Wilde Blue Sky
Wilde Blue Sky on Shakespir
Copyright © 2016 by Wilde Blue Sky
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Dream of the Painting Mice
Louise stopped wandering around the cinema, flicked her tail and scratched her head. ‘I couldn’t understand that film about modern artists. Who would want to buy an unmade bed or a pickled animal? And why does that graffiti person never show their face?’
A faint mumbling from one of the back rooms made her ears twitch. It was late – all the people should’ve gone home. Stay away from humans was Squeak’s advice, but she thought, ‘This is my home. If anyone is up to something I’m going to check it out.’
After slipping under the store room door she spied a gangly youth, head in hands, slumped on a rickety camp bed. As Louise inched closer the figure lifted his head and stared directly at her. She froze – it was the usher and his red eyes said he’d been weeping.
Louise gave a small wave.
A slight smile formed on his lips. ‘Looks like you’re trying to be friendly.’ Shoulders sagging he glanced around. ‘How did I end up like this? I work for minimum wage and can’t even afford to rent a room. I’m sleeping here and if the manager finds out I’ll be kicked out.’
Louise got up on her hind legs. ‘We live here too. It’s not so bad, there are films to watch and there’s always food left when the people leave.’ She thought for a moment and then raised her paws. ‘Not that there is anything wrong with people, it’s just ones like the manager who don’t seem to like us much.’
‘I’m sorry little mouse, I don’t understand you or your hand, sorry, paw signals.’ He grabbed a newspaper and pointed. ‘Look at all these people earning loads of money. This guy does graffiti on walls and just because of who he is it’s worth a million pounds.’
Paws out stretched Louise shrugged.
A sparkle appeared in the boy’s eyes. ‘Hold that pose!’
‘OK. If it makes you happy.’
He grabbed a pencil and notebook and started to sketch. ‘I can’t believe I’m talking to a mouse.’ Faint scratching noises accompanied his pen strokes. He giggled, ‘And my muse is a mouse.’ A few moments later he stopped drawing. ‘Done’. Leaning down he offered the pad.
Louise scampered across to the bed and assessed the sketch. ‘I think I need to get a hair cut.’ She glanced at the usher and did a thumbs up sign. ‘It’s good.’
A grin sneaked across the usher’s face. ‘I used to love art when I was at school. But when it came to choosing a degree everyone told me to do something sensible. So I did engineering. I didn’t enjoy it and dropped out. Then I drifted and ended up here. I wish I’d gone to art school. I don’t want to be super successful or anything like that, I’d just love to earn enough from my art to live on.’ He pulled a piece of cheese out of a roll and offered it to Louise then examined the sketch. ‘Maybe I could get a few pounds for this?’
Louise grabbed the cheese. ‘Thanks. The picture is alright, you just need to practice. You should give it a go – you never know what will happen.’
The next few weeks disappeared in a blur as Louise, Rolo and Squeak all began to pose for the usher. Each of the mice had their own suggestions for the pictures, which they communicated through paw gestures.
Squeak recommended he be shown as taller and more muscular, he’d always been sensitive about being the shortest mouse around, even some of their friends’ pups were bigger than him.
Rolo suggested his tummy be smaller and his face look more intelligent – he knew he was a bit out of shape and not all that bright, but he didn’t want his portrait to reflect the fact that he was a bit of a lumbering oaf.
Louise suggested her coat be silkier and her hair less frizzy plus her small bald patch, which had appeared when she’d hit a certain age, be glossed over, so she looked more like a movie star.
All of the mice knew it was vanity but couldn’t help themselves.
One evening they came down for their session of posing and found the usher whistling. The usual payment of a few lumps of cheese was nowhere in sight. The mice frowned.
A grin formed on the usher’s face. ‘I’ve sold a picture! I’ve sold a picture! I can’t believe it! I went around a few of the shops in the arty bit of town and one of them agreed to sell a few of my drawings in return for some commission. It sold for ten pounds and I got five. I’m a real artist!’
