Tom’s eyes were drawn to the golden figure standing majestically at the heart of the Royal Academy. His gaze never wavered as his ticket was checked and he went inside. He’d arrived early and his footsteps echoed in the sparsely filled exhibition rooms. He walked towards the statue, but within touching distance turned left into Gallery III.
The walls of the Academy’s largest gallery were filled with hundreds of small pictures, rising and falling like a never ending wave. Tom scanned the room. His stomach tightened as his eyes scrutinized every picture. It’s not here. It’s not up. It’s not up. It’s, it’s, there; left of the marble arch. A white canvas with ten swirls of colour, one for each year since the accident.
Tom revisited that day frequently, but the emptiness of his memory never changed. Tom remembered getting dressed in black jeans and a white t-shirt. Tom remembered stuffing his goalkeeping gear into the Kawasaki. Tom remembered leaving for Goldsmith’s. But that’s all. He didn’t recognise the Piet Mondrian inspired painting he’d produced in the morning. He couldn’t recall the tuna melt he’d had for lunch or the lecture in the afternoon. He couldn’t bring any more of the day to mind until the hospital, then Tom remembered: the fear on his mother’s face, the pain of breathing and the rising panic when he couldn’t move his arms.
In court the lorry driver said he’d never seen him, witnesses disagreed. He got nine points and a £2,500 fine.
Tom got three broken ribs, a punctured lung, his right arm amputated above the elbow and his left arm paralysed. The doctors said he’d been lucky. Tom went through the first three stages of grief, but got stuck on depression.
It wasn’t that he’d never ride a motorbike again that dragged him down or that he couldn’t play in goal. It was the thought he’d never paint again that brought the black dog bounding towards him. When that dog settled down, his insomnia and ravenous appetite reappeared. He became hooked on television. No-one could help. They didn’t understand. Didn’t know what it was like to lose a dream, to lose hope. It would be days or weeks until Tom returned.
Nine months after the accident Lynda, the latest occupational therapist trying to generate a spark of enthusiasm in Tom, admired the abstract painting his parents insisted on keeping on the dining room wall. The following visit she gave Tom a book on Mouth & Foot artists. After weeks of encouragement from Lynda, Tom tried the book’s exercises. Neither of his feet had any co-ordination, which confirmed why he’d been a goalkeeper. “Where is it?” a voice said, breaking Tom’s thoughts. It was Lynda, his plus one for the opening night.
“Turn around. On the left side,” said Tom. Lynda studied the picture for a minute, before leaning in and reading the inscription aloud.
“Bending Mondrian. Abstract. Tom Harrison. Mouth Artist.” Tom smiled.
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