Monthly Archives: November 2013
So, after 30 days, nights and VERY early mornings of speed writing….50,000 words in a total of 29 days, rubiesandduels is taking a little break.
I will be back, with new writing, an exciting project for 2014 and much more in a couple of weeks.
A huge thank you to everyone who read the NANOWRIMO novel, sent me kind messages or re -blogged/ linked into the project.
The house watches the woman drive slowly towards the road, the back seat of her car is piled high with boxes and bags, obscuring her view, making her an even more cautious driver than usual, the house observes as she waits for a gap large enough for her to inch forward and drive away.
The house relaxes, would, if it could, breathe out, fall back onto its haunches, but instead, of course, it is still, quiet, thoughtful.
It lets its’ awareness, its’ sense of self roam around the house, move from room to room, note the emptiness, the silence after the hours of bumping and banging and the last few days of the woman moving around, taking all traces of the last caretakers away.
The house has been here before, seen this packing process happen again and again.
It finds these periods unsettling, worries about the new caretakers, wonders if they will be as careful as these last ones. It hopes they are, it has felt safe, nurtured over the last 40 years and has in its’ own way tried to repay this, tried to provide a sanctuary, kept them warm and safe even on the coldest winter nights.
It knows that it will have no choice in who moves here next, but, it has its’ own ways. It can make itself colder, darker, a shade less welcoming to those it distrusts, those it fears will not understands its’ needs and so far, it has never been wrong.
So, now, it waits, hopes for the best and although the woman was scrupulous in her closing of windows and doors, there is a draft, a breeze, it ruffles the remaining curtains, the ones left only on the front windows, left to preserve the houses’ sense of modesty, of decency and from nowhere or somewhere very well hidden, one and two and three and four and five and six yellowing, brittle newspaper cuttings flutter in this breeze and find themselves new places to wait, new places where they will be discovered.
The house is content and awaits its’ new life.
The woman stands in the doorway, her hand is raised in a half wave, caught in mid movement, unsure if the correct response as the battered removal van pulls into the driveway.
The house clearance men have arrived and she is, by the skin of her teeth, ready for them, final cargo of boxes and bin liners delivered to the nearest charity shop only an hour ago. She feels their weight lift from her shoulders, feels lighter than she has done for days.
In the hallway, there is a neat stack of boxes, yet more black bags, it reminds her of her first move from this house, the shift to college and student living, a pile of books and posters and the items listed in the helpful University handbook as essential for 1st year student living and this, this pile, is the final move, the shift from daughter to, her tongue stumbles to connect to the correct, accurate word and then she finds it, orphan. Experimentally, she rolls the word around her mouth, orphan, it feels both familiar and completely strange at the same time.
“Orphan” this time she says it out loud as she walks toward the 2 men who have jumped out of the van and are heading towards the front door.
They are not quite what she expects, in her mind she had conjured up some Del Boy, wide boy character, so, their quiet offer of condolences wrong foot her, leave her speechless, biting her lip, the word orphan still bitter in her mouth, on her teeth.
She needs to get another taste, some sweetness, comfort
“Tea ?” she asks, expecting requests for sugar, biscuits, but they confound her again. The older man smiles, shakes her deadlocked head and asks if they can herbal tea and so they sit, 3 of them, an echo of every breakfast of her childhood, at the kitchen table and they sip peppermint tea from tea bags they have brought in from their van, while she sips over sugared coffee and is the only one to dip into the packet of biscuits.
She had hoped that they would be smokers, that she could, with a shame faced grimace, scrounge a fag, smoke it while they carry out the furniture that no-body has any need of to their van to be sold to strangers, but, seeing them now, in the flesh and not the scenario that she has invented, she knows that there will be no smokes, no re-tuning the radio to radio 1 and so, she stands up and the men follow suit and the younger one smiles and asks her if she has marked any special items that she wants to keep and then the older looks directly at her and suggests that she goes for a walk or a drive, gets away for a while and then looks her up and down and asks when she last ate and she realises that she is starving and so, gently chaperoned towards her car, she finds herself heading toward the shopping centre, in search of breakfast.
