It happened on a seemingly mundane Saturday afternoon. I was making my way to the bus stop after a much-needed haircut when, suddenly, the sky darkened and sent forth a downpour so ferocious that I was forced to seek refuge in a charity shop. I stood dripping on the carpet in a daze, my eyes adjusting to the strange lighting. The place was small and humid. It seemed to sell everything from jumpers and mugs to horse blankets and pill organisers. As I moved cautiously around the room, I was aware that there were no other customers, and nobody behind the till. Just me.
I kept an eye on the fogged-up window, waiting for the rain to cease as I meandered around the shelves. In a dusty back corner of the shop, my interest was piqued by a stack of canvas prints. For the most part it was the usual stuff; a flower with a dew drop on it, a pier at sunset, a shot of Times Square at night. I was about to give up and move on to the box of cassette tapes nearby when my eyes landed on the last print in the pile. I lifted it reverently. It took my breath away.
I knew I had to have it; I cradled it in my arms and took it to the till, searching for a means by which I could call an employee to me, but there was no bell, nothing. The rain was easing so I checked my watch – my bus would arrive just up the street in four minutes. I grew antsy, called out a few times, but nobody came. I considered leaving without paying but it felt wrong to steal from a charity shop, and this painting deserved to be paid for. So I left a £10 note on the counter and got out of there. I made my bus, my new masterpiece under my arm.
Back at home, I ruminated over the best place to display the painting. I eventually chose the living room because the bay windows let in good light, and I wanted to showcase it in the best way possible. I placed it on the wall opposite the couch, which allowed me to sit comfortably and enjoy the view as I drank my tea. I barely moved from that spot all day, so taken was I with the painting’s subtle yet magnificent beauty.
Just after 9pm, my flatmate arrived home. He had been working a double shift at the hospital and looked exhausted. We exchanged pleasantries in the kitchen and I was about to turn in when I heard him call my name from the living room.
‘What is this?’ he asked as I entered. He was staring at the painting, in pride of place in the centre of the wall.
‘Oh, I found it in a charity shop today. Isn’t it marvellous?’ He frowned.
‘Is it? I’m not so sure.’ It was my turn to frown.
‘What’s the problem?’ I asked. He moved closer to the wall and his eyes scanned every inch of the canvas, the lines on his face furrowing deeper as he did so.
‘Do me a favour,’ he said finally, turning to me. ‘Explain to me what you see when you look at this.’
‘Well, it’s clearly a small, narrow opening in a sand dune.’
‘Hmm,’ he said. ‘Does it seem kind of… fleshy looking to you? An awful lot of lumps and bumps surrounding that opening.’ I considered what he had said as I looked at the painting, then shook my head.
‘Not particularly.’ He inhaled sharply.
‘And what would you say is above the opening?’
‘It’s clearly a mound of long grass.’ He nodded.
‘So interesting that you’d use the word mound. The grass is almost strangely curly, I’d say. In fact, it’s almost… pubic.’ I realised what he was trying to say and was so appalled I could barely speak.
‘I… I cannot believe that you would be so crass about such a stunning piece of art. You have a dirty mind, my friend.’ He sighed.
‘It’s a vagina, my man. Take it down.’
But I didn’t. I went to bed without another word and the painting remained on the wall for an entire week. The following Saturday morning I waited until I heard my flatmate leave for work and then I got up, made a tea, and went to sit in the living room. What I saw when I entered was so shocking that I dropped my mug.
My flatmate had finally made use of the multipack of Sharpies I had bought him for Christmas; he had thrown my thoughtful present back in my face in the worst possible way.
My beautiful sand dune was now wearing underpants.
Hannah McDonald is a writer and teacher from Glasgow, Scotland. She aspires to someday wake up with stigmata. She has been published in From Glasgow to Saturn #44 and Stone of Madness #3. Find her on Twitter @mcdonaldhanny and send her a picture of your favourite slug.