The man stepped back and assumed a reflective air. Martin sensed his keen mind was riffling a vast memory vault – perhaps reprising his own distant childhood.

‘Rothko grew up in Latvia. It is said the Cossacks there used to beat up Jews for fun. When he first turned to art, it was the Great Depression – not the best time to be an artist. Then he observed the War and the Holocaust. His personal life wasn’t happy – he divorced twice. In the end, he slashed his own wrists and died that way. So yes, he knew all about this, this – what did you call it?’

‘The Hate Machine.’

‘Yes – he knew all about your Hate Machine.’

Normally, Martin found art galleries to be depressing places, steeped in cultural ennui. This display was different. It did not assume literal Christian belief, like most traditional art – it passed beyond such outworn cultural specifics into a truly supernal zone, infinitely more authentic.

‘They’ll always be here, won’t they?’

‘Always,’ the man smiled, revealing several gold teeth. Minted, thought Martin admiringly. Rich, cultured old guys were inherently cool, but this one was the coolest he had ever met.

As Martin left the gallery, the Hate Machine switched back on like an electric light. Rothko’s Sacred Space crumbled and the world assailed him – angry traffic, roaring planes, mobile phones and pissed-off people everywhere. His awareness tightened and all calm fled. There were just too many fucking people in Britain, that was the problem – too many people pursuing the same things, with ever more pouring in daily.

Two lumpies swept past in a rusty white van on some thunderous mission. One of them – the passenger – made a masturbatory gesture at some strolling students. Their response was brisk, pithy and apposite: ‘Go pass an A-level, you thick cunt!’

The chav bellowed something back – something like, ‘Get a job, wankers!’

The laugh was on him, though, losing his cool like that. No doubt his lucrative career cleaning out gutters had been palling, lately.

Yes, the Hate Machine was chugging away like a diesel engine, slurping up frustration and churning out rage. Mark Rothko’s wondrous paintings were already faint ghosts in Martin’s over-taxed memory.

John F Keane was born in London, grew up in Manchester, but says he never really settled here: ‘I am perpetually unhappy and disappointed with life, would change everything if I could. I can’t, though – that’s why I write. Fair trade.’

Pages: 1 2 3



2 Responses to “Sacrament”

  1. December 08, 2009 at 1:24 pm, Ian D Smith said:

    Fascinating and thought-provoking story. Thank you. Rothko was persecuted as a Jew and then as an artist. No surprise that he took on the Rothko Chapel, where “the universal spiritual” aspect of [his] work would complement the elements of Roman Catholicism”. He saw that “literal Christian belief” was far from an “outworn cultural specific”, but part of the “universal spiritual aspect”. He showed that the “Hate Machine” (nice image for lumpen secularism) shouldn’t persecute Christianity, Islam, Judaism. He was a truly great artist.

  2. January 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm, jim holloway said:

    But the world isn’t just a hate machine; and the numbers “pouring in” are largely balanced by those “pouring out”. Yes, sometimes it feels pretty grim, but other times even the chavs and wanky students can show their humanity.
    I’ll look out for Rothko, though!


Leave a Reply




Via email: