Not my Best Day

'Hey, Neil?' by Steven Deeble

‘Hey, Neil?’ by Steven Deeble
Photograph by M. R. Lewis

It is 1986.

I watch the capstans turn in the cassette recorder on the table. I look up as the detectives glance at each other, signaling another change in tactics. They have been questioning me for almost two hours.

Three weeks ago, my mother was found murdered.

The tape records my answers, alternating with expressions of my grief.

“We found your studio out back in the garage,” begins ‘Good Cop’.

“We’re painters ourselves,” chimes in ‘Bad Cop’.

Oh, great. I picture sad clowns and dogs playing cards.

“You have a painting – it’s a brain.”

Oh, fuck.

“Yeah.”

“What does the astronaut represent?”

“Our ultimate technological achievement.”

The astronaut is Buzz Aldrin at Tranquility Base, taken from the classic photograph by Neil Armstrong. In my painting, he has been relocated into a surreal seascape.

“What about the brain?”

“That’s how we achieved it.”

“What does the checkerboard represent?”

“Integration. The black and white squares – think of them like woven threads.” I interlock my fingers. “There is strength in the integration of opposites.”

“What about the ocean?”

“It’s the source of all life.”

“And the lightning?”

“Electricity – the power of the brain.”

“What do the mountains in the background represent?”

This gives me pause.

“There aren’t any mountains in the background.”

“Sure there are.” They look at each other. “We both saw them.”

Shit. They’re seeing breast imagery.

“I didn’t do a good job of painting the underside of the clouds. You did a Gestalt.”

They look at each other again.

“A what?”

I explain figure/ground reversal.

Later, as I am leaving, ‘Bad Cop’ stops me.

“By the way what’s that painting called, anyway?”

“It’s called ‘Hey, Neil?’”

His face reddens. He is a big guy. He steps towards me.

“What?” The word comes out like steam from a crack in a pipe.

“The painting is called ‘Hey, Neil?’.”

His jaw clenches. He seethes. His eyes narrow to slits.

“You called it “Hey! Kneel!’? Like ‘Get down on your knees’?”

I swallow. “No, like Neil Armstrong. The astronaut.”

I think he is going to hit me.

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