Underpainting Underpainting is the technique of painting multiple thin coats of paint before painting the final layer
A novel by Tim Diggles
This novel was begun in 1993 and completed in 2007 Visit Tim Diggles’ blog at http://timdiggles.wordpress.com/ Underpainting © 2014 by Tim Diggles. All rights reserved. Cover designed by Tim Diggles Underpainting is a work of fiction. Where real people, events, establishments, organisations, or locales appear, they are used fictitiously. All other elements of the novel are drawn from the author’s imagination.
1. 1990 Peter switched on the strip lights which slowly took hold of the darkness, the last one flickering into full throttle by the time he and Marianne were half way down the long studio. Marianne could smell the expensive paints. When Peter and Marianne argued, which wasn’t often, she told him he was more interested in the paints than in what he painted. Not true, but it caught a nerve. Peter bought paint from Osborne’s in Covent Garden, Marianne went to B&Q. The studio was part of a former railway warehouse in Longhill, divided into artists’ studios, Peter had one of the largest spaces, he had enough money nowadays. At one end was a large window overlooking the orange glow of the railway yards, rain was streaming down the glass breaking up the dirt into maps of river deltas. The left hand wall was mainly taken up with a long workbench which Peter had found in the basement. Above it were shelves neatly set out with tins of oil paint, bottles of turpentine and linseed oil, racks of spatulas and brushes, pots full of pencils, chalks and pastels. Some said it looked like a shop. There was an old radio covered in multi coloured finger marks and stuck forever on Radio 4, and a kettle which had once been white plastic but was now a burnt brown colour. Near the door there was a thick roll of expensive canvas and a stack of wood for stretchers. It was orderly, Peter paid students from the college to make sure of that. Marianne’s much smaller studio was a tip, but her own tip and she hadn’t visited Peter’s studio for ages, and even though they’d been together for more than twenty years. She’d forgotten how methodical he was, very different than at home. At one end of the room were two racks which Marianne and Peter had constructed together about twelve years previously, when he first moved in. One to store completed paintings, the other for ongoing work. These were supposedly to share but were full of Peter’s work. On the right hand wall were hung large pieces of hand made paper, covered in preparatory drawings. Marianne stopped to look at them. The hard green strip lights made the thick charcoal shine. She always liked these, ‘sharp
Underpainting images...’, but they never appeared outside the studio, and usually Peter would destroy them when a painting was finished. They were accurate in the extreme often focusing on a tiny section of the completed picture, a stone, a clump of grass, a broken bottle. “Help me out with this Mari will you?” Peter was standing beside a large canvas. Her hands caught the wet oil paint at the edge. “Careful!” he snapped. “You should use acrylics like George” she retorted. They carried the picture to ‘the stage’, as Peter called it, in front of the window. A couple of years ago he’d bought some theatre lights from a school and set them up so he could always work in the same light, it cost him a fortune replacing bulbs, but he liked to see his work in a constant rather than natural light. They set the canvas on two heavy Victorian easels and made sure it was secure. Peter closed the large black out blinds to get rid of the orange glow. The painting looked dark and dull. He lit up the stage and the colours burst into life. “It’s finished”, Peter said, with some pride. He was never satisfied with his work and found it hard to finish, but there always came a time when no more could be achieved, that was the completion. He picked up the kettle and went out to the communal kitchen to get water. Marianne studied the canvas. The painting was crisp and confident, lines sharp and assured. To the left there was a vast block of black paint scraped away from under painting of shapes in greens and reds. The centre was taken up with a pool of cold light in tones of blue and white. Was that a lamp post rising above, or an arm, or a knife? She couldn’t tell. A deep red pool of paint hovered underneath. To the right was set of images, broken up, a wall with posters? No. A house open like a dolls house? No. She moved closer, looked carefully. ‘Claustrophobic’ she thought. Peter’s paintings evoked the spirit of a place, they picked up the essence rather than topographical details in blocks of colour, unrelated lines, disharmonious shapes. But they were that place, when you knew where it was it never again felt as real as in his paintings. Peter returned with the kettle and a couple of chipped mugs. “Herb or Typhoo?” “Peter?”, she only used his full name when annoyed or needing to be matter of fact. He looked up as he switched the kettle on. “Peter where is he? I thought he wanted some sort of portrait, isn’t that what he’s paid you for?” “Oh... he didn’t really mean it, he knows I’m no portrait painter, you should know that”. “Peter... look, you stood there making out as if you knew it all... smarming about…” “That was the drink... he’ll know that, he’s seen my work before” Peter cut
“No Peter he won’t... you stood there telling him about how Renaissance princes would go out and burn down a city, steal cattle, screw the peasants, then pay Fra Angelico or whoever to put them on the right hand of God. I heard you, he loved it”. “What does he know anyway... he’ll love it, it’s where he grew up, where he started, he’ll know this place as soon as he sees it... it’ll go up in a fancy office and his new friends will be green with envy, they’ll all want one”, he ended quite emphatically. “Peter, he wanted to be seen in it” Marianne said very definitely. “Perhaps he is” She turned and looked at the drawings on the wall. There were details of mud pools, some grass, a gate, a brick, a boot, no person. “You never intended to put him in did you?” Peter looked like a naughty boy in front of a headmistress. “And you know where he gets his money, he won’t like it and he’s nasty, it’s all a front... you know that... and he’s paid you... and you know you’ve screwed him”. They stood in silence staring intently in the midnight silence at the picture, the central pool of light grew brighter, the colours around deepened, the red pool of paint like dark red blood, the studio seemed miles away. They jumped as the kettle made a noise like a door buzzer.
2 The sky was opaque, not sure whether to rain or just block out the sun all day. Peter looked out from the stuffy staff room window at the 9.18 train to London slowly winding its way into the station. He told himself he would be on that tomorrow morning and felt quite pleased to be going down, even though he had to meet Henry, his agent at Dover Passage Gallery, for lunch. He remembered that in all the fuss last night he’d forgotten to list what paints and brushes he required from Osborne’s, he’d get Tom to do it, he had a tutorial with him later. His mind moved on to the tutorials that morning, Rachel was first on his list, ‘Shit’, he said aloud, and thought ‘Mari won’t be here to help’. She had gone to her Mothers’ for one of her infrequent visits and Peter knew she’d be in a foul mood when she got back, especially as he wouldn’t be there, it was his night out with Bill. Marianne did some part-time teaching on the Foundation Course and often came in when Peter had tutorials, many of the students seemed to prefer her, he thought they felt she was more interested, ‘perhaps she is’ said Peter to himself, as he watched a huge goods train amble northwards. He looked at his list again, Rachel, then Tom, then Alan, then lunch. “What a shitty day eh, Pete? Talking to the birds again?” Peter didn’t turn round, he knew only too well the loud voice of Bill. “Morning Bill”. They stood together surveying the day, Bill looked down at a knot of young women students arriving. “’Think of football’… eh Peter, ‘Think of football’” Bill laughed at the quote and its relevance. Peter and Bill had started at the college on the same day, Peter as a parttime painting tutor, Bill lecturing in the History of Art. When they embarked upon their careers it was still an Art School, with over a hundred years of tradition, and housed in its original Victorian home with high windows, dark corners, discarded classical casts in the life studio. In the late 70’s it had been absorbed into an Institute of Higher Education which had now changed it’s name to The North Midlands University, moving the Art Department to brand new lifeless premises in 1984 which they nicknamed ‘The Fire Station’. Bill had been vocal against every change, a thorn in the administrators sides.
Underpainting Peter supported it feeling, perhaps wrongly, that the changes would offer a greater educational opportunity for the students. He thought ‘...why shouldn’t science and arts students work together?’, thinking of the new ideas that could happen. But every move for mixed courses was blocked by difficulties with faculty heads, demarcation lines for technicians, timetables. Bill and Peter were now Senior Lecturers with contracts for life, unless they did something horrendous, and Bill had been very close to it. Bill often said that whenever he saw one of the grey suited blue striped administrators, he had the uneasy feeling they were dissecting him into dozens of part-time short-term tutors. Only two months previously Peter had to attend a meeting in the Dean’s office to support Bill after some students and parents had complained at Bill being drunk at a lecture, his language, and the treatment of them. Afterwards they’d got drunk together. The trouble was Bill wouldn’t compromise, he’d provoke the students by calling them middle class Sunday painters... who’d had it too easy and would go running back home to mummy and daddy when they’d got their precious degree, etc. Too close to the truth for many. Peter remembered how Bill had supported him when he’d stood out against the then Head of Department, when they hadn’t short-listed any women for three lecturer posts. Peter demonstrated outside the College with hundreds of students, caused embarrassment by appearing on local TV and radio. That seemed a long time ago now, and luckily attitudes had, on the surface at least, changed. Peter was now the University’s ‘star turn’. The Head of Faculty had the Sunday Times Magazine article about him framed on his wall; the Dean had bought one of his pictures for the ‘University Collection’ and it hung in the Committee Room; the Director of Marketing featured him in the University prospectus. All this since he had sold four paintings; one to the Tate, one to the Museum of Modern Art in Phoenix and two to a new collection in Tokyo, following his belated success in the New British Painting show at The Royal Academy. Before that he’d never been noticed, it had even been mentioned that Painting would have to merge with Printing and Sculpture, and at least three lecturers axed, perhaps he’d be one. Nowadays he was asked to all the special events, his department expanded, visitors always brought and introduced to him, and the Dean had even offered him a studio at the University, which he declined. “Bill, what do you know about Frank Butter?” Peter could smell stale scotch on Bill’s breath. “That bastard. I’ve got a slide I use for Media Studies of the Sun’s front page, nineteen eighty five or eighty six I think, anyway height of Thatcherism. You remember, after he’d sent in his heavies in with earth movers to get rid of squatters from houses in the way of a development he was into, filled now
Underpainting with yuppies with negative equity and piles. A squatter died, but no one was charged. The Sun had a huge title ‘Serves you right’. Got away with it, gone a bit quiet now, loads of grey suits and old school ties front things, but he’s still there, pulling strings, buying and selling. Why you asking, he going to get an honorary degree or something? Wouldn’t put it past them. They need a new admin block don’t they? Comes from your way doesn’t he?” “Yes”, Peter knew very well he did and heard Bill start on and on about the evils of developers in the Thatcher years and their similarity with the Dutch entrepreneurs who paid Rembrandt to paint them, usual stuff which he churned out to Second Years each Autumn. “Got to go Bill, see you later, are you at the Lamb tonight?” Peter was ten minutes late for Rachel’s tutorial. She had a space in ‘The Fire Station’, a soulless modern factory space, partitioned into small cubicles each one holding a student, from above it would have looked like a beehive. Every year they had to make the spaces smaller as more students were admitted. When Peter arrived Rachel was making tea in the corner of her ‘block’. “Sorry I’m late Rachel”. “Tea Peter?” “No thanks” he walked over to look at some drawings in a folder. “Mind if I look?” Rachel waived a hand in a gesture saying “OK” as she poured boiling water on a herbal tea bag. As Peter looked through he could judge just how good Rachel was, she drew people, mainly in life classes, with far more assurance than he could ever reach. He already knew they’d give her a First at the end of all this. The handling of the Conte was superb, the lines and folds of flesh, with subtle variations of light and the ability to convey character. She was good. “Marianne not coming?” “No, she’s visiting her Mother”. Peter walked over to a large half finished painting flat on the floor, surrounded by newspapers and pots of paint. This was when he wished Marianne were there. Rachel’s used her drawings to make very graphic images of what could be interpreted as rape and violent sexual intercourse. Body parts, uniforms, seaside ephemera, shafts of light and dark; her paintings were bleak, cruel, and threatening. ‘What can I say?’ Peter thought, he knew he had to say something constructive, but he felt what he’d say would be inane and fatuous, the paintings came from deep inside, his comments from the surface. ‘Bill loves them’ he thought. Every year at least one student would become obsessive, they’d even had to have areas of degree shows cordoned off for fear of adverse public reaction, but these were different, certainly not the usual obsessions. Peter
Underpainting sensed Rachel would move on from these when she’d got whatever it was out of her system, using her abilities to produce some fine work, ‘but if I say that she’ll think I’m being facetious’. They stood silent, surveying the work on the floor of the cubicle. Peter felt tall next to Rachel’s dark petite-ness. The string from her tea bag swung from side to side like a pendulum. “Did Veronica come to see you about that multi media course?” “Yes, I didn’t know whether I’d have time, but it looked good”. “I know you’re in the third year and normally we wouldn’t organise these things, but it isn’t often we can get into the Media department. I thought it may help”. Peter thanked God for finding something to talk about, and they chatted happily for twenty minutes about scanners, photo manipulation, sound, the possibility in the future of exhibitions to a world-wide unseen audience, until it was time for Peter to see Tom. As he walked into Tom’s cubicle Peter knew Tom would get a Two/Two and go on to make a perfectly good art teacher in a school. He ‘smacked his wrist’ for being nasty about school teachers. ‘I must remember to ask Tom to go to the studio and make that list before I go’. Peter stood before a canvas covered in a solid mass of paint that to Tom meant something.
3 Marianne parked outside her mother’s neat red and yellow brick terraced house. It had been a hell of a journey, 90 miles of morning traffic, horrendous road works and to cap it all, the car was playing up. She’d driven non-stop to make sure she’d get there when she’d promised to. She felt stiff and tired. As she undid her seat belt Marianne looked towards the house and knew her mother was out. Mrs. Rogers the next door neighbour was watching her, she’d always done so and probably always would do. Marianne waved at her and Mrs. Rogers quickly dusted the top of the window. “Nosy old cow” she said, remembering the time when she was fourteen and Mrs. Rogers had delighted in telling her mother about seeing Ray Picket kissing and fondling her in a bus shelter. “Your dad would never have allowed it, showing us up, he’d have sorted you out”, her mother had gone on and on and on. Marianne got out, and went through a white wooden gate into the small front garden. Every plant was perfectly in its place, each grain of soil looked polished, she stood for a second willing a weed to break through and bring some life to the scene. Marianne looked at the new plastic windows that Colin (“so kind of him, so kind”) had paid for, white and gleaming, the original coloured glass lost forever, or for sale in a Bath antique shop. Marianne rang the door bell, Westminster Chimes, but knew her mother was not in. She could feel Mrs. Rogers’ eyes watching her. She used her key to open the door. Within ten seconds all hell was let loose. “Damn Colin, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him!” Marianne shouted. She ran around looking for the burglar alarm control. In the kitchen next to the back door a brand new white plastic box with a keypad was fixed to the wall and a tiny red flashing light was telling her it was active. “I know it’s bloody active, for God’s sake! Why on earth didn’t you tell me mother!” She pressed numbers, any! She looked in kitchen drawers, in the front room cabinet, under the plant pots, “she must keep the number somewhere... she’d never remember”, she muttered. The bell was a deafening, constant. Mrs. Rogers was already outside in her back garden as Marianne unlocked
Underpainting the back door and went outside. “Mrs. Rogers do you know where mum is?” “Coffee morning she said, for the new hall, said you were coming and you wouldn’t mind. Noisy isn’t it, Colin got it fitted the other day, good of him wasn’t it, so many burglaries” Marianne turned and went inside ‘God with her around who needs fucking alarms’ she thought. She tried more numbers, her birthday, her mothers, Colin’s, Colin’s children, Colin’s Shirley even Peter’s, though her Mother always seemed to forget that one. Marianne gave up and started to make a cup of coffee. Some dark brown granules spilt on the gleaming surface, and when she poured the water they spread in an oily looking mess. Marianne wiped the surface, picked up the mug and walked to the front room to look out for her mother. Should she go and pick her up? ‘She’s probably on the way home already’ she thought. The alarm continued ringing. The front room was immaculate. Rose patterned wallpaper and magnolia paint, spotless in every corner, every surface even the invisible ones. Under the window was a table covered with framed photographs: a black and white one of her parents wedding day; one of Dad, who’d died when she was five, in his fireman’s uniform, and she knew that behind the photo was a browning cutting from the Argus about his bravery, how he’d saved four people before being engulfed in flames; her mother in a nurses’ uniform with two other nurses; Colin in school uniform aged seven, then aged nine on holiday at Butlin’s with a Redcoat, then aged seventeen in his first suit, then on his wedding day with Shirley, then with Shirley and baby in a studio, then with Shirley and second baby a couple of years later. There were countless photographs Marianne’s niece and nephew, Marjorie and Ray “so nice to call them after your Dad and I”, (one day Marianne would scream when her mother said that): as babies, in knitted cardigans, in school photographs, in nativity plays; on holiday with Gran and a strange one at Dad’s memorial plaque at the old fire station before they pulled it down. Of Marianne there was a school photo of her aged ten, uniform a bit tight and one from when she was at art college in 1967. The photo of Peter and Marianne in Greece seven years ago shared a frame with a photograph of her mother’s best friend Winnie Blackley, ‘he’s put on a bit of weight’ thought Marianne. She knew that her mother had had a hard time after Dad died. Marrianne was only six, and Colin two when it happened. She vaguely remembered the mayor coming apologetically to the house with £289/7/6d collected in the town, in recognition of Dad’s bravery, a lot of money for 1953 she thought.
Underpainting Mum put it in the bank and never touched it, ‘for my grandchildren’ she said. Mum had returned to nursing and Marianne spent many long days and nights looking after Colin. She only remembered Dad as a tall dark figure who once smelt of burnt rubber and Mum shouting at him to make sure he was clean before he came in. They’d only been married eight years when he’d died, ‘God’ Marianne thought, ‘Peter and I have been together more than three times that’. Marianne was good at school, bigger than most of the rest of the girls, and could always draw and paint well. Colin had to work hard. “Your Dad would have liked you to be a teacher”, Mum had said when they’d argued about Marianne going to Art School. She went though, and never really came home again, it was the late 1960’s when students went on strike, great issues were debated, an exciting time. “But what are you going to do, women don’t become artists” Mum had said. At 15 Colin went to the local Technical College then joined the council as an office assistant in the housing department. He’d worked hard and got his exams. At 24 he married one of the secretaries, Shirley, and they now had a steady business setting up loans, selling house insurance and mortgages. Marianne had to admit that he was very good to Mum (“Your Dad would have been proud of him..”.), far better than she was. He visited or rang Mum every day, took her on holiday, paid for all sorts of things, had even offered her a granny flat in their new house in Silverhills Park. In the photographs they were the perfect family. Marianne visited her mother when she could, which was not often, her mother disapproved of Peter because they weren’t married, that didn’t seem right to her, “You will when little ones come along”, and Marianne would reply “Why?”. Someone knocked at the front door, which jolted Marianne out of her thoughts, the incessant bell was like some ancient torture. Marianne saw a police car outside and at the door was a Policeman, who looked about the age of most of her students. “That yours?” he said looking up at the red box that Marianne had failed to notice. “No, this is my mother’s house, I don’t know the combination” ‘Should I say it took you long enough’ Marianne thought, about twenty minutes had elapsed, but didn’t. “Have you got any identification?” “What? Look, my mother was out when I arrived and I didn’t know my brother had had this damn thing fitted, so I’m waiting for her, she won’t be long”. He looked at her, and she motioned for him to come in. They went to the 10
Underpainting kitchen to look at the control box. “Do you know the code number?” he asked. Marianne looked at him annoyed and he realised what he’d said. “They don’t tell us you know, we get an automatic phone call from a central office, half my day can be spent chasing around after these things”. He tried some combinations of numbers. The bell still rang. “Want a coffee?” “No thanks”. The front door opened and they looked round to see Marianne’s Mother coming in. “Hello Mary” she kissed her cheek, she was the only person who called her Mary now, “such a noise. I was leaving it as a surprise for you when you came, so kind of Colin wasn’t it. I didn’t think you’d be so early, you’re usually late”, Marianne tried to defend herself. Her mother turned to the policeman “Oh and what trouble it’s caused you, I’m so sorry to have taken your time up”. She went to the keypad and slowly pressed 1,2,3,4,5. The policeman left after Marianne had signed a form. When she returned to the kitchen her mother was cleaning the kitchen surface of the coffee Marianne had already cleaned up. “Looks like we live in a slum” she said pointedly as she polished. When all signs of coffee were gone she went to the refrigerator and took out two carefully prepared salads. She always made cheese salad for Marianne who was vegetarian, as she really didn’t know what else to give her. She’d made a ham salad for herself. “Winnie said you’d be here but I said you wouldn’t mind. We made 26 pounds and 86 pence”. “That was good, how much more to go?” “I said you’d come and talk about water-colour painting to the Friday afternoon group when you can find time”. “Oh Mum, Friday’s not a good day, you know that”. “But you only work part time”, and very precisely, “you know when I was at St. John’s I worked 52 hours at least each week, I still found time for you and Colin”. ‘No you didn’t’ Marianne thought but didn’t say it aloud. The effect was blackmail and guilt rolled into one, which always worked. “I really don’t know much about water-colours, Peter would be much better”. “You teach at an art school, you did all those years at college, surely an afternoon with a few old ladies is not beyond you or beneath you now”. They remained silent for the remainder of the salad. Over a cup of strong tea and Battenburg silence was broken. “Colin’s picking me up at two thirty, Marjorie is singing in a concert at 11
Underpainting school and wants me to be there. Like to come?” “I don’t think so, I was hoping we could have a chat, go for a walk by the river”. “What have we got to talk about? I said you wouldn’t want to go, I told him you weren’t coming for a proper visit, just one of your flits in and out, I suppose there’s someone else to see”. “No I came to see you”. “All that way, doesn’t seem worth it really”. By 3.30 Marianne was stuck in another set of road works. Inside she shouted and screamed and knew her mother shouldn’t get her like this, but she always did and always would do. She stared at the back of a vast white refrigerator truck that pumped diesel fumes into her car. Her back and left leg ached, the radio was almost unintelligible from the trucks interference. “How on earth did I agree to talk about water-colours, I hate water-colours, I’ve never even painted in water-colours, what on earth was Mum thinking about, and Fridays, she knows I go to the studio on Friday”, she talked on and on to herself in short punchy sentences, annoyed she’d given in, “…and I bet Peter’s out with Bill tonight”. As she waited for the temporary lights to change she pondered Bill and Angela’s family life. Was it happier than hers? Five children, Elizabeth, Philip, Charles, Anne and Diana, ‘The Royal Family’ as Bill called them, Elizabeth was seventeen and Diana eighteen months old. And how did Angela cope with all those kids? Bill half drunk most of the time and all those silly affairs. Still Angela gave as good as she got. “And I bet Bill gets Peter drunk!” Marianne watched a large dark blue BMW slowly pushing in from the outside lane, its red faced driver speaking importantly into a mobile phone reading off a document propped on his steering wheel. She made a very vulgar gesture towards him which made him almost run into the white truck. She felt better for that.
4 Peter sat in a crowded carriage on the nine eighteen train to Euston. He was penned in by a Swedish student who appeared to be carrying most of Sweden in his backpack, and two salesmen who from their conversation and regular phone calls he thought must be in electronics of some sort. Peter looked at the crossword in his paper, he’d done one clue, which he thought was wrong, and had a pain across his forehead due to being out with Bill the night before; then when he got home suffered three hours of Marianne in torment over her Mother. He couldn’t believe that he’d promised to give a talk on water-colour painting, but it had calmed her down and by 3a.m. they’d eventually got to sleep. He felt uncomfortable. “Damn” said Peter quite loudly, as he realised he’d forgotten to phone Clare, which stopped a seemingly endless conversation one of the salesmen was having down his phone. He went to the buffet car, ordered a tea and a sickly carrot cake, and decided to eat it standing at the small shelf bar covered with coffee and tea rings. He looked at the few coins he’d got as change from the five pound note and thought how shocked his mother would be. He took a sip of the scalding tasteless tea and watched the familiar landscape go by. The canal basin was coming up so less than an hour to go. He knew Henry wouldn’t have put up with this. He’d have gone first class, been served breakfast, he wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Peter could afford to, but something about the words ‘first class’ rankled him. ‘Inverted snobbery’ he thought, ‘I’d have been more relaxed, but I’d have felt guilty’. He remembered the time he invited his mother to go and see his paintings in London; he’d sent her the money for a train ticket; she’d come by bus and brought enough sandwiches to last her for the day. He’d planned to take her to a restaurant where Henry had taken him, but they ended up eating bacon and egg sandwiches on a seat outside the Festival Hall overlooking the Thames, and had to admit that they tasted better than what Bumbles, or whatever it was called, would have offered. “...Don’t want to be spending London prices on food you can make yourself..”. she’d said. Peter knew he was like his mother, however hard he tried not to be. He 13
Underpainting felt ill at ease travelling round in taxis, couldn’t think of spending fortunes on clothes, was careful with his money, the legacy of being brought up with just enough to get by. He still couldn’t believe that people paid thousands of pounds for his work, which meant he was now reasonably well off and all from his own efforts. That pleased him. His father had said that art was a dead end, for ‘nancy boys’, technical drawing was the key, there would always jobs for draughtsmen. He looked out as the train sped past the Ovaltine factory. Peter’s father had worked shifts in a steel works for 38 years, a small cog in a huge continuous production. His finger nails never got clean and he smoked heavily to annul the smell of the coke. He’d dreamt that a son of his would be one of those who didn’t have to go to work until 8.30, who sat in their own canteen, didn’t get dirty, could wear a white shirt and a suit. He said it’s what he’d gone through the war for, what he never had himself. But from the age of six Peter knew what he wanted, to be an artist, but to be on the safe side he always said he’d be an art teacher. Through the hell of a secondary modern school where unambitious staff told him to look for a job in an art shop, he retained his dream. He had to hide his ambition for fear of the bullies, and kept secret from his dad the times his mother took him to see pictures in the town’s pitiful art gallery. Then like a new awakening Peter went to art school, 15 years old, with the smell of the oil paint, pastels and gouache blasted his senses, his longing to move on. Wembley Stadium shot by in the distance and Peter made his way back to his seat. Osborne’s sat in the middle of Covent Garden like something left over from another age. The shop window had a few old brushes placed in a pot, dusty corners and a board painted a peculiar mix of olive and emerald green. Either side were the shops of the new Covent Garden. To the right a designer jeweller, with small beautifully coloured earrings tastefully set on simple glass shelves. No prices. To the left was a shop selling Japanese household goods at exorbitant prices, ‘Probably where Henry buys his toilet rolls’ Peter thought, and went in to Osborne’s. He handed over his list and spent time chatting about the new spatulas they’d had specially made, he added six to the order, though he never really used them. He asked about water-colours. The assistant produced from under the dark counter a beautifully polished wooden box, filled with a whole spectrum of individually wrapped cakes of paint set in white china pans. The box cost £495; Peter took a sharp intake of breath and bought it. He left with it wrapped in brown paper under his arm. The oil paints, brushes, spatulas and 14
Underpainting canvas would be delivered. Doodles was bright and sparse, white walls without any decoration, the tables - dark wood with gleaming white linen, the chairs - plain, the floor - scrubbed wood. It felt like a dressed up butchers shop. Peter was early and sat drinking a long glass of orange juice. Henry was due at one o’clock but as always he’d be late. Everyone at the tables was smart. The effect reminded him of the Degas painting of the Cotton Exchange in New Orleans. He felt out of place; the only male without a tie, without a suit. Henry was 10 minutes late. Henry looked exactly what he was, someone who could make deals, be assured when ordering food and without guilt when taking his percentage from the sale of your work. He was certainly younger than Peter, but he couldn’t tell how much. “How good to see you Peter... I see you’ve been to Osborne’s” looking at the brown paper package. “Water-colour paints” “A new departure?” “Not really.... a whim” “Good” Henry sat down and immediately picked up the long narrow menu, he already knew what to order but it was habit. “Have you chosen?” Peter had looked at the menu. It was mainly offal, expensively packaged, a bit like school dinners with a posh sauce. “No... any suggestions?” “I’m having the brains with shallots in a mascarpone sauce, and some of these” Henry pointed at one of the items which Peter didn’t really fancy. “I’ll have the lamb chops” Henry ordered lunch and a suitable Chilean wine. “I’ve been sorting some things out for you Peter. We’ve almost finalised that show in Tokyo. You and two others from the Gallery, The Contemporary English Landscape, follow up on those sales we had after the Academy. Also, Felix Blucher of Euro Contemporary Dance contacted me, saw your painting in the Tate and wants a large backdrop for a new production, opening in Sadler’s Wells. Looks a good opportunity if you want it?” “I’ve never worked for theatre... never thought of it” “It would get great exposure for you” “My work, you know, it’s about places... what’s the subject?” They’d had an argument last time they met after Henry had said that some large company wanted to buy some pieces to fit in with their décor, and could Peter do them. Peter did not want that sort of work and threatened to break 15
Underpainting off with the Gallery if they thought he did. Henry was able to calm him. “It’s commissioned, something about unemployment... sounds grim but could be good... they’ve got good sponsors, software company”. “I’ll think about it, when do they need to know?” Peter asked. “I’ll ring you, set up a meeting. You know it really would be better if you were down here, so many good contacts... but I know I can’t persuade you” They’d had this discussion before. Henry couldn’t understand why Peter wouldn’t move to London, leave the college, do more painting. Peter always explained how much he believed in teaching, the stimulus the students gave him, about how they couldn’t afford a studio and certainly not a house in London. What he always failed to say but both he and Henry knew, was that being at the University was a safety net, he knew where he was. Peter was also unsure whether he could sustain more than two paintings a year. The food came and they gossiped about people they knew, about exhibitions, about the Gallery, about where some of Peter’s pictures now hung. When they’d finished eating Peter knew he better tell Henry about Frank Butter. “Henry, I have a confession. I’ve been doing a commission that I sorted out myself, of course I’ll make sure you get your commission, I know about the contract” Henry looked quite surprised. “Who is it for?” “Frank Butter” “I didn’t know he collected” “I don’t think he does” Henry wrote a note in a little leather note pad with a deep azure blue Mont Blanc Mozart pen he always carried. Presents from his partner. “Do you want us to deal with anything? How on earth did you get him... he really is a bit of an outsider” “Oh you know..”. Peter rather dismissively said. “I can deal with it. We met at an opening in Manchester, I don’t know what he was doing there, guest of the mayor or something… you know the sort of thing? Anyway we got talking and it came about... likes to deal directly with people… meant to tell you last time, but with all that interior decoration crap, it went out of my mind”. Henry made some more notes. “Mm... how much was it?” “Eighteen thousand” “Good... he paid yet?” “Yes, all up front”. “Why? I mean, how did he know your work? I’d have thought boats and sunsets in a fancy gold frame was more Frank Butter” 16
Underpainting ‘Bloody snob’ thought Peter. “He’d seen that piece in the Times, which surprised me. He wanted something painting about where he grew up... we come from the same area so knew some of the same places. He knew my dad”. “Ri-i-ght... He’s been very quiet lately. Must be doing well... D’you mind if we contact him, see if there’s any more business?” Henry was sort of shaking his head as he spoke as if he expected to hear ‘no’. “I doubt it” Peter replied. “Look I have to dash, I’m due back at the gallery... Let me know when you’ve finished that for Butter. We could show it before he gets it, have an opening, could be a nice little event, if he’d allow it”. “I doubt it, but I’ll ask... it’s all done and ready” Henry finished his wine. Peter wanted to buy some books before getting his train, so they were both keen to be off. He still hadn’t rung Clare. Looking at his watch he thought - ‘Too late now’. The 6.15 train was surprisingly empty. His fellow travellers looked tired and gaunt in the hard green and yellow shadows of the station’s strip lit underworld. Passengers were reading work papers, writing notes from meetings, and looking through bulging bags at what they’d bought. Peter took off his jacket and settled himself at an empty table. He threw the Socialist Worker and Big Issue he’d bought to ease his conscience under the seat, then leafed through some of the books he’d bought on water-colour painting, in his mind putting together his talk and drifting off into the possibilities the fluid transparent medium held for his own work. The idea of the ballet set intrigued him the two ideas merged together into layers of paint and fabrics blending together. By the time they arrived at Watford he was staring at the lights of houses, thinking of the opportunities Henry had put before him. ‘I bet he’s selling them like wallpaper’ he thought ‘ perhaps I should move down, I’ll put it to Mari she’d enjoy being back down here, lots of friends’. He dozed off, the rush of a train in the dark woke him up. ‘Better ring’ he thought and went to the buffet car. He bought a £5 phone card and rang home, the noise and crackle were almost too much to hear anything. Marianne answered. “It’s me” he shouted above the crackle, “should be home by eight thirty’ “Peter..”. the sound broke up “...is in hospital” “What Marianne? Who did you say is in hospital? You broke up” The line went clear. “Bill, Bill is in hospital, his lungs or liver or something” “Oh..”. said Peter, stunned. 17
Underpainting “I’m off to Angela to look after...”. the line broke up. “I didn’t hear ..”. Peter shouted, then the line cleared and Marianne’s exasperation could easily be heard. “When you get back, you go straight to the Infirmary, then meet me at Angela’s later, I’m off soon, she’s worried about the Royal Family...”. The phone went dead as the card ran out. Peter bought another and redialled, but only got his answer phone. He bought a couple of miniatures of scotch and went back to his seat. Peter stared out of the window at the blackness and the reflection of the carriage mixed with dots and splashes of orange and white lights of houses, cars, small towns and villages. He sat back and drifted back to when his father was in hospital eleven years previous. An urgent phone call had interrupted a tutorial on a blistering summer day near the end of term, he remembered that students were packed into their darkened common room watching Wimbledon. His mother, not distraught or upset told him, ‘Your Dad’s had to go in to the Royal, they said it’s just as a precaution’. Peter hurriedly made arrangements at the college and drove over the sunlit Pennines. When he arrived in the ward he saw a man whose only attachment to life was through a series of tubes, electronic probes, and bleeping machines, quite abstract to the reality of his experience. His mother was sitting next to the bed reading a magazine, his father was awake his face covered with an oxygen mask, they weren’t talking, they never really did, just the questions and answers that get through life. His mother was pleased when she saw Peter, his father stared at the ceiling. A goods train thundered past the train window. Peter looked at his watch, only half an hour to go. He looked at the back cover of one of his new books and wondered why he was thinking of his father and not of Bill, perhaps he was making sure the shock of seeing Bill in hospital was lessened through experience. It annoyed him that there was nothing he could do to hurry the journey up. He drank the second miniature, it was bitter poor quality whiskey. He wondered why he’d bothered. The light in the carriage window reminding him of the sharp hospital lights when he had to go and see his father’s body and pick up a grey plastic bag of possessions. Dad was in and out of hospital for eighteen months, lung cancer had spread and he ended up looking like a skeleton. When he died his mother was more relieved than sad. Peter had gone over twice a week, she’d gone to the hospital each day, three bus rides from the Highlands estate. Then the funeral. 18
Underpainting God that was awful. All of dads ‘mates’ from the Legion were there, in their berets and blazers, their army badges and medals, they even brought the flag. ‘Old George’ had lived for the Legion, he was ‘the cornerstone’ they time and again told him, and they were there to give him a proper send off. Peter and his mother declined the offer to go to on afterwards. Peter wondered if his mother had ever been there, he didn’t think so. The only person missing was Frank. That thought made the dozing Peter sit up with a jerk, ‘…but he wouldn’t have known’ he thought, ‘how could he?’. He recalled how Frank Butter and his Dad knew each other. Not really friends but as a lad Frank helped out at the club, did errands, collected glasses, moved barrels, painted walls, anything he’d get paid for. Then suddenly he was gone. The train sped past a power station lit up with sharp blue white lights. Almost home, ten minutes. He breathed deeply and thought how Bill must have been suffering whilst he was gossiping at lunch with Henry. “You know I quite fancy doing that ballet set” he said out loud as he doodled ideas on what remained of his newspaper.
