The Blood Artist by Jefferson Navicky

Like a meteor on Mars, red dust kicks up from the bricks. The men in white suits with gas masks and their little buzz saws are tethered to the scaffolding by what looks like a large scrunchie. They’ve covered the ground and all surrounding trees, ladders, trash bags and shrubs with the fine red powder.

They’d spent the morning erecting the scaffolding that would allow them to bloody the world. They had to even everything out with 2x4s. The Blood Artist tells them to look like they know what they are doing, and nobody will bother them.

And if anybody does mess with them, any piddily beat cops or building managers, she’ll bail them out. She’ll get them out of anything. Money is not an issue. She has their back. But the Blood Artist has done her research. No one will bother you, she says. At least this is true at first.

The red rain seems to be accepted as the detritus of a dirty world. A soot blanket. An unfortunate side effect. Something to wipe away. Tiny particles of pain.

When they move their operation to the road side of the building, the waterfall of red sprays down on the line of cars crossing the river.

Motorists begin to honk as if that would stop the storm. But the Blood Artist knows their laziness and apathy and desire to ignore will prevent them from action. On the word of the Blood Artist, the men move to the bridge itself, lay their saws into its steel sides to release a new fiery shower of sparks and dust. The noise itself, a death tooth dentist grind, is enough to bring traffic to a frightened, immediate stop. Still no one does anything other than call the police, who are equally confused at the sight of such industry.

When the police finally silence the saws, a strange quiet sits atop the dust. The men in white suits take their masks off, swipe at their noses like they’re trying to lengthen them. They stand and look over what they’ve accomplished. What have they accomplished? The traffic looks at itself. The police look at themselves. We are at a crossroads, they say to themselves. A deep red covers everyone. We all look at each other. We are all at a crossroads. Tempers rise. We can barely stand the sight of each other like this. Everyone stalls. Everyone boils. Everyone bloody. And the Blood Artist is now here with us too. She’s come down into the fray. But now she doesn’t know anything. She doesn’t know what will happen. She’s just like us, suffering, all of us together.

Jefferson Navicky was born in Chicago, and grew up in Southeastern Ohio. He is the author of the poetic novella, The Book of Transparencies, and the story collection, The Paper Coast, as well as the chapbooks, Uses of a Library, and Map of the Second Person. His work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Electric Literature, Hobart, Tarpaulin Sky, and Fairy Tale Review. He is the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, and teaches English at Southern Maine Community College. Jefferson lives on the coast of Maine with his wife and puppy. He has been awarded a Maine Arts Commission grant, a Maine Literary Award, and was the 2019 winner of the Maine Postmark Poetry Contest.

Three women dancing in an alleyway with lightbulbs for heads
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