TORONTO A NOVEL : Chapter 28

     It was with a certain weariness of both heart and spirit that Michael began to look through Homer Rubik’s work.  The task—for Michael felt that’s what it was—was scarcely made easier by Bliss Carmen’s looming stage-mother eagerness, by her rabid, over-the-shoulder determination that Michael would find in Homer’s paintings and drawings the lashings of genius.
     “Look how much stuff he’s made!” boomed Bliss.
     “Impressive,” Michael agreed. “though of course it isn’t the number of works he’s made but their quality that counts,” he added hastily—and, he felt, pointlessly.  Bliss was deaf to anything even remotely negative or even cautionary about Homer’s work.   Homer, for his part, stood like a neglected statue, watching Michael’s deliberations.  He wasn’t nearly as interested in Michael’s approval as Bliss was, but he had a practiced ear for an insult, a put-down or even a reservation.  He watched Michael, scowling.
     Bliss noticed Homer’s un-tethered condition and deemed it dangerous.  Bliss was enough of a loose-cannon herself not to be wary of it in others.  All she needed right now was for Homer to plummet into his feral mode and start growling at the visiting art critic.
     “Why don’t you make coffee, Homer?” she suggested, as gaily as possible.
     “None for me,” said Michael abstractly, now perusing a strange little Goya-like painting of some unidentified massacre on an unidentified plain located somewhere in Homer’s rough, antique imagination.
     Homer stiffened with the beginnings of rage.  Bliss gave Michael a resounding, corrective whack across the shoulders.
     “Well, okay,” he told Homer, trying quickly to fabricate a smile.  “a coffee might be nice after all.”
     Homer went the fridge and opened the door.  Michael could smell the sour, empty air from inside from across the room.
     “Fuck!” said Homer.
     “What’s the matter, Homer?” asked Bliss nervously, anxious not to disrupt the atmosphere of studious connoisseurship she was trying hard to establish in the dank kitchen-studio.
     “No milk,” said Homer darkly.
     “Who the hell cares??” roared Bliss.  “Make some goddam coffee!!”
     Michael tried hard to believe he was somewhere else.  Watching May dust shelves in the bookstore, maybe.
     He dutifully examined work after work.  Most of the pictures were small, notebook-sized, usually in oil on paper, though there were a few executed in tempera.  The drawings were either made with charcoal or, more often, drawn in sepia ink—which lent them a certain old-masterish earnestness.
     But it was Homer’s subject matter that intrigued him most—intrigued him and dismayed him.  The paintings were technically skilful—astoundingly so—but uniformly ghastly in subject matter.  There were gory battles, the mounted, charging figures as tiny and exacting as those in a Messonnier.  There were Inqusition-like scenes, like plunderings from Goya’s etchings: burnings, hangings, torturings, dismemberings.  There were beheadings, drownings, whippings, stranglings.  There were pictures in which the humanoid subjects were so distorted and convoluted they made the hallucinated figures in Hieronymus Bosch seem sensible and well-ordered.
     Michael felt sweaty and a little dizzy.
     “So what do you think, Zorba?” bellowed Bliss.  “Amazing aren’t they?”
     “They are that,” Michael agreed, feeling bilious.
     Homer stood listening, torn between the desire to be accommodating and the fierce need to tear this intrusive art critic limb from limb.
     “You like ‘em?” he asked Michael with a growl.
     Michael was momentarily frozen with indecision.  Ought he to say what he really felt or just carefully dissemble for a while?
     “Well,” he said at last, trying to keep his eyes on the pile of paintings and not look either at Homer or at Bliss, "I can tell you truthfully that I’ve never seen anything quite like them before!”
     Bliss was exultant.  But Homer, who suddenly seemed smarter and more perceptive than Michael had given him credit for, scowled and rumbled.
     “I mean do you think they’re good?”
     “Oh sure,” Michael faltered, trying too smile convincingly.  “Unique!”
     “There!” said Bliss exultantly, giving Homer a python-like squeeze around the waist.  “You see??”