5 “Will King Billy be all right Mari?” Lizzie asked yet again. Marianne and Peter often went to Bill and Angela’s. Peter called it the zoo. Lizzie would be practising the guitar, kids and animals flying around, a baby half dressed, books and magazines piled on chairs, toys and half eaten food left in every nook and cranny, and yet Angela still found time to make pots, loads of them, and sold them by the crate load. Marianne shook her head slowly. She and Lizzie had got Anne and Diana to bed. Charles was running round his room lost in some intergalactic war. Philip sat in his room unable to cope with it all. Marianne and Lizzie were sitting at a piled up scrubbed pine table in the kitchen drinking coffee. “I don’t see why not. He’s not that old, he’s what forty nine?” “Sixty two”, interjected Lizzie. “...you know I think sometimes he still thinks he’s a student, too much to drink, late nights..”. Marianne stopped, realising this wasn’t really what she should be saying to Bill’s daughter, but she knew Lizzie knew it anyway, at seventeen she was older than Marianne in many ways. Lizzie wasn’t really listening, just staring at the clock that had shown ten past eight since Marianne could remember. “Was it my fault?” “Yours Lizzie?” Marianne sounded surprised, “...no …no of course not it’s nothing to do with you, men that age, it happens..”. “We had a big row yesterday”, and from the hundreds of ‘chats’ with young women at the college, Marianne could tell that Lizzie needed to talk. ‘I hope it’s not something I have to keep secret from Angela again’, she thought. “You see” and Lizzie’s voice got quicker and quicker, “I don’t want to go to college, I... I know it’s all great there... and I’d love to go and work with you… and of course Jasmine and Karl are going... but I think there’s more. King Billy and I rowed about it for hours yesterday he didn’t see that I want to try things NOW.... he said wait, get the education then go… but I don’t want that, I can go to college any time can’t I Mari? I want to go and do something. But this. This has spoilt it all. Queen B will blame me, she always does, I’ll have to go now as it’ll all be my fault”, Lizzie stopped and looked at Marianne for a reaction. 20
Underpainting All Marianne could think about was where on earth did Angela and Bill get this stupid thing of King Billy and Queen B. “Are you sure..”. Marianne stopped herself and realised that what she was about to say was what her mother said to her. Lizzie started again before Marianne could finish… “…The band. We’ve got gigs and we sound so good... Ali and Laszlo, we’re a team, its so tight now... they want to have a go at it, perhaps go down to London... we can do it and do it by ourselves, just listen..”. She stood up. “…wait there”, and ran upstairs. Marianne sat looking at, but not reading, the back page of the local paper. “Oh God” she thought “why me and why now?” and could hardly keep her eyes open. Lizzie ran back into the kitchen and put a cassette in a machine hidden under a pile of children’s clothes on an almost invisible pine Welsh dresser. A loud distorted noise filled the kitchen, a sort of punk thrash with quite haunting but totally unintelligible chanting over the top. Lizzie looked at Marianne expectedly. ‘What the hell do you say’ thought Marianne, ‘one or both of them will hate me’. Bill tried to sit forward in bed and a buzzer went off which then repeated and repeated as he tried but failed to move. “Fuck..”. he said but no sound came out and another higher pitched buzzer went off. Bill was connected like a puppet to a machine and had no power over what went in and what came out of him. He needed a drink. He could see a clock through a glass panel. Seven-thirty, but he wasn’t sure if it was morning or evening The last thing that he thought was real, was the discussion he was initiating in the Lecture Theatre. He tried to turn on the red hot pillows and tried to speak the words he’d led in on, nothing came out but his brain heard a quote from Ruskin – ‘... Giotto, like all the great painters of the period, was merely a travelling decorator of walls, at so much a day…’ It was at that moment he thought ‘..the floor came up to meet me’, Bill liked that quote, it was apt for so many occasions he tried to laugh and a third buzzer bleeped and kept bleeping. But that’s what it was like he thought, he saw the ground come up then all was dreams and bumps and... His head was sore otherwise he felt nothing, his legs floated in the air and felt bigger than the room. Bill tried to put his hand to his forehead, which must have been where he landed. A different buzzer went off even louder and suddenly a nurse was standing by the bed, looking about the same age as 21
Underpainting Lizzie. “Please William, try not to move... the machines are very sensitive”. He thought she had a hint of a Scottish accent and Bill wanted to ask where she was from, but couldn’t. She adjusted one of the sticky pads on his chest, made sure all the pipes were clear of him and left. The ward was a working not a sleeping place, he knew he must be in intensive care or something, but didn’t feel ill. There was the distant clatter of trolleys, phones softly ringing, and a hum of people talking. Without moving his body he could see two windows, one busy with staff and a glow of monitors. The other looking high over the glistening city, from the silent movie of a distant road, he felt it must be evening. Bill turned his head to the left and saw in bright white sunlight Saint Francis catching birds and pulling their wings off, Lizzie in a nurses uniform bandaging them up, and Angela hanging out huge sails of white washing on some trees. Bill’s forward fall in the Lecture Theatre had shocked the students to rigidity for a couple of seconds. They thought for a moment it was one of his tricks, part of the show. Deep dark blood was pouring from his mouth. Rachel had been first to realise things were wrong, she leapt from her seat and made sure Bill was comfortable and not moved, she gently wiped away blood from his mouth. Another student rang the college emergency number. Soon the oft practiced well-oiled cogs were set into motion, as Bill’s existence slipped into other people’s hands. The porter’s especially loved clearing a way through the sculpture department for the ambulance crew. The excitement lasted through to the afternoon tea break; then became a part of communal memory. Within a couple of hours the administration found three temporary part-time lecturers to fill in. Angela was phoned immediately, she was leaving to pick up Charles and Anne from school, Diana was already strapped into the back of the car. She rang Marianne and arranged that she pick them up and look after them for an hour or so. When Angela arrived at the hospital there was nothing to do. She saw Bill for about one minute before he was whisked off. She thought it had only been a fall, not this. He was unconscious, making an animal like gurgling in his breathing. The doctor told her things could be better but not to worry. Diana was demolishing the waiting room and the doctor advised that it would be better to go home and make sure her children were OK, he looked pointedly at Diana who was at the time underneath a seat pulling out dirty paper tissues. Angela felt like hitting him or was it Bill she felt like hitting? By the time Angela arrived home Lizzie and Marianne had fed Charles and Anne. Angela tried to help get Diana fed, but realised she couldn’t concentrate 22
Underpainting and wasn’t needed anyway. Marianne sat her down, gave her a huge glass of brandy which almost made her sick, then sent her back to the hospital. She explained that Peter should be there by now, so she wouldn’t be alone. A weasely barman called time and rang a huge ships bell, as Bill struggled through a mass of men in black coats and grey suits, his glass was empty and held out in front of him, but the bar got further and further away and more men came between. An angel swooped out of a Botticelli above the bar and swept him up in her strong arms above the heads of all the drinkers, higher than the clouds to the tiny side bar in a pub in the mountains. A barmaid pulled foaming pints of deep amber beer. Bill heard Peter say, “OK, I’ll have one, thanks”, and opened his eyes, focussing on Peter drinking a cup of tea from a blue grey cup. The noise of the hospital flooded back as a trolley rattled along a distant corridor. “How was Henry?” Peter jumped, his tea slopped in the saucer. Bill’s voice was weak, but in this humming silence, clear. “God Bill, I thought you were asleep.... OK, but how are you?” “Don’t know Pete, I really don’t know” Bill saw a tall black figure, wearing a long cloak. He turned and ran towards the garden at his grandmother’s white stone cottage, deep in the lush green Ayrshire hills, the sun felt warm and a breeze blew. He was helping his mother and Angela peg out thick white and gold flags with the Lamb of God intricately embroidered in the middle. Blood was spurting from the wounds and soiling the flags however hard they rubbed they became a deeper and deeper red. Peter stood when he saw the priest at the door. He didn’t really know what to do. He was not sure if Bill would want him or not. He knew Bill wouldn’t. “Hello I’m Peter Marten, a friend of Bill’s, look..”. But before Peter could finish the priest smiled and said in a soft West Country voice, “Oh so you’re Peter, yes Bill’s told me a lot about you... I’m glad you’re here... you mean a lot to him you know. Angela’s in the waiting room…” and he guided Peter towards the door. He’d never thought of Bill as religious, but then he knew there were things Bill didn’t know about him. He watched as the priest placed a highly ornamented silver chalice next to the plastic water jug, knelt down on one knee by the bed and prayed. Peter left and went to Angela in the Waiting Room who was sitting staring at nothing. Peter joined her on the orange seats. 23
Underpainting “Oh Peter, I’m glad you’re here. Marianne’s looking after the royals, she said you’d be here, I know they only let one person in at a time, I’ll go in soon”. Angela looked tired and a lot older than Peter usually thought of her. “He woke up... asked after you” Peter knew he didn’t sound convincing, but how could he say he asked after Henry of all people. Angela seemed pleased. Peter went to a coffee machine. “Want one?” Angela shook her head. He sat down next to her. The shadows of a TV danced on the walls in an empty room next to them. “Do you know a priest is with Bill?” “Oh yes, Father Brown, I rang him, I knew Bill would want him to be here” Peter couldn’t help but smile at “Father Brown”. “He doesn’t go to Mass. I don’t think he’s a believer but they get together to argue, they both enjoy the fight and Father Brown is an expert on malt whiskies. He used to play rugby for Cornwall and you know Bill played at school and I think at University…” Angela’s voice tailed off and she stared silently at the ward door. “I’ve known Bill for twenty years he never said…” “Bill must have told you? His dad was a chauffeur, a Protestant from Glasgow and his mother a Catholic, from the country. She was so nice, so gentle and so proud of Lizzie. They met when she was in service. His dad died well before I knew him…” Peter knew all this but just let Angela talk, it broke the silence and stared blankly at the posters on the wall imploring people to give their blood and kidneys. Peter thought of the meal he’d eaten a lifetime ago with Henry, and realised he was very hungry. A doctor came in and spoke quietly to Angela. She nodded and he walked away. “I don’t think they hold much hope for him Peter... What on earth are we going to do without him? What’ll we do?” She broke down and cried. Peter put his arms round her, and as he stood comforting Angela he couldn’t think of Bill or Angela. He was quite numb and knew he should be part of this, but wasn’t. All he could think of was a huge painting with frames in rubbed out gold and tenement blocks dissected into sections each a mass of life and death. At 2.25am Bill Watson died without gaining consciousness again.
6 Peter, Marianne and Angela walked quickly, leaning against a biting October wind. The remains of the street market blew around the street, a box of pears was squashed on the pavement, paper flew up in spirals then crashed into lampposts. Dust blew round a corner from road works like a fog. There was a smell of rotting fruit and fish. There were no voices the only sounds were the rattling of shuttered shops and a background noise of traffic in the distance. The buildings were dirty London yellow and as they walked they could pick out the noise of a band tuning up at a pub on the corner. It was turning dark and the street lights were taking over from the grey skies. “This is it” Angela said when they reached The Ancient Briton. The sign swinging in the wind showed a faded picture of a bearded man with a sword in his hand. The blacked out windows were covered in posters for bands none of them had heard of. A roughly written poster on the double doors read ‘Tonight - Con Su Mar’. They were the only customers. The pub floor was a map of worn carpet and wood, with grey bits like beaches. The air a mix of stale tobacco and spilt beer, like no one had bothered cleaning the place since the previous evening. A fattish pony tailed barman was leaning on the long bar reading the Evening Standard. There were oblong tables along the opposite wall with plastic chairs around, behind the bar area they could see a large open room, dark except for a few dots of red light. In the murk they could make out that the band’s gear was set out, but the performers weren’t there. Peter ordered three lagers, the barman looked at him as if he knew they were in the wrong place and handed him three bottles. Peter asked for glasses. The barman looked at him as if he was mad, leaned down and brought out three clear plastic beakers. “You didn’t ask if Lizzie was here did you” Angela said when Peter came over with the drinks. “No, I had enough problems getting glasses” Marianne smiled at him and drank out of the bottle. “It’s how it’s done Pete nowadays, you should know that”. “Well I like a proper beer glass” he took a sip of the thin looking lager, “... and this stuff it’s like gnat’s piss. You’d think.”. Marianne broke in, “It’s only a place for bands. The kids don’t care what 25
Underpainting they drink, look at our students, if it’s cheap and alcoholic what does it matter to them”. She stopped as Angela stood up. Marianne knew that Angela wanted to see Lizzie, it was the only reason she’d come down to London. Seeing Anne and Keith was just an excuse. Angela went to the bar and asked where the band were. Marianne couldn’t quite hear what was said, but Angela went into the large room and disappeared through a door, only visible when opened. “What the hell are we here for? Lizzie will go mad”, Marianne took a long drink, Peter was watching some people coming in, they looked young. “... God I’d have hated my mother turning up at something like this. You know we had a long chat that night Bill died. Lizzie so wants to succeed at this, she believes in it, but Angela’s trying to stop her, wants her to go to college, follow in the footsteps..”. She stopped and looked at Peter, and knew he wasn’t listening. Peter realised Marianne had stopped. “Sorry, I was thinking about this afternoon” “I don’t suppose we’ll get to hear them”, Marianne sounded disappointed. She’d borrowed the tape Lizzie had played and often listened to it in the car. She liked the contrasts of sound, the energy and the words. “…you know I could send that tape to Ryan” Peter remembered Ryan from their early days together. Ryan had played in a band, left college early, then started to promote and was now head of a music company. He was always friends with Marianne, and Peter thought that at sometime there’d been more to it, and was secretly a bit jealous. “Yes” she slowly and deliberately carried on, “Ryan could help, he’d know what to do”. “He always did... haven’t we got to meet Anne and.... Keith?” Peter looked up and Marianne nodded that he’d got the name right, “…nineish they said at that Thai place” “Mm” Marianne said looking over as more people came through the door. She saw Angela coming through the large room, she looked upset. “Lizzie’s all right isn’t she?” “Yes, but she doesn’t want me here..”. Angela tearfully mumbled, “let’s go” and Angela rushed out through the door, Peter and Marianne followed into the windswept night. Peter lay awake on the bumpy sofa bed at Anne and Keith’s. He could hear that Marianne was still awake. “You awake?” Marianne asked. “Mm… I think that fish curry…” his voice trailed away. He thought how expensive it had been for nothing. Marianne turned again and found a comfy position, which pushed Peter towards the edge. Soon she was asleep. Peter closed his eyes but was restless, 26
Underpainting he went over the day and was excited by the possibilities. While Marianne and Angela had gone down to Wimbledon to meet up with an old friend who had a pottery studio and shop, Peter had organised a visit to Kennings and Jarvis, who were set painters for West End theatre to see the techniques they used. He wanted to create a set rather than just a large painting hanging behind the dancers. The day before he’d met Felix Blucher at the Dover Passage Gallery. Felix and Peter immediately got on well; the dance piece was about memories of old cities and the clash with the new, the music though still unfinished was amazing, it sounded like a piano being ripped apart. Peter wasn’t sure how they could dance to it, but knew that wasn’t his problem. At Kennings and Jarvis, he saw how effects were created with gauzes and different reflecting colours and paints, the scale of painting was so much greater than he’d ever attempted, but ideas flooded his mind. The commission was good, and he’d have to find a space to do it in, perhaps employ some help. His plan was for a series of large frames to the left and open fronted tenement house to the right, that changes into flat land, derelict, and different pictures come and go in the gold frames. Marianne moved in her sleep, which gave Peter more room, he wondered if he should get up and ring Clare, but before he’d decided went to sleep. After an over long breakfast mainly taken up admiring the way Anne’s dog understood everything one said, Marianne and Angela set off to Belsize Park and Peter headed for The National Gallery to draw some frames. When he arrived it struck him that he’d not been there for a long time. For a while he wandered around, visiting his favourite pictures and finding things in half forgotten ones he’d not realised were there. He felt that he knew them like old friends. Eventually he sat down on a bench in the middle of a gallery full of eighteenth century Italian paintings, took out a large sketch book and some black Conte pastels. The frames were magnificent. The ornate gilt woven in and out of itself, knots of oak leaves and acorns, archaic shields and armour, complex crosses and symbols, elaborate shells and castellation. Fluidity out of hardness. As he sketched he attracted a crowd who couldn’t understand why he hadn’t drawn the people in the paintings. He never liked drawing in front of people and moved to another gallery, and another crowd assembled. He was annoyed and was about to pack up when a gallery attendant approached him and asked if he had permission to draw. He hadn’t. The attendant asked him to stop as he was causing a problem. So Peter, slammed shut his sketch book, and started putting his things in his bag, when he 27
Underpainting remembered Christine Peckham, a former student of his worked in the restoration department. He asked the now annoyed attendant to check if she was available. The attendant spoke into his radio and a voice came back that she was and would meet Peter in the Sainsbury wing, near the stairs. Christine was there by the time Peter arrived. She was tall and could see him over the crowd. “Peter! It’s good to see you, I hear you’re having problems” “Hi. Sorry to bother you. Yes, I want to draw some details on frames and it appears I now have to have permission to draw in the Gallery”. “Yes... they love rules here, it really pleased them to have someone to check, you should’ve heard the radios buzzing. You know I saw your paintings at the RA and then the Tate! I kept thinking that man taught me painting”, she laughed an annoying laugh that reminded Peter why he used to speed up her tutorials; “I’m working on something you may be interested in, a Goya, do you want a look? And there’s loads of frames in the back you could draw.... I’ll get you a pass”, and she strode off through a door marked ‘No Admission’. The Restoration Room was teeming with paintings in various states of repair and cleaning. There was no daylight, the walls were shelved from floor to ceiling covered with pots and bottles, each had a label showing an exact colour match or mix of varnish and a painting they were mixed for. There were paint brushes of every shape, age and size. There was an overwhelming smell of oil paint, turpentine, and varnish. Christine stood by her working area. A large easel held the quite small painting depicting a man having his throat cut, his eyes were wild, but you couldn’t see who the murderer was, just a black shape looming behind, an arm holding the man down clothed in what could have been a bull fighter’s costume. Faces laughing, perhaps a troupe of dwarfs, watched the proceedings from the lower corners. His eyes kept going back to the black shape, which reminded him of something, coming down from the sky... “I’ve not seen this one before” “No, it’s from a private collection somewhere. Here.... take a closer look, we sometimes do outside work, brings in some cash for the Department” Christine put on what looked like surgeon’s gloves and handed Peter a pair. She took the painting from the easel and handed him the canvas. Peter held it with awe. On the edge of the canvas he could see the artists finger marks in the rich brown paint Goya had used. Peter put his own finger against one, compared finger sizes. He looked how the stretcher was constructed, how thick the paint was in parts and how bare the canvas was in others, he wanted to run his fingers over the paint and feel the flow of the brush strokes. Goya’s own movements. 28
Underpainting “I’m hoping you’ll see the murderer’s face when I’ve finished” That made him shudder. “Thanks Christine” and he handed the painting back. “You OK Peter?” “Yes, just need some air, I think the fish and fruit last night have got to me again” By eleven o’clock Marianne was fed up with Angela and the people at the craft gallery. Angela was busy talking to the owners about new markets for her pots and a possible exhibition. Talk had moved on to what they’d do after lunch and who they should meet and which other of the expensive little shops in Hampstead would be good places for selling her work. Marianne said that she felt like a walk and had friends nearby. They arranged to meet again at three. She walked down Haverstock Hill, the wind had gone, there was a blue sky and it was quite warm brown leaves crackled underneath her feet. London hummed around her. Near to Primrose Hill tube station was the office of Protocol Records. After passing through a security door Marianne found herself in front of a desk where a young woman with a shaved head was sorting through a pile of mail. ‘I wish I could look as good as that’ Marianne thought. The woman looked up and smiled. “Can I see Ryan Harris... if that’s possible?” The shaven headed woman, pressed a button and spoke so quickly Marianne couldn’t tell what was said. “Have you an appointment? Ryan’s in a meeting, he is very busy today and hasn’t got any time this morning” “No, but can you tell him it’s Marianne... Marianne Maddox... I’m an old friend” She transferred the information down the phone. Her face changed to a smile again. “He’ll be down soon, if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes” She ushered Marianne to a waiting area “Coffee?” “Have you some water? I feel very dry” She brought a blue bottle of Greek fizzy water. Marianne sat in a rather haggard office chair, which was the best on offer. A low table was covered in trade magazines, last weeks’ New Musical Express and some dog eared flyers for various Protocol records and promotions. She picked up a Q magazine. Every page was covered in biro’d graffiti, mainly of a highly obscene nature. She took a drink of water and looked around. Piles of boxes covered what had been a carefully planned and painted wall. 29
Underpainting Men in bikers gear regularly arrived with packages. After fifteen minutes Ryan appeared at the top of the stairs. He looked heavier than she remembered, wore a loose fitting suit, and looked tired. He was still good looking, strong features and his hair still dark, swept back now rather than long, but Marianne knew this was just a façade and wondered if he used hair colouring. He stopped half way down and looked at her. “M-a-r-i-a-n-n-e… Marianne... you should have rung, we could have done lunch, it’s so good to see you. When did I last see you?” He put his arms round her to kiss her lips, Marianne turned and it landed on her cheek. “I was up in Belsize Park with Angela... do you know Angela?” from his face she knew he didn’t, he came from further back in her life, “No… no you don’t… I was at some God awful gallery she deals with and I remembered you were nearby. You don’t mind?” “No... Oh God no… It’s so so-oo-o good to see you. How’s Peter?” then hesitantly, “...you and Peter are still..?” “Oh yes, he’s at the National doing some drawings, for a set or something, he’s quite famous now”. “Yes... Yes I know. But what about you. You are still painting?” “Yes, I’m in the same studio and I do a bit of teaching. I’ve asked you loads of times to come..”. She looked at him head angled, he put his arms out and shrugged his shoulders, “anyway, you never even answer. But I have got some work in a touring show soon which is exciting, perhaps you’d like to come to the opening?” “I would l-o-v-e to, just let me know, and I’ll be there! When is it?” She knew he’d never actually come. “Next Spring, I’ll let you know” “Come up to the office and have a drink” They walked through half a dozen swinging doors, there were offices and meeting rooms, posters and music beating from behind closed doors. Stale cigarette and marijuana smell pervaded the atmosphere. Ryan’s office was messy. Huge speakers filled one end. There were posters of bands, of tours, of records. “Tea? Coffee?” “I’d love some tea, thanks” She wandered around the office looking at the faded posters. There was one for his first ever promotion. “Hey I did this one!” she laughed. The poster was for an all night happening and concert in the Flower Pavilion with now forgotten bands. The border was an interlace of dragons, fairies and peace signs, the lettering hand done with intricate figures weaving in and out. “1967” she half whispered. 30
Underpainting Ryan came over and looked at it. “I never paid you for it did I? Even charged you for a ticket, five shillings!” “I remember it now. Started at ten o’clock and went on till seven, that awful American band came on last, you hadn’t booked them they turned up that night didn’t they... and I danced topless!” “Well someone had to, wasn’t a happening without that!” They both laughed. “I was so scared my mother would see the pictures, some newspaper was there... I remember I went home to Peter’s flat afterwards, you remember that shithole in Tewksbury Street, I hadn’t moved in with Peter then, but he made me some breakfast, he hadn’t been... I remember now… he had to make some cash so worked the bakery that night and I was mad at him for not coming along. I was so tired I went to sleep with the food on my lap and it went all over his bed... God it was a mess…” The girl from the desk brought a tray of tea. Ryan sat behind what was supposedly a shiny steel desk, and enveloped in a mess of papers, files, tapes, and printwork. Marianne sat in a chair designed for torture, or so it felt. “Sorry about the chair, I had a designer in a few years ago, he was into bondage and well... that’s all that’s left”. They laughed again. “It’s so good to see you Marianne. You know there’s no-one here who can laugh... it’s all so bloody serious. You know it doesn’t really matter if you don’t meet every day..”. “You mean every ten years” “No... you know... real friends, people who’ve seen you drunk, wearing flares, and who’ve been there. It doesn’t matter does it? Oh you know what I mean!” Ryan quickly ended the sentence. “Yes, I do... It’s like you’ve never really left each other, just carry on where you left off, and no one really cares how long it’s been do they?” “That’s it. How long are you down for?” “We’re here till tomorrow. I think Peter has to see the theatre before we go” “Theatre?” “He’s got a commission for a set design” “Peter’s doing well” “Yes. I think he’ll give up teaching soon and paint full time. Since Bill died he’s lost interest in the college, I don’t think he knows it yet, but I can see it” “Bill?” “Bill Watson, you didn’t know him either”. “I saw that painting he did for Frank Butter. Powerful stuff ” 31
Underpainting “He was quite pleased with that. You know Frank Butter? It hasn’t been on show” “He bought some derelict warehouses I had, which I’d planned to turn into more studios, and apartments, you know the sort of thing, he bought them and I had to go over to his office. Saw it there, I meant to ring say how good it was, but well you know… Nice guy”. Ryan looked at his huge silver watch. “Am I keeping you from something, I didn’t mean to waste your morning..”. “No... nothing, it’s more important seeing you”. Marianne remembered why she was there. “I hope you don’t mind Ryan but I’ve brought a tape with me” “You going into music?” “No, silly... Angela’s daughter’s in a band. I liked it, sort of punk meets Gregorian chant! You probably get loads of this stuff, but if you’d listen, tell me if it’s... well any good really. They’ve moved down here and are trying to make it, they were on last night at The Ancient Briton” Ryan looked up in recognition. “Good start... OK, but no promises, we get about a hundred tapes every day, so many people want in. If I don’t get time I’ll hand it on to the A and R people. They on anywhere, I’m always looking, especially if they’re cheap!” “Never change do you Ryan? I think they’re there again next Monday, and The Great Eastern on Tuesday?” “Great Western you mean” There was a natural but uncomfortable silence as Ryan tapped on the tape and the design Lizzie had drawn on it. “It’s been so good to see you Marianne, it really mustn’t be so long. Do you have a mobile?” he held the tape up “…for when I’ve listened” “Peter got me one a couple of month’s back, no use really no-one I know has one, well only you. Here, it’s got my home number on too…” She handed him a card. “Very smart” “They’re for the show, you’re the first to get one” “I’ll have to see some of these paintings of yours. I need something new on these walls. We’re doing some classical stuff soon too, I’ve bought a huge catalogue from the East Mongolian Radio Symphony Orchestra, not great performances but it was so cheap”, Marianne lifted her eyes to heaven, “... I know Marianne some of us never change, but they will need classy covers and I’m serious about that”. A mobile phone rang from under a pile of papers. Ryan scrabbled around for it and answered. “I better go, let you get on” 32
Underpainting Ryan covered the mouth piece. “Sorry… Got to deal with this… I’ll give you a bell... promise” As she left the building she remembered she’d forgotten to ask about Sue. Surely he’d have mentioned her if they were still together. It was lunch time and she decided to treat herself, she deserved it. In Trafalgar Square Peter decided to walk to Dover Passage and say hello to Henry. He tapped the number into the mobile phone, feeling selfconscious about using it. He hadn’t dared use it at college, heaven knows what the students would have said. He’d bought it after Bill died. Henry was there and said he’d love to see him and he’d got good news. The clear autumn day made London dazzle. He liked the bustle and the architecture. As he walked through back streets to miss the tourists the black shape in the Goya kept haunting him. He stopped for a drink at the Walsingham Arms. Peter sat in a corner, the tiny pub almost empty, a pint of bitter in front of him. He took out a photo of his painting for Frank Butter. It was set around a small connecting road to the Highlands Estate, called Meadow Way. When he was a boy it had high hawthorn hedges either side, a dark and gloomy place at night. That’s where it had happened. Until the commission he’d not thought about it for years. He took out the Polaroid of the Goya Christine had given him. He put the photos side by side and took a long drink. “Frank” he said aloud but to himself, “bloody hell Frank what have I opened up?” Frank Butter was about four years older than Peter. He’d never bothered with school, was always out getting odd jobs, selling things for people, digging gardens, carrying things. He did jobs for Peter’s dad at the Club, and they seemed to get on well. Frank learnt life from experience. Peter couldn’t remember anything about his parents, but they didn’t seem to care. The other kids were scared of Frank, but Peter never recalled him actually doing anything. There were tales of course and it was said he carried a knife and even had a gun, but that was playground talk. Two skinheads from Millhall had once chased Peter, knocked him over and started to kick him, Frank came running down the road and they ran off. He never had any trouble again after that. Then one day the playground was full of talk. “Got what he deserved my Dad said, bloody puff ”; “Frank did it, got the old queer”; “Deserves a medal my dad said, shouldn’t be allowed in Highlands, not natural”; “I saw the body, knife through the neck”. Vic Williams’ body was discovered one Thursday morning in Meadow Way. The face so kicked in it was almost impossible to tell who it was. A smell of rotting blood and shit pervaded the place for weeks afterwards. The police 33
Underpainting questioned a few people, including Peter’s father, they’d also been at the Club asking questions. No one knew anything, no one saw anything, no one was charged and no one cared. It was soon forgotten about by the papers. Peter reached Dover Passage later than he’d planned and had to wait while Henry finished on the phone. “I thought you’d got lost” “I walked and needed a drink” They strolled round an exhibition of work by three Dutch artists. The two men stood before a large flatly painted head that was grotesquely distorted. “These aren’t selling... we’ll have to look for another market” “Hmm... I like them. You said you had some good news?” “Yes! those two paintings you did, I’ve sold them, what about that eh?!” “But you’ve not even had them on show, in fact the one of the earth mound is still wet... I did some repainting. Who’s bought them?” “Constantine Levy-French” he said it slowly and precisely. Peter looked at Henry and could see the delight in yet another 50% commission. “Constantine Levy-French? And why did he buy two paintings unseen?” “Said he’d seen your work and liked it, he asked if we had any. I showed him the slides you’d sent and the tree pictures International Computers bought, it is trees isn’t it?...”. Peter nodded “...and that was it, paid what we’d discussed. He’s a collector, got loads of English landscapes and well, liked yours, said something like you were ‘...continuing the long thread of interest in the representation of our green and pleasant lands’, or something like that”. Peter stared at the portrait. He felt a bit like the character portrayed, pushed around and distorted. “I can’t believe someone would buy a painting unseen. Bit odd, don’t know if I really like that” “I don’t think Peter you really have much say in the matter. Of course we’ve never yet had a contractual problem, but I think you’ll see that when you put your paintings in our hands we can sell them to who we like,” the words were said clearly and deliberately in his Oxbridge voice, he knew where the Gallery stood, “...of course we would never do anything to upset you”. “Oh it’s OK a bit of a shock really” They looked at each other. Peter had upset Henry by not being positive and after all Peter had painted these to sell. He’d just been told that he’d made more out of two paintings than he did from his salary at the college, even after the Gallery’s cut. But he was not sure about it. Paintings were important to him, he’d hoped to get a show together with these, and liked to know where they were going. He wanted people to see and enjoy his work, not hung in some posh office or well-guarded house. Peter was proud to have work in the Tate, free for anyone to see. 34
Underpainting “He’s got some computer parts company in Slough, lives in Cookham. Moving into property I believe”. “Spencer’s Cookham?” “Yes, beautiful house, by the Thames. I went over yesterday to finalise things, I tried ringing you to see when we could get them down for delivery, oh... and he agreed they could go to that show in Bradford next year” “Good” Peter quickly had an idea. “Look... I’ll run them down, it’s years since I’ve been there, I’ve got to bring a van down soon with stuff for this set. By the way d’you know of any large spaces going I could get to paint this thing? It’s really big and I can’t find anywhere up there”. “No problem... I know some empty warehouses, they were being turned into recording studios, there were some financial issues and I think they’re up for short leases, close to Sadler’s Wells as well. Do you want me to ask about them?” “OK, sounds good. Not too expensive though, I’m asking two graduates from last year to help, did you get those preliminaries?” “Yes, why don’t we have a show of them around the time of the opening night, great opportunities, you’ll be in all the press?” “I don’t really like showing drawings, we’ll see” A smartly dressed secretary discreetly descended from an upstairs office with news that Henry was wanted on the phone, from Japan. Peter walked to an overpriced coffee shop to spend a fortune on some frothy coffee that burnt his tongue.
7 Marianne inspected half a doll’s head she’d found in the park. One side was perfect, the other burnt. She placed it on the two foot square board, next to a tiny sweet box she’d found in Arras. “Too sentimental” she murmured, and rummaged amongst the mass of debris she’d amassed over the years for a more suitable item. Marianne’s studio was a cross between a magical kingdom and a refuse tip. Her current pictures featured found items, some repainted, some glued to a surface in the state they were found. They were an assembly of disparate items, sketches, small paintings; juxtaposed to tell their own stories or make disharmonious comments about a world which didn’t know how to value what it had. She was about half way through making her most ambitious work, for a touring exhibition featuring women artists. It was going to be a ‘quilt’ of 80 pictures, each one two feet square set out ten across and eight high. Each was different, some bright and glittering with what looked liked jewels sparkling through bright coloured paint, others were sombre, hard to decipher, objects draped with a found piece of fabric and paper. Marianne would spend hours looking in corners, in skips. From holidays she’d bring home a suitcase full of discarded objects, boxes, the fragments of other peoples lives and cultures. Once in a car park near Disneyland in Los Angeles, two huge security men frog-marched her to their office because she was searching through trash cans. After she’d explained who she was and what she did, the two men escorted her around Disneyland. The things they turned up were phenomenal and a whole series of pictures featured plastic Mickey’s, Minnie Mouse socks, Donald Duck pens and all the ephemera and junk imaginable. Marianne sent the Guards two special pictures and they wrote polite thank you letters. From a red wooden box she picked out a three legged plastic dog, quite big. “Yes” she said out loud, “that’s it”. With a large brush she painted parts of it blue, left it to dry and was wiping her hands clean when her mobile phone rang. Peter had insisted she have one and now she had to admit it was useful. She pressed the reply button, and before she’d had time to say anything Angela’s voice bellowed “How dare you 36
Underpainting come between Lizzie and Me! How dare you, I thought you were a friend?” “Angela, what do you..”. “How dare you, behind my back... I have never been so humiliated, just because you’ve got no children doesn’t mean you can interfere with mine” “Hang on Angela... I’ve never.”. “Oh yes you have, Lizzie told me about that little chat you had, and introducing her to that Ryan Harris, well... he’s as old as me... her whole life is ruined because of your stupid meddling” Angela burst into tears. After about half a minute of Angela sobbing Marianne slowly spoke. “Angela... the night Bill died.... Lizzie and I sat in the kitchen and talked.... she was anxious and not sure what to do... Lizzie wanted to tell me about her band... it appeared important and she wanted to do things her way, she only needed to talk to someone” “She could have talked to me, she always knew she could... You should have put her off the idea, she should have gone to college, it’s what we wanted”. “Is it what she wanted?” “Of course it was you bitch, she doesn’t know what she wants... only a silly teenage whim”. “She’s a young woman Angela... Have you heard the band?.”. “Oh it’s just noise, I couldn’t spare the time..”. “There, you see, she wanted to talk, someone to listen seriously, and it’s good” “Oh, you can’t blame me for this mess, this is of your making” “How do you mean my making?” “Yes you, you bitch, you fucking bitch! You got her in with that Ryan, that scumbag you used to fuck at college, he’s old enough to be her father, did you tell him he’d get an easy lay with a young girl?” “I really don’t know what you’re on about now Angela? When we were in London I took a tape of Lizzie’s to get his opinion, he said he’d listen, send someone from their R and D department whatever that is, that was all, he knows about bands and recording and all that sort of thing..”. “Well she’s moved in with him” Marianne was dumb struck. “Yes... that’s made you think miss high and mighty. He went to see the band play, went backstage and Lizzie was bowled over by the thought of stardom, he asked her to come and lay down some tracks and well..”. “Angela there was nothing I said... I was trying to help Lizzie” “Well you did a damn good job of that didn’t you..”. “What about Sue?” “Who’s Sue?” “Ryan’s wife” 37
Underpainting “There’s been no wife been mentioned, Lizzie’s moved into his house, queen of the bloody castle, won’t talk to me, no the silly girl, doesn’t want to know!” Angela hung up. Marianne thought about ringing her back, but felt it would be better when she’d calmed down and looked around her desk for Ryan’s number. “... The dirty old bastard” she thought “...and I didn’t fuck him Angela” she shouted, “...you’re the one to talk about fucking for God’s sake, you old cow!”. She felt better for that. There was a soft knock on the studio door and a woman’s head popped round. It was Greta, who had the studio next door. “You OK Marianne? I heard shouting” “So did I, must have been outside” Greta’s head disappeared. Marianne couldn’t find Ryan’s number. She looked down at her picture. “The dog!” she cried out. The acrylic paint had dried hard. “Damn..”. She’d lost her concentration, took a deep breath, stood up and decided to go home. A Post-it note was stuck on the kitchen table. “Gone to Angela’s, back soon”, it was from Peter. “I bet he’s getting it in the neck as well” Marianne thought as the front door opened and Peter walked in, he looked shaken. “She got at you as well?” “What, Angela’s not said anything has she?” Marianne thought Peter looked worried. “Angela, she rang and told me about Lizzie and Ryan, she must have said something...?” “What about them?” “They’ve moved in together” “But how? It must be ten years since Ryan was about?” “She blames me” “Mari, I haven’t a clue what you’re on about”, Peter sounded stern and sharp. “Don’t snap like that at me. In London, I saw Ryan, forgot…” “Sorry, it was nothing to do with me” “What do you mean?” “Angela, she told you about this afternoon?” “Now I don’t know what you’re on about?” “Angela”, Peter said slowly and thoughtfully, “... rang me at about two, a pipe had burst and she didn’t know what to do..”. “I’d only just talked to her, she didn’t say anything. Doesn’t sound like 38
Underpainting her..”. “Well I went over..”. “Knight in shining armour” Marianne interjected. “....I went over and there was water all over the kitchen. Angela went to switch off the main hot tap upstairs. It was a connection come loose. I went upstairs to tell her it was all OK, and she was standing in her bedroom naked..”. Marianne started to laugh. “And what did you do? Draw her?” she went into convulsions of laughter. Peter was angry. “No! And nothing else! She said how good I’d been to her, how great a friend I was, for God’s sake Marianne stop laughing, it wasn’t funny!” Marianne was crying with laughter. “I wish I’d been there to see it, I bet your face was a picture Pete, a bloody Rembrandt!” Peter couldn’t see what was so funny, to him it was sad and embarrassing. “...I said I loved you and asked if I could help her, how I knew she was still grieving..”. This sent Marianne into even more gales of laughter. Peter couldn’t stand it, he left the house slamming the front door. Marianne knew she’d been cruel to him, but really, he wasn’t Angela’s sort was he? Over the twenty years they’d known Bill and Angela, they had become close and Marianne had become Angela’s confidante. Peter, Marianne supposed, had become Bill’s, she wasn’t really sure. Bill had rather publicly, and often highly embarrassingly, had a string of silly affairs with young women students. One had even visited Angela and announced that Bill was going to leave her, Angela had taken her upstairs and told her to start filling cases with his things, and she could take the kids as well. Angela loved telling that story and Marianne wasn’t sure if it was true. Bill always had to confess to Angela in highly graphic detail, she extracted everything, every little detail of what happened, how and where. She would then make a scene which she’d perfected over the years to a piece of high camp drama, and would eventually forgive him, for now. Peter would have a long man to man chat with Bill in a pub, which Marianne would hear about and pass on to Angela, these mainly consisted of Bill saying how he had to keep his freedom even in the constraints of marriage, these earnest talks would usually end in Peter going home drunk. On the other hand Angela, certainly not to Peter’s knowledge and Marianne thought not to Bill’s (who thought of her as a saint), had had numerous and quite serious affairs. Angela would go away on ‘selling trips’, usually to London, Bath or Edinburgh. There she had what she called her ‘alternative therapy’ with 39
Underpainting gallery owners, actors, potters, artists and once a quite famous American poet. She even went to Vermont with him and Marianne remembered thinking how much Charles looked like the poet, the only one in the family with red hair. She commented on this but Angela dismissed it out of hand. So what was she doing trying to seduce Peter? To get back at Marianne? “Well it hasn’t worked madam” thought Marianne, “... I know you far too well” What Peter must have thought she really didn’t know. “He should have gone in and done it that would have called her bluff..”. she thought, “…do I really mean that?”. She knew that Angela would have revelled in telling her all the details and she’d have felt bad, even though it wouldn’t have meant anything. “I wonder if she’s ever tried before?” she said out loud, and Marianne remembered a disastrous holiday in a Cornish cottage, twelve years before. Bill was sleeping off a hangover, Marianne had gone to Truro to meet a friend, and Peter and Angela had gone to a secluded beach to draw. When they returned to the cottage Peter had wanted to go home straight away for some stupid reason. “... I remember now”, she thought, “I bet she did, wouldn’t think he did... the old cow, she always did keep quiet about that day”. Then she remembered how Bill had once pushed her into a corner at a party, feeling her bum, then her breasts, saying how she was so beautiful and the sort of woman he really needed. Marianne had pushed him away but Angela had noticed what was going on and went mad at them, not listening to Marianne’s protests of innocence. It didn’t matter now she thought. Peter sat in The Lamb. He was upset. He couldn’t understand how Marianne could laugh, it had hurt him, and after all he’d told her, he didn’t need to. “...and Ryan? What’s all this about Ryan?” he thought. Marianne, Ryan and Peter had attended the same college. Ryan was more interested in music than painting and had been kicked out before the end of the course, and had a soft spot for Marianne, in fact he’d been the first person to call her Marianne. Her name was really Mary Ann; Ryan liked Leonard Cohen and thought Marianne sounded more romantic, more artistic and it stuck. Peter thought that they’d been lovers before he and Marianne got together. Marianne always denied it. Ryan was different to the rest, even at college he made money, promoted music, made deals. After he left college he set up his own promotions company, and a record company at 24. When he was still at college he’d married Sue who he’d known for years, a finalist for Miss England. The long haired scruffy lads at college mocked her, but were secretly jealous of Ryan for being able to (in the parlance of the time) ‘pull 40
Underpainting such a bird’. Marianne and Sue had got on well, then they went their separate ways, Peter and Marianne back up North, Ryan and Sue to Surrey. Peter and Marianne had drifted together. Moved in to share a flat in their third year, as it was cheaper, never thought beyond the next week, both had separate plans after college, even now they still had separate bank accounts, had none of the official ties people seemed to get lumbered with. If they’d sat down in 1968 and thought that in twenty two years they’d still be together they’d have never believed it. Ten years previously they’d met up again with Ryan and Sue and had dinner, then nothing. “… and what was all this about Lizzie anyway?” Peter thought. He finished off his pint and decided to go home and see what it was all about. He realised that he must have sounded like a pompous idiot and ought to apologise to Marianne. “Shit” he thought, “I better ring Clare, she’ll be frantic”.
8 The early morning clouds were pink and grey through Clare’s window. She could not remember when she had last been up at six. Matthew wasn’t home yet, she wasn’t over concerned, after all he was nineteen, but it was getting into a pattern, and patterns concerned her. The drug councillor told her to look out for patterns of behaviour, and this was the fourth night in a row that she knew he had been out all night. He had also started locking his room again. Clare surveyed the street; cars parked bumper to bumper, a black cab setting off to work in the West End, through a corner of the bay window she could just make out Holloway Road at the end of her street, red buses regularly passing even at this time, and the glint of the mirror shop. She lit another cigarette, tied up her dressing gown, which was always falling open, and heard post falling through the letterbox, which made her jump. She looked outside and the postman was already next door. “Hmm he’s alright,” she said to herself, “nice bum”. She went down the hallway to the front door and stopped in front of the full-length mirror at the bottom of the stairs, opened up her dressing gown and looked at herself, naked. Morning light streaming through the front door glass softened the edges. Clare knew she looked OK, she worked at it. She pushed her breasts up and felt she could do with a boob job, though no-one else seemed to mind, and where would she get the cash anyway. Stomach still flat (when she breathed in!), ‘nice legs’ she thought, ‘always had good legs’. “You’re not bad for 37” she said to her reflection, and moved closer to examine her deep blonde hair. The dark parting was getting wider, “need to get that sorted don’t want to look like a fuckin’ tart”. She picked up the mail, and decided she quite liked the quiet of the morning. Water bill, two catalogues, those damned electricity people again, and a handwritten letter from Knype. She opened it as she walked to the kitchen. A note was hurriedly written on University paper, and she read: Dearest Clare, sorry not to have been over on my last couple of visits, been really busy. I’m coming down soon for a couple of months to work on the set, so I’ll have plenty of time to see you then. Hope enclosed OK. Hope all’s well with Matthew, Peter. 42
Underpainting £80 in twenty’s was folded up with the letter. She put it a drawer, screwed up the letter, and tossed it in the waste bin. Clare knew Peter from her days at art college, he was a regular now. She’d been a few years older than most of the other students and was ambitious to make money from her painting, which separated her from the others. She already had Matthew who was nine when she had started at Knype, and that too set her apart. Peter was her personal tutor in the second year. Since an early age she’d known how attractive she was to men, including her father, the thought of which made her shudder, however she never told anyone, he’d never touched actually her, except to slap. Attraction she’d tell herself could be both useful and a nuisance, and she had an ease about her that attracted men, as well as her body. Within ten minutes, they had usually told her their life story, or what was worth telling anyway. She’d learnt it was profitable to show great interest in their self-indulgence. Soon after starting at Knype, Hilton Douglas, one of the painting tutors, asked if he could photograph her, he’d pay. From her first few weeks there she was expecting this; Hilton undressed her with his eyes every time she entered the studio. She needed the cash, Hilton promised the pictures were only going to be for his own use, and she knew what that meant. At the end of the second sitting, he offered her more cash and she gave him a blow job, after the third they had sex, he was gross, but it was money. Even now she shuddered at his stained black beard, mass of red/grey pubic hair, and greasy hands, but Matthew needed new shoes. Hilton Douglas drank too much and talked freely, and by the end of her first year, she had lecturers from various departments of the university visiting her. Clare was discreet and became friends with a couple of their wives, who would quite often look after Matthew for her while (unknowingly) she was with their partner. It was not until three years after she’d left college and had moved back to London that Peter started to visit her. She’d met him at a friends’ opening at the Clouds Gallery with Marianne, who she had always liked. They arranged to meet so they could look at her new work, Marianne couldn’t make it, and to the surprise of both of them, after talking very personally she and Peter had sex. She thought Peter didn’t realise how many regulars she had, she never talked about anyone else, and Peter didn’t ask. At first, they would spent some time talking about Marianne, as well as Peter and his work and rise to success. Over the last year or so, he’d stopped mentioning Marianne; in fact, his hour with her was often spent lying on the bed chatting, about his work, college, Matthew, Dover Passage, students. Less and less sex, she didn’t mind, it was cash whatever the outcome. They would go into the room she used to use for painting, and they’d talk about what she was 43
Underpainting planning to do. The next time he came the plans were still to be started. Clare heard the door open, and someone creeping in. “Is that you Matthew?” she called out. “Yes I’m knackered…. off to bed… wake me at one” “Good” she thought to herself, “he’ll be gone in time”. She had a client coming at seven, she also hoped he’d brought her the diazi’s she’d asked him to get, he always seemed to know where to get them. Over the past ten years Clare had slowly built up a regular clientèle, she liked them to be married and if possible, over fifty, easier to deal with, usually better manners, no hassle over wanting a ‘relationship’. Then ten months ago, her house had changed hands and her new landlord had asked her to a meeting. She had lived in Disraeli Street for eight years, and thought the meeting was to get rid of her, the area was changing, lots of yuppies moving in, higher rents, and she was ready for a battle. Clare was ushered through a suite of offices just east of the City, to an oak panelled room and was sitting in front of a large desk, behind which was her new landlord, Frank Butter, behind him stood what she thought must be his minder, a tall good looking blonde guy, with cold blue eyes. She’d noted he had some good paintings and was surprised that Frank Butter wanted to see her personally; not leaving it to an agent to deal with what was a minor matter. “Miss Forester” he opened abruptly, “I have a proposition” “I know my rights Mr Butter, and by the way I have reverted to my mother’s maiden name Zetzer three year’s ago, I did inform the former landlord” “I’m sure you did… Miss um… Zetzer” he looked at some papers on his desk, and wrote a note, “we’ve been noting who comes and goes at your house”; he put his hand up to stop her protesting, “we weren’t spying. As you probably know the house opposite is one of mine as well, and next door, well I just noticed someone I knew, and then looked a bit further into things” “I have many friends Mr Butter, I’m an artist” “Yes. Well Miss Zetzer, I want to make a deal with you. I’m sure an offer to let you live virtually rent-free wouldn’t come amiss?... No?” she nodded. “I thought not. I have many business acquaintances, often visiting from abroad, they usually arrive alone. I need someone to entertain them. Someone with a bit of class, who can talk intelligently, eat and drink properly, know which knife to use”, he put his hand up again to stop her interrupting, “...in addition, I need to know a little bit more about them, give me the edge when we’re finalising things. Do you understand me?” Clare did and they came to an agreement. As well as her rent being cut by 90%, Mr Butter would remunerate her per visit, and sometimes the gentlemen would add to that with ‘tips’; she would let Mr Butter know what had been 44
Underpainting said, what had happened. Clare didn’t have to discuss the ‘tips’. She didn’t really like the arrangement but felt it was hard not to accept. It reminded her of the time when she was desperate for cash and worked for an escort agency. She preferred the cosy arrangements she had with her regulars, but the extra cash would be handy, and London was getting expensive. However, she didn’t feel fully in control of her life and promised herself to get out of it as soon as she could. She never thought herself a prostitute, just someone who offered a personal service, a sort of therapy. In the ten months since that meeting, she’d only once had to complain to Mr Butter about one man. She’d kicked him out after he’d given her a lovebite, a cocky man who said he was in the music business, wanting services she certainly wasn’t willing to offer. She was a bit worried when she told Frank Butter, but he didn’t mind, in fact he laughed very knowingly, and said that she was right, if he wanted that sort of thing he knew plenty of others who could help, he’d be more careful in future who he sent, and thanked her for the information which may be useful in the future. Clare went back upstairs, and began tidying her bedroom, which didn’t need much doing, she was a very tidy person. Moishe the one-eyed black cat was asleep on the bed, she shewed him off and reluctantly he left for the warm kitchen. The room smelt of lavender to cover smoke and sweat. She had a round table in one corner covered by a white tablecloth, on which a rose patterned china tea set was set out, her gentlemen often liked to sit and talk over a cup of tea. It was part of her act and it filled time they were paying for. She had acquired a posh accent at the boarding school her grandparents’ had paid for, very English, and always wore smart clothes, not tarty, and thought she played the part well. The evening’s client was initially one of Mr Butter’s business acquaintances, but had become a regular. She thought he must be at least seventy and he spoke with a strange accent. She felt a little uneasy because she had decided not to tell Mr Butter everything. He called himself Harry, but she thought that wasn’t his real name. He always brought with him a beautiful soft leather briefcase with the letters CLF embossed. She wondered if he was a politician. He paid her well, far more than anyone else, so why bother what his name was she thought, and it was always in well-used ten-pound notes in a long blue envelope, which she didn’t open until he’d gone. They didn’t have sex; when he came, he took from his briefcase a black broad old thick leather belt, with a silver buckle shaped like two eagles. He stripped naked and knelt down, and told her to beat him with it, at first, she just slapped him, but he told her to beat him, hard, harder. The last two times he also brought a silver framed photograph, which he put in front of him, of a young man in uniform. As she beat him he cried out in a language she couldn’t understand. The one 45
Underpainting thing she didn’t like was that he’d asked her to shout anti-Semitic insults as she thrashed him. The worse the insults and harder she hit, the more he paid. £450 last time. She knew those insults from the time her drunken father hit her when she was home from school the week after her mother had died. Nevertheless, she knew it was business and you had to put up with things, especially as she’d seen a coat she liked, so today she planned to really let loose. At the end of each session, he’d dress, put on the belt, go into his case, turn and fill then hand her the sealed envelope, arrange another meeting, shake hands, and go; always through the back door. She told Mr Butter each time he came, in case he was monitoring her, but just told him he liked a blow job, she knew his need came from much deeper than Frank Butter required to know about. The front door slammed, Clare looked out and saw Matthew walking quickly down the road. “Damn” she said, she hadn’t got her diazi’s from him. Dark clouds had gathered and it started to rain. When she went downstairs, she noticed the kitchen drawer was open and the £80 gone. She knew he was back on the stuff and hoped he wasn’t injecting.
9 1991 The dome of St. Paul’s, the banks and offices of the City of London could be seen through the windows of ‘the studio’. Tom said you could see the Tower but Rachel and Peter had never been able to. Dominating the space were huge canvases that had been sewn together at a specialist stage set makers. There were theatre lights to see how the gauze’s worked, to check colour changes and shadows. Peter was absorbed by the technical aspects of the project and was more like a site manager than the creative painter he was in his studio. They wore hard hats and had to learn how to skip up and down scaffolding like monkeys. Peter had been given a six month sabbatical which the University had owed him for some time, they hadn’t liked it but when he’d told the Dean that at least one princess, probably Diana, would be at the opening night, and “... of course you will be invited”, things seemed to slip easily into gear. It was eleven in the morning, Peter, Rachel and Tom had been at work since nine. They were working on one of five gauze’s which hung in front of the main canvas, it was one that would disappear when blue light shone to reveal the inside of a tenement block. The studio was blacked out so the effect could be seen. Rachel was working high up on the scaffolding as Tom and Peter were blocking in an area near the floor. Colours were hard to see but this was the best way they had discovered to gain the effect. They heard familiar footsteps and a shaft of daylight flooded into the studio as Henry breezed through the large double doors. “Oh damn” Rachel shouted and a brush clattered down to the floor. “Watch out Henry you’ve spoilt the light..”. Henry quickly closed the door. The darkness returned and it was impossible to see anything for a minute or two. “You OK up there Rachel?... Don’t move until your eyes adjust” “I’m OK Peter... just a brush. Is that you Henry?” “Hello Rachel” Henry and Rachel had got on well since the project began. She’d shown him some of her work and he knew there was a market for good figurative paintings and drawings, on spec he’d taken some for a mixed show in Brussels. 47
Underpainting They had sold quickly. “Tom... Rachel... you ready for a break?” “OK” the two voices came back in harmony. Peter let up the blackouts and daylight filled the studio. “It’s coming on Peter, it really is. By the way Constantine was very pleased to meet you, he couldn’t believe that you would take so much trouble. Good bit of PR on your part Peter, I think you’ve made a good impression. He’s inviting you to a do at his house, to unveil your pictures, next Thursday. He doesn’t usually do that sort of thing”. Peter looked at Henry as if to say ‘Oh no!’ This was not Peter’s scene. Constantine Levy-French lived in a contemporary white and glass house on the banks of The Thames near Cookham. The garden, Peter had noted, was bigger than the park round the corner from his own house. The house was full of paintings, he had three bold Turner water-colours, a magnificent Nicholson relief, two intense tiny Palmers, the list was endless, a microcosm of English art. He’d been very pleasant to Peter and Tom. They’d driven down with a van full of brushes and paints for the set and the two six foot square landscapes carefully crated up for travel. Constantine had shown them round his collection and given them a good lunch. “Well Peter it is an honour for me to have your pictures in my collection, you know I must organise a party to unveil these”. Peter never expected to hear from him again. Peter was trying to think how to get out of it, he hated to be the centre of attention. Henry and Rachel were discussing plans for more pictures. Rachel was trying to explain that she hadn’t anything else available, because she was busy trying to pay off her overdraft by working on the set in the day and a pub at night. She couldn’t afford a model and that the last set of nudes were drawn from herself reflected in a long mirror, hence some of the strange distortions that made the pictures so interesting. She was also trying to explain that drawing when nude is quite hard, especially in a cold flat. Henry laughed and said he understood her problem and that they’d have to have a serious talk when this was finished. There were ways the Gallery could help her. Peter and Tom were standing together drinking their steaming tea surveying the canvases. “I’m really enjoying working on this with you Peter,” Tom rather shyly said, “it’s so different and such a big idea” “Thanks Tom, I needed someone I knew would be reliable” Then Tom tumbled out all at once. “But we don’t talk about things... about the picture… about the content... about why it is and how it is... like we did at college... you and the others were so hard on me and the rest of them... you know... about having meanings for everything, knowing why we do things, paint this, use this colour, you seemed 48
Underpainting to want to know all that was inside our heads then chew it up and turn it round and round, then spit it out” Peter was somewhat taken aback by this. “It’s different Tom when you produce something like this”. He realised that he was getting nowhere fast. “College is different. As a tutor I was there to make sure you learn, not just about painting... but about yourself about whether you want and have it in you to be an artist... to bring out what is really inside you... d’you know what I mean?” “Mm.. I suppose so... do you feel you are an artist or a teacher?” “Oh an artist” Peter quickly replied. “Then why do you teach?” “I suppose at first it was the only way to pay for time to be an artist” Peter looked at Tom, these were difficult questions that Peter knew he had to answer for his own need, but didn’t really want to face. “So you were only in it for the money” “Oh that’s not fair Tom, no...”. “What’s not?” Henry butted in joining Peter and Tom by the table. “Tom’s asking me why I’m still teaching” “And I ask him that all the time Tom, he needs to give it up, concentrate on painting, leave that to people like you and Rachel who really need the money” “I enjoy teaching Henry... I like working with people, seeing them learn, seeing them develop”. This was the stock answer he gave himself, it reassured him and gave him a reason. “Have you decided whether to come to Cookham or not? Constantine really would like it you know, could be good business... bring Marianne” “I suppose so, next week isn’t it... are you going?” “I wouldn’t miss it” “OK then” Henry left saying goodbye to them all. “Let’s have a couple of days off, it would be good to have a rest. Would you like that, paid of course?” Tom and Rachel looked pleased and agreed. Peter pulled down the blackouts again, Rachel climbed back up the scaffolding and Tom reset the lights. Rachel and Tom were contrasting people and that was what Peter required for this project. Tom was a hard worker but had little flair, and was planning to do a post graduate teacher’s course after a year off. On the other hand Rachel’s work came from the soul. Peter felt she should go on to the Royal College or the Slade, but she’d had enough of college, at 23 she’d lived a lot already and didn’t like the cosy world of academic life. Peter didn’t know many of the 49
Underpainting details of Rachel’s life, only that she’d worked in a circus, had family problems, and seemed a lot older than she was. He’d recognised a strength in her work that few students possess. “No, I can’t go..”. Marianne said, “I’d have liked to but... you know there’s all those squares to get sorted… you don’t mind, do you?” Peter and Marianne were sitting at the scuffed blue painted table in their kitchen. They’d just finished a Chinese take-away after they’d spent the last few hours in her studio, joining some of the squares together for the upcoming exhibition. It was a big job. Peter finished off the dregs of a can of beer. “That’s OK... I don’t fancy going myself, but you know Henry?” “His big night I suppose, another lot of contacts, you know he ought to pay you to go!” They both chuckled at that. “Will Mark be there?” “I suppose so. Henry doesn’t usually go anywhere without him, not to that sort of do anyway” “Mmm... Any news of when the first night will be” “Yepp... They put it back a bit, some problems with the music, something about needing some more sampling or something. June 12th they’ve agreed on. Princess Di should be there!” “Henry’ll love that. I’ll have to buy a frock I suppose” Marianne stood and cleared away the foil packs and crisp brown greasy bag. Their kitchen was unfinished, they both spent so little time at home it didn’t seem worth finishing things off. Marianne sat down and poured some white wine into a dark red glass. “Didn’t your Mum buy you that?” “Yes, from that coach trip she did to the Black Forest... Why not take Rachel to this do?” “D’you think so... You know Henry sold some of her drawings?” “Yes, you said. She’d enjoy it, see what she’s up against”, Peter looked at her quizzically. “You know what I mean. If she’s going to make it, this is the sort of place she has to be seen... She’ll need clothes, I don’t suppose she’s got anything decent. Get Mark to take her for something, he’ll know what looks best... but for heaven’s sake don’t you take her. What about that?” “Yes, why not. And what should I wear?” “Oh, you’ll do in anything, no-one will care less”, Marianne said it sharply and Peter felt a little hurt, but he knew what she meant. Peter went to the sink and filled the kettle, switched it on and sat down again. “I’m seeing Malcolm tomorrow” “You’ll enjoy that... He keeps going doesn’t he, must be the fresh air and 50
Underpainting all that exercise” “Mmmm..”. Peter was fiddling with a three day old newspaper, turning the corners and making nonsense of the text. “Did I tell you that Angela’s pregnant” Marianne announced.