Squeak clapped. ‘That’s great!’ The three mice waved their congratulations and then stood around awkwardly.
‘Don’t worry my little friends, I didn’t forget you.’ And with a flourish the usher brought out a small plate of mixed cheeses. ‘I spent the money on you guys – since you inspired me.’
The three mice shuffled their feet then Louise spoke, ‘You shouldn’t have.’
Moments later the three mice were tucking into the tasty treat.
Over the next few months a few more pieces sold, each one brought more happiness to the usher’s face and a delicious reward for the mice. Then one day the boy came rushing in. ‘You won’t believe this but a gallery owner saw some of my pieces and is coming here to see my art work!’
The three mice cheered.
‘Thanks.’ Grinned the youth. ‘I’ll need to do some more pictures.’
Over the next few nights the mice and usher worked frantically, the mice striking one pose after another and the youth quickly scribbling, but at the end of each session he’d just produced more simple sketches. The usher threw down his pencil. ‘This is crazy. I’m not getting any better.’ He looked at the paper. ‘I can do these simple doodles that people will pay a few pounds for but I’m never going to do anything special.’
Standing on her hind legs Louise wagged a finger. ‘That’s not the attitude to have. Pick up your pencil and start drawing again. Practice makes perfect!’
Looking at his watch the usher sighed. ‘The gallery owner is due soon. I’d better go and let him in.’
A few minutes later the mice were peaking out from underneath the bed listening to the discussions.
The big fat gallery owner was waving his hands. ‘I like your sketches. The cute mouse theme plays well.’ He flicked through some postcards. ‘But you need to so something bold and imaginative. You need to give me something that will grab people!‘ The buttons on the gallery owner’s shirt almost popped as he stretched out his arms. ‘It needs to be 6 feet by 3 feet, with bright colours. It needs to make a statement.’
The usher nodded. ‘I usually do small cards people can buy for a few pounds.’
A frown and shake of the gallery owner’s head was the response. ‘Look son. Art is a business. You can do simple pieces and make a few pounds from each and stay living here.’ With a sneer he surveyed the room. ‘But if you want to make any serious money you need to treat it like a business and work on pieces that will sell.’
The usher shrugged. ‘I just want to earn enough to live on.’
A pitying look crossed the gallery owner’s face. ‘Art is about money. Look at all the overheads involved – agent’s fees, tax, renting a space to work plus advertising. People invest in it to make money. If you try and do it as a hobby or try and do it for “the love of art” you’ll get nowhere. Some people say it takes 10,000 hours practice to get good at something others say it takes 7 years. If you are going to invest that amount of time and energy into something you need to know it’s going to be worthwhile.’
‘If I did a striking coloured piece like you said do you think it would sell?’
The gallery owner rubbed his chin. ‘We’d need to get some publicity and I’d need to schmooze the right people, which are the important things in terms of selling art, but we could make a bit of money.’ He stared directly into the boy’s eyes. ‘But you have to take it seriously, if you want to make money it’s a job not a hobby. You have to make works that will sell rather than trying to do what you think is artistic, we’ll let people in 100 years time decide whether what we’re doing is art or not.’
The usher glanced at the mouse’s hiding place and shrugged. ‘I’ll do it!’
He was rewarded with a pat on the back. ‘That’s my boy!’ As the gallery owner made for the door he turned. ‘I’ll see myself out. I’ll be back in two weeks and I expect to see a statement!’
As the door closed, the three mice scampered over to the usher, he looked at them. ‘What do you think?’
Louise answered, ‘We’ll do the posing for you. But do you need to do what he wants?’
‘I don’t know what you squeaked, but I’m going to give it a go. If he wants big bold pieces then that’s what I’ll do – it’s not my usual style, but if it’s what sells then I’ll do it.’
The next day the usher sat surrounded by borrowed art books, three big pieces of canvas and the mice. He scanned through the illustrations and showed the mice a picture. ‘I could do an impressionist piece?’
Squeak scratched his head. ‘What is it supposed to be?’
Louise and Rolo shrugged.
Another book was opened. ‘How about a stencil piece? See it looks like graffiti.’
The three mice sat bemused.
The review went on for several hours until an exasperated the usher laid all the books on the floor. ‘I don’t know what style to pick.’
The three mice looked at each other. Then Squeak said, ‘Shall we each pick our favourites?’
The other two mice nodded.
Each of the three mice headed for their favourite artwork. Squeak chose 19th century art. Louise chose Renaissance art. Rolo chose abstract art.
The usher beamed. ‘OK. Decision made. I don’t have enough time to do three complete pieces. What I’ll do is sketch them out and then add a dash of colour at the end. They won’t be complete but at least I’ll have something to show.’
The following two weeks disappeared in a blur as the usher sketched each of the mice. At the end he collapsed in a heap on to his camp bed and looked at the three mice. ‘I’ve done all I can. The gallery owner comes tomorrow. Let’s hope he likes my new pieces.’ He gestured at the three pictures laying on the floor. ‘What do you think?’
The three mice examined the art works.
Louise gazed at her piece, tilted her head and rested her paw on her chin. ‘I like it. It makes me look enigmatic.’
Squeak gazed at his piece, tilted his head and rested his paw on his chin. ‘I like it. It makes me look enigmatic.’
Rolo gazed at his piece, tilted his head and rested his paw on his chin. ‘I’m not sure. It doesn’t grab me.’ He stood back, hands on hips and flicked his tail. ‘I don’t know what it needs, but it definitely needs something!’
A bemused usher yawned, ‘I don’t know what you saying, but I’ve been working non-stop for twenty hours and need to crash.’ As soon as his head touched the pillow heavy snoring noises filled the room.
Rolo scampered over to his picture. ‘I think it just needs a bit more colour! If I use some of those colouring sticks to fill in some of the white space it will be much better!’
Squeak muttered. ‘I don’t think you should really do that.’
Rolo raised a paw. ‘I feel the art inside me!’ He grabbed a few chunks of broken colouring pencils and started to run across the canvas, a bit of red crayon had stuck in his tail so he trailed a big red streak behind him.
Squeak ran after him. ‘Stop! You’ll ruin his work!’
For five minutes Squeak chased Rolo around the canvas, he tried to leap in front of Rolo, but managed to put his paw through the canvas. ‘Help!’
Rolo scampered over to Squeak and pulled his paw clear. The two mice looked at the hole.
Squeak shuffled his feet. ‘If we get some glue we can repair the canvas.’
Hours later the two mice were covered in gunk. The canvas had lumps of adhesive, mixed with various colours and hundred of tiny paw prints spread across it.
Rolo scratched his ear. ‘Do you think he’ll notice?’
Squeak slapped his forehead.
As the morning light crept into the room, the usher woke with a start, shook his head and blinked. ‘Wow. I had a crazy dream about mice painting.’ He looked at the two mice and the crazy canvas, his mouth dropped open. ‘What happened?’
Squeak and Rolo pointed at each other and started to explain. The usher waved his hands. ‘I’ll just show him the other two pictures.’
The boy’s mobile beeped. ‘It’s him.’ He grabbed the pictures and leant them against a wall, the two good ones facing the room and the other one facing the wall then left to get the gallery owner. The mice ducked behind a cabinet. The two men returned in animated.
The boasting gallery owner said, ‘I’ve just bought a nice house in Clifton off my commissions.’
The youth went slightly green. ‘That’s nice.’
‘Art is a business. I need to find artists I can work with to sell their pieces and make a profit. The days when people did art simply without thinking of the commercial aspects are over, these days you’re either hot or you’re starving.’ He patted his ample tummy and grinned. ‘And I don’t want to starve!’
The usher smiled weakly.
