I first saw the painting in a gallery in Spain. I was there on business, the day after my diagnosis, and wanted to distract myself before my flight. The gallery was so quiet; people standing, sitting, watching the paintings. In England, museums are a thoroughfare before a cafeteria and a gift-shop, where the art is motivation to keep moving. You nod and appreciate it; you move on. In Spain they have benches and people not writing or talking, but watching; as if the art might move, as if there is a chance that the paint itself might do something.
My head was hurting so I took the first bench that was vacant and emulated the locals: I looked at the sign fixed to the wall. I didn’t recognise the name of the painting, but I knew the artist. Not his work, necessarily: more the sound of his name. I have taken innumerable lessons about art, and literature, all in the name of bettering myself, and for what? All so that I might become who I am now. That’s something that my ex-wife is fond of saying.
You have paid to be exactly what you have become.
As if that is a slur. The painting in front of me wasn’t on canvas, but concrete. Some sort of statement? There were two men painted on it, both with sticks, billy-clubs, held above their heads, drawn back to strike; both knee-deep in something, like a swamp. One man with blood running down his face; and you knew from looking at him that the first strike damaged him. His moving for a retaliatory strike was desperation, a gamble for survival. Duelo a garrotazos, the painting was called. I thought that it would be too obvious if I looked it up; only tourists used their mobiles in here.
I sat there and watched the injured man until I calmed down. I don’t know how long it took.