The coffee shop, generic chain, she is not even sure which one, is busy, coffee machine steaming, filling the space with the smell of warm milk. she joins the line, orders a cappuccino, an apricot Danish pastry and finds a table in the corner. The coffee is good, strong, hot and the sweetness of the cake wipes away the ashy taste this morning has left in her mouth. She looks around, most of the tables are full of people on their own, plugged into phones and gadgets, avoiding eye contact, fuelling up for a work a day work day. She wonders, just for a moment, what would happen if she stood up and said out loud
“I’m sitting here while 2 Buddhist removal men are taking away all my dead parents’ furniture and I’ve just realised that I’m an orphan”,
wonders if anyone would actually notice, take their eyes away from the screens for long enough to register what she has said, but instead, she stands up, return to the counter, orders another coffee and a pain au chocolat, takes a copy of the free newspaper and sits as the work day crowd ebb and flow and finally, when she is sure that she has allowed enough time, she leaves and drives very slowly, very carefully back to the house.
The men are standing in the garden, clearly waiting for her to return, but they greet her with smiles and walk her through the empty house, rooms echoing, marks in the carpets where wooden legs have rooted for so long. The house feels impersonal, just a space where people used to live, it is hard to imagine her parents here, harder even to imagine her life in this house.
The clearance men show her the packed van and then there is a moment of exquisite awkwardness and the older one digs into his jeans pocket and produces a wad of notes and hands them to her, she wonder s if she is meant to haggle, to count them out, instead she shoves them into her own pocket. They sit uncomfortably, digging into her hip bones and then the men are gone and she is left, standing in the garden, not really sure what to do next.
She is not quite sure how long she stands there, but suddenly realises that she is cold, very, very cold and she moves quickly into the house, understands that motion, constant motion si the only way to manage this, so grabs the first box, throws it into the boot and then the next and the next, until the car is packed, stuffed and she is panting, out of breath, warm, but alive, very alive.
She goes back into the sitting room to collect her bag, the last few items of clothing and crams them onto the passenger seat, goes back and checks doors, windows, locks, a parody of her mothers’ leaving the house routine and then she gets into her car and starts to reverse down the drive way, but stops, engine still running and digs into her bag, locates the note-book and places it carefully on the seat beside her, pats it with one finger, smiles and drives away.
She knows she is running out of steam, the writing is coming harder and harder, each word pulled sticking and protesting from her pen, the nib threatens to pierce holes in the fine cream paper of her special note-book, her writers notebook.
She wants to stop, unsure why she even started this, no longer getting any pleasure from this writing, each piece now is a knee jerk reaction to the newspaper clipping and she knows, in the terrible law of diminishing returns, that the writing is getting poorer and poorer, more perfunctory, but she cannot stop, needs to complete the project, although, of course, she can not complete a project when she doesn’t know the parameters, for all she knows there are hundreds, maybe thousands of newspaper cutting, hidden al over the house.
She looks around her parents’ bedroom again, looks at it as perspective purchasers will see it. A square, substantial room, painted a serviceable cream just after her mother died, just after her father started sleeping alone for the first time in over 40 years. The furniture is old, not antique, not quirky, just chosen to last, to be functional, comforting in its unchangingness.
She sits, perches really on her mothers’ special seat at the dressing table. she can remember her mothers’ quick glances into the mirror, her look of dissatisfaction, the sense that her relection, her appearance was a quiet let down, a disappointment, but that she contained her vanity, made sure that she didn’t give it too much house room, so only the smallest amount of time could ever be allocated to this daily checking, this daily evaluation.
She can feel herself drifting again, needs to remind herself that she has only until tomorrow morning and some time must be given to multiple charity shop drop off, she does not have time to wander down memory lane, to lose herself in childhood.
So, she grabs piles of cloths from the wardrobe, doesn’t even really look at them, becomes a machine, stuff into another of the growing mountain of black bags, move onto the next one and the next one and she knows that she is crying, but she doesn’t stop, not until she pulls out her fathers’ favourite scarf, a surprisingly luxurious item, soft wool, maybe even cashmere, warm muted colors, orange and brown and grey. She knows it was a Christmas present, given the first year she went away. She can remember the box it came in, the scarf itself wrapped in tissue paper and the way her mother wrapped it carefully, gently around his neck and the smile they exchanged and his mock horror at the extravagance and it suddenly hits her.
They had, her mum and dad, a happy marriage, short on demonstration, on declaration, but a little like this functional bedroom furniture, fit for purpose, designed for the long haul and she has stopped crying, is smiling instead, wrapping the scarf around her own neck, enjoying its’ softness. She will keep this she decides, will wear it on cold winter days, will wrap it with love around her own neck.