‘Now show me what you’ve got my boy!’
The youth gestured to the two canvases.
The gallery owner gazed at the pictures, tilted his head and rested his hand on his chin. ‘They’re OK, but won’t sell. They won’t grab the viewer!’
The boy slumped.
‘Have you got anything else?’
‘No – these are the only two pieces I’ve completed.’
The gallery owner paused for a moment, frowned then rested his hand on the usher’s shoulder. ‘I’d better be going.’
The three mice shook their heads. Rolo mumbled, ‘He’s being unfair. He should give him a chance after all the work he’s done,’ and darted forwarded, Squeak tried to grab his tail but missed.
The gallery owner spotted Rolo and laughed. ‘Is he one of your models?’
A hint of red coloured the usher’s cheeks.
The laughter frightened Rolo, who darted towards his picture. As he tried to squeeze into the gap behind the picture, it fell in front of the gallery owner whose mouth dropped open. He grabbed the canvas and gazed at it for a few moments. ‘This is crazy!’
The youth started to mumble.
A raised hand silenced the usher. ‘Why didn’t you show me this?’ His eyes narrowed and he glared icily at the boy. ‘Were you saving it for another buyer?’
‘No. I didn’t think it was any good.’
A small smile on his lips, the gallery owner stared at the picture. ‘This piece has real commercial potential. It’s striking! It’s edgy! It’s different! I’ll take it!’ Then a nasty glint appeared in his eyes, he paused for a few moments and reviewed the piece again. ‘It’s a striking piece and with my connections I could definitely sell it. ‘He rubbed his chin. ‘But it will need careful selection of the buyer – it’s not a piece that will appeal to a mass market.’
The usher’s shoulder’s sagged.
The gallery owner patted him on the shoulder, ‘Don’t worry I’ll be able to sell it.’ He smirked. ‘I’ll just have to charge more commission than normal.’
Silence filled the room.
The gallery owner licked his lips. ‘Shall we say 50% commission?’
The boy didn’t know what to say. The three mice waved at the usher, Squeak shouted, ‘It’s too much.’ But the usher nodded.
Beaming the gallery owner clung to the picture. ‘I’ll take this with me and I get my legal team send you an agreement.’ As he reached the door he turned to the usher. ‘What do you call it?’
The youth gulped then glanced at the mice. ‘It’s called “Dream of the Painting Mice”.’
Looking puzzled the gallery owner shrugged. ‘Whatever you say.’
After the gallery owner had left the boy sat down on his bed and looked at the mice. ‘I could be a proper artists.’ Then he paused. ‘But he only seemed to like the crazy piece.’ He pointed at Squeak and Rolo. ‘The piece that you two had something to do with.’
The two mice looked away and shuffled their feet.
The next day the gallery owner was smirking. ‘My piece.’ He paused. ‘I mean your piece has gone on show in my gallery and has generated a lot of interest. The local paper is coming to interview you.’
An open mouth was the usher’s response.
‘No need to thank me. I know I’m a miracle worker.’
‘When will it happen?’
A theatrical glance at the gallery owner’s Rolex was followed by the statement, ‘In about ten minutes time.’
‘I’ve never done an interview before.’ Gulped the youth.
Shortly the boy was facing a grisly old reporter. ‘So can you tell me how you generated “Dream of the Painting Mice”?’
Blushing the usher mumbled. ‘I started off doing drawings of postcards for a few pounds. Then, ‘he gestured to the gallery owner, ‘he suggested I try and do a striking piece, so I spent a couple of weeks trying out different styles.’
The reporter raised an eyebrow. ‘But “Dream of the Painting Mice” is a striking original piece. It must have taken years to produce.’
‘No. It came to me in a dream.’
A puzzled expression crossed the reporter’s face. He glanced at the gallery owner. ‘We can’t say it was easy to produce.’
Shifting uneasily the gallery said, ‘I know all the background to the piece. Why don’t we go out and I’ll explain over lunch and a few drinks.’
