Studying Guernica – a short story.

This is the short story I was working on this morning. It was in response to a prompt from my writing group.

What do you think?

Studying Guernica

It started when we finished college. We worked for a month so we had money in our pockets and the summer ahead of us. Jules had the crazy idea of buying a boat and after a day learning how to sail the ‘Sloppy Sloop’ we were confident that we could sail across the channel.

The next morning we set off for Calais. It was easy because the sea was calm. The sun shone and there was a pleasant breeze. We somehow arrived at Breste, not quite where we were heading, but it was France. Now, with confidence brimming, Jules thought we should head for Spain. We loaded up French bread and cheeses plus bottles of cheap red and were on our way.

This time we hugged the coast so we didn’t get lost. Even the Bay of Biscay was tranquil and after seven or eight stops to restock our supplies of more bread, cheese and wine we found ourselves in Spain.

Weeks passed as we made our way around the coast of Spain and Portugal. So many different types of cheeses and bread to try and the wines were ridiculously cheap!

We eventually arrived in Valencia. It was there that Jules had the brilliant idea that we should go to Madrid and see Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. Two hundred miles didn’t seem too much of an obstacle. So we tied the boat up and set off. Funds were running low but at a bar in the more dodgy part of town we met a rather dishevelled man called Mateo who ran a backstreet garage and assured us he had just what we needed at a very reasonable price.

We were thinking of a small car but Mateo showed us a large van. I was suspicious because there was more rust than metal but the price was cheap, and Jules was excited about driving a van, so we shook on it. The van stank of garlic and onions. There were two white coats and a pile of bubble-wrap in the back so we surmised that the van had spent the last thirty years delivering vegetables around the streets of Valencia.

Soon we were trundling along the highway towards Madrid leaving a trail of smoke and shards of bodywork in our wake. Jules was loving it and singing at the top of his voice. I joined in and at least it took my mind off the rattling and clattering. I was wondering how much of the van might be left by the time we arrived back to Valencia.

Who cared? It was an adventure.

It was late afternoon by the time we found the Reina Sofia in Madrid. As it was not at all busy we were able to park right in front of the museum.

The entrance fee was exorbitant but Jules had a brainwave. He thought that dressed in the white coats we could blag our way as removal men collecting a painting. Nobody questions guys in white coats.

We marched in with the bubble-wrap under our arms looking highly professional, which was quite difficult for two long-haired nineteen year-olds in shorts and sandals. We walked briskly past the front desk, looking straight ahead as if we were carrying out an important task.

Nobody shouted after us. We were in.

We sauntered around for a while and found the Picasso. The guard seemed to be asleep and that’s when Jules had his second brainwave.

‘We can hardly walk out with nothing,’ he said. ‘They’ll smell a rat.’

So we lifted the huge canvas down and draped it with the bubble-wrap. With our most serious faces we carried it past the front desk and out the door.

Then we began to panic. What could we do? We hadn’t thought this through. We had a Picasso! We couldn’t just leave it in the road. It might get stolen….. So we crammed it into the van and set off back for Valencia.

The canvas was huge and didn’t fit anywhere inside the Sloppy Sloop. So we wrapped it up properly and tied it carefully to the top of the cabin. That was our downfall because the canvas made the boat more difficult to handle.

Our next mistake was to sail south instead of north.

After many days the sea became extremely rough. The painting kept getting in the way when we were trying to sort the sail. We eventually were blown on to a reef and the Sloppy Sloop became a lot sloppier and less of a sloop.

Amazingly Jules and I were washed onto the beach of an idyllic desert island and managed to retrieve Guernica from the surf. Fortunately the bubble-wrap had protected it!

We propped it against a tree.

Jules went off to see if he could find food and water, or preferably a well-stocked wine bar.

I peeled the bubble-wrap from the painting and sat cross-legged on the sand to fully study the composition of the artwork.

Panic, fires, anguish, stricken animals, mangled bodies, grief and death. The cruel fascist bombing of a defenceless Spanish town. It was all there. Picasso had poured his soul into a portrayal of war crime.

The sun was setting. Jules was trudging back along the beach with only a couple of coconuts.

We were likely to have more than enough time to ponder the horrors of modern warfare with tactics of terror deployed against helpless civilians.

……………. A very long time.

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