10 New leaves shone like silver coins in the sun and looked as if they would snap off in the icy north westerly wind. Peter stopped; looked towards the top of the hill, there were only a couple of hundred yards to go. His leg muscles ached. Malcolm was well ahead of Peter, his wiry body bending into the hill like one the hundreds of saplings surrounding them. They had climbed silently through the ages of trees, the first ones planted more than forty years ago. They had reached the five year olds. The trees were mixed but planned. There were no paths, Malcolm knew every tree, he’d planted them all, carefully planning where each one should go. These were his brush strokes, each tree his choice. Today he had Peter to help, so both carried five pots in special backpacks Malcolm had made. In each pot a three inch oak peeping through fertile black soil. The hill felt almost vertical to Peter who was not used to such exercise, his lungs worked hard, but it felt good, he felt a part of something great and proper. Malcolm was sitting in a green grassy circle when Peter eventually reached him. Peter was breathless, Malcolm was gazing at the same landscape he saw and noted each day. He pointed. “Good light today Peter, you can see Clun church, look” Peter looked in the direction and surveyed a green patchwork of undulating fields, he’d seen it many times, but today was extra sharp, extra clear. He’d love to paint this, to capture it, but it was illusive to him, this was too real. “Malcolm, how do you keep it up..?” Peter was trying to catch his breath. He sat down on the damp grass next to Malcolm. “Those birch there” Malcolm pointed at ten six foot high trees, slender curved poles against the pale blue sky, “you and Bill put those in, 1986. D’you remember?” They sat watching the shadow clouds scurry across the valley far below. “Did Bill really want all that fuss or was it Angela’s idea?” “Oh no, he wanted it all right” “...those damn bells tinkling, that priest who looked like Boris Karloff, all that bloody singing in Latin. Was he that religious when alive?” “I didn’t think so, I only found out at the hospital when the priest turned up. Seems he was part of the holy Joe’s. You never really know people, when 52
Underpainting you think you know it all..”. “They better not have that fuss when I go, you’ll make sure of that won’t you?” Malcolm looked sternly at Peter, “I mean it Peter. Just scatter me to the winds from the top of here, better still use me as a bit of bone meal for one of those larches down there!” “Oh you’ll go on for ever Malcolm” “This will” he said with an encompassing gesture to his trees, “...but I’m eighty three now, and when I can’t get up this far I’ve made sure I’ll be off, I’ve got some stuff in the caravan. I’d go mad in one of those bloody homes, singing hymns and being ordered round by some bossy little sixteen year old. Oh and worse, smarmy vicars praying over you”. He shuddered. “No I’ll go when I say so, they’re not getting me”. Peter hadn’t known how old Malcolm was. The age quite shocked him, he’d thought he was in his early seventies. They sat silently, and the early spring sun warmed them as the wind dropped. Malcolm Davies was Peter’s painting tutor. He painted in the classical English landscape style. Peter had rebelled against him, but they’d got on well and became firm friends as Peter grew older. In 1963, much to his own surprise, Malcolm had inherited a hill in Shropshire when an uncle had died. He decided to grow trees, he first started going at weekends, then when he retired and his marriage broke down he moved there, living in an ancient caravan. Each day he planted at least one tree, slowly creating a forest, he planted like a painter painted, carefully planning where each colour should go. He’d given up painting years ago, as he couldn’t capture the feeling that this gave him. He knew he’d never see it in its full glory, but that was the joy, his mind could see it and he knew others would. As he planted Malcolm was making a beautifully detailed map, each tree marked and with names for little groups. Peter had a row of maples named after him and Marianne a set of willows near a stream. Peter had helped set up a trust so the area would remain untouched and the work continue when Malcolm died, he loved the place, tramping over the hills planting and dreaming of an unseeable future. “We need another person for the Trust now Bill’s gone” Peter knew he had to bring this up and this was a good opportunity. “Yes, I know, it’s got to be right hasn’t it. I don’t want any greedy relatives of Muriel getting hold of it, they’d have houses all over here as soon as look at it”. “I thought of asking Constantine Levy-French to be part of us, he’s bought a couple of pictures. Do you know him?” “He bought one of mine” Malcolm could see Peter’s surprised expression, “yes years ago it was, one of my moorland watercolours. Come up in the world a bit now hasn’t he? If I remember for five guineas, in 1953, something like 53
Underpainting that. He hadn’t got the ‘French’ bit then. I think he was a refugee in the war, from Poland or Czechoslovakia, somewhere like that, loads came over you know. After the war he bought old radios from all over the place, took them to a hanger near Reading, or was it Slough? Somewhere down there anyway, and cobbled up new ones. He had a huge ex-army truck. Had a couple of stalls in markets to sell them, and you could always buy ‘em on the never never. God he worked hard, but even harder to get rid of his accent! Cony Levi…” His voice dwindled away in thought and they sat in silence for a few moments, contemplating the patchwork of fields below. “How did you get to know him?” Peter asked. “Oh you know, when he got a bit of cash, he started to buy paintings, crap stuff at first then I don’t know… someone must have advised him, he started buying English landscapes, as if he needed to buy the culture to become part of it. He’d turn up at galleries when he was out collecting radios. Bought loads of Spencers for almost nothing, worth a fortune now I suppose?” “I think Henry collared him” “Ha, sounds like Henry. Bet he got a good commission eh? Yes, he’ll do as a trustee, doesn’t waste money, not Conny, but don’t let him have this, I want this for everyone, Cony Levi has to own things, own places, own people. He hides things I know that, what you see is only a surface. Best not rub too deep Peter, don’t look for the underpainting, just the varnish”. Peter was not sure what to think of all this, but was pleased he’d agreed. “How’s Marianne?” “She’s OK, busy on some pictures for a touring show. Haven’t seen too much of her while I’m doing this set. Are you coming to the opening?” “No, that’s not me, but I’ll be thinking of you” Malcolm lay back on the damp grass watching clouds scurry past. “Have you seen much of Angela since Bill died, I suppose she’s back to normal by now?” “Lizzie left, gone to be a musician” “Good for her, get away from those clutches” “... and Angela’s pregnant again” “Who by this time, God doesn’t that woman know when to stop” “Tom” “Tom, Tom who?” “Oh you don’t know him, he recently left college, only twenty two, in fact he’s working with me on this set. Angela hasn’t told him, it appears she told none of them, Bill thought they were all his, well I suppose they were, he looked after them” Peter gave a long exhalation and shook his head. “Good for her, she can still get them going then”. “It appears so, she asked Tom round to help her out and well ended up..”. “Bill never knew what a great woman he’d got? All that chasing after young girls... too easy, you don’t have to think. She’ll find this baby harder than the 54
Underpainting rest” “I suppose so” Peter said, “you could always tell the girls Bill would end up with. I used to see them in the first few days of term when we did induction sessions. Dark haired, open faced, usually the younger looking ones, especially if they were American. He had a chat up line, it’s only since he’s gone I realised it was always the same, something like... ‘you really ought to see the Carravagios in the National, I can show you them in their real light’. He was no better than any other dirty old man wanting a fuck. Same old script each time”. Peter realised Malcolm wasn’t listening, but was looking for the best site for the oak trees. “Over there, I think, yes… We’ll make a circle, in memory of Bill, Caravagio’s Erection we’ll call it on the map. Eh.. ha ha.. When this lot are at full height no one will know what the hell I was on about, bugger them eh! Bugger the lot of ‘em” Peter and Malcolm stood up and set about pacing out a circle.
11 Peter’s head was overflowing with the murmur of voices, laughter, clinking glasses and music of the party. He was outside leaning against the wall of a large patio, looking across the Thames at reflected lights on the other side of the river. He felt awkward and quite cold in the cream linen suit he’d chosen, and knew it didn’t do anything for him, it had looked good in the shop and Henry had said he should make an effort. Rachel looked amazing, her dress was so simple compared to the overdressed over-rich party goers, Mark had done a good job, as Marianne said he would. The ‘opening’ had gone well. Constantine had introduced Peter perfectly; Peter had thanked him; Henry had thanked everyone and was busy finding enough work for Peter for the next ten years. Peter wished Marianne was there, and for some reason also wished Clare was there, she’d have enjoyed this. Rachel was great, and busy charming rich men with the naturalness of her manner, soon she would be the star attraction. A motor boat glided past, containing a group of four people drinking cocktails, laughing loudly and richly. “Peter!” He looked round. “Ryan. I didn’t see you..”. “No, we came in while the ‘official’ business was on. Marianne?” “No, she’s busy... getting work ready for her show” “I thought not... who’s that with you?” Ryan gestured to the window where Rachel and Lizzie were talking together. “Oh, someone working with me, she was a student last year, you know…” Ryan stared at the window. “Mmm, like it Peter, yes… like it” “It’s nothing like that Ryan, I needed a partner tonight, she was, well... there. It’s nice to see Lizzie looking so well” “She’s great Peter. So much life, so many ideas... I knew she was... well you know…” “No, Ryan I don’t”. “…And I suppose you think I’m far too old for her as well? She wanted me. Her mother won’t listen, Lizzie loves me Peter. I feel like a teenager again!” 56
Underpainting “But you’re not are you?” They stood in an awkward silence looking towards Rachel and Lizzie as they laughed and gossiped. Lizzie turned, saw Peter and waved to him, gestured to him to come inside. “And I suppose you’ve been telling him off as well” Lizzie said when they’d reached her. “Not really, but well... It’s up to you” “It is. I’m so happy Peter!” Lizzie held Ryan’s hand tight, she looked more like his daughter. “Have you seen Queen B. lately?” “Mari has... I think you two ought to get together... I think she needs you” “She can go to Hell” she said softly, “... she’s upset me, said things. I’ll never forgive her”. “Oh let’s forget all this” Ryan said lightening the air, “come on let’s have a drink, this is your night Peter. Introduce me then” he turned to Rachel. “I’m Rachel, I suppose you’re Ryan..”. “Look I’ve got to mingle, Henry’s orders” and Peter ambled away into the crowd. Marianne was standing at the kitchen table, stirring a pot noodle. She felt guilty eating it but was too tired to bother cooking or even get a take away. However, she felt good, almost triumphant, the ‘great work’ was finished and she’d seen it in its entirety for the first time. The doorbell rang. Marianne thought about ignoring it, but the hall light was on. The doorbell rang again, this was someone not to be put off. “If it’s double glazing I’ll..”. When she opened the door her brother Colin almost fell in past her, she stopped him with an outstretched hand. He stank of alcohol. She looked beyond him to see if Shirley was there, or worse still the kids. “… aren’t you going to let me in then sis? I am your bloody brother you know!” Marianne stood back, and he lurched forward. “Have you been driving like this?” “No. Have you sis?” and laughed his nasty spoilt laugh. He was unshaven, his shirt collar was filthy, and his hands almost black with dirt. “Does Shirley know you’re here?” Marianne said coldly. Colin looked sheepish, swayed on the spot, found his balance and headed for the living room. “God it’s cold in here Mary, you going in for funerals?” “Colin” she said to him like a school teacher “sit there” “Yes ma’am” he fell into a battered armchair. 57
Underpainting “What are you doing here?” “I’ve come to visit my favourite sister” the words slurred, “my only fucking sister. Is that not allowed? Is it not a free country, am I not allowed to do as I please as long as I don’t harm anyone, I have a vote, I pay my taxes, I mow the lawn, I wash my car..”. he was starting to shout. “Stop talking rubbish. What’s gone on?” There was silence. Colin starred in front of him looking at the now glowing gas fire. “Have you rung Shirley? You know she and Mum will be frantic..”. “Mum doesn’t know” Colin intervened. “Thinks I’m at a conference” There was silence again. “Well Shirley... do you want me to ring her, let her know.”. “No, no no no!” Colin was shouting, and crying. Marianne had never seen Colin like this since he was four. “Look, I know we’ve not been close, and I know we never see each other, but if you want to tell me.”. “Oh shut the fuck up Mary!” Colin put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a screwed up sheet of paper, handed it to Marianne. She unscrewed it. It was a charge sheet. She had to read it twice, these words stood out Colin Paul Maddox is charged with assault and battery on Sunday May 14th to the person of Shirley Anne Maddox at ... “What the hell’s been going on Colin?” she said sternly. Colin was asleep. ‘Does Mum know?’ she thought, ‘God this could kill her. Shirley, I can’t stand her but this? Hey you’ve got to go! I’m not supporting you Colin’. She wondered how long it had been going on, she’d never noticed anything, hadn’t seen bruises, but then, she thought they usually get hidden. She wondered why he’d come? Did she need to ring the police? She looked at the charge sheet again. He was due in magistrates court in four weeks. ‘I’m not having it’ she shouted inside, ‘I’m not going to sympathise. You may be my brother Colin, but you don’t do that, that is not on!’. She switched the light out and went to bed. Peter had had enough of the party. He’d met some bloody awful people. Rachel was livid at something Ryan had said to her, her eyes sparkled like Peter had never seen them before, she looked darkly beautiful. Peter realised he was drunk. “Peter, are you listening?” 58
Underpainting “Hmm, yes I think so” “I think you’re pissed, I’ll get Henry to ring a taxi..”. “Good God” Peter was suddenly cognisant again, and stared straight past Rachel. A well built man in a wheelchair was being pushed towards them by a tall blonde athletic looking man. “What the hell is he here for?” he whispered, Rachel looked round. “Peter!” Frank Butter said loudly, many of the guests looked round at the intrusion into their conversations. “Frank, I didn’t expect you here”. “Oh, Constantine and I have some joint business connections, and we share an admiration for your work”, he made a gesture in the air with his right hand that actually took in a Turner water-colour and a series of Bill Brandt photographs. Frank looked self-satisfied. Peter felt like a commodity. Peter and Rachel gazed at Frank’s tall blond ‘minder’. “Oh, this is Sandor, don’t mind him, he helps me with some personal aspects of my life..”. They nodded towards him, Sandor nodded back and smiled a razor smile. Peter thought Frank looked vulnerable for the first time in his whole life. “...and this is? Not Marianne, I know that?” Frank put his hand to his mouth in mock horror, “...Oh I haven’t said the wrong thing have I?” Peter introduced Rachel. “Another artist! Another one for your Henry to hound me about? That man, he sees a bit of spare cash going and he’s in there like a ferret!” Peter and Rachel laughed with Frank, whose eyes beadily shot from one to the other. “I really must find Mark and thank him for choosing this” Rachel gestured to her dress. “…and quite rightly, you look stunning my dear” said Frank with a lightness Peter didn’t expect and had never heard before. Soon gales of laughter were heard as Mark, Lizzie and Rachel were bitching about the other guests. “Peter will you push me outside, I need a word” “It’s bloody cold out there Frank, will you be…” “Oh shut up and push” Frank intervened. Peter pushed Frank’s wheelchair onto the patio, the evening felt warmer or perhaps the wine had warmed the blood. Sandor stood by the door on guard. “Peter, your painting. I didn’t realise it was going to be let’s say, so personal” Peter felt a cold shiver go down his spine. “Well..”. “Oh, don’t think I don’t like it, no no, it’s quite magnificent, much finer than these here, even I can see that and I don’t know fuck all about art. No, it’s 59
Underpainting the memories it brings back, not ones I’d wish to be made public, you know what I mean?” “Of course I do Frank, of course. No, it was a…” Peter tried to find the words, “…the most significant place, a time when we all seemed to grow up” “Yes, but your dad, he wouldn’t have wanted it all dragged up again, you know that don’t you?” Peter didn’t understand. He thought of asking what Frank meant, but didn’t. “How’s Pearl?” Frank always called Peter’s mother Pearl, even when they were young. “She’s fine, you know what she’s like, always something, never stops” “They were good to me, I can never repay them. They were my family, much more than my own” “There was nothing to repay. It was different then, what little we had was shared, God I’m sounding like some old man now Frank! Too many glasses of wine. Too many damned stupid people telling me how wonderful I am”. Frank smiled and gestured to Sandor. “Come on Sandor let’s go home”. Constantine came out and joined them. “Oh you’re not going already Frank, you’ve only just arrived” “Yes, got to be up early. I like that belt Cony” Frank said gesturing to the two headed eagle buckle, “Polish?” “Hungarian, an old friend’s, he was in the army. I wear it on special occasions, it reminds me…” Constantine’s voice trailed off. “Yes, I know, Peter and I were talking of the past. So much of it isn’t there? So bloody much of it. People need reminders so they remember where they’ve come from”. Sandor pushed the chair towards the exit and stopped, turned Frank around. “It was good to see you Peter” Frank said with a wave, “come and see me soon, I’ve got a proposition for you”. They disappeared through the mill of the party. Constantine looked at Peter and nodded, then returned to his guests. Peter picked up his wine glass and leaned against the wall overlooking the river. It was dark and the wind made the water choppy. He felt cold again and remembered Frank as such an active boy, always on the move, how he’d come and get Dad for something or bring a message, how Mum would always ask if he’d eaten, then sit him down for beans on toast or a bacon sandwich. Dad would always say how she spoilt the lad, but Peter could see that Frank was really the son he wanted, someone to go fishing with, go to the club. Peter was a disappointment to his Dad. Peter thought about his visits to Vic. The other lads always called Vic a 60
Underpainting ‘puff ’, ‘homo’, shouted ‘nigger bum boy’. Vic would sit and talk to Peter, he never once tried to touch him, never suggested anything, only gave him tea in a beautiful blue china cup, “...the only one left from a set” he’d always say. They talked about art and about Peter’s ambition to be an artist. Vic told him he had modelled for many artists in the 1950’s in London and Paris. He told Peter about the studios, the smell of oil paint. It was like walking into a wonderland for Peter, who dreamt of a studio overlooking Montmartre in an attic and beautiful girls with big breasts taking their clothes off for him. Peter never told his Mum and Dad about his visits, they were his secret. He knew his Dad would go mad, Vic was the devil incarnate to him. “Peter, you’re crying” It was Henry. “Am I? Must be the wine” “Well, you are favoured aren’t you?” Peter looked puzzled, “Frank Butter. He never goes anywhere. Constantine said he rang and asked to come, now that really is something isn’t it? And his minder... very smart”. Henry’s eyebrows lifted. “We go a long way back,” Peter watched the bedroom lights of a house on the other side of the Thames come on and light up a garden. “I must go home soon Henry. I’m not used to all this to drink since Bill died”. They went back into the party. About four hours later a taxi came and picked up four people who, by that time, were not sure who they were. “Mary” Whilst descending a spiral staircase which kept falling away Marianne heard a distant voice calling her name. Not Peter. Colin? Why? A dream? No. A hand was shaking her shoulder, a solid hand. “Mary” One eye opened and she could see a mug of tea steaming next to the book she’d been reading what felt like five minutes ago. The side light was still on. Her other eye opened and took note of the clock radio. 6.34. “Good God Col! It’s only 6.30” “I brought you a cup of tea... I couldn’t sleep” Marianne sat up. It was just getting light. “Colin?” then she remembered, no dream. She took a deep breath. “Oh, shit” “I’ve made a decision” He waited for a reaction. Marianne’s head was splitting. “Can I stay here, for a while... until the court case. I won’t be in the way. You know me” “No, I don’t” she said firmly. “You think I’m guilty, don’t you?” 61
Underpainting “I’m damn sure you are”. “I suppose I am” Marianne sat up and took her tea. It was hot, too milky and sweet. She put it down. “I’m not going to let you stay here”, Colin looked hurt and dejected. “There’s no way. I can’t stand Shirley, but you can’t do that, oh no, hitting her is no way out. You’re another spoilt little shit who... oh” “But you don’t know, you really don’t” “Oh I do, I do... How long’s it been going on eh? You may be my brother but in this you’re alone mate. Just sod off… sod off!” Colin stood up straight. Rage filled his eyes, blue lines crossed his forehead. He turned, ran downstairs. Marianne heard the door slam and a car skid off into the distance. Her head was pounding, she was shaking. The house was quiet, but her head was like a drum and a red pain was behind her eyes. She turned over and buried her head into the pillow. She dreamt of the sea. She was woken by the phone downstairs. The clock said 10.15. ‘Never’, she thought, ‘damn there’s a class in half an hour!’ She ran downstairs as the answer phone clicked in and she decided to leave it. It was Mum. “Mary, it’s me. Are you there?... No, well Colin’s just arrived, how could you say such things to Colin after all he’s done for me. Shirley’s just… over sensitive, she’ll get over it. Oh I hate these machines. Ring me as soon as you get back. How could you Mary, your own brother?” Marianne closed her eyes and thumped her head on the door. “Oh shit!” she shouted, “this is all I bloody well need!” Peter’s eyes opened with a start. He lay and stared at the cracks in the ceiling, and realised he wasn’t at home, ‘but this is the flat’ he thought. Harsh light flooded the room and when he tried to move his head it spun, so he lay back. His mouth was dry but it was far too much effort to get up for some water. He realised he still had his clothes on from the party and was at a 45 degree angle on the bed. For the next ten minutes he slowly took his clothes off and settled under the sheets. His phone rang. Peter put his head under the pillow, but it kept ringing. His throat and mouth were so dry that only a grunt came out. “You all right Peter?” Marianne said on the other end. “Sounds like you had a good night last night!” “Hello Mari” he turned over and looked at his clock, 11.45. “You still there?” “Oh yes, my body is but I don’t think my brain is” Marianne laughed. 62
Underpainting “Oh Peter, I bet you look awful. Was it successful?” “I think so, you’d have to ask Henry. Oh you’ll never guess who was there, Lizzie and Ryan!” “Was she OK?” “Fine, but you should have heard what she said about Angela, and Ryan started to chat up Rachel! Oh and Frank Butter turned up as well with Mr. Universe in tow!” “Sounds like a busy night. I’ve finished the quilt” “Oh that’s amazing Mari, God I bet you’re pleased” “Sort of. I’m not sure what to do now. But it looks OK, I could make some changes, but that’d be fiddling” “I know what you mean” Peter’s headache moved round his head, then back again. “You OK? That sounded painful. Anyway, I had a call from a Lorete Kropitchnik or something like that, she’s a curator at The Museum of Contemporary Women’s Art in Washington. It seems Alice had been talking to her and telling her about the quilt and she wants to see it, seems like they’ve got loads of money from a bequest to buy new stuff. Could you ask Henry if he knows her, he knows everyone” “He’ll want his pound of flesh” “Mmm I hadn’t thought of that, she wants to come over later this month, before the show gets on the road, have ‘first option’ as she so horribly put it. I don’t know if I want to sell really, what do you think?” They were both silent for a few seconds. “Oh! and you know what else happened” “Mmm” Peter was half asleep not really caring at the present. “Colin arrived, drunk” “What, Colin from Ceramics!” “Noooo, my brother Colin” “What on earth did he want?” “It appears he beat up Shirley and is facing charges” “You’re joking” “I’m not. Anyway I kicked him out this morning, he had this idea to stay with us and keep his head down” “Damn cheek” “That’s what I thought, anyway, I’ve already had Mum on the phone telling me off, deserves all he gets the little shit” “Mari! That’s no way to talk about your brother” Peter put on a voice like Marianne’s Mother. “It’s no joke Peter. I can’t abide Shirley, but that’s no way to behave is it?” “Oh no, it’s no laughing matter. Hope he gets life!” “Better go Pete, got a class in ten minutes, bye. Oh! You had a message from some reporter, forgotten her name but you can get it off the machine 63
Underpainting yourself can’t you? I should think Henry will handle that. Got to go, bye..”. “I miss you...”. but before Peter could finish Marianne had switched her phone off. Peter lay back exhausted and went back to sleep.
12 “Lorete Krukowska, that’s who you mean!” Henry exclaimed as he finished his coffee, “oh yes, we all know her. Loads of cash swilling about, ruining the markets. Trawling the world to fill this ‘goddam gallery’” he finished in a mocking southern drawl, “hard nosed bitch”. “She from Virginia?” Peter impishly asked at hearing such a bad accent. “... somewhere like that, but you know what I mean” “What’s that you’ve brought for Rachel?” “Oh, some drawings. We’ve been given box loads by the estate of Raymond Miller, by some greasy little solicitor in Dawlish, thought she may be interested” “Raymond Miller. That’s a name from the past” “And now passed on… we used to sell his work, went out of favour years ago, but its good stuff, heaven knows what we’ll do with it all”. “He used to do some teaching when I was at college, life drawing that sort of thing. I never really came into contact with him. Really old-school” They sat staring at the set, now almost complete. “It’s taken you longer than I thought” “It’s so big, probably too detailed” Peter answered. “Does Marianne need any assistance with the bless-ed Lorete, she’ll be a hard nut to crack?” “No, I think she’ll be OK, pretty hard stuff herself is Marianne when she wants to be” Tom and Rachel came noisily through the doors, laughing. “Hi, Henry!” Rachel waved a French stick at him. “I like the look of that” he replied. “I’ve got something to show you” He took the folder to a table and he and Rachel began to leaf through a series of drawings. Tom joined Peter and sat down. “You’ve been quiet Tom, anything up?” “Oh you know. I went home for a few days. Dad kept asking what I’d do after this was over, Mum said I looked thin. They kept insisting that I could go home anytime, you know the sort of thing, I wouldn’t get in their way..”. Peter said he did know, but didn’t really, that sort of relationship had never happened in his family. Tom looked down and fed up. 65
Underpainting “Seen any of your old college friends?” “No, not really. I did some odd jobs for people. Everyone seems to have gone home or are working their arses off paying off debts. This’ll just about clear mine, thanks”. Peter waved a hand to say ‘don’t worry’. “Peter, d’you mind if I take the rest of the day off, I’m not really concentrating on things, I don’t want to make a mess” “Sure, have a good walk round. Why not go to that show at the ICA, it looks good” “I may” and with that he lumbered out of the room. Peter wondered if Angela had said anything yet, but daren’t ask him, didn’t dare even hint he knew. “Stunning texture” Rachel was saying as Peter joined them to look at the drawings. “Look Pete, these are wonderful. Henry says he taught you”. “No... he did some teaching at my college, but I’d given up all this sort of thing. If I remember there was only two or three who did life drawing then, wasn’t the thing to do, maybe I should have. I just splashed paint around”. He studied the fine drawing technique. Cross hatching, strong line and features, disciplined work. Miller caught the real essence of skin and muscle. As Rachel was turning a drawings over slowly. Peter put his hand on her arm and took a sheet from her hand. “Can I take a look at this one?” Peter walked over to the window with it. It was a highly finished drawing, of a male black model in a boxing pose, seen from behind the right shoulder. The skin was perfectly captured, the muscles shimmering and taut, the hands emphasised but in proportion, however it was the half hidden face that caught Peter’s eye. Surely not’ he thought, ‘too much of a coincidence’. He turned the drawing over, it was dated 18th March 1956, then in a softer pencil Coombe Bay. He turned it over again, the face was away from the artist, but the structure of the cheek and jaw were clear. He went back to them. “Are there any more of this model Henry?” “Oh loads at the Gallery, as I said boxes full and no-one to leave them to”. “Can I keep this here?” Henry looked a bit stern. “I’ll buy it!” “OK Peter, come over later and I’ll show you the rest” “Did he work in London?” “Miller? Oh yes, through the War then moved away just after” “Devon, I remember, he used to come up from Devon” 66
Underpainting “Yes, that’s where these came from. Paris as well for a few years, late forties I think. He did those portraits, you know, in Southampton or somewhere like that. Boxers, cyclists, there’s that great one of an acrobat standing on one hand”. “Never been to Southampton Henry” “I’d like to see some more” Rachel joined in, “he was a good model… look at those tight muscles”. “Mmm.”. Henry said in a not too artistic way Peter took up the drawing again. “It’s got to be him... it’s Vic I’m sure it is” he said softly to no-one. “That has to be Vic. Younger, what nineteen, twenty?” Henry joined him, “Someone you know?” “Maybe, not sure, I’ll come over and see the rest” “As I said, there’s loads at the gallery, they’re cluttering a corner of my office” Peter imagined Henry wouldn’t like dusty boxes in his immaculate office. He felt pleased because sometimes he’d not believed Vic about the artists he talked about meeting. “Oh, Henry. I forgot. I’ve had some reporter after me, The Independent I think they said. I didn’t reply, I thought you were probably dealing with it”. “When?” “About a week ago, only just remembered, sorry” “That’s OK, Independent’s not much use for us anyway, I’ll ring him. Buyers tend to get The Times, unless it’s for the supplement of course” “No, it was definitely a her, I remember now, Eva Wilson” “Never heard of her. I’ll contact them, see you later! She’s not their usual critic, perhaps they’ve appointed someone new, about time too”. “Marianne Maddox” Alice said “Lorete Krukowska”, introducing them to each other at the door of Peter’s studio. “Just Lorete, please” Lorete said in a soft southern American accent. Marianne studied the immaculate clothes and hands, perfectly finished, nails shaped and dark smooth skin. She quickly hid her own, which were permanently ingrained with blue black paint, in her back pockets. “I’m so pleased you could come” she said, then to herself ‘for God’s sake Mari you sound like the Queen’. Lorete was considering at the quilt, set up on the wall where Peter usually hung drawings. “It’s amazing... have you seen this Alice! Hey look at that” she went over and put her hand on a section with a plastic car , “... and this, oh and look at that”. In her excitement her accent thickened. She stood, her legs crossed 67
Underpainting ballerina-like and two fingers over her mouth,“...and Alice says you’ve got as many you’ve not used?” “Yes, about two hundred more, I chose fairly randomly, though I have my favourites”. “I bet you have... I bet you have… Oh look at that one, where did you get that from? And against that... hey that’s not painting, that’s poetry!” There was a deep emphasis on ‘poetry’ and Alice and Marianne stood and nodded their heads. “You know Marianne, I’ve got the perfect site for this..”., Marianne tried to intervene, “no..no.. let me finish. The new wing. It’s a long series of galleries, with a walk space down the middle, no doors and at the end of it all I’ll put this, so that when you see it first it’ll look like a few coloured shapes, then when you’ve been through each gallery it’ll slowly come to life, the crowning point. That’s it, this is what I’ve been looking for!” “But..”. “Please, Marianne it’s perfect. Hey look at that I had one of those when I was a kid... and you’ve got another, I really must take a closer look”. “I didn’t plan to..”. “And you work here, live in this town?” “Yes, I teach part time at the local college” “Teach! Oh you really are the answer to my dreams. My old school, Juliet Farrow Women’s College in Wilmington, North Carolina, you know it?” Marianne shook her head, “No... well they’ve asked me to look for someone to be the artist in residence, you’d have a studio, students would book time with you and they pay senior professor fees. You get to go to all the conferences, you know like that one in Beijing, and have your own show every couple of years. And this, they’d love it, oh yes, what d’you think?” This was all too much for Marianne. Was this some softening up process she thought. She could see Lorete was as hard as nails whatever coos and fancies she put on. “Well I’d have to talk it over with my partner” “Oh, she could come too, there’s a house goes with the job” “It’s a he actually, this is his studio” “Oh, well” Lorete said shrugging her shoulders condescendingly. “But I am interested” Marianne said quickly and firmly, ‘who wouldn’t be’ she thought. “Marianne” Lorete said firmly, “say the word and I’ll fax them. The Principal is over here soon, to look at Alice’s show, and set some partnership up with an Oxford college, she’ll just love this when she sees it and you can meet her then, talk it over”. “I’ll make some tea” “Not for me” Lorete said, “I only drink blueberry extract” 68
Underpainting Marianne left the room with the kettle. When she returned it was clear that Alice and Lorete had been deep in discussion. “Your partner is Peter Marten then?” “Yes, he’s away doing a set, for a ballet, but it looks like the show won’t even open now, pity really” “He’s doing well, I suppose you feel a bit intimidated by his success” “No... no it’d never even crossed my mind that way, we don’t compete” Marianne replied. “Don’t you? Are you sure?” “No, we really are a team. I’m pleased he’s got on, he’s worked hard, it’s taken him years” “It’s taken you years too” Lorete said. “...he actually prefers my work to his own!” “That’s often the case. Male artists are all either certain they’re genius’s or certain they’re failures, whichever way their ego is usually larger than their penis” Marianne poured tea. “Marianne, I really do want to buy this. I want it for the gallery”. “But it’s for the show, I want it to tour” “Of course I wouldn’t dream. It can go on the tour and when it’s over we’ll have it. They’re still building the wing, it won’t be ready for two years” “Ahhh..”. “I don’t want to seem pushy but we really must get this finalised, I have to be in Gdansk on Friday, family stuff you know the sort of thing, and I won’t be back here until your opening. I’ll have our lawyer draw up the contracts and get them to you, or do you want your agent to deal with it. Alice said that slime ball Henry deals for you”. “Oh no, I haven’t an agent and I haven’t agreed to sell it either. I really need some time and you don’t know the price... and well I may not want to sell”. “Oh you British. Right. Let’s get down to numbers. How much is it?” Alice who had put the catalogue together for the joint show was about to speak, when Marianne almost shouted out the first number that came into her head. “One hundred and fifty thousand!” “Pounds I suppose” “Yes” “OK, not a bad price, about what I’d planned, we’ll have it” Alice looked as amazed as Marianne felt. “Bloody hell” she said. As Lorete was leaving, she turned to Marianne. “Ah, just one more thing. Some years ago, when she was in London, one of my committee saw some paintings by a Clare Zetzer, do you know her? I think she went to the college here?” 69
Underpainting “No, I don’t remember that name, perhaps before I started… I’ll ask Peter when he gets back… Clare, what name was it?” “Zetzer” Marianne sat down and stared at a small paint splattered mirror. “What on earth is all this about eh?” she said to her reflection. Her mind was reeling, was this what she wanted? Wilmington? Time to work with no money problems. Studio space, her own house, but Peter? Well he’d go if it was him wouldn’t he, she thought. They were a couple, but they were both artists. she buried her head in her arms on the table and wept. “Bloody Hell Mari” that was the fifth or sixth time Peter had said it. “Bloody Hell Mari” he said for the seventh. Peter and Marianne were standing in his studio looking at the quilt before it was packed up and sent off to the exhibition. When Marianne had told Peter about the sale they hadn’t said much, they both stared at the quilt not quite taking it in. The visit of Lorete had left her in a state of mild shock. She felt at last someone really appreciated her work and what’s more valued it, or was this a nice colourful piece for that end wall, just decoration to fit in with the space. “Anyway she wasn’t that awful. I felt sort of sorry for her, she seemed lonely, looking for something. I liked her, no pretence”. “Well I’m proud of you Mari. God knows what Henry’ll say, all that commission he’s missed. Ha! Will you be going over for the opening, unveiling or whatever it’s called?” “Inauguration, Lorete called it. I suppose so”, Marianne hadn’t told Peter yet about the possibility of Juliet Farrow College, she really wasn’t sure herself yet, there was plenty of time. “I’m afraid it’s women only”. “All the good things are nowadays”, Peter looked closely at one of the panels “Hey! That’s that scarf I gave you at college!” Marianne looked closely at the panel as well. “It was the first present I ever gave you” Peter sounded hurt. “It had a hole in it and was covered in paint. I hadn’t worn it for years”.
