“You can’t be serious!”
Abraham looked sympathetically at his friend. “Ah, but Theo, I am deadly serious. It was his dying wish and who are we to circumvent it?” He smiled kindly as Theo’s powder blue eyes cleared of the confusion of his many long years and looked lovingly at the panels.
Then they both looked at the fire.
It raged with a controlled vengeance, hungry enough to devour the world but held fast to its leash. The wood panels lay innocently on the ground. The moonlight flickered—no—caressed the lacquered boards. Paint flowed in a perfect succession of brush strokes—wild—then calm. An old man’s face loomed from a sea of Mars black, etched in the paint. Cobalt eyes wept with both love and pity. The old man floated in the sky high above the world, arms stretched outward…grasping…pleading. A million souls fell into a sea of filth and despair. Engaged in sex and murder, lust and hate they created their own sewer as they drifted to the depths of hell. The sewer split and reemerged on the second panel. Angels sang in a soundless chorus as Jesus raised his arms to his Father. His perfect features begged for mercy.
The two old men stared wordlessly at the panels. The tug of war between father and son, the sorrow dripping from their faces, as they watched man create his own demise was surreal. The angels sang—the first bards to record the Black Day of Judgment. It had taken Charles 54 years to perfect it. He had painted with a two inch brush in broad strokes and then gone over those strokes with the smallest brush he could find. Indeed the tools used to create the piece were laid lovingly beside it. The tiny brush so worn that tape held it together. The fine horse hair bristles were long gone and replaced with the pointed ends of Charles’ own strands.
Theo grasped Abraham’s arms, “Please Abe, reconsider. Once it’s gone…the world should see it! They should know…” he broke off too distraught to finish. Abe squeezed his shoulder. Abe was in his 80’s and in no condition to lift the solid cherry wood, six foot long panels alone. Abraham would need Theo’s help to do this. “We’ll have to work fast Theo or we’ll never have the heart to finish this monstrous act.”
Theo looked up, eyes wet for the loss of their close friend, for the loss of his life’s work. “Monstrous indeed. You know this isn’t right Abe. This is his Masterpiece!” Abraham shook his head slowly. “No Theo. It will be his masterpiece when we finish the task at hand. He trusted us. We must follow through.”
They raised the first panel and tossed it with a heave onto the fire. Flames shot up as high as they could see when the lacquer finish struck. The fire was pleased to feast on such a treat. They threw the second panel on top of the first. Theo collapsed from strain and grief. Abraham reached down for the brushes, pallet, and paint. He fed them to the roaring beast.
They watched the panels melt and burn. They watched the flames lick the paint from the boards. They held each other in mourning as the fire began to eat it. When the last flame flickered they rose and gathered up the hot ashes that remained.
They filled the urn with them.
Hours later they placed the urn on the table and stole the urn holding Charles’ true ashes. He said his life was nothing without his work and, therefore, his death irrelevant. He wanted his art to be mourned, not himself. So he asked them to swap the ashes—to hide his body away—and mourn his true self.
They scattered his body to the wind…and remained silent as the parlor filled with loved ones. A large portrait of Charles rested proudly on an easel next to the urn. He’d requested that there be no viewing of his body, just a humble memorial service for his charred masterpiece.