Peter’s ears were assaulted by the shocking clatter of a smash, with a counterpoint of shattering glass. These were followed immediately by the sounds of grunting and swearing echoing around the deep ceiling of the renovated hall. The fuss halted the idle chatter between Peter and the gallery owner, and they both rushed towards the epicentre of the trouble.
They were in time to witness a drunken lout being restrained by two other men, as all three struggled beside the remains of one of Peter’s photographic portraits. Blood spattered the floor, testimony to an attempt by the drunk to smash the artwork with his bare fists.
“Fuck’n queers!” cursed the drunk, as he attempted to tug his arms free. “That’s what you all are…queers ‘n poofters ‘n fairies. Bloody lot of you should be shot on sight.”
One of young men engaged in preventing his tirade turned to the gathering crowd, “Quick, somebody, call the police! You can see he’s off his face.”
“I’m right on it. Don’t let him go, now,” uttered the gallery owner, and he rushed off to retrieve his mobile phone from his office. A couple of people in the crowd looked uncertainly after him, and a young woman reached for her own cell phone.
Peter couldn’t drag his eyes away from his ruined work. It was one of his favourite pieces. It was a drag queen, taken in full regalia as she marched in Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gra parade. The photo was a monotone, originally in black and white; Peter had tinted his subject every shade of blue. He had really captured the joy and pride that the transvestite had radiated like a beacon.
Now, the piece was crumpled and torn and bloodstained, and its frame was irretrievably smashed. Its despoiler must have known what to expect when he had attended Peter’s gallery opening. What would have motivated such an act of rage? Wasn’t this kind of Neanderthal response to the gay community meant to be just a memory in this more enlightened decade? With some effort, he managed to tear his eyes away from the scraps of his work.
His eyes met with another gentleman’s gaze, a handsome redhead who was watching the spectacle with obvious delight. Suddenly, Peter felt an overwhelming wave of fear, loathing and horror. It was a sensation akin to drowning, as he really couldn’t bring himself to draw a breath – he was so frozen with terror. His heart felt like it was beating within a cage of barbed wire. Was he dying?
A girl noticed his distress, the same girl that had just used her phone to summon the police. “Oh look,” she shrieked, “It’s the artist! He’s going into shock. Somebody do something.” The crowd’s attention was drawn away from the drunk, and towards Peter. Several people stepped forward to help him. A matronly woman stepped in front of him, and hid the glowing green eyes that filled Peter’s vision. The terror was shut off like a blowing of a light bulb.
He went to sink to the floor, but there were many hands to catch him. His consciousness took the best and fastest avenue of recovery from the utter madness of the last few moments, and Peter fainted.
It took a few days for Peter to regain his courage and return to the art gallery. The memory of those fleeting moments of complete and utter dread and hatred was still strong. It was like his mind was a sea, and someone had dropped an enormous jagged shoal right into the centre of it. Dangerous currents lurked just under his surface thoughts. Still, he couldn’t really avoid such a personally important venue as the art gallery forever. He bolstered his meagre store of courage, snatched up his camera case, and set off to his showing.
The gallery owner greeted him warmly. Peter’s works were selling steadily, and the showing was well on the way to success. Peter politely refused an offer of a shared pot of coffee in the office, preferring to wander for a bit. He had his camera at the ready. He never knew when an interesting or exciting subject might present itself.
The sheer beauty of one of the art gallery patrons quickly captured his attention. The man was a true redhead, with the clear-cut, patrician features of a Greek sculpture. Peter was usually attracted to men with dark, brooding features, but this guy’s gorgeous skin and hair lured and seduced his eye.
Unobtrusively, Peter snapped a few shots of the gentleman. Peter was so focussed on his subject that he didn’t notice that the man seemed to travel with an enormous area of personal space. As the redhead strolled around the gallery, his approach to the other patrons seemed to make them suddenly shudder or squirm, and hurry away.
Peter hoped the man was homosexual. He moved with an animal grace that was most sensual to watch, as he toured the photo portraits. After a while, the redhead noticed of Peter’s admiring gaze. He turned to meet Peter’s eyes.
Suddenly, Peter was trapped in a turmoil of repellent sensations. Hatred. Greed. The need to destroy. Disgust. Lust. Rage. It was a replay of the horror that occurred on the opening night of Peter’s exhibit. His bruised psyche recoiled in fear. The redhead grinned at Peter’s obvious distress. It was the same type of sneer that might lurk on a boy’s face, as the boy amuses himself by torturing a puppy with a stick. As he turned away from Peter, the redhead smiled with pleasure.
The photographer watched, pale and sweating and shaking, as the other man exited the art gallery in a leisurely manner.
Peter’s photographs of the redhead proved to be most enlightening, on several levels. Instead a suave and handsome human male, the pictures revealed a portrait of a devil, a gargoyle with the most intently evil expression imaginable. It was every sin personified, into one terrible, monstrous form.
After toying with the idea of releasing the photos to the press, Peter quietly burned the photos and the negatives. No one would believe the real circumstances behind the portraits. As well, Peter instinctively felt that any public release would be asking for trouble, lots of trouble.
Instead, Peter began to regularly attend church instead.
*I wrote this story nearly two decades ago. With ‘Lucifer’ playing on the small screen, I felt it was time to give it an airing. It need a major polish, but it has good bones.