13 “You did a good job of that” Marianne said looking at one newly decorated kitchen wall, “we’ve not done much here for years... poor old house” “Must have been the set, working so big makes you realise how much you can cover in an hour or so” “Pity the performance has been put off, I was looking forward to it, excuse to buy something new” “You’ve got your show and of course you must plan for the Inauguration..”., Peter picked up a cake tin and placed it on Marianne’s head, “...a tiara madam” and bowed. “Oh yes”, she moved her head royally from side to side, “just my size ... and the diamonds I think… I’ll outshine Di!” Marianne picked up two bananas and put them next to her ears, “Washington will be ages away, ages”. “Drink?” Peter was at the fridge taking out a bottle of beer. “Some of that Australian stuff if it’s still OK. Angela and I opened it the other day” “Oh God, how is Angela, is she huge yet?” “Oh dear didn’t you know?” Marianne took a long drink from the glass and poured another, “Well it appears she was never pregnant at all” “But surely she’d know, she’s had enough..”. “Oh no, nothing like that, no. It was to make Lizzie jealous” “Jealous!” “Lizzie it seems used to have a thing about Tom, didn’t you notice?” “Lizzie about Tom? But they never..”. Peter said. “Yes they did, Lizzie must have been what fifteen, sixteen when Tom started and she used go to meet Bill at College after school, don’t you remember? She was always in the library, you must do..”. “... well I remember she used to come in after school, but then Bill’s menagerie were always around..”. “Well it appears she got a thing about him, crying at night, all sorts of things”. “Why pretend to be pregnant? Angela’s bloody mad, I’m sure she is..”. “No, no, no. Don’t you see? She saw it as a way to get Lizzie back home and thinking about someone else, instead of Ryan... “ 71
Underpainting “Oh God what a mess, was it as bad when Bill was around?” “Just about, and did Lizzie tell you about Philip?” asked Marianne. “Not more?” “Philip it appears has been caught breaking into houses..”. “What the devil for?” “...he’s got into crack or something like that, whatever it’s called” “I suppose Angela is..”. Peter interjected. “Absolutely furious, she went mad at Philip, they had a huge argument and he’s run off. He hasn’t been in touch with you has he?” “No, why me? I didn’t know anything about all this, so what’s Angela doing?” “Well she’s thinking of going to some place in California where you take all your clothes off, shave all your hair.... yes body and head” Peter’s face grimaced “... and you scream at the sea from the top of the cliffs” “...and I suppose endless sex?” Peter said. “She didn’t say so, but knowing Angela that’s probably it” “God, what a mess, what about the rest of the royals?” Peter asked remembing the horror of the week they had all five at the house when things had gone a bit crazy before. “Don’t worry they’re not coming here… to her mother at the farm, or what’s left of it” They sat silently turning their glasses with their fingers, staring at the unconnected Aga which had been like that for nine years. It was piled up with washing, some books, a couple of pans Marianne meant to throw out three years ago, and a holdall full of dirty clothes from a Portuguese holiday two years previously that was locked and they’d lost the key to. “Now I’m back I must sort that out” Peter gestured at the Aga. “And I must get the lock sorted… what a prat that composer is, getting his files wiped, about three years you said... a couple of nice tops in there” “That’s what they said? ‘... until there’s a window in the programme...’” “Seems such a pity... all that work” Marianne said. “At least I was paid... it was good to do it, such space and size, really makes you think how constricting the canvas is, working up to the edge... we were working with movement and lights, time, depth things that changed colour when shadows fell on them..”. “You still sound excited” “Frustrated more like”. “That blue shirt of yours is in there, must stink by now” Marianne pondered. They were silent. The pause deepened into a space in time when no-one dare speak for fear of breaking the spell.
Underpainting The phone rang and Peter answered it. “Hello Mum, you OK?” Peter’s mother hadn’t heard from him for two weeks and was worried. Peter assured her he was OK and was sorry not to have called. She told him about the sea, the shops closing because no-one was visiting the town and that they’d built that great big supermarket in Colwyn Bay which took all the trade away, how Mrs. Edwards had fallen over in the ambulance and broken her leg, “…and she was only going in to have her ear looked at..”. Marianne tiptoed through the hall, she knew if Pearl heard her she’d want to talk, she carried a newly opened bottle of Shiraz into the living room. As she passed Peter she mimed that she was out and spilt a bit of wine on Peter’s foot. They both tried not to laugh. “... are you all right Peter? Sounds if your throat’s sore...”. “Oh, I’m OK, you were saying about Mrs Edwards…” A couple of weeks after his father’s funeral, Pearl received two large cheques from insurance companies and an even larger one from a trust fund. It appeared that Peter’s father had paid every week into insurance schemes, without telling anyone. His mother was shocked at first and sat looking at the cheques saying something must be wrong. Peter had had to ring the companies to check they were correct. His estimation of his father rose and he felt a little ashamed for all he’d said and thought in the past. When Pearl went through George’s black metal box she found a war time ID card, the original agreement with the borough council for the house, and a letter written in his slow, careful hand writing. It read: 12th May 1972 My dear Pearl, I haven’t written a letter since North Africa, you do that sort of thing, you know how to put things. By now you will have received the money from the two policies. I them took out two in case one went bust and they should help tie you over for a while. I didn’t want what happened to Mother after Dad died happen to you, trying to make ends meet killed her. I don’t want anyone else to know about this, there’s plenty would want what should be a tidy sum. With best regards, George Marten Pearl had smiled at the ‘regards’, and knew that in his way he meant well. A week later she caught a train to Colwyn Bay and took a taxi to Rhoson-Sea. She inspected a small sandy coloured pebble dash bungalow with two bedrooms and sea blue paint work, a garden with pink roses and less than half 73
Underpainting a mile from the sea. She bought it. When she got home she rang and told Peter, who felt hurt that she hadn’t asked for his advice. She told him that the rest of the money would be invested at the bank and she’d add the interest to her pension. She read the agreement with the council, gave proper notice of leaving and didn’t tell anyone else. A removal van turned up at her house early one morning and by the time the neighbours were awake she was gone. From then on she spent her days walking along the beach, going to tea dances, and meeting lots of other women her age, alone and eking out an existence each week on what Henry would pay for a good bottle of wine. She became part of the scene and soon no-one could remember when she hadn’t been there. Peter sometimes went over and did odd jobs. She talked endlessly about her new friends most of which Peter had never met (or wanted to meet), she needed an outlet. “... and it won’t be long before you come again?” “Not too long, London’s done with for now, so I’ll try to come later this month” “Oh that’ll be nice, I’ll look forward to that” After a few minutes of forward planning the conversation was ended. Peter slumped into a chair and took a long drink of the deep red wine. “Why did I do that, now she’ll be planning, damn” “You haven’t seen Pearl for ages... anyway it’ll be nice to go to the seaside” “... and you haven’t seen your mother for ages either!” “Oh yes I have! Three days ago” “You didn’t say” “Well with all these things going on, that sale has knocked me a bit, it slipped my mind” “Slipped your mind! With your brother almost a convict!” “Oh God, you don’t know about all that do you?” “There’s not more?” When she’d arrived Colin was at his solicitors. Her mother took Colin’s side utterly and completely, it appeared that Shirley had been successful in getting restraining orders on him and had told of many years of Colin bullying her at first by shouting, then by hitting her where it wouldn’t show. Whenever things went badly at work, Shirley got the reprisal, he treated her like this until she knew nothing else and began to think it normal. Colin began to meticulously plan different and more obscene ways of humiliating her, breaking her will, Shirley produced drawings and notebooks that Colin had made over a number of years. It came to a head when the Police came to the door to speak to Colin who had been observed kerb crawling and picking up a fourteen year old prostitute in his car. 74
Underpainting At this Peter eyes nearly popped out, “Never! Colin?” Colin denied it, but Shirley didn’t back up his story and when he returned from making a statement he threw her against a door and knocked her out. That was the end for her, later that night she rang a friend, took the kids and went. In the morning after Colin had gone to work she returned, got all the locks changed and barricaded the house. Colin went to stay with his mother. “Mum said it was a case of wrong identity and that Shirley was as usual over sensitive, she needed a good shake sometimes, she’d often felt like doing it herself... anyway” Marianne continued, “…and that’s not the end of it. Mum had to go and see a psychiatrist, which shook her a bit. Colin it seems has been ordered to have his mental state observed and this psychologist needs to know more about his background. Mum was asked all sorts of things about when he was little, when he went to school, what toys he played with and of course some of this she couldn’t answer!” “What do you mean?” “Well I looked after him so much didn’t I?” “So you’re to blame for this monster!” “I think that’s what Mum hopes, I’m sure she does, Colin can’t be to blame can he? And now I’ve got to see this woman too, or she’s coming over or something” “Better not take her to the studio!” “What do you mean?” “Well, all those dismembered dolls and heaven knows what she’d say to that one with the squashed black dildo and the seed catalogue!” Marianne threw a cushion at Peter and they both fell into uncontrollable fits of laughter, which they knew was juvenile.
14 Peter was sitting in the new staff room at the University. Gone was the view over the railway, they now gazed upon the new computer science block which Peter felt was hideous, but was about to win an architectural prize. In the eight months he’d been away the whole staff seemed to have changed. Mike Potter, the Dean’s third in command, came purposefully towards him, Peter looked intently at a proof of a catalogue for the forthcoming show, hoping he hadn’t seen him. “Peter, we’re pleased to see you home again. The Dean was so sorry the first night had to be put back, his sort of thing you know”, he laughed as if it wasn’t his, and Peter knew he was green with envy not to meet and be photographed with Princess Di. “Yes, I’m sure he is”. “He’s sent me down to have a little chat. You are now the most senior lecturer in the department, you’ve got a standing well that no one else here even comes near..”. “Well, I wouldn’t..”. “Oh don’t be modest. There’s plenty here who would want your power. Well, he’s sent me down to ask you to put yourself forward for Head of School. We need someone of your experience, of your capacity and standing..”. Peter’s mobile phone rang interrupting the flow. “I’m sorry..”. he took it out of his pocket and flicked it on. He angrily said “Yes, I’m busy!” “Please one minute, it’s Eva Wilson from The Independent” “Look, I’m busy, and I thought my agent was dealing with this” “Oh no, it’s not about your painting, I want to speak to you about Frank Butter” “Look ring me later and I’ll deal with it OK, after four” Peter abruptly switched the phone off, “I’m sorry about that Mike, some reporter from The Independent, God knows what she wants” At the name of the national newspaper Mike Potter’s attitude changed, he didn’t mind that sort of interruption. “Where was I?” “Something about Head of School?” 76
Underpainting “Ah, yes..”. By the end of the conversation Peter had refused to apply for the post, he said he really didn’t want to be so tied down, it was administration, meetings, planning. Peter liked to work directly with the students, he was flattered to be asked of course, but no. Peter was pleased that he was now First Year course leader for a change. Didn’t they see this? Mike Potter didn’t. It was nearly four o’clock when Peter had time to catch his thoughts. ‘Hang on’ he thought ‘no one knows that number, only Marianne, not even Henry, how did she get that?... and Frank Butter, why him?’ The phone rang. “Hello Mr Marten its Eva Wilson again” “Hi, yes, look, I can’t talk now, I’m in the staff room”. “Can we meet, I’m only just round the corner from you” “What in Knype?” “Yes, I got in on the one forty five, thought it better if we met” “O..K..”. Peter said very slowly, “I really have very little to say” “I’m standing next to a pub, The Black Horse, can you be there by five?” The Black Horse at five in the afternoon had an air of desperation. It wasn’t dark enough to hide the stained red carpet and ripped seats, the evening hadn’t begun and people were in a transitional stage, waiting to go home or waiting to go out or nearly drunk from an afternoon of drinking. Eva Wilson was sitting at a table next to a flashing games machine, she looked younger than she sounded on the phone. Peter bought a drink for himself, he didn’t offer her one even though her glass was empty. He felt a bit mean, but then he thought, why should he? “Hi, I thought you must be Ms Wilson, you don’t look from round here” They sat for a minute silent as Eva looked through some notes she’d still been writing when he’d walked in. “What on earth is all this anyway? And why couldn’t Henry deal with it” “As I said, it’s not about your paintings, no. I’m putting together an article with three other journalists about the rise of Frank Butter. We’d heard there’s some big moves going to happen and it seemed an opportune time, you know?” She talked in an assured and well educated manner. He didn’t think she actually cared about this, it was a job, she was gathering the sweepings of someone’s life to make a five minute diversion one Sunday, she continued, “... I wanted to speak to you because you knew him when he was young” “He lived on the same estate..”. Peter interrupted. “He knew your father, they were very close. And... you did that painting for him. He came to your opening, I hear you and he were outside talking 77
Underpainting privately for ages?” “He commissioned the painting and I understand he’s a friend of Constantine Levy-French... who gave a party, who also bought some of my paintings… I really don’t…” “They are business partners” she interrupted. “They and some other partners are putting together a large bid for the franchise to run security for the Benefits Agency” “I know nothing of that... and yes Frank certainly knew my father, he was older than me, we didn’t mix. He did some jobs in the ex-servicemen’s club where my dad was chair of the committee, cleaned up, moved barrels, so did other lads. It was pocket money, that’s all”. “That isn’t how I’ve heard it” “Well that’s how it was” “What about his homosexual tendencies? Did those ever surface in those days, did he..”. “Now look here Ms. Wilson, I know nothing about Frank Butter’s private life. If he’s gay so what? Does that matter?” asked Peter. “It’s of interest” “To who?” They were silent. “What do you remember about the death of Vic Williams?” “That was years ago. Anyway what’s that got to do with this?” “Your painting, in Frank Butter’s office. It’s of the exact spot it took place”. “But it means nothing... Miss Wilson, for anyone growing up on that estate that was the biggest thing to happen. The place was dead, if you know all this then you must have seen it, I know it’s worse now… it was always on the edge of nowhere, even more so then. If anyone brought up there in the early sixties remembers any place it was that bit of road. Frank Butter wanted something to remind him of his roots. We met at an opening in Manchester, I hadn’t met him since I was a kid, and a deal was done. I went back to the estate and headed there, it seemed the obvious place to go, OK?” “So you don’t think he murdered Vic Williams? We know he was there when it happened, the police have files, he’s implicated” “They questioned everyone, I remember that, and if I remember rightly no one was ever charged. I’m sorry, I really cannot help you any further, you’re going into fantasy land. If you start printing that sort of stuff he’ll roast you in court, and quite rightly so!” “From my information he left the estate almost immediately after it happened, with a quite large wad of money, that’s how he set up and from there well, look at him now” “I really cannot help, I know nothing about any of this. I remember he left 78
Underpainting but at fifteen many lads left the area..”. “Not with a thousand pounds! That was more than an average wage round there then!” “I know nothing about any thousand pounds” “Would your mother know what happened?” “If you go near my mother I’ll have you in court for harassment, OK, you hear that OK?” he said it so loudly that the other people in the pub looked round. “Well at least we know where we stand” “I hope you do. I do not want my mother bothering about this. Anyway, how did you get my phone number?” “Oh it’s easy, we have contacts. Thank you for helping me anyway, it’s crossed a few T’s. Oh, one final thing, did he ever tell you about how he got hold of the studio you’ve been working in for the past six months?” This came as a shock to Peter, and felt it must have shown on his face. “I didn’t know it was owned by him” “Oh come on Mr. Marten, you’re not that stupid” Peter stood up nodded at her and left the pub feeling dirty. Peter rang Frank Butter’s office from his car and was surprised anyone was still there, then remembered that money never sleeps. After an inquisition by an efficient secretary he got through to Frank. He told him about Eva Wilson and what was said. Frank was silent throughout. When he’d finished there was a short silent gap, Peter could hear office noises. “Thank you for telling me Peter, it’s good of you, many people wouldn’t. We know someone is looking into me and the company... but they’re not from The Independent. It depends who they talk to which paper they’re from, they must think you are an Independent reader type! I think they’ll sell to the highest bidder. Anyway, they seem to be trying to dig up dirt, there’s a big deal coming up, a lot depends on the background and integrity of those involved, as much as the money” “Yes, she said something, I didn’t really take any notice” “Good... that’s the right attitude. I don’t think there’ll be any more problem with her or any of the others, if they do go and hassle Pearl let me know, we can deal with these things, you will won’t you?” “Of course Frank, of course” “Good... Well I’ve got to go, we’re up to our necks here, I won’t get home ‘til midnight. Good to hear from you and keep in touch. I want to chat over a proposal, I’ll be in touch” The phone went dead. Peter drove on, stopped at a pub and had a double brandy.
15 Marianne leaned against the wall of the ramp leading between exhibition levels at The Hayward Gallery, giving orders to three men hanging sections of the ‘quilt’. She wished she’d brought another hundred pieces. Alice the exhibition’s organiser joined her. “Looks good Mari” “Looks small, don’t you think?” “No, it’s just right, and the perfect position”. “Hmmm” Marianne inwardly answered. “Looking forward to your trip to Washington? Next week isn’t it?” “Well it was a bit of a surprise, I mean going over to make sure the setting is right and the wall’s painted in the correct tone, well... must have money to burn, still... Lorete rang and said it would be a good idea, give me a better idea about things and a chance to meet some people” “I bet you were pleased. Thanks for the percentage cut, it’ll go towards the next show..”. “Well you were instrumental..”. “Oh it’s well worth it, it really is a great piece you’ve made. There’s nothing quite like it” They stood in silence watching gallery staff hanging the sections for a few moments. “Have you the list of who’s coming to the opening?” “Ah yes, I’ll get it to you this afternoon” Marianne had forgotten all about it. As Alice walked away she began to make up a list in her mind. Peter of course, Mum and Colin - NO!, Angela? was she still in California?, Ryan and Lizzie - not if Angela comes, ‘it’s like a bloody soap opera’ she thought. Anne, Rachel, Henry.... Within an hour she’d found that Angela couldn’t come, and Ryan and Lizzie could. Rachel would come with them, so would Philip, which surprised her. Anne had to take the dog to the vet and would try, Henry was delighted to be asked, though he already had an invitation, he was on their regular guest list. There were also some old friends, some of whom Marianne wasn’t sure about meeting again.
Underpainting The concrete galleries echoed to a hum of voices, some laughter, the clinking of glasses. Marianne stood near her piece and mused to herself that openings are universally the same. Older men in smart suits with well dressed younger women; students who somehow wrangled invitations drinking as much wine as possible and nicking food; old friends of artists too embarrassed to say how much they dislike or don’t understand the work; artists’ parents feeling out of place; artists’ children running around bored and being annoying; people there to be seen with their backs to the work. She didn’t really like them, preferring to see an exhibition at quiet times when she could concentrate. Marianne was adrift on a sea of comment. “It’s amazing... I mean it really is, I never thought..”. “It’s wonderful darling, so much invention..”. “I could never… I’d love to… so much detail..”. “Oh look... look Keith it’s the bill from that meal!” “What a coup... selling it for so much, I’m green with envy..”. “Can you do another one... smaller perhaps?” “There’s no soul, all I see is a lot of love of materialism…” “It’s a statement of the evils of consumerism, but is that all?” “You could have done that with a screwed up Sainsbury’s bag, it’s empty..”. “Just a wall full of pretty images” “I love it, it’s so free and yet each section is a strong solid image” “… a juxtaposition of all that’s deemed important in this crap society of ours” “Did you have to make such blatant sexual imagery..”. “Do you think it’s a yearning for children and the onrush of menopause” “There... yes that... I had one of those when I was little..”. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” “How would you like to make another as a joint work with this women’s commune in Arran... we could all share in creation... give me a bell…” “We must get together, it’s been so long, when you’re back from Washington..”. “Here’s my card give me a bell…” “Oh let’s have lunch..”. “There’s this bar in Soho, a bit cheeky where they have naked men as waiters... you can touch their cocks… very tacky… you’d love it!!!!” “How about you and Peter coming for a weekend, we’ve got this cottage in Hampshire…” “We must have a long chat, I so share your issues of misunderstanding” “Do you think the Americans will understand it?” “I hate it, sorry, just too pretty” 81
Underpainting “Ryan give me that drink quick, I’ve had enough” Marianne snatched Ryan’s wine and emptied it in one. “I needed that” “You look worn out Mari... A good showing and they love your work” “It’s an easy piece to like. I’m not stupid” “Mari, they love it, I’ve heard them. Anyway, what’s wrong with popularity... in my business we depend on it... and don’t tell me you don’t love people liking what you do” She had to admit he was right. Around her work the atmosphere was buzzing with laughter and conversation, elsewhere it was earnest and dull as the work on the walls and floor. “Ryan I’m pleased you and Lizzie could make it” “When you said Angela wasn’t coming nothing could hold us back!” “Oh don’t be nasty about Angela. But I must say I’m glad she’s not here” “We’ve not met yet, the pleasure awaits” “I thought... oh well... something to look forward to I suppose” They walked together to the adjoining gallery, stood and silently scrutinised a video installation of three women moving around a kitchen, in slow motion. “Lizzie said Philip was staying with you, you could have brought him” “Mari you wouldn’t want him here, God knows what he’s up to while we’re out..”. “Whatever’s wrong? Angela said there were problems but you can’t believe anything she says” “Well about a month ago I got home and Lizzie and Philip were in the kitchen. He’d arrived with nothing and smelt awful. Lizzie was making him food. I could tell he was on stuff, you see loads of them in my business, and supply half of it to keep ‘em happy, often as part of the contract”. “Is he OK?” Marianne interjected. Ryan shrugged his shoulders, and continued. “We agreed he could stay a couple of days and then go back home. Things started to disappear. He stole money, one of my laptops, stuff from the studio, anything, to sell and get stuff, God it was a free ride for him. I’d get mad and Lizzie would get upset, she’d say he wasn’t to blame and I shouldn’t be so hard, you know..”. “Mmm… Angela’s daughter” “…Anyway one day I got home and the place was full of the filth, looking for drugs. There were dogs and big boots everywhere. It looked like a bomb had dropped. They found his stash, Christ he must have been buying by the cart load. Lizzie wanted to take the blame, but I wouldn’t let her. So we had a night at the nick, trying to explain everything. They let Philip out on bail, no previous you see, and his age, left him in our charge! Bloody cheek of it! I wanted him banged up there and then. It was OK for about a week then it 82
Underpainting all started again a couple of days ago... Some new light fittings disappeared. Lizzie and I are on a knife edge, he’s got to go, Lizzie won’t have it... So that’s where we are”. “That’s awful Ryan... poor Philip” “What do you mean, poor Philip, it’s me that’s paying for his bloody habit... sorry Marianne, but it’s all been a bit much lately” “That’s OK, if there’s anything I can do... Do you want me to have a word with Angela?” “No! No please don’t. Lizzie thinks she’s failed with him and Angela will blame her” “Well that sounds like her, she’s not easy” Peter and Rachel joined them, the conversation stopped as they concentrated on the video which had now moved into another room where one woman was lying naked under a blue fluffy rug while another was hoovering it.
16 Ronald Reagan Airport was heaving. Marianne nudged the luggage trolley she’d almost got into a fight over through a throng of passengers, to the double doors and into what felt like a cattle market. Thousands of faces. All colours and races examined each person as they walked past. Marianne couldn’t see Lorete, but felt she could probably see her. At the end of the fenced off section she noted a bored uniformed black woman holding a hand written sign at waist level with her name on it. Marianne waved and smiled in recognition. The woman remained stony faced. “Was Lorete unable to come?” “I know nothing about a Lorete ma’am, I’m here to deliver you to your hotel and give you this” the driver handed her an envelope. “Sign for it”. Marianne duly signed. They pushed through the crowds to the exit and towards a large silver car. The driver placed Marianne’s meagre luggage in the huge trunk where it looked smaller than the tool kit. Marianne sunk into the comfortable seat and realised how tired she felt. Looking at her watch it was late in Britain and still only six o’clock here. The car silently and effortlessly joined the flow of traffic. Inane music came on. She looked around, she’d never been to Washington, the airport was miles out, and along the freeway all they passed were great offices of the multi nationals. She opened the letter: I’m sorry not to be there to greet you. I had to go to Atlanta on unexpected business, a donor has died and left us a large legacy, I have to be there, to sort things out and thank the family in person. I’ll be back the day after tomorrow, so enjoy your hotel. We’ve booked you a suite at The Monaco. Take a chance to look round DC. Call my office and talk to my assistant, Shannon, who will deal with anything you require - supply a car and driver, tickets for a show, whatever you want. Try “Butterfield 9” near the hotel for lunch, and as I know you like Italian“The Galileo” in Foggy Bottom is great for dinner, all on expenses of course. 84
Underpainting Just ask Shannon and don’t be shy to, I know you English! Sorry I couldn’t let you know sooner, but it all happened so quickly. Warmest regards, Lorete. “Oh well” she thought to herself. The hotel was vast and her suite about the size of a bungalow. Everything you’d ever need was there. After unpacking Marianne poured a large gin and felt a bit dizzy. She rang and ordered some food and ate it whilst switching channels on a huge TV. She fell into a deep sleep and dreamt of her mother and father getting married. When Marianne woke it was still dark. The TV was still on and she switched it off. Her watch said 7.14 and the clock in the room glowed 2.15. Her body clock was still in Britain. The gin had given her a headache and the airless room felt stifling even though she knew it was quite cold outside. For a few minutes she wished she were back home. In the mini kitchen she found she could make tea, she knew she could ring for service but couldn’t be bothered to wait. She looked through the huge windows and traffic was still flowing, seen but not heard, though not as heavily as earlier. Tail lights shone brightly, a police car sped by, a street cleaning machine washed the pavements soaking a ragged man asleep in a doorway opposite. In the distance she could see the Capitol lit up with harsh blue white lights, and a huge stars and stripes in sharp focus against the orange and blue night. Marianne switched on the TV again and flicked channels. A Mexican station was in full flow with two people almost coming to blows over an issue she couldn’t understand because of the rapid Spanish. She switched it off and took a hot bath. By three o’clock she was asleep and dreaming of her childhood. They were together on a bright English beach, making sand castles, she kept telling herself this wasn’t right, her father was dead by the time this would have happened, she explained this in words that took so long to get out, he only laughed saying it was a mistake, she showed him a newspaper cutting and he told her that the papers all lied, and he played and dug sand and bought everyone bright pink candy floss. The Lincoln Memorial was a let down. It wasn’t as impressive as the photographs. Marianne had decided to be a tourist for the day, bought a ticket for the little train that goes round all the monuments and museums and had gone to look for America’s heritage. This was the first stop. The day was clear and autumn sharp, yet underneath was a softness of somewhere much further south than she lived. Marianne crossed the multi lane 85
Underpainting traffic, drivers were used to tourists and usually missed them by a few inches. She reached the Vietnam Monument. Marianne hadn’t been planning to visit it, but whilst walking around and hearing the American voices remembered Luke, from college days. In 1967 his parents were rich enough to send him to Britain to study. Like her he took part in all the Vietnam demos. Then a friend told him how all the rich white people were supporting Johnson and the war, and were paying for their sons to go abroad and draft dodge manipulating the system, so most of the soldiers being killed were poor young black and latino kids. Luke knew this wasn’t right, and his easy life was wrong. So he returned and joined up, his parents were shocked. Two days after arriving in Vietnam he was dead, killed in a fight in a bar. Marianne remembered him only as a shadowy figure now, she’d slept with him one drunken night, it felt a long time ago. Here the memories became clear and she felt close to the sentiment behind the Monument, as she actually knew someone named on it, or would he be, as he wasn’t killed in action? The Vietnam monument snakes down a green embankment, dark and unassuming, impressive for not being heroic. There were a few people, mostly over fifty, searching for names, then when finding them, laying a flower close by, making a rubbing of the chiselled letters, or just standing looking at nothing. Remembering. She felt they were not angry anymore. Marianne eventually found Luke’s name. Luke Berenson, there it was, about three feet off the ground. She stood for a few minutes reading his name and the names of those above and beside, so many, and wondered what the hell had been achieved. She felt around in her bag and found a pencil, a B, a bit hard she felt. The only paper she had was a tourist guide to the Lincoln Memorial. She was able to made a rubbing of Luke’s name across a quote from the Gettysburg Address, it seemed apt, and she thought she’d use it in a piece of work sometime. As she walked on her thoughts moved from Luke to Vietnam and she wondered if those killed over there had a monument, she remembered being angry and helpless when seeing the pictures on TV of mothers and children fleeing from burning villages, and the bombing of the North. Were they so effectively remembered? She thought probably not. And as Marianne walked through crunching crumbling leaves an idea came to her, it quickened her step, ideas flew though her mind, and by the time she returned to the hotel her body was walking, but her mind racing ahead. In her room she got all the hotel writing paper out and started to plan. First the name, why? Because it was important. She wrote - Monument to Unknown Women. Right, a bit pretentious, but why not? It would be six foot by four foot sheets of untreated wood or 86
Underpainting fabric or canvas or paper, portrait ways. Fabric yes. She’d go around the world to Vietnam, Bolivia, South Africa, Iceland, taking photos of women. Women in the street, at work, at home, then screen print them onto the fabric using natural earth colours that she’d mix herself. Brick red mud from the Mekong, deep black soil from the Veldt. The colours would be muted, soaking in to the untreated surfaces becoming not a surface but an integral part of the canvas, the faces would be shadows, haunting. The borders would be detailed like Medieval scripts, full of symbols intertwined with amusing and garish faces, no, she didn’t like that, simplicity was needed. Yes bold bare simplicity! Yes this was good she thought! Marianne sat back and realised it could be ten or twenty years work. “Juliet Farrow Women’s College! JULIET FARROW WOMEN’S COLLEGE!” she shouted out loud. “They’d love it. Lots of little helpers, the time, studio and money to do it. YES!!!!” She wanted to begin now! The writing paper was used up, she needed drawing paper, pastels and a camera. She remembered that Lorete had said to use her office staff and even better, there were expenses. She rang, explained she needed some things. In just a few minutes a capable sounding woman phoned her and told her which shops to go to and that they could be charged, they’d deal with it. She’d send a car to take her around. By the time she’d reached each shop, she found all was quietly and efficiently sorted and they knew of her arrival. She bought ten huge beautiful sketch books, some top quality pastels and an outrageously expensive Hasselblad camera, with loads of film, a special portrait lens and a tripod. Back at the hotel she got staff to cover over carpets and walls so she could rough out ideas. Marianne took her first three photographs of the Dominican women who did the cleaning and who in turn thought she was mad. The project was under way, there was no turning back now. She worked until dawn, covering the walls with ideas, then fell into a deep dreamless sleep. Lorete led Marianne into her immaculate office. A great sweeping window overlooked a wide square where trees were shedding bright orange leaves. There were two very different paintings on opposite walls, a Bridget Riley, which surprised her, the other was a very crudely painted family portrait. “I see you’re looking at the family” Lorete said as she joined Marianne in front of the painting. It was painted on wood with a hand painted frame, the artist had however crudely captured a family likeness. There were eight people, a man wearing traditional Polish costume leaning against an impossibly angled TV set, five males who looked between 15 and 25, a woman who was dressed in an evening gown and a very young dark skinned girl in a ballet dress. “That’s me” Lorete pointed at the little girl, “those are my brothers and my 87
Underpainting Mom. Gary was killed in a mining accident, Petra in an accident in the army, Ronny’s in California delivering Coke, Sonny’s still in West Virginia, still mining, and I’ve lost track of Steve, I think he’s in Kansas. Mom lives with Sonny and his huge family, Dad died about two years after the news came about Petra, couldn’t take it in, he was the oldest”. “I’m sorry” Marianne was genuinely sorry, she looked in a different way at Lorete’s hard features honed to perfection in countless workouts, seeing instead struggle and sadness. “The painting’s awful isn’t it?” “Well... no, no it isn’t, it means something, that’s more important than technique…” “Grandma did it, she came over and was so proud of what dad had done, we lived in a trailer, Logan County, West Virginia, just about surviving, but it was heaven to her, six great big men to look after her, she took this home to show how well they’d got on, then when she died it came back to us in a broken cardboard box, all the good things she had, the old family things, stolen en route, only this and a book of family photos” “It means a lot to you” “It’s my roots, when I look at this it makes me work harder, they deserved better, I help out when I can. I can see on your face you’re dying to ask me… No she isn’t my real mom and he isn’t my real dad, but they took me in when my real mom died, they’d always wanted a girl… Nothing official, just moved in from next door. They called me Frenchy, I think because my mom came from New Orleans, they said she spoke French, and my skin was lighter then, Petra often said ‘you’d never think she was a nigger’” Marianne looked a bit shocked, Lorete saw this, “Remember it’s the South, you get used to it” They sat down and a young woman, with perfect teeth and as immaculately dressed as Lorete brought in three coffees. “This is Shannon, she’s my right hand, indispensable. Officially she’s one of our fund raising managers, and part of the team busy raising money for the new wing, where your ‘quilt’ will play a central part” They acknowledged each other with a ‘hi’. “Shannon has this idea. You don’t mind if I..”. Shannon nodded approval to Lorete, “…tomorrow night we’ve got a small reception for some of our legators, each one will be leaving us a million at least, so they’re important people” They all nodded. “Shannon would like it if you could show those transparencies you brought over and explain a bit about your work, nothing formal, just part of the evening. I also thought we’d get some of those sketches you did last night onto film and you could talk about those as well, they’d love that I know” “I didn’t expect... and I’ve nothing to wear, I thought this was well, only a 88
Underpainting look at where the quilt is going, I’ve only brought jeans” Marianne thought Lorete was the sort of woman who wouldn’t have dreamt of leaving home without suitable evening dress, just in case. “Oh they’ll adore you and your work, if you can speak to them with such enthusiasm as when I came to pick you up, they’ll buy it before you’ve even made it. And don’t worry about something to wear, we’ll go out and get something after lunch, you’ve hardly touched your expenses”. Marianne agreed but inwardly felt her life was starting not to be her own. A dull red light hovered into Marianne’s view, she realised she hadn’t opened her eyes yet. She was comfortable and felt warm inside. She could tell from her body she’d had sex and she could feel Peter in bed next to her which made her feel good. She was relaxed, in fact she hadn’t felt as good after sex for as long as she could remember, she felt different. It was good to feel wanted, and she curled her body up and felt it was good to feel good, and went back to sleep. A pounding in her head woke her, she tried to forget it and lull herself back to sleep. A white glaring light slithered through the slits in her eyes and she slowly realised where she was. She could still feel Peter next to her, warm, and asleep. Her eyes jolted open. She was in Washington, Peter was in England. So that wasn’t Peter next to her. Perhaps it wasn’t anyone just the quilt rolled up. She put her hand behind her, creeping slowly across the sheet. Marianne felt skin, could hear breathing. “Oh God” she thought. She didn’t dare turn to look. “Oh God” she whispered, her throat was dry, she knew she’d drunk too much last night. Slowly she pushed herself upwards not daring to move in case her ‘partner’ woke. Marianne was now sitting up in bed naked. She made sure she was covered then looked sideways. It was a woman. She breathed out and felt less tense. Only some rumpled hair and a dark shoulder was showing, but she could tell who it was and recognised the clothes piled on the floor. “Lorete!” she whispered. She carefully got out of bed, found a dressing gown, tiptoed into the kitchen area and put the kettle on. She made tea and sat down. “Oh God” she said to herself again, “... perhaps she was too drunk to go home, stayed, shared a bed. But why am I... and she naked? …I can smell her on me. I’m sure I’ve had sex... No, surely not. Oh Garrrrd”. She massaged her neck which felt stiff. Outside it was raining and Washington was in full flow, brake lights shone in the lines of water. Marianne’s 89
Underpainting head pounded and she thought the tea was making her drunk again. She reviewed the day before to try and figure out what happened. Lorete, Shannon and she had gone to lunch, a smart place, what was it called? Then she and Lorete went to one store after another, trying on very stylish clothes and giggling like a pair of teenagers. For some moments in the changing room Lorete was naked and she’d thought how good she looked. Lorete had asked her to smooth a silk dress over her body, and she’d enjoyed the feeling. Lorete had given her shoulders and back a massage between trying on other clothes, it had felt good. Eventually they’d bought a blue suit for her, quite a strong blue not really her colour she thought, by some designer she’d never heard of. She looked across at the pile of clothes and there it was, mingled with a deep green dress which she remembered Lorete had elegantly worn. They’d gone to a bar and had a drink. Then they were at the Museum. Lots of women of indeterminate age who kept the plastic surgeons busy. Masses of jewellery, and more to drink. Marianne remembered stifling a laugh at Shannon’s joke that they ought to poison the food and get their money sooner. Marianne was nervous before she gave the talk, Lorete had put her hand in hers and kissed her cheek for good luck. When she showed the slides of the quilt the audience clapped, she could tell they loved it. Then she’d talked about the monument, some had wanted to take part there and then, do it, in fact she remembered taking names of women who wanted to be photographed. How pleased Lorete was, hugging her and, as then Marianne thought, mistakenly kissing her lips. Afterwards they went to a club. Music was loud, cocktails, so easy to drink. They danced, at first in fun, then when the others left together, close, Lorete kissed her, she kissed back, held her tight. Then blank. No, no Marianne remembered tumbling into bed. She remembered actually having an orgasm, something almost forgotten, something from 20 years ago. With Peter sex was irregular, she felt almost a duty on both parts, but last night with Lorete. God, she thought, oh my God you stupid bitch! She looked through the door at the bed. Lorete was asleep the sheet only just over her. Her body was tight, not an ounce of fat, no good to draw, but beautiful and for some reason at that moment she desired her. Marianne looked at her reflection in a mirror, at least a stone overweight she thought, like a bag of potatoes. No Lorete wouldn’t fancy her, what the hell was she thinking! Anyway, she wasn’t a lesbian! She had many lesbian friends, good friends, but she wasn’t one, she didn’t fancy women, not like that, no. God what will Peter say? She thought. He needn’t know, will he guess? What would I think if he went to bed with Henry. She giggled out loud, trying not to wake Lorete. 90
Underpainting Oh God she thought, I’ll never tell Angela, Christ she’d have a field day. Then she whispered “I think you better go home woman, before you get into a real mess, just grow up!” The rain was beating silently against the window. She didn’t know the time but by the traffic and people going earnestly about their business she guessed it must be mid morning. Her tea was getting cold, and she finished it off with two aspirin. Lorete was still asleep, turned over, her whole body showing now. She looked peaceful. Marianne went to the bathroom and stood in the shower. Through the steamed up glass door she saw Lorete, still naked enter the bathroom. The door opened and she entered the shower. “Good morning” Lorete said.
