He scurried to the address on the card.
‘Come about the canvas,’ he shouted into the intercom.
The door unlocked. He stepped inside.
‘Leave the cash. Just take it.’ A pale shape hung over the handrail above him.
A black binbag leaned against the wall.
He left £20 on the bottom stair, started to unwrap the package.
‘Look at it outside. Go!’ The guy sounded agitated. Joe did not argue. It was a bargain.
‘And no returns!’ He looked up in time to see the upstairs window slam shut. Strange.
The blank canvas sat on the easel. Joe stroked the surface. Rough, thickly woven flax tightly stretched. Way outside his price range.
Inspiration blossomed on the white surface. He knew what to paint. A view enjoyed when walking the dog.
Leaden clouds, tinged with Prussian blue, above the viscous sea. Gulls mere flicks of white. A pale line smudged with cobalt across the distant horizon. Somewhere it was a fine day.
Closer, thick, creamy brushstrokes merged greys, translucent greens, iridescent blues, creating waves tipped with flecks of titanium. The foam tumbled on damp ochre, seeped into dry sand of Naples yellow. Wet shingle chattered as the sea pushed it up the beach then dragged it back. Pebbles, rainbow colours glittered with quartz. Sensuous brushstrokes caressed and blended.
Joe painted, dripping sweat, hands trembling, drained of energy.
He scarcely recognised the pale haggard face in the bathroom mirror. Nightmares awoke him. The compulsion to paint overwhelmed body and soul.
Where inspiration had blossomed, doubt began to blur his vision. The brush resisted; paint lost lustre. Suicidal thoughts chittered at the back of his mind.
Until the night staggering from the room, lucidity hit with a vengeance as he saw, reflected in the mirror, the canvas.