The Music

—Chapter 20—

Former Artists


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“Hey Ruben.”

“Hey.”

“Things are pretty fuckin’ weird right now, huh?”

“Yeah Malcolm. They are.”

“Let’s tag something. Right now. I’m feeling it.”

That was the phone call that put Ruben Craig and Malcolm Sanchez on the streets in the dead of night. Their backpacks were heavy, and they jingled from all the cans of spray paint held inside. Malcolm had a winter face mask on, designed by Susan Byrd herself. The frost of his breath poured through the mask like a dragon’s fire. Ruben wore a scarf. He couldn’t take deep enough breaths for them to be seen in the cold.

They agreed on a building without speaking; they gravitated towards the Radio City Music Hall like moths. They scaled the marquee, and there, the two artists—soon to be former artists—looked over their canvas.

“So this is it,” Malcolm said. “The end.”

Ruben nodded.

They each set down their backpacks and got to work. They made the air thick with chemicals. Malcolm’s dragon breath swirled with the intoxicating fumes, and for one last time, he could see the abstractions. He shifted from can to can, pinpointing the exact colors he needed to make his final work something unreal. Ruben used two cans at a time, just so he could keep ahead of Mal in laying down the framework. The graffiti artist in Ruben had a final hour to be proud of.

The final can clanged to their feet, and the former artists shook hands. Neither could see it, under the other’s winter clothes, but they were both smiling like children. Mal went to buy Susan flowers. She deserved it. Ruben stayed at Radio City Music Hall for just a little longer, staring up at his final piece of art. It was grand. It would be noticed. And best of all, it mattered. Ruben made a choice, then. He decided that he wouldn’t kill himself that winter after all. From the front wall of Radio City Music Hall, a young Bob Dylan smiled back at Ruben in approval.


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© Ray Underscore Thompson, November 2015