17 Peter slowed the car down as Coombe Bay came into view. From the steep angle of the road, choppy grey green sea reached high into the distance. An empty orange bus lumbered up the hill heading for Bodmin. Peter drove on and reached the small sea front where a few elderly people walked their dogs, leaning into the wind. He stopped at a newsagents and asked for directions. Eventually he pulled up at a tidy row of council bungalows for elderly people which jarred against the pretty Devon cottages of the rest of the small town. Wherever you were in Coombe Bay you could hear the sea. He knocked on a blue door and it was answered by a woman with a stick wearing a dark red cardigan and a flowered apron on which she was wiping her hands, she must have been eighty, hard to tell. “Mrs. Williams? I wrote to you. I’m Peter Marten... about the pictures?” “Oh yes, of course... yes, I wasn’t sure if you’d come... such a long way... come in.... I’m not sure if I can be of any help really, no, I’m not… but it’s nice to meet you”. It surprised Peter that she didn’t speak with a Devon accent, he thought it sounded Welsh, but could as easily have been Liverpool. They went inside. The hallway felt chilly but her living room was warm, stuffy, a gas fire hissing on low. Mrs. Williams made tea that was the colour of mahogany and opened a tin of plain biscuits. They sat at a table next to the window. Rain suddenly pattered the glass and stopped as quickly. “... as I said Mr. Marten, I didn’t really know Mr. Miller, I did his cleaning when he was up at Whitefields. If you’re interested in pictures he gave me that one there..”., she pointed to a small portrait drawing of Vic, hanging beside the TV, almost hidden behind a cheap china horse. Peter stood up and examined it. It had the same fine lines of the drawings he’d brought with him to show her. Peter took the drawing off the wall, leaving lighter coloured wallpaper where it had hung. “... it’s of my son, Victor. He modelled for Mr. Miller sometimes. Mr. Miller gave me that after he heard he’d died, very young he was..”. Peter felt he should say something and felt ashamed at his pretence of writing a biography of Raymond Miller. He’d found Mrs Williams address easily, she’d never moved for nearly forty years. He didn’t know why but he 92
Underpainting needed to know more. The visit from ‘Eva’ and what Frank had been saying led him to examine his past, about Vic and his death. Nothing he knew fitted. “It’s a fine drawing” “Yes it’s a good likeness” Peter noticed that there were no photographs of Vic, however there was one of a man who looked like a larger version of Vic. Mrs Williams noticed Peter looking at them. “That’s not my son, that’s my husband, Ali. You look surprised he was black”. Peter wasn’t. “...don’t worry, plenty think so. It wasn’t that odd, not where I’m from. He was a Somali sailor, they used to employ them to do all the dirty work. Big man, about six foot five, huge hands, he could hold Victor in one outstretched hand when he was a baby. He could use those hands as well, had to sometimes, especially in the years after the war and all the men came back looking for work. We met in a café where I worked, he walked in, could only speak English swear words, but over a couple of weeks I helped him with proper words and before he went off again we were married, I was fifteen, 1935, pregnant with Victor. Never thought he’d come back, but he did, he was a good man. Then came the war. Ali worked the convoys, Russia, America, North Africa, all over, glad of him and his kind they were then. He used to shovel coal day after day, he’d come back exhausted, sleep for a week then off. Whenever he left I never expected to see him again, so many were sunk, then there he’d be back a couple of months later, worn out, always with a present, oranges or something like that, sort of thing we couldn’t get in the war. He was a good man, gave me all his money, didn’t drink, don’t think he had other women, wouldn’t have mattered anyway, never hit me, better than most in Butetown. We called him Victor after Victor Sylvester who was always on the radio, makes you laugh now to think. Called ourselves Williams, my maiden name, Ali said it would help the boy fit in... I’m sorry Mr. Marten, I do go on..”. “No, no, please carry on, please” Peter could tell that like his mother, she had few people to tell her story to. “... well after the war people became harder, as work was hard to get, Victor was getting bigger and Ali could only get cleaning jobs on cattle ships, endlessly crossing the Irish Sea. One day he came back with a huge gash in his head, the other sailors had set on him with shovels, made him stay in the cattle pens, his right arm was broken... So I put my foot down, told him I did, that was it, damn the sea. I had a sister who worked in a big house down here, Cunnigham’s lived there now, they needed a driver and someone to do cleaning, cooking and things, so we came. There was a cottage. Victor grew healthy, the locals they called Ali ‘Golly’, you know after the marmalade, those badges. Anywayd life quietened down for a few years. But then Ali died, of 93
Underpainting exhaustion I think, all those years of shovelling, cold and wet, doctor said it was pneumonia. Victor and I had to leave the cottage and he was growing quickly, always getting into trouble at school, fights and things. Council found me a flat. So I took him to the boxing club at the navy yard over in Dartmouth, won some medals, area champion at fourteen”. She stood up slowly and went to a drawer, she took out some medals and handed them to Peter, who made appreciative noises. “…I got jobs cleaning in hotels and houses, to tide us over, that’s how I got to know Mr. Miller. Victor would sometimes come with me and Mr. Miller would draw him. I knew Mr. Miller liked, well, young men, so I kept an eye on what was going on. As you can see Victor was a handsome lad, Mr. Miller was a professional artist, he could capture a likeness..”. Peter opened the portfolio of drawings of Victor, Mrs. Williams looked at them. “Oh these are later, when Victor came back, after he got married” This bold statement shocked Peter. Should he say anything, he’d got himself into an awkward position, he wanted to know more about Vic, not Raymond Miller. “Back?” “Yes, Victor got a job with a removals and haulage company, Massey’s, he moved to their depot in London for a while, carried on boxing a bit, also when Mr. Miller was in London he introduced him to other artists, and Victor started to earn quite a good living as an artists model, you see he had good muscles, kept himself fit. He left Massey’s and went to Paris for a year, modelling for artists, then one day I got a letter to say he was back in London, he’d met this girl Jean and was going to marry her! Well I was happy until I met her, hard bitch. Slatern, you know what I mean Mr Marten, all made up, sort that can’t get their knickers off quick enough. Sorry Mr. Marten, I don’t mean to be… I get a bit carried away. It’s good of you to listen”. She poured another cup of tea. “Anyway, soon they moved back down here… moved in to Mr. Miller’s house. She was a lazy cow, mess everywhere, I was always having to clean up after her. Both of them worked for Mr. Miller as models, but he, Mr. Miller, used to say that she was no good, couldn’t stand correctly, you know. Then came all that trouble, she soon skedaddled when that blew up, didn’t see her for dust! Never seen her since”. Peter wasn’t sure what she meant. She spoke as if he should do. “What trouble was that?” “Oh that” he said as if he did, “...well how did you see it, you know, from your point of view?” “Well it was Mr. Miller really but Victor took all the blame. Two boys told the police that they’d seen Mr. Miller doing things with another man and they’d wanted them to join in, he was always inviting boys there”, she 94
Underpainting shuddered, “You must remember that it was illegal then, nineteen fifty nine. The police looked into it and the long and the short of it was Victor took the blame, was prosecuted and went to prison somewhere up North, they moved him around. Victor said that prison would kill Mr. Miller, I think it nearly killed Victor. Mr. Miller gave me money for Victor and helped me out, he knew I knew he was the guilty one and Mr. Miller told me Victor wasn’t involved, never had been”. “But why didn’t you say something?” “Victor didn’t want me to, he said how good Mr. Miller had been to him and that this was repaying him, some repayment”. “...and Jean?” “Never seen her since, never wanted to, don’t know if she’s alive or dead”. “...and Victor?” Peter knew of course, but wanted her side. “Died two years after coming out of prison. An accident the police said”. “But..”. Peter almost told her what he knew, then thought perhaps better not. Mrs. Williams waited for Peter to finish, Peter quickly made up a question, “…didn’t Victor and Jean get back together?” “No, as I said disappeared, and good riddance” They sat in silence. The small room was quite dark now, the gas fire glowing and outside the last of the day was wrapping itself up for a windy chilly night. “I better go Mrs. Williams” “I’m sorry I’ve hardly talked about Mr. Miller” “Perhaps another day, I’ll write to you, you’ve no phone?” “No one to talk to”, a blunt all too true statement. As Peter left she looked lonely. “Thank you Mr. Marten for listening, and thank you for showing me the drawings... you forget”. The phone was ringing as Peter rushed through his front door “Hello Peter” it was Marianne, “Where’ve you been? I tried a couple of times earlier”, Peter could see the answer phone light flashing. “Tried your mobile…” “Batteries dead… I was in Devon... it’s nice to hear you, how’s Washington?” “Devon?” “Yes, some business, sales, you know Henry, you sound very clear?” Peter felt bad about lying. “Actually I’m at Heathrow” “I thought you weren’t coming home ‘til Monday?” “I felt like coming back, too much to do, you know?” Marianne felt bad about lying. 95
18 1992 Rachel was tired and lay on her sofa in front of a spitting gas fire, slowly unwinding, listening to cold winter rain beating on her window. She’d been working all day at The Old Horse, preparing meals. Rachel lived in a flat that Henry had found for her, it was cheap and far from spacious but it was a base, and best of all a base in London. She was surrounded by her drawings. Her life revolved around the need to make some money to eat and to create work. Peter had given her a contact at Clapton Community College and she taught life drawing to students one day a week, then she worked at The Old Horse over the weekend which left four days to draw and paint. Henry was being very helpful and had already sold eight drawings for her, he even took a lower percentage to help out, seeing that she was an investment. The drawings were vaguely erotic contortions of herself, she still couldn’t afford a model, and the idea of using herself began to take hold, she was in control of what and how the figure became an image. Rachel’s flat was part of a former council block in Shoreditch. On her floor from what she could tell most of the other flats were used by prostitutes, the ones who advertise in phone booths. The girls seemed young even to Rachel, frightened, and many could hardly speak English, sometimes there’d be trouble and two heavies would run along the walkways and sort things out. The door-bell rang. She ignored it as it was nearly midnight, and she knew it would probably be a punter for one of the girls, got the wrong flat number. It happened most nights. The bell rang again and again. “Who d’you want?” she shouted. “Rachel, is that you?” It sounded like Tom’s voice. “Is that you Tom?” she looked through the spyhole, Tom was soaking wet, and weighed down on one side. Rachel quickly opened the door, Tom came in dragging the dead weight of another person. “Have you got twelve quid ...for the taxi? I’m skint” 96
Underpainting Rachel sorted it and when she got back in the room it seemed full of bodies, wet clothes, bags. Tom was cleaning up a young male, who eventually she recognised as Lizzie’s brother Philip. “Are you OK Tom? What’s Philip doing, I thought..”. “I’m soaking. Philip he’s, well, coming down I think the term is”. “But why...?” “I was walking to Euston, I was going home, the late train. I saw a bundle on the floor and realised it was Philip, he was covered in puke, someone had nicked everything he had, and there was a policeman coming. Well, I thought I better do something. I used to see Philip at the Watsons”. “Why bring him here? I’ve got no room, you can see that” “I rang Lizzie and Ryan’s number and only got the answer phone, I supposed they were out looking for him, I know there’s been some problems, I didn’t know what else to do” “Is he alright?” “Well, he could be better, he’s puked about ten times! All over me as well but I think that’s over” “He smells awful, you’re not much better Tom. Why didn’t you take him to hospital?” “I didn’t want Angela to get in trouble” “Angela?” “She’s worried that if they find him, or he gets in trouble again the other kids will be taken into care” “I didn’t know you knew Angela? But why?” “He’s only fifteen, still a minor, she’s worried, I’ll tell you about it later. Can we stay here?” For Rachel there couldn’t be much later in it, she was dead beat. She took a deep breath, “I suppose so, there’s only one bed, I suppose Philip better have it. It’s only for one night though” she insisted. With some difficulty they moved Philip to the bed, Rachel and Tom undressed him, he was covered in bruises and sores. “He really should see a doctor Tom” “Tomorrow, let him be for now” When they’d settled him down they sat and drank coffee. “So how come you were down here again, I thought you’d gone home?” “I came for an interview, teaching course at Goldsmiths” “Teaching! You must be mad Tom!” “Oh I want to do it, that job at the city farm after the set, I loved it. I found I could work with kids, they responded to me”. “But Tom, school kills all that, great on a city farm, but in school, its all league tables, jackets and ties..”. They sat in silence staring at the gas fire. 97
Underpainting “You’ve been busy” Tom said looking round at the pictures. “Yes. I’m also doing some teaching, but at a college. Tom, teaching in school seems like giving up, a giving up of all you held dear..”. “It’s not Rachel, it really isn’t. I know I’ll never be like you, it isn’t there, you’ve got something to say. I can paint, but what for, it’s not important, what I have to say is only, well, more of the same, you have an eye, you can put down what you feel, these are you, my paintings were not me, I can’t put down what’s inside me”. Rachel knew what he meant and felt he was brave and honest to realise it. She also knew that some of her most recent work was produced because she knew Henry could sell it, was that keeping to an ideal? “And what’s all this about Angela?” “Yes. I’m not too sure where to begin. I used to go round sometimes to the Watson’s, with Peter, to do odd jobs, I remember we knocked down an old garage once, and I painted a room and the staircase. Bill never thought he should do decorating… it was a bit of cash. Anyway it was while I was home I had a phone call from Angela, she asked me to come round and help her out, some floorboards were loose upstairs. Well while I was doing the repair, she came out of her bedroom in a dressing gown, took it off and was totally naked. She’s a good looking woman..”. “Old enough to be your mother!” “...suppose so, but well I ended up in bed with her. She seemed lonely and I was sorry for her, Bill dying and Lizzie going away like she has..”. “And I suppose you fucked her out of the goodness of your heart, typical male!” “...no it wasn’t like that. She was very nice to me” “I bet she was, and that’s when she told you about Philip and her fears” “Well, that was the next time, but around then” “So you went back for more!” Rachel remembered with some unease and disgust the time she had sex with the manager of the circus she worked at, he was around sixty five, eighteen stone and she had little choice, her dad was in trouble and they owed him money, she was only fifteen, it paid off the debt. After what she’d had to do she’d no appetite for sex. She knew in her heart that Angela wasn’t really old, why shouldn’t she have a young man good luck to her, she thought. “That wasn’t all. I heard a rumour that she was pregnant..”. “No!” “And that she was saying it was me..”. “Well you did..”. “But it couldn’t be, something to do with sperm count, I can never have children” Rachel was dumbstruck. 98
Underpainting “Oh I am sorry Tom, I didn’t mean..”. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t bother me. Something happened when I was a baby, some sort of effect of the drugs they gave pregnant mothers, you know the sort of thing, at least I’ve got my hands and legs” “Is she really pregnant?” “No, only a story to get Lizzie back home. Angela’s like that, that’s why Philip’s probably like this” They heard a moan from the bedroom and they went and checked Philip, he was sweating, but asleep. A knock on the front door broke the silence. “Is Astrid there?” a male voice shouted. “Next one along!” shouted Rachel. “It really is good of you to put me up at such short notice, odd that booking going wrong” Ryan sat at Peter and Marianne’s kitchen table, a bottle of dark French beer in his hand. “This is good” “Mari will be back home soon. I’m off to Paris early in the morning. A lecture…” Peter said. “That’s good, you’re getting famous, who’d have thought eh?” Ryan took a long drink of the beer “…Weaker, they brew weaker beer for the Brits” “Typical, uhh” There was a couple of minutes silence, they had little in common. “Is Lizzie visiting Angela?” Ryan asked. “No, she’s still in London” “Ah..”. Another minute of silence. “That was a good do at Constantine’s?” “Yes, I’m not too struck on that sort of thing, but Henry insists” Peter said. “You seemed to be enjoying yourself. You seem to know Frank well?” “Well? He came from our estate, did bits of work for my dad” Peter could see Ryan was very interested, “... when he was about fifteen, then went..”. “You sold him some work didn’t you?” “Yes, that’s why we were talking, you know?” “Yes, I sold him a building. That one you were in to do the set, I’d bought it for a studio complex, well you know... things change…” They sat for another minute in silence. “Good looking girl that Rachel you brought with you” “She said you’d been in touch” Peter replied. “Ah, well not really, Lizzie and she get on well, Lizzie needs friends... especially with that damn brother of hers... we could do without him” 99
Underpainting They heard Marianne coming through the front door. “Look who’s come to visit” shouted Peter. Marianne walked into the kitchen, the air seemed to lighten. “Ryan, how nice to see you. Is Lizzie here?” “No... no she had things to do in town, I was passing through and I hadn’t been to see you here, so... Peter said you can put me up..”. Marianne glanced a dagger at Peter, “I’d have found a hotel, but he insisted”. “Oh, of course not, it’s good to see you Ryan” Marianne was disappointed, she’d been planning how to tell Peter about Juliet Farrow and most of everything else, this spoilt it. “Look why don’t I take you both out for a meal, OK?” “That would be nice... Angela’s coming over tomorrow, will you still be here? I don’t think you’ve met yet?” “No, we haven’t, Lizzie’s kept her at arm’s length. I may be, I’ve got to see someone at ten, then I was heading back, I’ll see, anyway, where’s the best place to eat?” The morning came slowly. Rachel had slept fitfully on the two seater settee, Tom in a sleeping bag on the floor. They’d both been woken in the night, first by the heavies sorting out a client who wouldn’t paid, then by Philip needing a drink and some food. It was only 7 o’clock and they’d been up for an hour. Tom and Rachel sat eating the last of the toast and black tea, as the milk had run out hours before. Tom said he’d go and buy more but he had run out of money, all he had was a train ticket and that was now invalid. Rachel had used most of what she had left on the taxi. “What shall we do, we can’t go on like this?” Rachel said while scraping the last of the marmalade onto a crust. “Perhaps we need to ring Lizzie again” . Rachel went to the phone box next to the block of flats. No answer. Back at the flat they sat in silence, then the doorbell rang. “Not again”, Rachel shuffled to the door, “Yes” she said angrily. “Is that you Rachel?” she looked through the spy hole, it was Lizzie, she opened the door. “How did you know Philip was here?” “I didn’t” Lizzie walked in, “Oh… Hi Tom”. “Anyway what are you doing here so early?” “Ryan and I have split up… you said Philip’s here, how did he...?” “Tom found him at Euston… So, what happened? I suppose it was Philip was it?” “Oh partly. I don’t know, I think I used Ryan as a bolt hole from Queen B. He was nice, gave me things, he gave me a thousand quid! Look..”. 100
Underpainting Tom and Rachel looked in her bag, there was a thick wad of tenners. “Philip got in the way. All that stealing, the drugs, then his so called friends started coming round, they wrecked the house, Ryan called the police, I couldn’t handle it, and well.... Is Philip OK?” “He’s a mess”. Rachel was overwhelmed by the overcrowded flat, and just wanted everyone out and her life back to normal. The three of them sat trying to work out what to do next. Tom felt they should take Philip to hospital. Lizzie didn’t want that, she said they’d put him in care or prison. Rachel suggested they take him to a doctor and kept telling herself ‘this isn’t my problem, just kick them out’, however she couldn’t, she remembered how people had helped her when she was in need. They went over and over the same ground. Philip was getting worse, he was sweating and cold, thirsty then sick. Lizzie had her mobile and started ringing people. Ryan was still not answering, nor was Peter. Rachel suggested ringing Henry, Mark answered and told her he was away. She explained what was wrong and that she couldn’t get through to anyone, Mark said he’d do what he could. Mark came to the flat. Henry had never told Rachel that Mark worked with homeless people, many of them had drug problems, he was used to cleaning people up. Rachel saw a different side to him, to her he was a light hearted joker, someone to gossip with, to bitch about people, to go shopping with, but Mark came into the disorder of the flat and within half an hour all was sorted. It was decided that the next day Mark would drive Philip home to Angela and there he would organise some proper help for him. Tom would go with them. Lizzie would stay at Rachel’s for a couple of days and see if she could iron things out with Ryan, if not she’d find a flat of her own and get back to playing with the band. They said their goodbyes and the sun broke through the grey clouds for the first time for days.
19 Marianne entered her house and could sense she was not alone. She knew Peter would have arrived in Paris for his lecture. Ryan had said he was returning to London. She looked in the living room, dining room, the kitchen. No sign of anyone. Cautiously she climbed the stairs, she could hear a noise, a rhythmical noise. As she reached the top she was sure the noise was sex, the unmistakable noise of copulation. Unusually her bedroom door was almost shut. Marianne slowly and silently pushed it open. On her bed was the spread out naked figure of Angela, on top of her, a semi dressed Ryan. Angela looked up at Marianne and gave a wave, she put five fingers up, Ryan didn’t look and didn’t cease in his labours. Marianne backed out and shut the door, with a noticeable bang. Sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee Marianne was furious. “That was my bed they were on. How dare they use my bed..”. she shouted at the kettle, “...what does he think he’s doing, God, AND with Angela! ...Lizzie’s mother. How dare they, my bed... and what if I hadn’t come back, I’d have slept in that..”. she shuddered, “…it’s like some freakish black farce, mother and daughter... what does that bitch think she’s doing?” Angela entered the kitchen, wearing Marianne’s silk robe that Lorete had bought her at a Japanese store in Washington, and which Lorete had very slowly removed from her on their second night together. The thought made Marianne blush. Angela looked flushed and Marianne could see she was still naked underneath. The robe didn’t suit her Marianne thought. “Don’t look so shocked” “Well Angela! What would you think, I mean, in my bed” “Oh, don’t be so old fashioned!”, Angela poured herself a coffee, spilling some on the robe and sat down at the table, “…this is nice” she said stroking the silk. “What are you thinking of? What will Lizzie say?” “Oh that’s all over. Didn’t Ryan tell you?” “No. No he didn’t… Poor Lizzie, she must feel hurt” “Poor Lizzie my fanny..”. 102
Underpainting “Angela, remember she is your daughter?” “How could I ever damn well ever forget... I don’t blame her though, he is rather good... very… animal” “Oh Angela!” “Well, why shouldn’t I. You could have you know..”. “I never..”. “He came up here specially to see if you’d leave Peter” “He never said, I don’t want him anyway. Ryan’s an old friend. Anyway why use my bed, and my robe! Really how dare you..”. “Oh stop going on, it was only sex. He said that he wanted you and had always wanted you, but after seeing you and Peter together he knew there was no chance. It changed his mind..”. “...so you leapt in there instead!” “No, it wasn’t like that” “Well what was it like, all I saw was you two, well... in full bloody flight!” “I came round to see Ryan, he rang to say there’d been more problems with Philip and he wondered if I’d heard anything. So I came round to discuss things and well we started talking and..”. “...and you ended up in my bed” “I suppose so” “God Angela, you... well I’m not going into it, I’ve had enough of you!” “Stop being so fucking pious Marianne. You think you are so bloody perfect. You’re too cold, so faultless, you couldn’t find a real man if you tried. Who’d want you anyway? Look at you, dress like a bloke, don’t give a damn about how you look. You make me sick, so what if we did go to bed? So what? What’s it to do with you, I’m sorry we’ve messed your wonderful bed... I’m sorry I’ve fucked your fancy man... I’m sorry your life is so boring, that’s what you are, boring!” With that she flung off the gown and departed the room. Marianne slowly clapped as if it was the end of a performance, poured another coffee and a large whiskey. She drank the whiskey. She smiled as she looked in the mirror over the sink, she thought of Lorete and pressed the silk to her face. Then she thought of Peter and then thought of Bill. The day’s post lay on the table, one of them must have picked it up before they went upstairs. There was a letter from Lorete, hand-written on expensive hand-made paper. Dearest Mari, I feel so happy, I feel that we can be one, I never thought I’d be so in love again. I know things are hard for you to understand yet, so many changes, please the moment you make your mind up let me know. We are one. We are strong. 103
Underpainting Please phone, now. With my deepest love, Lorete Marianne took a deep breath, tore it up and threw away the pieces. She stared out of the window for what seemed ages. She went back to the bin and took out the torn up letter, placing them back together and read it again. The noise of the shower running upstairs broke the spell. “Not that as well” she said aloud. There were another two letters. One in an official looking brown envelope with a black crown. Dear Miss Mary Maddox, Re: The Crown vs. Colin Montgomery Maddox You are required to attend The East Midland Crown Court on Monday April 28th at 10.30am to give evidence in the case cited above… She slammed the letter onto the table and looked in her diary. That was a teaching day. ‘Damn’ she said to herself, ‘damn’. She knew she didn’t need this, she knew this would cause problems with her mother. Marianne had never given evidence in court, what do you say? The third letter was from Juliet Farrow College formally offering her the position of Artist in Residence with minor Teaching Responsibilities, to begin in September. She knew it was time to decide, to discuss this with Peter, no to tell Peter; for Peter to agree? For Peter to suggest she goes? Laughter came from upstairs, then more copulation noise. ‘Not again’ she thought, she wondered whether to take a bucket of cold water and throw it over them, and knew however good that would feel she was the one who’d have to clean up. The phone rang. “Hi Marianne, is Queen B. there? We’ve just arrived home, brought Philip back, I thought..”. “Yes Lizzie, I’ll get her. Are you OK?” “Oh I’m fine. I wasn’t going to come up but I couldn’t find Ryan, we’d had a bit of a row, well you know. Philip’s in a bit of a bad way, and Mark’s sorting things out” “Mark?” “Henry’s partner” “But... Ah.... I’ll get your mother” she put the phone down and shouted upstairs, with a wicked glee, “Angela it’s Lizzie, she’s brought Philip home!” The noise upstairs stopped and there was a scrabbling about. Angela appeared, half dressed and ran downstairs not looking at Marianne. As Marianne returned to the kitchen she heard the explanations starting. 104
Underpainting Half an hour later Ryan was sitting at the kitchen table with Marianne, they were eating cheese sandwiches. Angela had left soon after the phone call. Ryan wasn’t sure what to do and sheepishly came downstairs. Silently Marianne made sandwiches, Ryan realised how hungry he was. “These are nice” he said “Good” Marianne said coldly. Marianne reread the offer letter and put it behind the clock. She didn’t want to talk about it to Ryan, it may get to Angela before she wanted it to. “I was sorry to hear about you and Lizzie... Angela told me” “Yes, it was difficult with Philip and, well..”. “You could have told us the other night” “It was awkward, I didn’t really know then” said Ryan. “Have you told Lizzie? On the phone she said she was trying to get hold of you” “Oh yes, we had a big row, I think we both knew” “I hope so, Lizzie means a lot to me, to us. I know she’ll feel hurt, I don’t want her hurt more than she needs be” “And me?” “You’re old enough to look after yourself ” retorted Marianne. “Is that really true? I mean at Lizzie’s age she knows there’s more to come, more love, more people. But me, what is there?” “You’re not that old, we’re the same age. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, anyway there’s Angela now, isn’t there?” “I don’t know, a bit soap opera-ish isn’t it?” “You should have thought about that before shoving your cock in!” “I suppose I should... well things happen” Ryan said. Marianne thought back to Washington. Who was she to talk? To judge?
