Short Story: A Patron of the Arts.

They had told Edie to buy a bench. That was what you did in Huntsea when someone died. You bought a bench and people went and sat on it, while they waited to die themselves. There were dozens of benches, in barred, regular rows, all around the edges of the park, along the road verges, and out across the clifftop. All brown, all identical, all named and all deeply depressing. Every now and again a bunch of flowers in a plastic wrapper would appear, tied to the end of one, and before long they would be dead too. You walked past them for weeks never brave enough to untie them and throw them away, so they just sat there, a constant reminder that almost everybody in Huntsea would be going the same way before very long. No, there was not going to be any bench with Jack’s name on. Not ever. He never liked to be sitting down anyway, Jack was always doing something, pointing his finger, nattering, shouting across the road, digging, pruning, annoying someone. He was always on the move. So no bench then.

All the same she wanted to do something, have something to remember Jack by, she just couldn’t think what. Until the day she had what she called her brainwave. She sat there in her front room, having a cup of tea and found herself taking an interest in what was on the mantelpiece for the first time in weeks. Right in the middle, next to the clock, was a little brass fisherman sitting there, exactly where Jack had put him when he first brought him home. He had three cod hanging on some string in one hand and a fishing rod in the other and he was wearing a great big coat and sou’wester hat. Now something like that would be a memorial worth looking at. It could be an exact copy, only it would be ten feet high, maybe even bigger, staring out to sea on the promenade. That would be something to see. They could paint the metal yellow for his coat and hat, just the way they should be, and he would look even better.

So she began to do some finding out. It wasn’t easy. She had to ring up ever so many people before she found someone who would do it for her. Either they didn’t make things that big or they wanted to do it their own way instead of making a copy of her little man. None of them were happy about painting him yellow. When she kept insisting they ended up turning her down. It wasn’t until she offered half her savings that something got done. £45,000 soon changed their minds. Some of those donkeys she had been planning to help at the trust would just have to go hungry.

The trouble started when she went to look at him, all finished and wearing his shiny yellow coat and hat, in the middle of a big artist’s studio that felt like an aircraft hanger. It wasn’t him who was the problem. He was glorious. When she held the little figure in her hand and compared them they were exactly the same. Just what she had wanted. It was when they started talking about something called installation. She had thought that only happened with cookers and washing machines but evidently it had to be done with her fisherman as well. Not only did it cost even more money that she hadn’t thought about (poor donkeys) but they wanted to know where she had got permission to put it. Permission? Did all those folks who stuck their grim benches anywhere they pleased get permission? She supposed they must do.

They told her they would keep it in the aircraft hangar place while she sorted things out and she wrote a short letter to the town council telling them that she was donating them a sculpture for the seafront. She thought it best not to mention the size or the yellow coat, just that it was a fisherman. One of the councillors rang straight back. He sounded pleased. He called her a benefactress to the town and a patron of the Arts. She liked that. Very posh. Jack would have been  surprised. He only liked television. They made an appointment for some of the councillors to go and see it in the aircraft hangar with her and invited a reporter and a photographer from the local paper to write up the handover. It was going to be exciting. Edie sat there in her front room all week, looking at the little fisherman who was back on his mantelpiece, hugging herself and feeling proud.

Councillor Mountford looked at the thing standing in the middle of the vast studio in disbelief. It was a bloody monstrosity. Hell, it wouldn’t go anywhere near fitting the site he had persuaded the others to agree to. Silly old bat. She was already telling that joker from the local paper that it was in memory of her husband and the sum of £50,000 had been written down in a spiral notebook. She was having her picture taken in front of it now holding a little brass ornament and wearing a hat with feathers on it. God help us. He wondered if the bright yellow would wear off with age. It looked pretty damn permanent.
“There’ll be a right fuss about this one Tom. People will talk. Didn’t you think to ask her how big the damn thing was?”
Tom looked at him slyly.
“I don’t mind it myself.”
There was a long silence, then Tom’s mouth began to twitch. Councillor Mountford shook his head.
“Shut it Tom.”
“It’s a bit bloody yellow.”
“What are we going to do about it then?”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do is there? Soft woman’s bought it now. If you upset Edie Harrison four months after her Jack died it’ll be all round the estates in no time. Miladdo over there’s going to have a field day if we turn it down.”
“He’ll have a field day if we don’t.”
They walked forward towards the mayor’s party. He was adjusting his gold chain, all ready to give a speech, and his wife was smiling broadly towards the camera, just in case. The words benefactor and patron of the arts got another mention while the giant metal fisherman stared out blandly over their heads. Councillor Mountford put his head towards Tom, hiding his mouth with his hand.
“What’s it made of any road? Is it worth nicking?”
Tom shook his head.
“They’d need a truck to cart that off.”
“Could be arranged. They managed to get away with that aluminium giraffe they put in the university grounds didn’t they?”
“Shame it’s not wood. There’s plenty of little toads round here who’d sort it out for us double quick if it was.”
“The thing is, they’re going to see that thing- and you won’t miss it wherever it ends up being put- and they’re going to be knocking on my door blaming me. Why the hell didn’t anybody ask her how big it was?”
“You could repaint that sou’wester.”
“Oh they will. They will. There’ll be all sorts written on it before long.
“Well I’m telling you now it can’t go on the boat landing. There’ll be no room for anybody to have a cup of tea if you try to put it on there.”
They walked forward to take their places in the group shot, standing behind Edie and smiling warmly, as grateful civic worthies are meant to do, even when a metal fish is in danger of hitting the back of your head.

It had all gone quite beautifully Edie decided. She had handed it over, everybody had been grateful, and you could see they were all very impressed by the size of it. Taken aback even. She had forgotten to mention the brass plaque that she wanted to add to his belly with Jack’s name and dates on it but that was just a detail. They wouldn’t mind. The reporter had been very interested as well. He had mentioned a double page spread for the following day and he said he would be going down into town to see what people thought about it and get some quotes. He kept talking about the “astronomical” cost and having a competition to give him a name. He wanted to know what her next project was, but she wasn’t telling him. He must think she was made of money.

When she got home she put the little ornament back in its place on the mantelpiece.
“You’re going to be famous you are.”

Three weeks later the lorry rolled up onto the cliff top car park and the giant fisherman was disgorged and put in place, staring blankly out over the bay, hidden away behind the children’s play area. People wandered over to see him now and again, but as time passed and the yellow of his coat became dull and pitted with salt air and the seagulls mottled his head with white and black droppings he was noticed less and less. Only Edie went to see him and talk to him. The winner of the competition in the paper had called him Captain Cod but that wasn’t what Edie called him.  His name was Jack. The only thing that bothered her was that she couldn’t get up high enough to clean his head.

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2 comments on “Short Story: A Patron of the Arts.

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Pat, this is wonderful – and knowing the inspiration for it, I read it with tears of laughter!!

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