From The Notes of Misguided Young Men about the Fathers of the Misguided Young Women They Used to Sleep With

Sean Rafferty | 

No. 17: “Peter Peterson’s Gallery of Life-Didn’t-Turn-Out-Quite-How-I-Expected”

Her dad was an artist. But more accurately, he was not. More accurately he was a dad. A father to three girls. More accurately a husband. An employee. He was employed by an ad agency to design graphics. His graphics were fine graphics. They weren’t seminal graphics, but you couldn’t get his graphics for free.

You couldn’t get his art for free, either. You could look at it, but you couldn’t keep looking at it. Not whenever you wanted to. You couldn’t fuck it, or spill orange juice on it either. Not for free. Though, he’d probably let you fuck his graphics for free. He’d probably let you and two of your dirtiest, long-dickest friends gangbang his graphics in a bubbling jacuzzi full of hot orange juice expecting nothing more in exchange than an honest gesture of appreciation for his artwork.

As he was an unsuccessful artist, it was so that as she grew up, the house that he once designed for them to live in became, one disappointing exhibition after another, not so much a gallery as a hospice for his creations.

I would make a point to stare at his artwork in long stretches of stillness and silence, but only at times when he could see me doing it. I would, more times than I can remember, see his truck pull into the driveway through her bedroom window, or hear him outside on his Blackberry (I liked to ask him if all artists had Blackberries) or the jangle of his keys as he walked up their front porch, and I’d jerk my arm out from under her waist, quit whatever it was I was doing, cut short a pee, abandon a frying egg, (there were even a handful of times that I withdrew myself from his daughter), for no other purpose than to run in front of a piece of his artwork and pose in false contemplation. Just so that he could walk in and see me looking at it whenever I damn well pleased.

Even if my appreciation were genuine, there was a narrower range of currency that he was willing to exchange for his artwork, which he defined as “cash, check, or treasure.” That was his line— “cash, check, or treasure.” He loved to say it. The problem was that his art was fine. It was not Fine art, but it was Okay. It certainly wasn’t treasure.

So, whenever he repeated this “cash, check, or treasure” line, I imagined scuba diving through a shipwreck and discovering an ornate chest in the stern. So of course I pull the chest to shore and the next thing I imagine is that my knees are burrowed in the sand, and I’m holding a pair of bolt cutters with both hands, and the lid of the chest is leaning back, wide open, and the padlock is dangling from the latch. I imagine lifting the only contents of the chest, a single oil painting, in sideview, not unlike a graphic in a geology textbook, which depicts a bisected tract of wooded land where deep under the soil, a naked man is planted like a tree. His limbs are stretched, of course, as in crucifixion. This is also not unlike a painting his daughter tacked to the wall beside her desk that he painted while attending SCAD.

Sometimes I would ask him, just to conjure up my fantasy, “Hey Peter, what would you take for this?” pointing, usually, at the wire sculpture in the yard while he was out harvesting figs from his fig trees, or a framed portrait of her mother, his wife Stephanie, that hung in the TV room.

“Cash, check, or treasure,” he’d say; though, when he said it to me, the words were a degree fermented by the knowledge that I had no respect for him.

My vision always ended the same way. A demented pirate ghost would descend upon the beach and press the cold muzzle of an ectoplasmic blunderbuss to my forehead, forcing me to choose! choose! between keeping the chest itself, or the “treasure” that I’d found inside of it.

I’d take another look at the painting. Then I’d hold it up to show the pirate. We’d exchange a glance, and there’d be a tense moment of stillness and silence. He’d always crack first though, failing to stifle his crooked rotten smirk. Then I’d lose my composure too, and we’d both erupt into cruel, greedy laughter at Peter’s expense.

Of course I would take the chest, because it had some utility, and it once belonged to real pirates, and not a fake artist.