Lockdown Fiction: Red Letter Day

This story was prompted by Clan Destine Press

Red Letter Day

A favourite joke among Melburnians (well, it’s one of many) is that you know you’re Melburnian when you know the difference between street art and graffiti. (Melburnians are smugly pleased with themselves and their city. It’s the city, they say, where you have more prestige as a barista than a barrister.)

The line, to be honest, is blurred. Tagging is a way for the invisible to declare that they, too, are of this city. Sanctioned street art is, some say, fundamentally against the spirit of art bombing capitalist walls with defiance and sharp socio-political commentary. The truth is, for Melburnians, there is no line, there is no real difference. Splash your paint however you will, you Artists of the Street, and we’ll deconstruct your meaning and its merits over coffee and tiramisu until the Yarra has emptied into the sea.

One day, new unsanctioned paint appeared. A red tide of paint lapped first at the base of buildings, oozing wet onto the tarmac and concrete and cobbles of the side street. First one alley, then another, then the next.

Unsanctioned as it was, the council tried to scrub it clean, but the red tide wouldn’t be scrubbed. Within an hour, the cheerful berry red was splashed over street and wall again, higher up this time. Artful arcs across windows; spirals dribbling upward over pipes and wiring.

With a second attempt, the walls of the city reeked of paint stripper, but almost as fast rose the red tide again, but it smelled of cayenne and saffron; of cherry and pomegranate, each sharp scent individual and yet a harmony.

The cafes and bars and restaurants made breakfasts and cocktails and light as air desserts in its honour.

The red tide rose and spread, spilling out of alleys into the Little streets, and then the broad thoroughfares, the inexorable hue sploshing into tram tracks and splashing onto shoes.

The next attempt to wash the tide was half hearted at best. The red splashed up to the second floor of the whitewash of the Myers Department store. This fresh flow held the texture of leather and satin, cotton and wool. The fashionistas were giddy with inspiration.

By the time the red was defying gravity, running up the walls towards the third floor, towards rooftops, it sounded like rain on a tin roof, like the wind through the trees, like the ding of the tram bell. It was jazz club and busker and the chime in the Arts Centre when the second act is about to begin.

In short, Melbourne had been woken, like a sleeping beauty, kissed into life by her adoring inhabitants.

Washed in all that love, Melbourne awoke, and fell in love with itself.

The town was painting itself red, and it was having one hell of a spree.