There are no mysteries, no hidden stories in this room, just the things that get left behind, the things that other people have to tidy away and so she does, occasionally adding something to the little pile of things that she will keep, will take home with her, will look at in days and months and years to come.
She knows now that she will never understand the newspaper clippings, will never know who or how or why, but it doesn’t really matter.
She stops for a break, makes a coffee and sits on her parents’ bed, such a bitter-sweet moment and wishes with a hunger that surprises her, that just once, she could have sat with them, sipped a drink, talked about the every day, but then she shrugs, imagines the look of horror and invasion that her fathers’ face would have held if she had ever tried to break into the tiny circle of intimacy that this bedroom, this bed, this closed door represented.
Instead, she flicks through the stories she has written over the last few, strange days,sees clumsy phrases, clunky paragraphs, unwieldy sentences, but also tiny bits that please her,that make her want to go home right now and sit at her little scrubbed wood desk and write and re-write all of these stories into something better.
She understands that this is not finished, that this gift of other people’s’ narratives, wherever it came from, is just a starting point and she smiles, looks at her reflection smiling in the bedroom mirror and then she finishes her coffee and starts dragging the bin bag mountain down the stairs and towards the front door.
The Next Narrative -” I paint your pain and feel it for you”
The process of painting a portrait of a being that can actually answer back has some novelty at first. She moves around him, looking at angles, shapes, how his body fits together. The absence of fur or hair or feathers is a little dis concerting until she gets her eyes in, learn to see form under skin.
He doesn’t actually speak much, there is a strange intensity to his gaze on her, almost as if the roles have been reversed, as if it is him painting her, his eyes dart between her eyes and her hands and sometimes he leans back, shift his weight and sighs with pleasure.
The painting stutters on, her hands hurt, her head hurts, she has trouble seeing straight and she is trying to not see the changes in him, trying not to see his back straighten, his hands unfurl, the lines etched on his face relax, slip away.
Somehow, whatever she has done with the pets, is much more marked in him, harder to ignore, because, deep down, she knows his interest is not in her, not in the art, not even in his own portrait, he has purchased not her skill with paint, but the miracle, the promise and delivery of new life, pain-free and rejuvenated.
When they finally part, he is upright, skin taut on his face, handshake firm, whist she, she is exhausted, hardly able to stand, hands shaking, lips moving constantly as she tries to remember everything she wants to say to him.
But once she is free, away from the canvas, away from him, it is another miracle
She stretches up, feels her back move freely, her shoulders unstiffen and she stands for a moment, enjoys the feeling of the sun against her strong young body and then she sits down on a bench and thinks very carefully and very deliberately about what has happened and what she needs to do next.
Her thinking surprises her, she was not aware of this steel at her core, did not know that she could be so business like, so pragmatic about this gift, so focussed on her own ambition, but she shrugs, maybe after all, she is no better than the concecptualist boys, always looking for the thing that will set them apart, make their names.
She walks home, towards her comfortable garden flat, mind already turning to that glass of wine, her own cats on her lap, the daily cigarette and the smoking ritual that goes along with it.
She knows what she should do, princesses, fairies, good angels have a clear career path in the stories. She should offer her gift up the greater good, relieve suffering, help the lame and poor, make happy endings,
“Bugger that” she says, almost aloud and before she can think about it too hard, she has dived into a newsagent and bought an extravagant 20 cigarettes and a new lighter and is walking down the street, smoking in public, even blowing a defiant and perfect smoke ring.
Later at home, she makes more plans, she will need an agent, a gallery, but with great discretion, the story always only half told, only half understood and she will choose the subjects and they will pay her a great deal of money, but more importantly, they will hang her paintings, her life-like accurate representations in every major gallery in the world.
She will change the course of art history, just her, alone.
People will learn to paint again and she will be the most famous artist in the world.
But, of course, you know all of this, well, the last bit , the bit about the saviour of the art world and all that , you must know, after all how many days have you stood in line waiting to see the collected works of the worlds’ greatest living artist and yes, I can see your clutching your ticket, after all its worth a huge prize, a life changing prize, you chance to have your portrait painted by the mistress, if god willing, her health holds out for long enough. Continue reading
The Next Narrative -” I paint your pain and feel it for you”
One upon a time, there was a sin eater, well not quite a sin eater, this girl was a pain eater, she could take your pain and feel it for you and leave you light and joyous and free of all the pain that weighed you down.
