0. The Banker’s Muse

He was a knight out of place. Bar soap and tap water, cut with a tailored suit and safety razor. A six foot creature of corporate war, wrapped in Italian leather, black wool, and Swiss steel. A spartan vessel of measured metered elements, capped with matte onyx eyes and a windsor noose. Over time, acts of service had taken his hands and feet. He hobbled through his days on the phantom limbs and idyllic breadcrumbs of his past-life loyalties.

She sat cross-legged on the couch as he walked through his front door. She was as hopeful, as she was afraid. Her lingering gaze and lack of surprise said she remembered him. She tried, but she couldn’t speak, but she didn’t need to—he knew her too.

He remembered years ago, where they bonded in the wet grass. Knees to the earth, light rain and heavy hearts. It was the first time he could remember that he was content to look down. He didn’t know how long she’d been there. She couldn’t speak then either… He remembered how intensely she shivered, and hid her face with her hair. She was truth, intuition and pain made manifest. She was beautiful. Everything the world would rush to mask with its opiates. She was a cold porcelain cup covered in cobwebs, overflowing with the dry spiders that wove them. He accepted her communion and kinship. As he looked at her, he began to see the beauty among loss. When the world became too black to see, black could become his medium.

He would dip his brush deep in himself in those days. His ichor was thick, and darker than vantablack—each wish, regret, and rumination mixed with blood, and wound into thick tempura paint that swallowed light and retained its warmth. He later happened upon what would become the start of his craft—his defining passion, and greatest virtue and vice. Printmaking appealed to his sensibility and his sense of taste. The practice would grow to wither his life, and save his soul.

In time, he found his tools. Gifts born of human misfortune. He accepted greedily—pointless spending he could not abide by, but human grief and loss he could dampen. The suffering of others was easily muted and smothered with a lavender scented pillow. It was the world’s keynote lesson—to rever the majesty of powerful men and women, as they sat atop lavish stacks of staggered human and velvet, swaying in the wind—high as skyscrapers—both sustained and consumed by the balancing act. That was the quiet law of power—to climb by any means necessary. Integrity that did not serve the ascent did not have value.

She was sewing needles on ice, weaving the foundations of words in hints of watered-down whispers. He would struggle to understand, but he would never cease to listen. As time passed, the more he listened to these sorrowful songs, the more he felt he understood her intent. Unlike her, he was all but intent. He was a loyal student of the gestalt. He gave his soul to weave the world. The price of knowledge and study, was that the world became a garden he could not live in. He would transcribe her songs as best he could with his diatonic dogmas. For good or ill, lives and lessons would manifest from his pen, born gasping into the world on long hours, cheap coffee and willpower.

As he spent time away from the world, the knight fell out of fashion. His style grew dull and complacent—his trousers cascaded like dust covered waterfalls down his legs unhemmed, His shoes squared off and tarnished to cheap matte plastic. He quickly became a quiet pariah in the world he was reared on, almost as quickly as he grew not to value it.

For months, they slept like siblings amidst seas of white shirts and paper. They cleaned screens in the kitchen sink, and broke their fast on blackened bread of wheat and glycerin. They laughed with guilt as they suffered verbal abuse washing out stencils at dusk. They compared scars from the heat press—the heavy blue and black war machine from the east that blew Greek fire, and caused the lights to flicker.

It was the lesson of a lifetime — how the world he’d forsaken shrugged and floated away. She poked his ribs and wished him good morning… The onyx fell from his eyes as she gained the strength to speak. She rolled her eyes—he was wasting time—she pulled him by the arm to paint. There were so many tales left to tell.

Life grew ever difficult, but her forgiveness was enough. His loyalty was enough. He was home.