“The Art Collector"
by: Michael C Smith
Mason pulled the door tight. 1624 Langston Street, Apt. 52. “Thud” the deadbolt latch echoed into place, “clank, click” fastened the padlock.
He shackles this one for Brenda.
She hated sleeping up here. The neighborhood gave her the creeps. The junkies, the whores, the occasional stabbing. He bought the padlock to help ease her mind. “Calm down darling” he’d say, “We’re five floors up and the guys you worry about would either give up or give out by the third floor.” She laughed uneasily, unconvinced.
Brenda was so sweet to him. He met her at the library, of all places. She was using one of those Macintosh computers the city was wasting his tax money on; 1986 and suddenly everything was about a computer! Not for Mason. He was looking through a magazine a few feet to her right when their eyes met. She had the most disarming blue eyes and hair as black as a thousand starless nights. Even now as his mind drifted back to that first encounter, he could feel the wool of the sweater she was wearing. Mason had never been one with the ladies but something about Brenda gave him confidence. He walked right over to her, lightly touched her shoulder, took her hand and introduced himself.
They would spend the next month in a slow, conservative courtship; hands held on afternoon walks, autumn trips to parks to watch parents and children, ice cream and coffee shops, bookstores and even church. It would be just over a month before Brenda began spending the night at Mason’s apartment. Brenda was going through a divorce from an abusive and alcoholic husband; her own home felt an unsafe place for romantic company. She had grown up in a house with an equally abusive and alcoholic father and had promised herself when she was young that her childhood history would not be repeated. She hated herself for having fallen in love with someone so much like her own father. She’d recount nights of fear and physical pain from both her childhood and her marriage, as Mason, listening intently, would stroke her hair and remind her that those parts of her life were over for good. She’d sigh easily, and drift away, comfortably asleep in his strong arms.
When she announced that she wanted to take a break, maybe see other people, it hit him like Chernobyl; an explosion, followed by a slow, painful burn. She loved him, she said, she’s so grateful for him, she said. “You’ve given me the confidence to go into the world, to face it alone, to discover who I am.” She said. “And I must do that without you.”
“Clank, click” went the second padlock.
“Clank, click.” “Clank, click.”
The others were far easier.
They’re all still here.
Mason sits back, admiring his collection of four ladies, preserved almost as if by a taxidermist, lounging in various positions around the room. He keeps the windows open all of the time now; less for the smell of the decay, and more for the odor of the chemicals he uses to bathe his collection. They are pleasant and polite company, never contrary and always available for Mason’s every desire.
The neighbors around him will never notice the smell, and even if they did, they’d never call the police. Police are a far less welcome presence in this part of town than an art collector, no matter how strange the collection. Mason installs a new padlock on his door for each addition, keeping Brenda and her companions quite safe indeed.