Of course, she didn’t know, not at first, that she was a pain eater. She thought that she would be a great artist, a portrait artist and that she would travel the world, painting the rich and famous and would by degree become rich and famous herself.
At art school, staff and students found her ambitions remarkably old-fashioned. They didn’t understand art that had no concept, art that couldn’t be assembled from ready mades, they mocked her lack of digital involvement, her paint spattered jeans, her lack of Saatchi sponsorship.
Sometimes they would stand at the door way to her little work area at the unfashionable end of the college, dangerously close to the illustrators and the graphic designers and watch her, yield paint and brushes, produce images that looked exactly like the objects in front of her easel.
“But, what’s it for?” they asked ” Whats’ the point of painting things that look exactly like real life?”
Sometimes, she tried to explain, tried to share the joy and mystery of manipulating tone and shade and color, but mostly she just ducked her head and went back to painting her fruit bowls and kittens and her own hands and feet.
Some of the young men and not so young tutors saw beyond this tragic affection for the life-like, they noticed her raven dark hair, her snow-white skin, her rosebud lips. They liked to watch her work, often found that afterwards, walking home, late at night, they felt somehow lighter, better. Sometimes, they wondered about trying painting themselves, but in the harsh light of day, in seminar rooms where they listened to lectures on the marketing of art, the hype of the self, they shook their heads and applied themselves to the getting of an agent and a cover on The Face magazine.
She didn’t attend these seminars, floated instead from her tiny attic room to her painting room, ignored the awkward silences when tutors faced with a perfect rendition of a hand or a pewter jar, had nothing to say and simply smiled when other students invited her to take part in digital installation pieces or community projects on dingy east London estates.
She graduated, mostly because no-body could find any real reason to not award her a degree, her final degree show, medium sized canvases, portraits of the cleaners and canteen staff form around the college gained a sort of notoriety, the only show that year not bought up in its entirety by the Saatchi gallery. The cleaners, however liked the paintings, offered her small sums of money and hung the pictures above their fire places, next to their flat screen TVs and she went out into the big bad art world.
And she struggled, the people who liked her paintings were not the kind of people who bought art and finally, she was reduced to painting pet portraits, it was an art form where accuracy, realism was all important and she discovered that people who would never buy a painting of themselves, were, oddly, more than happy to hand over their hard-won cash for a pencil sketch of their pug, their horse rendered in acrylic, even , but not often enough, a full size oil of the cats.
However, she might never have found her gift, the gift of pain eating, if it hadn’t been for Mctavish.
Mctavish was a cat, an elderly, ailing cat, whose owner wanted more than the usual pet portrait deal, wanted the artist to meet the cat, spend time with him, understand his intrinsic cat being. So, unusually, the artist came to draw the cat from life, came to produce a proper portrait.
Mctaivish, sat on a cushion, eyes clouded from pained joints, fur thinning, he was usually still and silent, almost a perfect portrait sitter and while his owner fussed in the background, the young artist painted him, carefully, accurately, using all her skill with paints and light and shade and something miraculous happened.
As the portrait developed, from rough pencil sketches to tentative brush strokes, the real life Mctavish began to blossom, his fur regained its gloss, eyes brightened and on the very last day of painting, suddenly he stretched to his full length and leapt with one fluid, elegant movement from the sofa where he had lain for so long, onto a book-case, up the curtains and then out of the cat flap and onto the dewy grass of the garden, where he stood, statue still for a moment before pouncing on a unspecting blackbird and then dragging his victim into the thicket of blackcurrant bushes at the bottom of the garden.
After that, pet portrait commissions came in thick and fast and always the same outcome, an ancient horse turning away from the artist and her easel and cantering across a field, kicking his heels in the delight of movement, a dog re-discovering the pleasure of fetch and sticks and rubber balls.
The word went round, the young artist could not only produce a life-like painting, the kind of thing that made a pleasant addition to any sitting room, but the very process of portraiture would give your pet many more years of health and happiness.
She tried to ignore all of this, tried too to ignore the occasional ache in her hips, the sight that sometimes, just for a few moments would blur, become cloudy. She focussed on her paints, her brushstrokes, her need to paint exactly what she could see.
She became an extremely skilled animal portrait maker, a journey man artist and made a good, even excellent living and felt that she could be happy.
And then, one day, the inevitable happened.
She received a phone call, a well-known captain of industry, a great and gooder, but now elderly, frail, failing, asked her, no, summoned ,her to paint his portrait.
( to be continued)