For TV dramas set in hospitals the general rule is that nothing – neither sets, costume nor location shots – should include the colour red. Why? This is because it may limit the impact when blood is first introduced into the action. Apparently the shock of that crimson fluid staining a largely monochrome palate produces an atavistic reaction in most people, especially when it’s allied to a storyline that raises expectations of an immanent coup-de-théâtre.
Of course, I knew all about colour palettes, the theory of which all Art students must have in order to make it instinctive in practice. Maybe you imagine I was a struggling artist in an airy garret; the truth is I had to make do with a basement flat in a Victorian semi, with only a little light coming in front and back. This wasn’t ideal, but as it was billed as a ‘garden flat’ at least I got a consistent green tinge to that light through most of the year. And as it was all I could afford in my last year at Art College, hey, who’s complaining?
There was little to complain of. I got negligible hassle from my landlord, who lived above. I tried to be a model tenant – no loud music, no raucous parties, TV kept down at night. He himself was rarely noisy, though I did sometimes hear him pad-pad-padding around, there being little carpeting on his wooden floors. He rarely bothered me, only popping down occasionally to check if everything was alright. The flat’s Spartan conditions were no bother to me: in any case, that particular day I was far too busy trying to get work completed for my final exhibition to worry about tired décor in need of an overhaul. As every space was crowded with artwork being prepped for the Degree Show the anaglypta wallpaper and mismatched furniture were the least of my concerns.
Mr Legge came down a couple of times while I was laying out the work – mostly two-dimensional – which I’d selected for the show. I sensed little genuine interest; he hardly spoke but seemed preoccupied. A couple of hours later he came down for the second time. After some desultory conversation I asked if anything was on his mind. After some umm-ing and ah-ing he mumbled something about rent. As I’d paid upfront till the end of term I was somewhat puzzled. It turned out that he was asking if, after paying the rent, I had any spare money; naturally, as a near-impecunious student I hadn’t. Clearly embarrassed he mumbled some more — sorry he’d asked, he’d try other sources, forget about it, didn’t mean to disturb – and slowly went out, the door clicking quietly behind him. I heard some quiet steps above, some muffled thumps and bangs, and then the accustomed silence.
I ought to have questioned him more, but my mind too was elsewhere: the Degree Show loomed. I went back to laying out the canvases and mixed-media pieces. To catch the most of the natural light these were placed across the floor, the walls being too much in the shade. The theme I’d adopted to link the pieces was Metamorphoses, and I was trying to sequence them to create a narrative. Adjacent pieces would reveal commonalities while simultaneously shape-shifting and evolving across the collection. The palette was muted, some greens, purples, pale lilacs, but mostly a lot of greys across the spectrum, from ash-white to lava black. I experimented, leaping up and down from the vantage point of a bench pushed against the wall, moving and rearranging, considering, finalising.
The sequence was complete. The largest canvas, the most starkly monochrome with bare hints of leaf-green and lily-white, was placed at the climax of the sequence. I felt both elated and quietly satisfied. It was done.
I was suddenly aware something wasn’t right. There was a darkness on the canvas where I hadn’t expected it. A rusty patch was apparent off-centre, a Venetian red which upset the subtle colour balance I’d worked so hard to achieve. It seemed to expand, accompanied by a soft but insistent pat-pat-pat, as if Mr Legge was pacing his room. And at that moment I thought – no, I knew – that it wasn’t Mr Legge’s footsteps that I was hearing; and that it wasn’t red paint that was disfiguring the picture.
This is my effort for the short fiction assignment on the theme of red that we were given for creative writing classes. First published 4th February 2016 on Calmgrove. © C A Lovegrove