The reporter shrugged.
‘It’ll be my treat.’
The reporter patted his tummy and beamed.
The youth started to get out of his chair, but the gallery owner motioned to him. ‘Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ve got work to get on with.’
A sadness filled the boy’s face as he slumped into his chair.
The following day the usher was reading the paper to the three mice. ‘It says here that I’ve been working on “Dream of the Painting Mice” for years and that I’ve been selling minor pieces for ages.’ His mouth fell open as he turned the page and pointed at a picture. ‘They’ve got a picture of my work and the gallery owner. They hardly even mention me – most of it is about the gallery owner and his business!’
Squeak piped up. ‘That’s the papers for you.’
The gallery owner burst in and waved the paper around. ‘Isn’t it fantastic!’
The usher grimaced.
The gallery owner smirked. ‘Now I’ve got some publicity I need more art works. How quickly can you knock out other four or five pieces? We need to put on a small show. Shall we say in 3 weeks?’
The youth gulped. He glanced at the three mice and shrugged. ‘I’ll see what we, sorry, I mean I can do.’
‘We could make it big! You could end up on TV or with a flat in Clifton!’
An envious look flicked across the usher’s face. He straightened himself up and stared at the mice. ‘I’ll do it.’
Two weeks later the usher rushed into the movie theatre. ‘The picture sold! The picture sold for eighty-five thousand pounds! Can you believe it?’
Rolo scratched his head. ‘How much is that?’
Squeak answered, ‘That’s really good.’ He thought for a few moments. ‘You could buy a movie theatre full of toffee coated popcorn with that much money.’
Rolo licked his lips. ‘Fantastic!’
The three mice shot under the bed as the gallery owner came into the room. ‘Well my boy we did a fantastic job!’
The usher nodded.
The gallery owner nudged the usher. ‘Now. We need to do some more pieces.’
The boy mumbled. ‘What about the other two pieces?’
A shake of the gallery owner’s head and a pitying sigh was the response. ‘They won’t sell. People want art that makes a statement. They want art that says they are different, that they appreciate striking bold works. The other two pieces you did were nice and safe and therefore worthless to me.’ The gallery owner paused for a moment. ‘I mean worthless to us.’ The gallery owner paused again. ‘I mean won’t be appreciated.’
The usher brushed his shoe on the floor. ‘I’ll give it a go.’
The gallery owner clapped his hands together.
A hint of crimson coloured the youth’s cheeks. ‘It would be easier if I had some money then I could dedicate myself to my art.’
A small calculator was brought out by the bristling gallery owner and he started to bang keys. ‘We’ll have to wait for the auction house to get the money then we’ll need to pay their commission and expenses, then there are my expenses, then there’s my commission.’ He licked his lips. ‘So your cut will be thirty thousand pounds.’
‘O.’ The usher’s shoulders sagged. ‘I suppose it’s still three years salary for working here.’
The gallery owner smiled. ‘Just do more pieces like the one we just sold. Art is simply a business, if you get famous more people buy your art and the more famous you become,’ He chuckled. ‘And the richer you become, it’s a virtuous circle if you’re on the inside. Most of the collectors treat art like any other asset, such as gold, they probably don’t even look at many of the pieces they buy. Some people say it’s unfair, but it’s just life.’
The youth shrugged and thought of the mice. ‘I’ll try and do some more similar pieces.’
The gallery owner smiled. ‘That’s my boy! And remember the art show is only a week away.’
The next six days disappeared in a blur as the usher did one piece after another and then let Rolo and Squeak do their best. But each time he showed the work to the gallery owner he simply got a sigh and a shake of the head.
After the gallery owner had left for the last time, the boy glared at Rolo and Squeak. ‘You need to do this for me! I could be famous! I could end up living in a nice flat!’
The two mice shied away.
‘Yes you should look guilty! This is my life you guys are messing up. I could be a someone!’
