By John Reid
When my brother was twenty-eight, only five years ago, he became wildly successful almost overnight. I know that in the modern world this is not a novel thing. Like so many others, he awoke to find himself an internet sensation. Still, never in my most quixotic dreams could I have conceived what happened to him to have actually happened to him.
First off, I didn’t even know he was a painter. The man I knew–the man I thought I knew –wouldn’t have had the faintest idea how to render an image on canvas, let alone render it well. Perhaps if looked for, I might have unearthed a memory of his aptitude for art in our schooldays, an uncanny self-portrait carried home beneath his arm: the thick coils of his dark hair tucked just right; the slightly sunken, incredibly attractive blue eyes, just right. But that would’ve been the very most of it.
Secondly, I was taken aback because at the time of his propulsion, when his work was first gaining traction on TikTok and Instagram and everything else, he was still in rehab, at Montford House, just outside Glasgow. This is where he started painting, as therapy. So, the idea of him going from where he was to where he did, and in the blink of an eye…
All these years on and still I struggle to believe it.
Now he weeps in my bathroom. I am folding some comfortable clothes for him outside the door. I tried to look in a moment ago, to piece him together through the stained glass: a slanted ochre ship on a tumultuous sea, infused by the warm light of the candles my fiancée lit for him. But I couldn’t. He is just a shape, a distortion, arranged on the porcelain rim. And he is weeping. His daughter has just died, ten days ago, from an asthma attack in her sleep. She was three years old. Her name was Sukey.
This is not a good story. The story of his reformation, his rise to fame from rubble to Ritz–that was the good story. No formal training, no real predilection. The BBC made a documentary about him. It was okay. The majority comprised not of his art but of close-ups of his face, his brows grimly clenched as he worked at his studio in Greenwich. Else it offered a perspective behind him, a shaky angle centered on his tall frame, donned always in a splattered black hoodie that consumed him like a cloak. His back would take up the whole screen; perhaps in the corner there would be a sliver of his canvas unobscured, some distressing, remarkable sliver. Never mind that his old habits were still evident when he was being interviewed at the exhibition before the credits. Never mind that all too easily you could see the anatomy of his jaw worrying itself beneath his prickled skin, as he listened to the filmmaker’s questions, as he thought about how all this made him feel.
—Could you ever imagine you’d end up somewhere like this?
It merely fortified the image. He was a man with a past.
Then Sukey was born. Her mother Tia was a stunning, if somewhat deranged, hippie, always swearing by healing crystals and ranting about the Masons. Her relationship with my brother–I realize now I’ve not given his name; his name is Rab Renfrew; you may have heard of him–her relationship with him was brief. They broke up when she got pregnant, and strangely, there seemed to be no bitterness here, no winner or loser. They were each quite pleased at the prospect of a child, but the thought of raising it together simply never was; the child was always going to live separately with Tia.
So I think Rab saw Sukey maybe twice a month. I only met her once. I was down in London for work. Scotland were playing England; I was and still am a sports journalist at a semi-respectable Glasgow paper, and the game just happened to fall on a weekend in which Tia and the baby were heading for a check-up. Rab was going too, and he invited me along. He insisted I ride in the back of the car, with mother and daughter.
Sukey was still so young. She’d come early. She was strapped into her pod, all shriveled and jaundiced and loosely formed. Her little pink fingers reminded me of something from the sea, like an anemone’s tendrils. Tia had barely noticed I was there. She still wore that glazed smile new mothers seem to exhibit for a month or so, the compromise between unquenchable bliss and expiring from exhaustion.
—Every second for her is a battle right now, she said. Every breath a victory.
—She’s a lover not a fighter, Rab murmured over his shoulder.
—The best people are both, Tia said as she gazed into the pod, drinking in every burp and gurgle.
This is a good start, with a well-developed premise and impression, but I find myself wanting more story, more about these engaging characters.
I enjoyed reading this. You should explore these characters further