The Artist

By Joshua Laurenzi


So she sits down across from me. Across this big fake wood desk. And, of course, she sets down two paper cups of coffee. The lighting makes the skin on my arms look green and the buzzing from the fixtures makes me think of mosquitoes. I’m sketching with some paper and a pencil they gave me, which is not easy with handcuffs on. Drawing the walls, drawing the chairs and table, drawing the lights of the interrogation room. I draw the two-way mirror so you can see what’s behind it: a pinball machine, leather couches, a pallet of box wine. When I’m scared I draw.

“So what happened?” she asks me. She is nice enough, for a policewoman. Kind of cute too. Maybe in some distant reality we are off making little cop babies and going to church. I can tell that she feels for me. But just cuz she thinks I’m crazy.

“That’s the whole thing,” I say to her. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Then tell me what you do know. What you do remember.”

I’ve told this story a dozen times. To the EMT guys who came to my house, to the cops that arrested me, to myself, to god. It hasn’t changed. It must be true, even though none of them believe me.

“Ok,” I tell her. “But can you record this because I’m getting sick of repeating myself.”

“We are recording this,” she says, pointing to the tape recorder on the table that I hadn’t noticed before.

You know, maybe it’s possible that I did do it. I mean I don’t remember doing it so I really don’t think that I did it. But what if I did do it and blocked it out like people do when they experience things too horrible to process. They just forget. What if I just forgot?

“She was supposed to be out of town,” I tell her. “I woke up in the morning to go to the bathroom. We live in a house with 5 other people and our room is this kind of apartment on one side with its own bathroom. So I go to the bathroom in the morning and I open the door and she is in the bathtub and the cat is sitting next to her on the bathtub and they’re both covered in blood. The cat is alive, but she is obviously dead.”

“How could you tell she was dead?” the policewoman asks me.

“There was an axe sticking out of her head. I just assumed.”

Misses cop jots something down in her notebook. “Go on,” she says.

So I do.

“So I freak out and run out of my room, naked by the way, into the main house where some of my housemates are cooking breakfast. I’m crying, asking them to come into my room with me. I’m basically screaming, asking for help and they are just standing there looking at me and not doing anything. Not coming to help me, not cooking their breakfasts and then one of them says, “‘Phillip, why are you covered in blood?’”

The police lady cuts in, “The officers also reported that you were covered in blood, and naked. But you don’t remember touching her at all.”

“No, I never touched her.”

“Then why were you covered in blood?”

“I don’t know.”


These walls are the most artistically uninspiring walls anyone could ever put in a building. They are worse than my high school’s walls. Even though I’m into institutional art and themes of bleak insanity these walls still steal away my creativity more than they hold up the ceiling.

I’ve been in here for three months, even though I didn’t kill her. My lawyer said that if I didn’t go with an insanity plea I was looking at life in a real jail instead of life in a padded room. I wasn’t sure at first what sounded

better but I thought that the people would probably be nicer here. So I plead guilty and now I just plod around aimlessly, doped up on their “normal pills” and doing group therapy with the other crazy murderers.

I guess it’s really not so bad, considering. I mean the company is definitely not lacking in turpitude, but even so I don’t really have much in common with them. For instance, they are insane killers and I’m just here so I don’t have to go to real jail.

But there is this one guy, his name is Peter, and him and me get along pretty well. He is a homicidal maniac, but we still have a lot in common and have good conversations. He’s in here for killing his girlfriend, like me, except he actually did kill her. I’ve never asked him why, even though I would like to know why people do things like that. But I don’t think it would be polite.

He is a handsome guy and lately I’ve been doing a series of portraits of him. All basically sketches of him looking bored and locked up in a nuthouse. He’s too smart to be in here. I mean, the other crazy people here are pretty much idiots, either from the drugs or were just born that way. But Peter, well, I can tell being here gets to him. He thinks about it too much.

So I’m drawing his newest portrait I think I’ll call “oh, it’s you again” (all lower case). We are huddled over at the end of the rec room by the windows so I can get some good light. We are having a nice conversation, but then he starts talking about my dead girlfriend, asking me questions about her and if I killed her. I tell him that I didn’t and that I don’t think it’s very polite to casually discuss these things.

“What would you say if I told you I knew who killed her?” he asks me.

I tell him that I still don’t think he’s being polite, but that I would want to know so I could see that justice is served.

“I don’t blame you for wanting revenge,” Peter says, turning his head to me and breaking the pose he was holding for my sketch. “But, please don’t get mad. It was me. I did it.”

There is a dramatic pause in our conversation. I’m in shock. My tongue is tied. My blood is boiling. My rage is rising. I feel violent for the first time in my life. My only friend in this prison is the person responsible for putting me here. And then he describes it.

“When I went into the bathroom, I didn’t expect to see her there either. She looked up at me and smiled, then closed her eyes and slid down into the water. Then I hit her with the axe. She never saw me do it. She probably died right away.” He is trembling as he’s telling me this. Tears are pouring over his cheeks. He really is sorry. “I don’t know why I killed her,” he says. “She wasn’t supposed to be there.”

I don’t even say anything to him. I want him to hurt for what he did. I want to attack him but if I do that they’ll just throw me in the padded room again. So I stand up, crumbling his portrait in my hand, and turn my back on him as I walk towards the nurse’s station where Miss Riley is standing.

“Phil,” she says, “are you okay? Have you been crying?”

“No, I’m not okay. The man who killed my girlfriend is here. He just confessed to me. I need you to arrest him so I can go home.”

“Okay, Phil,” she says with a gentle smile. “Where is he?” She is patronizing me.

I point to where Peter and me were sitting but he is gone. “He was just right there by the window.  He’s probably hiding because he knows I’m ratting on him.”

“Well, what’s the man’s name then, Phil?” she asks me.

“Peter. He is a patient here.”

“I’m sorry Phil, but we don’t have any ‘Peters’ here as patients.”

“Oh. Well, he probably gave me an alias because he’s afraid of getting caught,” I say as I hand her the ball of paper in my hand. “Here’s what he looks like.”

She unfolds it, looks at it, then at me, then back at the paper again.

“This is you, Phil.”

“No, it’s Peter. I just drew it of him over by the windows.”

“Come with me over here,” Miss Riley says, putting her arm softly on mine. I love her.

We walk into the bathroom and she turns on the light.

“Look,” she says, holding up the portrait next to my face so I can see both as I look into the mirror. “It’s you.”

And as I look I see what she means.