Arthur Holland is eighty-five and lives alone in a large mansion that’s been in his family since 1763. It’s early morning and he’s dressing in front of a full-length cheval mirror. If the Royal Free’s prognosis is right, I’ll not be doing this for much longer, he sighs. At least it’s not lounge suits any more, he thinks, pulling his Guernsey over his head. Those in power thought I was just an eccentric champagne socialist. If they’d really known what I was up to, I would have been done for treason.
He stares at himself in the mirror. When I was young I thought my fortune was without limits; worse, I believed in the cause: the overthrow of capitalism and the abolition of my class – the ruling class. I never counted the cost of my secret financial support of Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Even when it became clear, after Lenin’s death, that Stalin had won the battle against democratic socialism I still pumped money into Trotsky’s Fourth International. I never faced up to the fact that every single penny was money down the drain. Nothing stopped Stalin murdering millions to preserve the fear that was his armour.
Unable to afford his favourite cigarettes, Gauloises Caporal, Holland walks down the sweeping staircase rolling Golden Virginia tobacco in a liquorice paper and goes into the kitchen, makes coffee and smokes.
Moving through the hallway with a large Sabatier knife in his hand, he enters a large high-ceilinged room. An enormous oil painting takes up an entire wall. In the left foreground, a more than life-size Lenin, in a flowing grey great coat and holding his famous cap in one hand, declaims to a vast crowd of workers.
Holland points the knife at Lenin. You cost me my bloody fortune. That painting, stolen from Russia and brought here as a trophy for my ego, was a drop in the ocean compared with what I willingly gave you and Trotsky. Madness.
He goes to the record deck, lowers the needle onto a vinyl recording of Messiaen’s ‘Quatuor pour la fin du Temps’ and turns up the volume. He takes an upright chair and sets it in front of the painting, stands on the chair and severs Lenin’s head from his body, shouting, What bloody revolution did I pay for? Putin? In a frenzy he hacks the painting to pieces.
He sits, listens, staring at the wreckage as the music, the haunting ticking clock of time, fills him with a vast sadness. Be calm, he thinks. A bell tolls the end of time and fades to silence.
After a moment’s reflection, he builds a bonfire of cushions and books, topping it off with the remains of the painting and, finally, Lenin’s head. Using his beloved Zippo lighter, he ignites the pile. He sits and watches as the fire takes hold. Damned if I’m going to die in bed in the Royal Free. I’ll do what I’ve always done – go my own way.
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© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.