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Petit Louis

The tragic meeting and friendship behind the world renowned painting.

By Jordan FlynnPublished 8 months ago Updated 8 months ago 6 min read
5
Petit Louis
Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

The first time Pablo noticed the boy was one night when he saw him being chased down the street by the fat baker. He nearly caught him too, though the boy escaped the pudgy grasp with nothing but a ruffled collar. He ran diagonally past Pablo, stuffing his mouth full of some indiscernible slop.

Pablo didn't realize it but he had seen the boy plenty of times before that, he just hadn't noticed him. The poor are often like that, something we gloss over with a wishful camouflage.

The boy had begged on the nearby corners plenty of times. He even did acrobatic performances, walking on his hands, and somersaulting for Francs. The mistake that the boy made was that the Bateau-Lavoir or artist district in which Pablo and others lived wasn't much better off than he was.

They lived for a dream that may come tomorrow, the boy lived for that day.

Louis wasn't born on the street, he wasn’t spawned from the sewer, or drainage pipe, nor was he dangerous as the wealthy Haute Bourgeoisie projected the poor to be.

No, Louis didn't start this way; it started long before he was born. It started first with a grandfather who became an addict, who then passed it down to a son, the father of Louis. He was a kind man, though one who was deeply troubled.

One day in a fit of drink, and dismay he disappeared. The word was he had died from exposure somewhere, died from drinking himself to death, or even suicide. Though the dead don't confirm their own rumors.

Louis’ mother tried her best to take care of the surviving son, though he became a distraction from her line of work.

Louis initially was confused by the numerous men, thinking any one of them were his new father, only to find them gone the next day's light.

Eventually one decided to stay. As the man grew more comfortable, he grew less comfortable being Louis’ surrogate father. This spurred many a belligerent argument, which resulted in Louis being kicked out from his own house many nights at a time.

Looking back he was thankful for these nights, for it gave him a gradual transition; helping him transform from a house cat, into a street cat. Wild and more accepting of the park benches, and beds of grass he fell asleep in.

Louis would often dream of the fateful night he was kicked out for good, it was a variation of the same thing.

The man would come out of his mothers room, the reek of brandy on him like a perfume, suspenders partially on. He would stare with the usual disdain filled eyes as he told Louis how useless he was.

Eventually in the dream, as in the past, Louis would be grabbed by his shoulders and thrown into the hallway. The dream always ended the same, a last glimpse of his mother cowering behind the man, as the door slammed in his face.

Louis was jolted awake, he didn't have long to rub the sand from his eyes. His newly discovered instincts taught him to check his surroundings for danger first.

He was greeted by the chorus of wagon wheels on cobblestone, the rumble of automobile engines, and a collage of voices.

He found that he was covered by a blanket that wasn't his own.

He was startled by a man's voice.

“I’m sorry, I didn't mean to wake you, I just thought you looked cold.”

Louis met the gaze of a young man with very dark features. His eyes were almost pools of black.

Courtesy of https://www.broadway.org.uk/whats-on/young-picasso

“Who are you? What do you want?” Louis sat up, placing his feet on the ground.

“I am an artist that lives nearby, I just wanted to help you out. You look quite young.” He spoke with a strange accent.

“If you wish to help, could you give me some Francs? So I can eat.”

The man's eyes traced over Louis, though it wasn't the stare that some men gave Louis that made him uncomfortable. It was more so as if he were inspecting a building.

“Eh you see boy I don't have many Francs to my name, though I can offer you some good food if you would have me, I can cook for you.”

Louis considered the thought briefly, his stomach screaming orders instead of his mind. “No, no thank you monsieur. I think I better be going.”

“I know what you must be thinking, strange man offering dinner, I assure you I just mean to help.”

Louis stood from the bench, gathering his few items.

“Besides, if I wished to cause you harm I could have while you slept instead of giving you a blanket. Or, I could have told that fat baker where you were.”

Louis turned to the man, his eyebrows raised in surprise, then lowered into suspicion.

“You saw me?”

“Yes, though I know boys who steal bakers leftovers in the night aren't doing it for fun.” He said glumly.

This gave Louis pause, because the man was telling the truth, he could have taken him while he was sleeping, or could have gone to the police, the baker, or any number of things. Instead he brought him a blanket.

The man held out his hand, “what is your name?”

Louis studied the hand, beneath the man's sleeve he could see a speck of paint on his wrist.

He gripped the man's hand firmly, “Louis, Louis is my name.”

“Un placer Louis, my name is Pablo, Pablo Picasso.”

What a strange name, Louis thought.

Pablo thought back to this first meeting as he stared into the black eyes of Louis, eyes that seemed devoid of life but so full of possibilities.

He stepped back to admire the final addition to the piece. A floral headdress adorned Louis’s head, as well as flowers beside his shoulders; giving the appearance of wings. Wings that by all accounts should have given him flight, though in this case failed to do so.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pablopicasso.org/boy-with-pipe.jsp

He sighed at the boy with the pipe, the pipe that was the undoing of their friendship and of Louis himself. The same pipe that vanished one day, along with Pablo's stash of opium. The same pipe that was now shattered into a million pieces in a garbage dump somewhere, perhaps a dump being picked through by Louis. Pablo shook at the thought.

Sometimes in fits of feral rage Pablo would claw at his own scalp and face thinking about it all. Some of it directed at Louis, some at himself.

In the end the prevailing feeling that infected him was one of despair. He had this magnificent painting he was proud of, yet he could hardly bare to look at it without weeping like a child.

Pablo’s lip quivered as he whispered mournfully to himself, “ah, mi petit Louis.”

His paint brush rattled on the desk as he set it down, before he left his studio he glanced at Louis one last time.

If only he knew what the world had in store for him.

Fiction
5

About the Creator

Jordan Flynn

Out of Grand Rapids MI. I write because I have to. (I am a noob however.)

Follow me @ Jayyeffe on instagram

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (4)

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock8 months ago

    Beautifully poignant.

  • Raymond G. Taylor8 months ago

    Great story and thanks for sharing. I have included it on my Art community reviews page here if you would like to take a look: https://vocal.media/art/art-for-our-sake

  • Ah, beauty and tears...

  • Great job on this story ❤️😉❗

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