “Whenever I see one of these, I get the feeling he’s in there, that person Ross killed. I just can’t find him.”
The paintings were Ani’s now, bequeathed to her along with the house, because she was the one who’d loved him best. They hadn’t lived together since the 80s, but Ani had remained Ross’s friend and champion, standing up for him against venal gallery owners, the IRS, and the VA medical system. She’d been his constant visitor at the hospice in the weeks before he died.
“A lot of this is stuff I haven’t seen before,” Ani said. “He never showed me much of his later work.” She knelt again, took another photo and glowered at the screen.