Beware the failed artist who keeps creating. Beware the painters who can’t stop painting. Beware their transformation, that never asks to change. -Intellectual Shaman

Julian looked at his paints the way God looks at flesh. “A bit more red and a little less white,” he said. He shaped the image into something he desired; his illusions brought to life. Most of his class at the Secretariat School had moved on with their lives; they had money and spouses, flowing like rivers, rushing to their sunsets. Julian was dammed and his crushing creativity hammered his brain like waves until his hands shook.

He looked up from his two-story window at a woman passing on the street. Rome was an intersection of roads, but living there hadn’t led anywhere. He couldn’t create his future, no matter how much he tried. It was the newspaper stand in the morning and staring at blank canvas at night. Julian drank his espresso and offered delusions to the people; celebrities, cars, and women out of reach. He was at a crossroads of wanting between 6th and 7th where the streetlights told people when to go and when to stop.

A beggar walked towards him and Julian grabbed his pepper spray. The man was flecked with paint; obviously a failed artist who lost his craft.

“You are me and I am you,” he said.

“What?” Julian asked.

“You can’t keep painting without life in your work.”

“Go away or I’ll call the police.”

The beggar pulled paints from inside his coat and gave them to Julian.

“I don’t want them.”

“Eat your art; live on it; make a picture; and watch your dreams come true.” And with that, the beggar walked away, maybe 20 paces, and collapsed in the street.

“He’s not breathing!” Somebody shouted.”

Traffic at the intersection of 6th and 7th stopped. Nobody walked over to buy the news because a story was happening right there.

Julian closed up his shop and walked back to his apartment with the beggar’s paints. “You are me and I am you,” kept flitting in and out of his mind. What did the beggar mean? Julian opened the tubes and squirted the contents onto a palate. They smelled unusual; intoxicatingly sweet; and Julian decided to paint what he desired.

Daylight disappeared in the room and Julian turned on the light. He was shocked by what he wanted; it glared back at him like fate. He crumpled up the picture and right when he thought to throw it away, he remembered the beggar’s words, “Eat your art.” Then Julian swallowed the picture whole; his lips were awash with colors, and paint dripped from his mouth. Strangely, he didn’t feel sick and sleep washed over him like a warm blanket.

The next morning Julian went to brush his teeth and he looked like a clown who slept in his costume. “What did I do last night?” He asked. Julian scrubbed and brushed his face until it was raw, then he prepared to sell magazines to the customers. He usually brought some of his artwork to show off on the corner and sometimes people looked at it, but they never bought it. It was the museum effect; what people see for free, they don’t pay for.

His first customer was a woman in a red dress who looked completely out of place on the sidewalk. Maybe she belonged to a costume party from the 1920s, he thought. Her look matched his artwork.

She didn’t even glance at Cosmo. “How much for The Woman of the Night?” She asked.

“50 dollars,” Julian said.

“No…?”

Julian smiled.

“Oh, you made a joke. I don’t see a price tag, so I’ll offer you 2,000.”

She opened her crocodile purse and gave Julian the bills. “I have an art gallery on 7th. I’m sure you know about it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, bring some of your artwork by and we’ll talk business.”

Julian dropped his artwork off and then went home that evening, smiling at his good fortune. When he turned on the light, the beggar was there, standing in his studio.

“I thought you were dead.”

“Impossible. You are me and I am you.”

“What does that mean?” Julian asked.

“Did you eat your art?”

“I did, and now I’m selling it at the best gallery in Rome.”

“I want you to paint my portrait, so that I might live on after I’m dead.”

“I can do that. I usually charge a fee, but your paints have proven to be most valuable. I’ll do it for free.”

Julian began painting the beggar; his long brown hair, turning grey, with tattered clothes. Hours spent scrutinizing this man caused Julian to see similarities in himself. Nobody looks at a man of the streets; when people give money, they don’t gaze into the eyes. “We’re nearly done. I’ll have you come back tomorrow evening.”

The beggar admired his likeness. “Can I take a closer look?”

“Okay, but don’t wander off.”

The beggar wandered off and then wandered back.

“Where did you put the painting?” Julian asked.

But the beggar was gone.

Julian walked into his studio and prepared his paints. He mixed the thinner and oils and began to paint his dreams. The morning arrived and Julian realized he had an appointment. He swallowed the painting whole and brushed his teeth. Then he walked to the 7th street studio.

“All your artwork sold. Can you bring more?” The owner asked.

“Yes; May I use your restroom?”

“But of course.”

Julian walked into the back where a workbench was. Sweet-smelling paints were strewn on the counter where a portrait of himself stood, selling magazines. He grabbed the paints. They were just like the ones the beggar gave him. He used the restroom and looked at himself in the mirror. His face was changing. Then he walked into the gallery.

“You have a picture of me in the back,” Julian said. He didn’t recognize his voice.

“This is an upscale gallery. No beggars here.”

“What?” Julian asked. He bumbled outside where a man on the corner was selling magazines.

He offered him paints. “You are me and I am you.”

“What?”

“Eat your art; live on it; make a picture; and watch your dreams come true.”

THE END

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