The two mice dipped their ears. Then Louise piped up. ‘You’re being unfair. You’re being greedy. Can’t you just sell your postcards and be happy? That’s what you said you wanted to do!’
The boy looked at Louise. ‘I don’t want to hear it. I need to get to work.’ Then he stormed out.
The three mice huddled together. Louise asked, ‘What can we do?’
Squeak scratched his ear and then smiled. ‘I’ve got an idea!’
For the next five hours the mice busily moved items around and then waited for the usher to return.
As the usher walked through the door he saw his postcards spread across the floor in a montage.
Squeak gestured to the laid out postcards and waved his arms around. ‘You could do something with your existing pieces!’
The usher looked puzzled then something seemed to click. ‘I could do a collage! I could use the pieces I actually like making! What was I thinking? What would I do with a big place in Clifton?’ He looked down at the three mice. ‘I’m sorry I yelled at you!’
Moments later the gallery owner called the usher’s mobile. ‘How are things going?’
‘I’ve got some great pieces for the art show!’
‘I’ll be out of town until the showing. Will you be OK delivering them directly to the gallery?’
‘They are good aren’t they?’
‘They’re my best.’
The following day the three mice were discreetly hiding under a chair in the local dockside art centre where a hundred people were drinking wine and eating cheese. The gallery owner was busy schmoozing people then he tapped his glass. ‘Silence please. Ladies and gentlemen we’re here to see the work of one of the best up and coming artist of our generation. You’ve all seen his “Dream of the Painting Mice” and I’m sure you’re eager to see more of his work.’
There was an audible murmur from the crowd.
‘Well with no further ado, shall we see the latest master pieces!’ And with that he pulled a small cord and four collages were displayed to the expectant crowd. There was a small snigger and then open laugher emanated from the crowd.
Steam appeared to come from his ears as the gallery owner went red in the face. ‘Where is that stupid boy!’
Thirty minutes later the crowds had disappeared. There was only an old man left looking at the works. ‘They are very amusing.’
The usher ambled up to him. ‘Do you like them?’
‘As works of art no, but as postcards that I could sell I see potential in them.’ He looked at the usher. ‘Did you do these?’
The youth nodded.
‘How do you fancy doing a few pieces for me. You’d get commission on every copy sold. It won’t be much but at least your art would be out there in the world.’
The usher beamed. ‘That sounds fantastic.’
Three weeks later the gallery owner was staring at the usher. ‘You made me look like a fool!’ He slowly brought out his wallet, and pulled out a cheque. ‘I think you had one striking piece in you.’ He handed over the cheque with a nasty little smile on his face. ‘If you ever find your inspiration again give me a call.’
As the gallery owner walked away the boy gazed at the cheque then glanced at the three mice. ‘Well it looks like my commercial career is over. It was exciting to sell a piece for so much.’ A smile crossed his face as he looked at the Rolo and Squeak. ‘I don’t know what you did but I’m sure I should thank you.’
Squeak started to explain. ‘If you want to be good at something you have to do something you enjoy and not just do it for the money.’
Rolo and Louise nodded.
‘I don’t know what you’re saying little mouse.’ He looked at the cheque. ‘Thirty thousand pounds. I’ve checked and it’s just enough money to put down a deposit on a small rented place and pay my fees for the three year degree in Painting, Drawing & Printmaking at the local art college. Even with the commission from the postcard work, I’d still have to work here to pay the rent and buy food, but at least I’ll be trying to follow my dream.’
The usher beamed and the three mice smiled back.
Author’s note: I hope you enjoyed this short story. Please let me and others know what you think by posting a review; even a review of few words is helpful. Thank you.
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Squeak, Rolo and Louise (the three mice introduced in “Mice Movie”) help a struggling artist. If you appreciated this short story please, if you are able, make a small donation to a charity of your choice. The synopsis was written on 4th January 2015 and the story was published on 7th August 2016.