20 The next morning Peter sat at an outdoor table of a café, drinking black coffee, he had a mild hangover after a long meal with students who’d attended his lecture. The lecture had been organised by his old friend Eduard. In their conversations Eduard told Peter that he’d known Victor when he was a student at the Conservatoire in the late 1950’s and drew him when Victor worked there as a model. He’d given Peter a name of someone who may have some information. Madame d’Angers had taken a bit of finding through the telephone system and peter was pleased to have what may be a tenuous contact but at least something to go on. First he phoned Marianne. “Hi Peter, where are you?” “Near the Musee Marmouttan, going to visit the Monets for a couple of hours. It’s a bit chilly today. How’s things?” “Oh God Peter, you really wouldn’t believe it”, she told Peter the story of the previous day. He was confused about exactly what was going on, Ryan and Angela? He knew there’d be things to sort out when he got back. He was pleased when the line went dead. Second Peter rang Clare, but there was no answer and left a short message to tell her he would be in London soon and would get in touch. Peter ordered another coffee, looked in his notebook, and tapped out the numbers. “Allo, la maison de Monsieur et Madame d’Angers”. “Madame d’Angers please”. “Une moment Monsieur. Who shall I tell madame is telephoning?” “Monsieur Marten” Peter could hear the phone being switched. “Bonjour”. “Madame d’Angers?” “Oui”. “Excusez’moi, parlez vous anglais?” “Ah oui…. Yes I do. Do you wish to speak to my husband?” “No to you. My name is Peter Marten, I am an artist”. 106
Underpainting “Ah oui I know your work”. “You do! I am surprised Madame d’Angers”. “My husband and I went to the opening of the exhibition at The Royal Academy, we were in London, my husband is in the Ministry of Culture”. “Perhaps we met”. “I think we did”. This intrigued Peter, he’d already met her and didn’t know. “Would it be possible to meet, today?” Peter asked. “Mais oui, but why?” “I’m interested in Victor Williams, I understand you knew him?” There was a silence. “Madame d’Angers, I hope you can help?” He heard an intake of breath. “It is a long time ago, I don’t know? You are not writing for a newspaper are you?” “No, no. This is personal. Please, I’m only in Paris for a couple of days”. “Can you come soon then, I have appointments this afternoon, and we are going away in the morning”. “Of course! Right away”. She gave him her address which wasn’t far away. The d’Angers house was an elegant grey and white stone, early 19th Century town house, set back from the road with a wheat coloured pebble forecourt. It was situated in a quiet avenue, trees shading an endless line of parked cars. Today the light was pale and shadowless. The door was answered by an Asian maid who showed Peter to a very elegant sitting room. Around the room hung good quality paintings and drawings. He noted what looked like a Bonnard. There was a piano next to a window, the lid covered in framed photographs of children, families, groups of friends. Madame d’Angers entered the room. She was elegant, fine featured, she looked what she was, a high ranking government official’s wife, used to dealing with people, organising dinner parties and being interested in people however boring they were. She was taller than he expected. “Monsieur Marten, you gave me quite a surprise, I hadn’t heard anyone speak of Victor for many years” “I am sorry I didn’t mean to cause any inconvenience” “Oh no, it was just… well out of the blue. Strangely I have been thinking of him lately, then you rang…” “I brought these, perhaps you’d like to look?” Peter handed her a deep red folder. Madame d’Angers opened it, she took out the three drawings of Victor, placed them on a table, side by side. She took her gold rimmed glasses from a tiny handbag that Peter hadn’t noticed, and carefully inspected each one. 107
Underpainting “He was good looking” she said slowly and deliberately, “I think these were drawn a little later than when we knew each other”. “How can you tell?” “Look, there” she pointed at a shoulder for Peter to see, “…there is a… how do you say? … a scar. When I knew him he was perfect, his skin was a beautiful olive brown, it shone. That must have happened later”. “I hadn’t noticed” He noted this in his notebook, something to look into, perhaps from his time in prison he thought. “Monsieur Marten…” “Please, Madame d’Angers, please call me Peter”. “Merci, I am Beatrice, please call me that. Peter, what do you want of me? Is Victor wishing to see me?” There was a soft knock on the gilt and pale green door, the maid entered with a deep red Chinese lacquer tray, on which were paper thin tea cups and an elegant tea pot, and a plate of delecate dark brown biscuits. At the knock Beatrice put the pictures back into the folio, and stopped talking until the maid left. She poured two cups without asking, and sat opposite Peter. “Beatrice, you don’t know?” From the reaction in her face he could tell she didn’t know Vic was dead. “Ah, I see. When did Victor die?” “1963”. She stood and went to the window overlooking the garden. She stood for a couple of moments in silence, wiped her eyes with a handkerchief, then returned to the table and studied the drawings again. “I didn’t know”. “I’m sorry, I thought you must have known”. “After he left I heard nothing, until you rang. He was so young, how?” Peter knew he shouldn’t tell her how, it was too gruesome, even at this distance. “An accident I think”. “And why are you interested in Victor?” “I knew him when I was a boy, he inspired me to become an artist. He told me tales, I didn’t believe them, but the more I look into his life, I see they are true”, he realised he better get to the point, “… I understand that you were married to Victor?” She moved to a vase of roses in a window. She adjusted one to show better. “Yes for a short while”. “I understand there was a scandal?” “Ha”, she laughed, “when isn’t there in French politics Monsieur Marten? 108
Underpainting It was such a petty scandal, so silly”. She took a pair of scissors from a writing desk, went back to the roses, cut a dead head, and dropped it in a waste bin hidden behind a heavy curtain. “Sometimes a journalist or political biographer will ask questions, I never tell them. You are the first person I’ve met who knew him… I don’t see the harm, not now”. Peter assured her that it would go no further, and as Beatrice began her story, it felt to Peter she had rehearsed it over and over again, but never told it to anyone else. Throughout she never looked directly at Peter. As she talked she moved, almost danced around the room, moving a figurine a couple of inches, adjusting a picture, picking up a letter then putting it down, sorted some papers. She told Peter that her father was Minister for North Eastern Canals, a pompous bourgeois man, for whom everything had to be correct, terrified of a scandal which could ruin him. She was sixteen and life was getting exciting again after the privations of the post war period. She described the jazz clubs and how she and her friend sneaked out at night to dance and live life. Peter wanted her to hurry up, but knew like Victor’s mother, there was noone but he who could be an audience. Beatrice met Victor at a party, she saw him dancing with a sophisticated, married, woman. He had been paid to attend by the hostess, and later Beatrice had walked into the wrong room where he was giving her his ‘services’. Something she had to live with later on when they were together, as Victor always seemed to need money. Two or three times she stopped and asked if he understood her English and he in turn complemented her on her accent. There were times he felt he may be going to sleep, the effects of the night before still working on him. Somehow she told him, they got together at the party and Victor asked to meet her again. She told him she couldn’t pay him, and she remembered how he laughed and said that was only for rich old women. Peter wanted to ask why her? A young girl? But she already had the answer, she felt Victor was lonely, his French was poor and her English good, he wanted someone to talk to. She remembered how he talked about his mother, about boxing, about Devon, about an artist called Miller, the one who did the drawings. Somehow after a few meetings they ended up in a bed, and Beatrice got pregnant the first time she had sex. There was a long pause, Beatrice walked to the window and looked at the trees swaying in the breeze. When she told Victor he was happy and they sat in a park planning their future together. He wanted to marry, to meet her parents! But she knew that couldn’t be, her father would probably have shot him, he didn’t trust black 109
Underpainting people. So they planned to elope, go to England. When they arrived in Brest they got married. But for some reason decided to go back to Paris. Beatrice wasn’t sure why, it just seemed the best thing to do, what could anyone do now it was official? There was another long pause, Beatrice went to a drawer, took a tiny notebook out, then returned it unopened. By now the police were involved, her friend had told them and her parents everything. Her father refused to let her back home, and after sleeping on the floor of a friend of Victors they got a flat, one room above a butchers shop, which stank. Beatrice got a job washing dishes at a local café. Victor carried on modelling and giving other services. It was a strain, she was used to having money, it was difficult to be poor. This lasted for about three months then one day he didn’t come home. Beatrice waited three days, as often he would be away for a night, even two. Then she went home, to see if they had heard anything. When she got there my father looked gloatingly satisfied. He said that Victor had gone to him and asked for money on the promise he’d leave Beatrice. She found out later that he’d had Victor followed and they’d found out what he’d been doing. He was threatened with all sorts of things, Victor needed money, she never saw Victor again. “And the baby?” Peter asked, this was a new strand to look into. Beatrice looked into her hands. She was close to tears. She explained that she was sent to a convent on the coast of Brittany, where rich people sent their unmarried daughters to have babies, as terminations were out of the question in those days. The place was hell. They made her work scrubbing floors and in the fields, and gave long sermons on sin. The idea was that through hard physical work you would lose the child naturally, and for many girls it happened, but Beatrice had got stronger. On the eighteenth of February she had the baby. She stopped and looked at the photographs on the piano. “I never saw, but I’m sure it was a girl, I’ve always had that feeling. I don’t know what happened to her, I’ve made enquiries since, nothing, the church doesn’t like the past dragged up. I heard many babies went to Australia or America” Beatrice spoke very bitterly, “... I’d love to see those nuns go through what I’ve been through, only for an hour, then they’d see, they’d see Hell, they’d really know suffering. I thought I’d go mad, I became depressed, wanted the child, wanted Victor. “I was locked away for ages, out of sight, and when I came back home my father handed me an official form annulling the marriage. I never spoke to him or to my mother again. They are both dead”. “Does Monsieur d’Angers know about this?” “He knows some of it. We met a year later, I was still only eighteen. I have 110
Underpainting three sons, seven grandchildren”. She gestured Peter to go to the piano to look at the photographs. Beatrice proudly explained who they were and what they all did, the successful family. From behind all the other frames she picked up a delicate silver empty one. “This is waiting for when I meet my daughter”. It was time to depart, Beatrice showed Peter to the door. “Thank you Peter, I am pleased to meet someone who knew Victor, I think in different ways he was an important part of both our lives. Perhaps one day I will find our child, we can live in hope can’t we?” “Of course Beatrice, I wish you luck, and please let me know how you get on, I really mean that. If I find anything out, I will let you know”. Peter started down the drive, then turned back and handed Beatrice the folio of drawings. No more was said.
21 There was a knock on the door, Lizzie looked through the ‘spy hole’. It was a middle aged man, wearing a dark rain jacket. Probably a punter had got the wrong flat she guessed. “What do you want? This isn’t one of the girl’s flats, it’s private”, Lizzie shouted. “I’m looking for Rachel Metcalf? I was told she lives here” Lizzie wasn’t sure what to do, Rachel was not due back for hours. “Who are you?” “I’m her father” This surprised Lizzie. Rachel had never talked about parents, about anyone. She looked again through the spy hole. Even with the fisheye view he looked a bit like her. Carefully, she opened the door keeping the chain on. He was a big man, his clothes looked cheap, close shaved, hair cut short, clean and his shoes shone. He showed her a driving licence. Lizzie relented. “Come in”. As Lizzie made a cup of tea Rachel’s father looked around the flat. “D’you share this with Rachel?” “No. I’m only here temporarily, I’ve had some problems and well… Rachel was very kind and offered me a place to stay for a couple of days, just until things get sorted out. Are you visiting London?” “I suppose you could say that”. He looked at some of the drawings on the table. Lizzie could tell he didn’t know what to say about them. “My father used to teach Rachel”, Lizzie wasn’t quite sure why she’d said that. “Ah… right. This is a strange place to live, some odd characters…” “Oh them, I suppose you get used to them after a while. The most annoying are the callers, they keep knocking, all times of the day, that’s why I didn’t open up…” “I don’t blame you. You thought I was a punter?” “Oh please…” “No, no, you can’t be too careful nowadays. When is she due back?” 112
Underpainting “She works today, teaching. I think she said it would be about seven, something like that. You know what’s it’s like…” “Teaching? My Rachel a teacher well”, he sounded proud, “… look I’ll come back when she’s in. Have you a piece of paper, I’ll leave a note?” He wrote slowly and deliberately and then left as abruptly as he’d arrived. Lizzie sat on the settee and emptily watched daytime TV.There was a discussion about marital problems. She hadn’t heard from Ryan, and knew in her heart it must be over, she thought she didn’t want it to be, but naggingly just couldn’t understand why Ryan hadn’t been in touch. She’d left message after message for him at home and at the office. When she visited the studios, they said they hadn’t seen him for a few days, but handed her another envelope, which was packed with cash. When Lizzie went over to the house, the locks were changed and she didn’t have a new key, she guessed because of Philip. As she lay watching TV her mind drifted to the long journey ‘home’ in Mark’s car with Philip and Tom. She couldn’t understand Philip, why the need for the drugs, what was he running away from? Then Queen B, as soon as she’d got there she felt she’d wanted her out of the way. So she returned to London with Mark the same day, feeling alone, rejected. She’d gone up there wanting to help Philip and sort things out, however Queen B was as she always was, self-centred. Lizzie could feel she was hiding something, it made no sense. Lizzie rang Ryan’s number again, the answer phone. She needed to know where she stood. Was that too much to ask? Children’s TV began. A cartoon about cats and mice on some planet. She switched off, enough was enough. This needed sorting out, life was a mess and shouldn’t be. It was obvious Ryan didn’t want her, but why? What had she done? Philip was a problem, but that was surely going to be solved now? She concluded it must be her, too young? All you ever heard was that older men wanted young girls. Boring? Perhaps, and conversation was limited. She knew her sex was naïve, she knew she just lay back while Ryan fucked her, didn’t really know how to join in, be a real partner. They had no mutual friends and people like Marianne and Peter seemed to disapprove of their relationship. But they’d said to each other ‘who cares, we have each other’, perhaps she was learning that wasn’t enough, not over a long time. She wanted to get pregnant and nothing seemed to happen, perhaps she needed to go for tests, see if she was able, it certainly wasn’t a family problem, Queen B had had five for God’s sake, and King Billy well how many more were there. This didn’t help her and she lay on the settee listening to an argument taking place on the stairway between two of the girls, it sounded foreign, she wasn’t sure what language and drifted into sleep. She dreamt of Tom lying naked beside her. She dreamt of home when everything was happy, a Sunday, everyone was there, but her words wouldn’t come out hard she tried, they didn’t listen and she couldn’t tell them how 113
Underpainting much she loved them, they only did what they wanted to do and took no notice, a door opened and Ryan was there holding a cat, he shouldn’t be there, she kept trying to tell him not to be there, then she fell, down and down…. “Lizzie…” the light almost blinded her. Rachel picked Lizzie up from the floor. They looked at each other. “As I came in you were falling on the floor, bad dream?” “Oh… yes… no… you know?” Rachel busied herself closing the curtains, it was dark outside. “What’s the time?” “Seven fifteen” “I’ve slept for hours…” “You must have needed it, you look done in” “No, no I’m OK… you had a visitor” Rachel stopped what she was doing. No-one ever visited her. “Your father, he left this note…” Rachel picked up the piece of paper. “My father?” “He said he’d call back, he seemed OK? I didn’t… you’ve never said anything about him?” “We haven’t… we’ve not been close, you know?” Lizzie went to the bathroom. Rachel sat down and read the letter. Dear Rachel, I hope my appearing after so long is not too much of a shock for you, I know it has been many years and a lot has happened to both of us. I can see you are busy and have new friends. I would like us to meet, I won’t get in your way, but things have started to get better, I’m not very good at explaining. I said to your friend I would come back, but I won’t, not tonight. Please will you ring me at 9 tonight and we can arrange things. If you don’t want to see me again, don’t ring and I will not bother you again. With much love, Dad. ‘Well’ she thought, ‘what on earth do you do?’ “And then you had to discuss the relevance of Ken Loach’s films to English landscape painting?” Marianne asked as she sat down with Peter at the kitchen table. “No, no that was the day before, we discussed the emancipation of the artist in society against the needs of the workers, I got a bit lost with it, my French isn’t that good, perhaps I should have prepared a bit more. It all got a 114
Underpainting bit heated at times … Bill would have loved it, he’d have been in his element. There was this really pompous ‘intellectual’, everyone bowed and scraped to him except for the anarchist students who ripped up one of his books and threw the pieces all over him like confetti!” “Sounds mad!” “As I said it got heated, I wish some of our students felt so passionately, you know this lot I’ve got, I don’t know… I think they should have gone in for accountancy, they really are… I don’t know…” “It’s good to have you home” “It’s good to be back. You must have had a really shitty time, Ryan and Angela… I wonder if he’s told Lizzie?” “I don’t know… she rang, I forgot to tell you that bit, while they were still shagging… Angela had to go, Mark brought Philip home.”. “Mark?” Peter asked with a surprised expression. “Henry’s Mark” “Henry’s Mark?” “Yes, they were at Rachel’s and didn’t know what to do, d’you see?” “I suppose so. How’s Philip?” “I don’t know, Angela’s not been back in touch” “I’m not surprised, poor old Lizzie” “What about poor old me for having this flaming soap opera going in the house!” At a few minutes past nine Rachel phoned the number her dad had left using Lizzie’s mobile. Three rings. Then an answer. “Hello is that you Dad?” “Hello Rachel… thank you ringing, I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t” “I got your note”, Rachel sounded matter-of-fact, deadpan. “Yes, I am sorry I called, I bet it was a shock for you?” “Yes” “Can we meet, I can come round…” “No, no please don’t do that…” Rachel said. “A café or somewhere?” “Yes. There’s a small café opposite London Hospital on Whitechapel Road, it’s got a bright orange sign” “I’ll find it. In the morning?” “No, the day after, I’ve got to see someone else, about work, you know. I’ll be gone all day…” “Ah, right” “At about 10 to 10.30? Where are you coming from?” “I’m staying in Wood Green, but I’ll be there, near the tube isn’t it?” 115
Underpainting “Yes, I’ll see you”, Rachel switched off the phone, no more to say. Lizzie emerged from the bathroom, her blond hair in dark wet rattails. “Was he in?” “Yes” “Right. When he comes round I can go out if you want to talk?” “No… He’s not coming tonight. Fancy a drink? There’s a band on at the Nelson” The sun flooded into Peter’s studio. He sat on a paint splashed chair in the middle of a pool of light, the wall usually covered with drawings was empty, there was no painting on the easel, nothing mapped out. He knew there should be. A train rumbled into the distance, someone nailing a stretcher together in another studio, someone else walked along the corridor outside his door, then silence. He knew he should be working, paintings were expected, money had been invested in his ideas and concepts, but it was nice to sit, sit and think of nothing much. This must have been the first time he wasn’t working on at least one painting, he picked up a sketch book, he studied a page written during the train journey back from Paris: A series of paintings of places in London - underground places - the tunnel to Greenwich, the bar at Kensington Underground station, the Irish pub in Piccadilly Circus, the market in Dalston - each 6ft square, strong basic shapes with overlays of varnishes and dripped paints like maps. Huge water-colours, have some paper made ten foot by 8, massive areas of colour washes in the shapes of the cliff faces at the Orme (look in sketch books from 1988, drawings of rock formations). Walk in painting, (have chat with Veronica about Virtual Reality) use shapes and colours from drawings of steel works (1991 sketch books), a pavilion, get Henry onto Venice. Peter knew he had the ideas, but he didn’t want to do any of them at present. He needed to find out more about Vic. It made no sense he couldn’t believe what sort of life he’d led, how many more wives would he find! All that stuff about going to prison in someone else’s place, Vic was not that generous, surely, perhaps he was paid, like in Paris. He took a notebook from his pocket and read through notes he’d made after visiting Beatrice. A child, even more avenues to explore. How old would she be? Thirty five, mixed race. It may not be a girl, that was only a feeling of Beatrice. Maybe a subject for a painting? Peter also knew he had to go and see his mother, it had been too long and he’d promised to do things. Then there was that ‘reporter’, whatever happened 116
Underpainting to her, she said she’d contact him again, he’d had no word from her, surely Frank wouldn’t get rid of her, and yet he’d said, well. He shuddered at the thought. Peter took another look at the list he’d written. He wrote down a plan of action, gave himself deadlines, but no, if it wasn’t there it wasn’t, and he had to see Henry soon to discuss the show. It all came down to Vic, before he could settle he needed to know what happened between Devon and coming to the estate, and why the estate, his estate, it made no sense. Nothing could happen until that was sorted, he knew that. He took a thick black pencil and crossed out the plans. That felt better. Marianne sat in her sun filled studio looking at a cardboard maquette she’d made of the ‘monument’. Was it such a good idea or a whim? She didn’t like the idea of too much planning, she’d lose the freshness that she felt she had in her work, but this was on a large scale, money would have to be raised. She realised some of the techniques were like Rauchenberg, but the overall concept was very different and some new very different ideas were already creeping in. She’d thought of including texts written by some of the women photographed, varnished to the surface, maybe some sound, like a museum where you press a button and you hear information, women talking about their lives. She sat back, she knew soon she had to tell Peter about going away, she wasn’t sure how he’d take it, in some ways she didn’t want to split forever, she loved him but perhaps didn’t need him, she was not sure what that meant, she certainly didn’t want another partner. But she missed Lorete and thought about her most of the time. She knew that really she needed some time on her own, she’d only had one year between leaving home and getting together with Peter. Peter could come and visit her in America, she would come back here, perhaps their time together would be better, more intense, it was all getting a bit comfortable. So she had to tell him, when he was back from London after he’d sorted this one-man show out, a good time. Lorete, she wished she was with her now, stupid she kept thinking, it just can’t work with Loret The market was in full swing as Rachel walked along Whitechapel Road. Was she going to be first, she looked at some fabric, at lemons, at bagels, heard music coming from a reggae record shop and stood outside looking at album covers. The clock on London Hospital read 10.29, and calculated that by the time she’d walked to the café it would be just after 10.30, he’d surely be there by now. Hard to clear the army out of your system. He was. He looked older but then so did she, it was seven years since they’d last met. He raised his hand in recognition. She went to the counter and bought a dark orange coloured tea in a thick white cup and sat opposite him on the dark red seats. 117
Underpainting “OK?” she said to him. “Yes, it’s good to see you, I’m pleased you came” There was silence. “I saw some of your drawings” “Did you like them?” “I don’t think I understood them” “They sell quite well, I’ve sold some through a fancy gallery, I’ll be in an exhibition soon” “You’re doing OK then?” “I’m getting by… I do some teaching and I work in a pub, but I’m finishing there soon, takes up too much time, they don’t pay much” “Right… I’m pleased you’re getting on” Someone dropped a plate. They both jumped. “I’m sorry I disappeared like that” he said quietly. “I was frantic not knowing what had happened” “I thought it best. Greg, you remember Greg at the circus, he got a job on an oil rig, asked me if I wanted to try out, so, well I was on there for three years… good screw” “You could have written” “I could. But before you know it a year’s gone by then, well…” “What are you doing now?” “When I got out I was in a hostel in Hendon, they got me a job doing security, you know sit in a building all night” “What do you mean ‘got out’?” Rachel asked. “I was sent down again, a misunderstanding on the rig, I lost it and someone got hurt… I’m doing all this therapy at the hostel, getting rid of my temper, knowing when I’m going to be violent, understanding myself. You know the army taught me how to kill and it was all controlled, but outside no-one’s there to stop you” “You look tired” “I am, I’ve been up all night, it’s not very exciting, but it’s a job” Silence, both had finished their tea. “Do you have to go anywhere?” “Not really, I’ve got to get some food in and I was hoping to do some drawing, it’s hard with Lizzie there, she’ll be gone soon” “You OK for money?” “I can’t lend you any, it’s tight” “No, no please I didn’t mean that. No, I’ve saved a bit, I wondered if you needed any” “Ah… I’m sorry. No, I’m fine, but thank you” “Can we meet again?” he asked. “I’ve got your number, I’ll ring” 118
Underpainting “I’ve got a flat, not much, but it’s somewhere, here I’ll write the address for you” He wrote on a napkin then they stood up and left the café.
22 Bartolph’s was almost full by the time Henry, Peter and Constantine sat down to lunch. This was a pleasant change for Peter, not one of Henry’s trendy haunts, but a solid dark wood panelled cave close to Westminster Abbey. Waiters glided around silently and only a murmur of conversation from the other diners could be heard. Peter ordered roast beef, Henry the duck, Constantine went for the lamb with a tarragon sauce. Constantine ordered wine without consulting the others, he knew a good wine as well as the restaurant knew him. They received and finished the soup, a thick potato and celery broth, then Constantine went straight to the point. “Now then Peter, when are we seeing some more paintings?” “Well, that ballet set put my plans back a bit..”. “Constantine asks because he now has the first option on your next five works, how about that Peter?” Henry was delighted, it was a deal he’d spent many hours working out and Constantine was the sort of person he wanted as a client, someone with lots of money and willing to be guided by the gallery. “I’m, well..”. Peter was taken aback, as his life was being mapped out by others, “... well, what if I never paint again, what if I... lost interest?” “No, no I know that will never happen!” the other two laughed. It struck Peter that this may well be the case, he hadn’t put brush to canvas for more than six months. “... No Peter, you’ve got that one man show up in Bradford, and you know after that with this sort of deal you could move down here, really get down to work, Constantine is most keen to see you more often aren’t you?” “Of course”, Constantine said now cutting deeply into the lamb, “I see your work becoming central to my collection. It seems such a waste to be working at that second rate college, it’s now the time for you to move on!” “Well it isn’t second rate, just not in London... and Marrianne, she’s happy there, “ “But I thought she was going to Juliet Farrow College, as artist in residence?” Henry stopped dead, he saw from the expression on Peter’s face that he knew nothing about this, “...ah, oh dear, have I put my foot in it?” “Who told you this?” Peter asked sharply. He didn’t know where the hell 120
Underpainting Juliet Farrow College was. “Lorete Krukowska, but I thought you’d know?” Peter felt hurt. “Well I didn’t. I’m afraid I’ll have to go” Peter stood up, he couldn’t face food now. Immediately a waiter silently took command, organising Peter’s coat and bag and escorted him to the door. Marianne was pacing up and down the kitchen with a glass of red wine in hand, and her diary open on the table. ‘Time’s getting on…’ she thought, as she was trying to juggle all the aspects of her life. She stopped, looked at some letters, the diary again, took a drink, then paced up and down. She knew she had to tell Peter about going to North Carolina. She decided that today would be good, he’d be back from seeing Henry and full of his one-man show, he’d realise the importance of continuing with ones’ own work. She went over things in her mind, sometimes speaking them out loud. Was this the end of their relationship? She didn’t think she’d be at the College for ever, and knew Peter had thought for a long time of moving down to London. Perhaps it was she who was stopping him? She’d often said how she loved London in her student days, how she liked to visit, not to live. So her going to the States would free Peter to move down and become the great artist. Did she want to be with Lorete? She’d gone over it so often in her head. Of course she did, but like London, not all the time. She filled her glass, then went to a cupboard and got a larger glass, poured in the wine from the first glass and the rest of the bottle. She paced up and down, through the hallway, the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, going over her life, Marianne drifted back to when she and Peter first got together, nearly twenty five ago! “Twenty five years!” she shouted out loud, “…shit that’s a long time!” She remembered how they met, in a kitchen, searching for drink at a party at a student house. The party was packed with people dancing, drinking, talking about great ideas, trying to pick up girls, trying to get rid of blokes, smoking whatever was going. They were in the same year at college doing Fine Art Dip. AD’s but had different friends and were in different studio areas. The party was a celebration of a strike supporting a fellow student kicked off the course for demonstrating on the roof about Vietnam. There was great excitement amongst the students. Strangely the thing she most remembered were the posters on the wall, Che, Barbarella, Mao, SWAPO, Hendrix, Ho, but couldn’t remember if Ryan and Luke had been there. She thought not. 121
Underpainting They got talking, what was it about? Sartre, oh God, yes Sartre! Neither really knew anything about him but for all of them he just had to be read. Peter enthused about Kerouac, who Marianne hadn’t read. Peter bored her as he waffled on about the relationship of Kerouac’s experience to Jackson Pollack’s work. They’d returned to the candle lit throng and Dylan’s ‘Outlaw Blues’ got stuck on the record player, replaying the line ‘..on some Australian mountain range…’ over and over. It was a magic moment. Before she knew it Peter’s arm was around her, and they danced, then she remembered how as they stumbled around the mud pile garden, and under a starlit, moonlit sky, they kissed. Peter went back to Marianne’s flat for ‘coffee’ and they spent the rest of the weekend in bed. For the next six months they went to films, were together a parties, spent nights at each others flats, went on demos. Then at the end of their second year, the third year students at Peter’s house moved out, leaving Peter with nowhere to live. They sat in a pub and decided to live together, well at least share Marianne’s flat, they agreed why waste money on two rents? He moved in the next day, and that was it. No romance just practicality, and yet here they were twenty five years later. She remembered how many of the same books and records they shared, and how the corners of the flat were piled up with their belongings, like their house was now. Marianne found herself in the living room, surveying the chaotic bookshelves, staring at two copies of Nausea sitting next to two Technicians of the Sacred. Below them in the dog eared record collection she noted two Highway 61’s, two Third Ear Band albums, and there were many others. Of course they’d always meant to sell doubles, but never quite got round to it. She put on the Third Ear Band, and wondered why they’d thought they were so good. She lifted the arm, and replaced the disk with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, that was better. She opened another bottle of wine, filled her glass, and settled in to the soothing sound of The Byrds. Yes, now was the time to tell Peter about Juliet Farrow, their life together was strong enough to take such a break. Peter sat in a dismal noisy pub near to Euston Station, going over and over why Marianne hadn’t told him about moving to the USA. He looked at his watch, seven forty five, about half an hour to the train. He drank up and left. As he was walking in the fine drizzle to the station his phone rang, he looked at the screen, Clare’s number, before he could answer, a panic stricken voice blarted out “Peter, I need your help, you’re the only one who…” “How did you get this number? You know…” “Peter, I’ve got a real problem, I don’t know what to do, please, please come over, please Peter” 122
Underpainting “Clare, I’m just going for a train, if it’s money, I’ll send you some tomorrow, I’ve got to…” “No, no, it’s not that. Please, I don’t know who else to ask. And come to the back, I’m scared Peter, so scared!” Before he could reply the phone went dead. He knew he shouldn’t go, he knew Clare could be a drama queen, something he liked about her, this episode could just be that the kettle had blown! He headed for Wardour Street station. Twenty minutes later he was knocking on Clare’s back door. She looked pale, she was half dressed, make-up had run down her face in lines of tears, she looked older than he was used to seeing her. As she let him in, she stepped outside and looked around. She was shaking. Without speaking she took Peter upstairs, the house felt stuffy, but today it also felt chilled, and there was a nasty smell. They stood at the door of the bedroom, the curtains were closed, lights on, the bed had been pushed aside at an angle and beside it was the body of a man, a man he knew. He was naked; there were red marks etched on his back and neck, his clothes were spread across the bed, and the belt that Frank had pointed out at the party was lying like a snake across the white rug. “Have you called a doctor?” “I didn’t… I didn’t mean to, he asked…” she sobbed, “…harder he kept saying, harder… until I…” “How did he? I was only with him a few hours ago” “What! You know him?” Clare sounded shocked. “Yes its Constantine… Constantine Levy-French” “He called himself Harry, I thought he was a politician.”. “How long? How long has this been going on?” “Months, more…” “Have you called the police, an ambulance?” “I daren’t… Mr Butter… I don’t know what he’d say… he just started to shake, he couldn’t get his breath, he shook and shook, then rolled over, he was talking in words I didn’t know… then… he made choking noises, then everything just stopped. He lay, there, didn’t move, I went downstairs to try and find smelling salts… by the time I got back upstairs he was gone… Peter… I tried Peter… I didn’t do anything he didn’t ask me to do, you must believe me Peter, he just kept asking for more and harder. It wasn’t my fault, he kept asking. I didn’t know what to do…” They sat on the bed, Constantine at their feet. Peter didn’t touch him. “What can I do Peter?” “You should tell the police, you won’t get blamed, this sort of thing I’m sure happens… it’s not your fault, just be honest with them” “No, no I can’t, it would all come out, they’d want names, you’d be involved 123
Underpainting and Mr Butter, I know he wouldn’t like it. The papers, they’d be all over this”. “I know, but what the hell do we do? What a bloody mess, what a fuckin’ mess, shit Clare, you should have rung the police ages ago, the longer you leave it the worse it looks, don’t you see that? Don’t you see that eh?” Clare was in shock. She was shaking, Peter could smell her sweating, and could smell the drugs she took. He knew he was in shock as well, and knew he didn’t want to be involved. He kept asking himself why he’d come and why he was there. He ushered her out of the room. They sat in the kitchen, Peter made tea. “Did anyone see him come? I’m sure I saw someone in the alleyway” “No… He was always very careful, if anyone was around he’d walk on. You probably just saw the tree trunk, it looks like a person standing, at night, it still shakes me up sometimes. He always comes… came to the back, no-one uses that alleyway”. Clare’s house overlooked a cemetery to the rear, “I know Mr Butter saw people coming in at the front, but that was ages ago, I don’t think he watches now, I’m sure he doesn’t”. Peter went out and through the garden and looked up and down the alleyway, it was empty. He could see what she meant, there was a tree growing out of the back wall three doors up, in the darkness its shape was like a person, the glow of the city highlighting parts of the trunk. He heard a noise and jumped, it sounded like someone walking fast, but there was no-one to be seen. “I see what you mean. Nothing there. D’you think Frank’s ever seen me coming?” he asked when he returned to the warmth of the kitchen. Clare shrugged, “Don’t know, he bought a few houses in this street, I don’t know. He can’t stay here can he? Can’t we just dump him…” Clare pleaded. “With those marks, and all the evidence. Perhaps Frank would be best…” “No, please, no. He’s got enough of a hold on me” They sat in silence, slowly an idea came to Peter. “Right, OK… have you a box, big enough to put him in?” “I’ve got a big old metal trunk in the loft, it’s a bit rusty, must have been left there ages ago” “This is so stupid, it really is… we ought to tell the police” Peter set out a plan to her. They would put Constantine in the trunk, with all his things, he’d hire a van, as he still had to take paints and things home with him from the temporary studio, so it wouldn’t seem odd, then drive to Shropshire with the trunk and bury it amongst the trees on Malcolm’s hill. It seemed simple and it was all he could think of, it was stupid he knew, and if it went wrong they’d both be in trouble. He knew he should just ring the police, so why, he kept thinking, wasn’t he doing it? The loft was a mess. The trunk looked just about big enough and was very heavy even when empty. Getting it down created a mess, but eventually they 124
Underpainting dragged it to the bedroom. They stood beside the body for a few minutes, building up their courage. It was difficult to place Constantine in, and they worked at it grimly and silently. The body fitted, except for his left leg. Whatever they tried it wouldn’t fit in. Clare pulled a baseball bat from under her bed. “For protection” she said seeing Peter’s surprise. She lifted it high and with a huge crack it slammed into the knee. Peter winced, after many more swings the leg went limp, and dangled from the lip of the trunk. She pushed the leg in with another cracking noise. Peter had never seen her so determined, and made sure everything went in, including the belt and bat, and a small framed photograph that had got pushed under the bed. With Constantine inside the trunk was much heavier than Peter had thought it would be. “I just hope Matthew doesn’t come home” Clare said coldly. “I thought he hadn’t been home for weeks?” They struggled with the trunk on the stairs, stopping at each step. “I’m worried about him Peter, he’s got money, I just don’t know where from” “Perhaps he’s got some work, you know Frank Butter seemed to always have money when I was a boy” “God, I hope he doesn’t turn out like him! Watch out for the wall, I’ve only just finished painting it” When the trunk was safely stowed next to the front door, they had to spend a couple of hours cleaning the carpet and stairs. The box had left a deep brown red stain from the rust. It was hard to remove. Where Constantine had been lying there were stains, which were easier to remove, though Peter knew that if the police came they’d find evidence, however hard they rubbed. It was now far too late for Peter to go home. He rang and left a message for Marianne that he’d stay and sort out a van to bring the equipment home. He didn’t mention America, in fact he’d quite forgotten about it. He tried to get to sleep on Clare’s settee, as she slept deeply in a chair. He kept thinking why he’d done something so stupid. In the morning he rang round and found a van to hire. With great difficulty they had loaded up the trunk and went to the studio to load some paints. They didn’t do much talking, only what was necessary. By late afternoon they reached Malcolm’s hill. Peter knew he wouldn’t be there, as he was at Shrewsbury hospital for a couple of days for some tests. He parked behind the caravan. There was no-one to see them, no houses were anywhere to be seen, and there were trees between them and the lane. But still he was nervous just in case. Peter found the trolley which he knew was in the shed, and they manhandled the box from the van, it fell hard to the ground, slipping from their grasp. They 125
Underpainting held their breath in case the box burst. It didn’t. They worked quickly and got it balanced on the trolley, then started up the pathway towards the densely planted trees. Clare was at the front pulling, Peter pushing. Every ten or so yards they had to stop for breath, the wheels dug hard into the soft ground. There was a fine drizzle making the grass slippery. Peter knew of a good spot for the burial, it was one of the well-established areas which Malcolm would hardly bother about, except to cut some branches down in the autumn, so the ground would have many months to settle. Just a few weeks before Peter and Malcolm had already dug a hole, to bury an old seat so the ground was already disturbed and would be easy to dig again, with little to show afterwards. After about an hour pushing and pulling they reached the spot, it was dark under the trees, but the drizzle had relented. They both dug, often hitting the metal seat which made clanging noises that seemed to echo all around the hillside. Eventually it was deep enough for the box with a good covering of earth; they manipulated it from the trolley to the edge of the hole, pushed hard and it fell in on its lid. “Damn” Peter said, “it’ll have to stay like that”. Peter covered it over with earth, Clare was now too exhausted to do any more and sat on the trolley. When it was finished, Clare asked if they should say some words, Peter looked at her amazed. “Just pray no-one finds him, or we’re in deep shit” he said. They made their way down the hill in silence, above stars were glinting and luckily the moon had risen lighting the way. It wasn’t until they got to the bottom they realised how dirty they were. They had showers in Malcolm’s caravan, but their clothes were caked in mud, there wasn’t a washing machine, so they washed them in the shower. As their clothes steamed in front of the electric fire, Clare fell asleep. She looked peaceful, as if a weight was taken from her shoulders. Peter couldn’t sleep, he was tired but his brain was over active. He couldn’t think clearly what to do next, but knew they had to leave soon, before anyone came. He saw there were three calls from Henry on his mobile, which he hadn’t heard on the hill, he guessed they may be about Constantine. What would he say if the police questioned him, after all he and Henry must be some of the last people to see him. Could he handle it? He hoped he’d wake up soon and find this was all just a bad dream.
