Michael Blackburn's ART ZERO


The Picasso drawing given to me by Eric disappeared one day from my room, along with a pair of white cricket trousers. I learned in the pub later that a friend of one of the other lodgers had been in and 'borrowed' them. The borrower's name was Wallace. He was a middle-class boy from Esher, going through his rebellious phase. He fancied himself as a rock star and played in an atrocious band who were laughed at in every pub they ever performed in.

I approached Wallace the following night in the pub about his borrowings. He didn't apologise or seem at all ashamed of what he'd done. I told him to bring them back the next day in the afternoon. He didn't. I knew where he lived. I also had a friend called Dean, who was not a puny middle-class boy pretending to be cool, but a hard working-class lad from Salford who'd worked his way to university and always took the straight route in existential matters. Let's go and get them back, he said, now. We went.

Wallace was in. He knew he was in trouble when he saw Dean. If it had just been me he would probably have thought he could be blase or even a bit cheeky. But the third presence in the silent menacing form of Dean unbalanced the dynamics. I saw the Picasso on the mantelpiece and took it down. Lucky for him it wasn't damaged. Where's my trousers? I asked. He pointed to the floor behind me. I picked them up. They were a bit scruffy, as if he'd slept in them. I was just borrowing them, he said, I was just about to bring them round. I didn't believe him.

Hit him, I said to Dean. Dean hit him. The blow made a smacking noise and Wallace's nose popped like a balloon full of blood. He fell over. It was very quick. In truth, I abhor violence. I'm a coward, after all. You stole my Picasso, I said to Wallace, as he tried to get up, holding his hands to his face as the blood seeped through his fingers, and my fucking cricket trousers. They've got sentimental value, they have. I wore them at school.

In this way we left him with tears and blood on his face.