23 Peter sat in First Class and didn’t feel guilty. He had a can of beer in front of him. ‘Why have I done something so stupid?’ he kept asking himself Why hadn’t Marianne told him about America. Perhaps it wasn’t finally sorted, he told himself, but knew what Lorete Krukowska was like from what Marianne had said. Or this could as easily be Lorete trying to get one up on Henry. He and Marianne, they were a couple weren’t they? Sitting back and watching the countryside flying by Peter kept seeing Constantine in the reflections in the window, and jumped when the uniformed guard asked for his ticket. He tried to clear his mind walking up and down the almost empty carriage. Sitting back down and dozing off his thoughts went back to when he and Mari first got together, in that flat of hers, sitting in bed wrapped in blankets when they’d run out of money for the meter, 1968 was a cold damp winter. The mouse that each night pushed itself under the door and ran across the room, they could never find where it went or where it came from. How they painted the walls, he throwing and splashing, Mari painting Van Gogh type sunflowers, to cover a previous lodgers’ painting of a black mouth of Hell round the cast iron fireplace, however much paint they put on it reappeared. They never got round to the rest of the room which retained the dirty silky rose wallpaper. They had so many people visiting them, talking all night and getting drunk or stoned. At the end of their third year there was the frenzy of getting their final shows ready, the stress of which almost split them up. ‘Perhaps it would have been for the best’ he thought. And suddenly college was all over. Friends moved away one or two even got jobs. They moved north. Peter had been lucky and was offered a part-time teaching job at Knype School of Art, with real money! It seemed a fortune after life on a grant, Marianne went along too. ‘Well’, she’d said, ‘…there isn’t much else to do is there?’ Both thought it would only be a temporary arrangement and as soon they 127
Underpainting were selling their work and could afford a studio and flat back in London, they’d be gone. After ten years together he remembered they talked about children, the only time, and decided it wasn’t time, later. They had lots of time. However, later never came. He recollected how within just a few years everyone they knew had kids. So he asked himself, did he regret that? No. Peter liked kids but had no fatherly instincts. Did Marianne regret it? He’d never asked, perhaps he should have. Did Constantine have children? He didn’t know. Was anyone waiting for him, missing him? Peter didn’t know and didn’t dare even think of finding out. What was he to do now? Constantine was to buy five pictures at top price, as he’d said, it gave him the chance to be independent, something he’d always dreamt of. That had gone and this situation was a mess. And Clare? She’d told him about how well Constantine paid, both had lost out, and big time. Was their loss drawing them together, certainly their night together was passionate. Could he trust her not to break down and confess? Their return journey to London in the van seemed never ending, carried out in silence. Then when they’d got back to Clare’s she’d just taken him by the hand, led him upstairs, undressed him, and they made love, not just had sex, she seemed desperate for affection. That morning he hadn’t dared offer her money, but left some behind the clock in the kitchen as he left, just in case. If the police asked him where he’d been the night before he no alibi. ‘Shit!’ he thought, ‘shit, I never thought of that, shit!’ He dropped off to sleep, and awoke with a start realising he was snoring and his mouth was open as the attendant brought him a coffee. Looking out of the window he knew it wasn’t far now. If Marianne did go to the States, should he try and get together with Clare? He must be mad absolutely crazy! Why was he even thinking that? But he hadn’t felt that sort of passion and need for years, which he realised was probably his own fault, and did he even want that from Marianne anymore? However disappointed he was he also still felt pleased for Marianne, her recognition as an artist was far more deserved than his, she had a fluidity about her work that was not there in his. He didn’t want her to go, but her work was important, more important than their relationship? His work was, if it was the other way round he’d go and she’d tell him to, support his decision. But he wasn’t Marianne, however he had no right to stop her. ‘Stop thinking such things!’, he told himself, ‘he and Mari were still 128
Underpainting together’, but deep down he knew it must be near the end. Peter took a piece of paper out of his diary and started to plan his Bradford show, he had to get down to some painting, but the studio was a place of fear for him; he wanted to work but couldn’t; at the moment it wasn’t there. Unless of course he showed some of the drawings, he had a loft full of those. Marianne had always urged him to show them, so why not? Henry and Constantine wanted more paintings from him. He stopped himself. There wasn’t a Constantine now, shit. People would like his drawings, yes, so why not? He would talk things over with Marianne. He’d have to be careful, no one, not even Mari could know, and could he trust Clare? That just kept repeating in his mind. Could she keep quiet if the police came around. He remembered how she broke that knee, and felt yes she was strong minded. He worried more about his own reactions. So, if Mari did go they could sell the house, that would help both of them, must be worth loads now. But deep inside his heart he didn’t want them to part, of course he could go over there, why not, what was keeping him here? What could he say? Leave it to her, in her own time, what if she wanted to split? He knew there was nothing to stop them. Should he plead how much he loved her and not to go, that she needed to be there for him? Stupid. The phone ringing woke Marianne. She’d dreamt of Colin and the trial, she was standing in front of her mother being questioned, her mother was huge with a judges’ wig on, she was being blamed for his failings. The thought of the trial made her shudder. The phone was insistent. Probably Peter she thought, but he’d have rung her mobile probably. “Hello” “Hello Marianne!” “Oh hi Lizzie, it’s lovely to hear from you, you still at your Mum’s?” “No… I went back with Mark, didn’t you know?” “No, I haven’t talked with Angela for days, I thought you were still at home, looking after Philip?” “Oh we had a row as soon as she came home, you know after she’d been at your house…” “Ah..”. said Marianne a bit fearfully, “…what about?” “It was the way she treated Philip. Mark had sorted all sorts of things out in just an hour or so. Philip was to go to Liverpool Road, you know the rehab centre?” “Yes, I know, where Clare went” “Clare?” Lizzie asked. 129
Underpainting “One of the old students, long time ago, you wouldn’t know her..”. “So when she got back, she was so nasty! She said that she’d deal with it and ‘what the hell was I doing there’, or words to that effect!” “Well… she seemed OK when she left… quite pleased with herself ” “So I told her she was an ungrateful cow and left with Mark” “So you’re back at Ryan’s?” she knew she wouldn’t be, but she couldn’t really tell her what she knew, unless… “No, I stayed at Rachel’s for a couple of days and Mark helped me find a flat, near to Rachel, and Rachel found me a job.”. “Ah good… and the music?” Marianne asked. “We’re putting some tracks together, Ryan had signed us up, so I thought we may as well use the opportunity and we’ve been in the studio… well why not?” “Yes why not indeed. Are you and Ryan over?” “Oh yes, I realize that now, I didn’t want to, though I haven’t seen him, haven’t heard from him…” “Typical” Marianne said. “Oh no, he’s not that bad. Anyway, I found that he’d been putting money into an account in my name, I got a cheque book and bank card through the post and it appears there’s ten thousand pounds in there!” “God…” that’s all Marianne could think to say “Yes, ten thousand. I couldn’t believe it, I thought I ought to contact him see if it really was mine?” “No you don’t girl, you’ll need that! You earned that, sorry I didn’t mean… anyway he must want you to have it, or else he wouldn’t have given it you, you keep it and enjoy yourself ” “It appears he’s selling everything up, the house, record company, the ticket agency. He’d arranged for all my things to be left at his office and has gone. They told me it’s all in the hands of his solicitors” Lizzie said. “Well, well I never” “Anyway. I thought I’d apply for college” “Good, you…” “Not art, sorry Marianne, no, I thought I’d do music. I could do with some help though. I need to apply soon and I’m not sure about everything, you do all those intakes and applications with the Foundation students, I…” “Course I’ll help, of course Lizzie, whatever you need. What are you going to do?” “I thought I’d look at composition and perhaps some of the technical things, I’ve enjoyed the recording side much more than the playing” “That’s great. Look, I have to come to London next week, about the show, we’ll meet” “Yes, let me know” Lizzie gave her her phone number and address. 130
Underpainting “Oh, before you go, how’s Philip?” Marianne asked. “Oh it’s awful, Queen B.’s chucked him out!” “What! After all you’ve done, you know he could’ve come round here” “It appears he started at Liverpool Road and met some dealers there, some rehabilitation eh? He started stealing again…” “But he’s only fifteen?” “No, sixteen, it was his birthday last week” “That’s no excuse, so when did he leave?” “Yesterday. But he’s disappeared again, don’t know where to, he certainly doesn’t know where I live, if he comes round tell him where I am, it worries me” Lizzie said. “It does me too, God how could Angela…” “Well you know what she’s like, if she’s not the centre of things” “I know, anyway, it’s been lovely to hear from you, if Philip comes round I’ll look after him”. The phone call was over. Marianne sat down, quite shocked. Lizzie seemed to have lived twice her years, she sounded so calm. She wrote the address in her diary. The front door slammed. “Hello Mari!” She knew she had to tell him. “Hi!” “Hello!” She knew she had to tell Peter. “Hi!” a voice she didn’t recoginise said. “Look who was on the doorstep!” Peter said. “Graeme! You should have rung!” Marianne was not pleased to see Graeme, she didn’t try to hide it. But Graeme was one of those people who didn’t notice anyone else, in fact Marianne called him a male Angela. “I tried ringing, it was always busy. I had a day or two… is it OK?” “I suppose so, its been ages… you’ve put on weight” “Yes, well you know what it’s like…” Graeme said. He was an old college friend of theirs, they’d hardly known him when at college but afterwards he did some work at Knype a couple of terms after Peter started and they got to know each other. Graeme was now a Visual Arts Officer for South Midlands Arts, from what he said his life seemed to be one long committee meeting. Over the last few years they had less and less in common. In the past Graeme would come for a night or weekend and they’d all go for a drink and something to eat. Graeme was lonely, he’d had a number of short- lived relationships and each time they were finished by the partner well before Graeme realised what was wrong. Marianne and Peter 131
Underpainting looked at each other and silently hoped he was not on the rebound, which could be dreadful. Graeme was now ingratiated in arts politics, who was where and who was getting what, which was interesting for a just a short period, otherwise the time would be spent reminiscing about college days, the pubs, the people, the parties. Graemeâ€™s own painting had ceased many years before, Peter was always fearful he would become Graeme.
24 Rachel pressed the buzzer as she’d been told to; glass doors opened automatically and she entered a fluorescent bright chrome and carpet world. She walked along a corridor of locked doors, close circuit cameras which following her movements, her footsteps were silent on thick carpet as she passed empty rooms and water dispensers, sealed up photocopiers and filing cabinets. In the lift she pressed a button for the third floor which she reached without a feeling of movement. She followed another silent corridor towards the core of the vacant human anthill until she reached room 3112. In the middle was a table with a shabby portable black and white TV showing football. The far wall was a bank of large monitors displaying an empty world. In the corner was a camp bed, surrounded by posters of naked women, legs apart, arses in the air taped to the wall; an old wooden table with a kettle, jam jar of sugar, brown mugs, and bottle of milk. The inane football commentary fought against the hum of air conditioning for attention . Her father was stationed in front of the monitors. He flicked zoom switches and adjusted lighting. He wore a cheap uniform that didn’t fit well. “I watched you all the way, see... each part is under surveillance, look I recorded you at the front door…” She saw a person she knew and yet from the high angle didn’t look like herself. She realised how much thinner she’d got lately shuddering at the thought of being spied on. Her father had asked her to come to Tottenham Court Towers, a vast empty office block near Oxford Street, where he worked as a night security man. The doorways and covered areas streetside were taken up by rough sleepers, shelters built of cardboard and rubbish bags. Her father flicked some switches and zoomed into a man drinking from a can. “If I had my way I’d let ‘em in..”. he gestured to the building , “...bloody criminal keeping this place empty”. “Were you ever on the streets?” “The odd night... it’s shit… and so many ex squadies, it was like being back in the regiment… hard to fit in, no discipline not in civvies, jumped up jerks telling you what for, no respect”. The monitors changed again to the empty corridors “I saw your mother last week”. 133
Underpainting Rachel hadn’t thought of her mother for years, she’d left them at Caterick Camp when Rachel was seven. There was no love loss. Even when she was there she had ignored Rachel, the odd slap, but mainly ignored. Rachel felt pleased when she left. Her memory was of a woman who was never dressed lying on the couch watching TV or in bed smoking. She also remembered her locking the bedroom door when other men visited when her Dad was away; and being hungry, always hungry except when her Dad was there. “Had to go and sign some papers, you know we’d never got divorced. She’s on her own again, her bloke went off with some seventeen year old”. Rachel was pleased and felt bad to be so. “Did she ask about me?” “No” “Why the rush now to get divorced if she’s on her own?” “It’s not for her, it’s me, I’ve met someone. Her name is Paulette and we are going to get married” Rachel wasn’t sure what to say. Wasn’t sure if she was pleased, why should she be and why shouldn’t? “Come and meet her, Sunday. I’m off Sunday”. “Yes. I don’t see why not, it’ll have to be after lunch, I’m working Sunday lunch, the pub gets busy”. Her father flicked some switches and all the pictures changed but there was still no life in the anthill. “I saw some of your drawings”. “At the gallery?” “Yes, snotty place that. They’re a bit strange?” “They’re about feeling and being a woman confronted with a world of invasive males, the distortions are about the way others see your sexuality..”. She looked at the pictures on the wall. Was her work pornography like these but in fancy frames? “Bit heavy that. At least you may make some cash from it. Some queer asked me to leave”. Rachel knew that would be Henry he didn’t like people coming to the gallery unless they were well dressed or rich. “You should have introduced yourself ”. “No, I didn’t want to let you down. What’s wrong with painting scenes, you know, landscapes, like you used to”. Rachel never remembered actually doing ‘scenes’ she’d drawn people, always people. She realised she had grown far apart from this man. “I must go”. “Right. See you Sunday” “Yes”. Peter and Marianne sat in bed. Graeme was now safely tucked up in the 134
Underpainting spare room. They had gone for a drink at The Jolly Bargeman, the beer had been cold from the cellars next to the water and a huge fire created a relaxed atmosphere. They’d talked about old friends and places. Marianne had told them how she’d made a rubbing of Luke Berenson’s name in Washington. Graeme had shared a squat with Luke and told again stories of demos, burning the squat down, and drinking sessions. Graeme told how years later he’d visited Luke’s parents, how they lived in a huge house in Kansas with a veranda, how Luke’s mother had become an alcoholic and his father had stopped talking to anyone. “It was good to see Graeme, I wasn’t all that pleased at first to see him, I wanted us to talk” “Yes I thought so… have you still got that rubbing?” “It’s in the studio, you seemed to want to tell me something?” “What did you want to talk about?” Peter knew of course, “I wanted to talk about the show and some ideas I’ve had” “Well, I’ve been asked to become Artist in Residence at Juliet Farrow Women’s College, near Wilmington…” “In the States?” “Yes, North Carolina. Lorete recommended me. They offer this huge studio, good pay, a house to live in, about ten hours teaching a week and being a representative at conferences. Oh, and there’s a show every other year, paid for. What d’you think?” “Well, what can I say? You’d be mad not to take it. Is it permanent?” “Five year contract” “Do you want to do it?” “I think so. I wanted to see what you thought?” “It’s hard to say no really. How long have you known about it?” “A few weeks, I wanted to find out more before committing myself, you know?” “Yes” There was silence for a moment. Peter looked at a picture in his book on Stanley Spencer ‘Christ entering Jerusalem’, quite apt he thought, the beginning of the end? Or the end of the beginning? He wanted to shout and scream and plead with her not to go, tell her how much he loved her. But if he loved her he should let her go, shouldn’t he? He thought about Clare, about Constantine in the box on the hill, he had begun to fear rain in case the soil washed away, and then put them out of his thoughts. Marianne picked up Nausea, the words swam across the page. She wanted Peter to shout and scream how much he loved her and didn’t want her to go, but she did want to go, she knew he would be reasonable, he always was. She thought about Lorete, and then put her out of her thoughts. 135
Underpainting “I was going to put a proposition to you as well”. “Right…” “I thought it was time to move, go to London, so I can work on painting full time, before I regret it, or we regret it”. “I thought you might” she said. “Ah, you realised too?” “Yes, ever since your time doing that set college seems secondary to you, I think the students realise it too”. “That bad eh?” “’’fraid so”. “What do you think?” “Yes, good idea, and you know this Juliet Farrow thing isn’t forever”. “No, I suppose not”. “We need to sort things out don’t we?” “Yes. It’ll be nice to hand in my notice” Peter said. “Won’t it just. It’s not the same since Bill died, so many new faces. Just not the same”. “Is that it then?” “I suppose it is” Marianne said. “You’ve got to go to court next week haven’t you?” “Yes” They switched off their reading lights and both lay back thinking. Peter about whether he’d ever paint again, Marianne about her mother, she knew she had to tell her, that would be much worse than Peter. They both wondered why they hadn’t shouted and screamed pleaded with each other. Too late now. Lizzie and Tom lay in bed feeling warm, safe and happy together. They were in Lizzie’s new flat, Tom had called to see if she was OK and what had happened to Philip. Four hours later they knew they’d never part. Lizzie had told Tom about Philip’s disappearance. She felt he may turn up at the flat, or more likely at Rachel’s. She realised they couldn’t do much for him. She was sad for him but happy for herself. She’d loved Tom since she was fifteen, and now he was here and hers. The next morning Peter woke early to find Marianne sitting looking out of the window. It was only just getting light. He sat up in bed, he saw she’d put a mug of tea next to him, and sipped it. “I’ll miss the squirrels” “I’ll miss the park” “You never go in it” 136
Underpainting “We’ll have to sell the house” “We’ll have to sort out all these belongings” “We’ll have to tell the mothers” “We’ll have to give our notice” “We’ll have to tell our friends” “We’ll have to clear the studios” “We’ll have to keep in touch” “We’ll have to visit each holiday” “We’ll have to have a going away party” “We’ll have to clean the house” “We’ll have to” “Yes we’ll have to”
25 Paulette opened the heavy metal door on its chain. “Hi, I’m Rachel” Paulette smiled. She was much younger than Rachel expected, hard to tell, but not that much older than herself. Rachel heard a baby crying inside. “Oh hi”, Paulette closed the door, undoing the chain and opened the door fully, “I’m so pleased you could come”. Rachel entered the flat. “Dave’s... sorry… your dad’s gone to get some milk, I thought you might have passed him on the stairs?” “Oh I got a bit lost, so many flats here” “Yes took me ages... OK Jessi, I’m coming!” she turned towards a small bedroom, “Sorry about this, I must go and deal with her” Rachel followed her and saw a baby girl in an obviously second hand cot. Her face and clothes covered in food. “Jessica what a mess you’ve made” Paulette took a long intake of breath, she looked tired. She turned to Rachel, “…this is the third set of clothes she’s gone through this afternoon”, she was almost crying, “…God how we need a washing machine and Dave… sorry… sorry that isn’t what you came for is it?” Rachel left them and went into the living room, babies weren’t her thing. The bare essentials were all there. Damp washing hung on clothes horses steaming up the window. The table was set with an assortment of cups and plates, a cheap chocolate cake in the middle. Rachel looked out of the big windows onto the estate a long way below. In the far distance you could see the towers of the City of London. The front door clunked open. “Is that fucking child still crying! Can’t you shut it up!” her father’s voice boomed. There was some hurried whispering. Rachel’s father came in, he was carrying a six pack of lager. “Sorry about…” he gestured towards the baby’s room, “…never stops crying”. Paulette came in the room carrying Jessica and placed her in a playpen. 138
Underpainting She looked even younger than before. “Please, sit down. Tea?” Paulette went into the kitchen. Rachel and her father didn’t speak. She noticed an old school photo of herself over the electric fire, there was one of her father in uniform and bad studio one of Paulette and Jessica. “Here you are” Paulette poured the tea, “cake?” “No thanks” “Dave’s told me lots about you. You’re an artist?” “Yes, I’ve only recently left college, but I’m trying, you know, it’s hard to get started” “I bet it is. I was good at art at school”. “Paulette’s in show business”, her father said quite proudly. “That’s a bit grand, I’m a stripper!” Rachel wasn’t really sure how to answer that, and decided not to. “We met when I was a bouncer in a pub, in New Cross” “He saved my life and Jessica’s” “No, I only…” “My boyfriend then, the baby father… was a dealer… stole cars… you know, sat around with his mates all day… took all my money… anyway one day I wouldn’t give him some cash and he came after me, went at me when I was on stage with a knife, and your Dad stopped him” “Show her your scar” Paulette lifted her t-shirt, there was a three inch scar on her taut stomach. “It was lucky Jessica wasn’t further on, just missed her by less than an inch the doctors said” Rachel breathed in hard and drank her tea. Jessica started crying again and Paulette went to comfort her and took her back to the bedroom. “Beautiful isn’t she?” Rachel’s dad said. “Yes, she seems very nice” “I’ve asked her to marry me, she said no at first. You don’t mind?” “Me? Why should I?” Rachel said “Well, she’s not much older than you, I thought you may think I was wrong in some way?” “No, look dad you go ahead. If you and she are happy then do it, it really is no concern of mine” “Will you come to the wedding?” Rachel didn’t really want this. This was getting in the way. She wanted to be alone and doing her work in her own way. “Of course” Paulette came in again. “Rachel will come, see I told you she would! And Rachel, will you do a 139
Underpainting portrait of us?” ‘Oh god’ Rachel thought, no! No! NO! “I’ll see, I can’t promise, I’ll see, it’s not my thing really” “Rachel draws nudes” her father said to Paulette, “you ought to model for her, yes, you ought to model, it’s only stripping by another name eh!”. Peter’s phone rang, a withheld number. It was Clare. They’d agreed that she wouldn’t phone him, so Peter was a bit taken aback when she spoke. Clare told him that Frank Butter had been to visit asking if Constantine had been there as no-one knew where he was. It appeared he had a large loan with Frank to develop some property. She’d blanked him. He didn’t appear to have any clue about what had happened. Peter assured her that no-one appeared to know anything, he told her that Henry was frantic as Constantine owed the gallery money. The police had been in touch with Henry, but not with him. She seemed calm, almost cold about it all. To his surprise Clare ended by telling him she loved him, and for some reason and even more surprising to him, Peter told her he loved her. Marianne and her mother sat in a shiny corridor of The Queen Elizabeth II Court. There were huddles of people whispering, well-dressed men and women would move smoothly along the corridor carrying files and disappear through doors, policemen hung around bored, reading through notes, women with children looked lost and fed up. They’d been there for two hours, the case was late starting. Marianne’s mother was dressed in her Sunday best, her hands kneading the handles of her black handbag. Marianne needed a coffee, her mother had refused one and it felt more than her life was worth to go and get one for herself. They didn’t speak to each other. Marianne felt sick, she’d never given evidence, she wanted to make sure she didn’t defend Colin, although that was what she was supposed to be there for, she wanted to be clear and fair. There was a noise at the far end, some official looking men were escorting a group of women from a court, they were shouting at the judge. “You bastards! You bastards! You bastards!” resounded through the clean lines of the building over and over again. More officials came forward and a reporter at the far end of the corridor for a moment looked interested, but before he could be bothered to move they’d been escorted out into the bright sunlight. Calm returned. An hour later a smart young man in court attire stood in front of them. “Mrs. Maddox, Miss Maddox?” “Yes” Marianne’s mother feebly said, nothing came out of Marianne’s dry throat. “I’ve been assigned to defend Colin…” 140
Underpainting “But I talked to a Miss Matthews…” “She’s on another case now…” Marianne’s mother turned to Marianne. “She was so nice, I thought it would look good if a woman…” “Mrs. Maddox” the man said sharply, “there’s been a change” “Oh no, it’s not adjourned again is it?” “No, no. You won’t be needed now. Your son, on our advice, has decided to plead guilty” Marianne’s mother went white and sat back. “But he’s not guilty, he told me” she said. “The evidence is overwhelming, it’ll be much better for him, the court wouldn’t take kindly…” “But he’s innocent, it’s all rubbish” “I’m afraid it’s not, not really. The prosecution have very good eyewitness and photographic evidence, there really is no case…” the man said. “But why didn’t…” her voice faded, suddenly she looked twenty years older. She was silent, no tears. Marianne put her arm round her, she pushed her off. “No… you never believed him” she said bitingly. Marianne couldn’t protest, she didn’t and was sorry Colin wasn’t going to have to explain himself. “This really is the best way Mrs. Maddox. He could easily be out in two years” “You mean he’ll go to prison?” “I’m afraid so, the charges are serious” “But it’s only her word” “No, there’s more, this problem with the prostitute. Didn’t Miss Matthews tell you? She really should have” “She said something, but Colin said that they’d got the wrong person. I told her” “No, it’s certain, but he is going to help the police catch the others involved” “Others?” Marianne pushed in here. However much Colin deserved what he got, her mother didn’t need this. She could see she was in shock. “Look Mr…?” “Dobson-Smythe” “…Mr. Dobson-Smythe, I think my mother’s had enough” “No, no. I’m all right” they both stood up, “When will he be in court? I’d like to see him” “He’ll be in Court number 3, in about… thirty minutes, it will be a quick procedure. Sentencing will take place in about a month after some reports are received” 141
Underpainting “I want to be there…” Marianne silently protested to her mother. “…no Mary, I’m not leaving. You can go, I know you want to. I’ll be all right”, the stiff upper lip took over. Marianne left. A cool breeze whipped off the Irish Sea towards Snowdonia. Families on the sands sat with their wind breaks set northwards. Pearl was wearing a light jacket and was wishing she’d worn her winter coat, Peter wished he’d not left his jacket in the car. They walked arm in arm along the quiet sea front at Rhos-on-Sea. “You know, I’ve almost forgotten what your Dad looked like. Isn’t it funny, nearly forty years together and I’m forgetting”. “It’s easy Mum, someone leaves you soon forget. I remember Bill’s voice but I’ve forgotten the colour of his hair, silly isn’t it?” “How’s Angela getting on?” Peter didn’t actually know the latest goings on, he and Marianne had been so busy sorting things out, Angela had slipped their minds. “Oh she’s OK, you know Angela…” “I only met her the once. I didn’t like her, something false about her” “She’s OK, she’s had problems with Philip, her eldest son, drugs, you know…” “So many, you read about so many, even here, what do the young get out of it, a whole generation, makes you wonder…” They reached the shops. Peter remembered them from his childhood, there used to be a posh café, an ice cream parlour, a shop that sold model trains. White glass covered awnings, those luckily were still there, the shops long gone and forgotten. They entered a new ‘posh’ tea shop, the waitress wore the standard black and white uniform to make you pay more, tables were set in pink and white. Pearl objected to him spending so much but Peter insisted, ‘what’s the use of it if you can’t enjoy it’ he argued. They had ‘high tea’. “It’s a pity Marianne couldn’t come” “She had to go to court, remember, she told you about her brother?” “Ah yes. I forgot” they filled the pot with more water, Pearl was going to get good value out of this extravagance, and asked the waitress for another jug. She whispered to Peter “I wonder if they remember, they asked Florence and I to leave once because we were eating our own bread and butter” she giggled. “You weren’t! Well the stuck up bunch of…”. “Oh don’t say anything. Oh look there’s Mrs. Pritchard and Captain Grainger, you must meet them… we go to Wednesday Friends together” Peter didn’t want to, but they came over. “This is my son, the artist” Pearl said proudly. Peter had to explain what 142
Underpainting he did, Captain Grainger said he didn’t like the modern stuff but supposed Peter knew all about it. Peter could see they looked down a bit at his mother, he didn’t like that, so he threw in a few names and places which suitably impressed them. His mother glowed with delight. When they’d gone Pearl explained in a voice so no one else would hear, “Mrs. Pritchard drives me to the club, Captain Grainger used to drive but you saw his arm…” Peter hadn’t, “… he was wounded in Italy and it’s got worse lately, he can’t use it any more, his eyesight’s not good either, poor chap. His wife, Gwen, was so nice, first person to welcome me to Rhos, he’s been so lost without her”. They sat and eat the last of the cream cakes. “When are you off to London?” “Oh not till the end of the year. We’ve got to sell the house, I need to find a studio and somewhere to live, you know…” “It’ll do you good” The bluntness quite shocked Peter, “…life at that college is too easy, you need a challenge, you’re getting like your father!” “Was… am I?” “Self centred, happy with your lot. No wonder Marianne’s off to America!” Peter hadn’t looked at it this way. It disturbed him that his mother could see what he couldn’t. “She’s not off forever, we are still together” Peter insisted. “Well if I were her I’d get on, make my own life. She’s got a lot going for her” “And I haven’t?” Peter wasn’t sure if he said this out loud or to himself. His mother didn’t answer, perhaps it was to himself. Pearl began a long story about some friends of hers, Peter drifted off. He remembered the days after Vic was killed, not the innuendo and lies, but his father. He remembered hushed rooms when he entered and being asked quite often if he was all right, it was only coming back to him now. He remembered being told to go out and play when the Police came round. He’d hidden under the window to try and listen but didn’t hear anything… “Peter! Peter were you listening?” “Oh, I’m sorry Mum. I was thinking about when we came on holiday here” “It wasn’t we, Peter, it was you and I”, yes he remembered now “your Dad didn’t like holidays. That damned Club! His two weeks were usually spent decorating the Club. You and I came here, do you remember it was so hot one year and do you remember the puppet theatre, it’s still here” Peter had had nightmares about the puppet theatre. “Ah yes” and shuddered, “…do you remember Frank Butter, who used to help Dad?” 143
Underpainting Pearl stiffened. “I think we better go, we’re keeping them waiting” she looked at the waitress hovering over them. They stood up and were soon back in the cold north wind. “I met him recently, he asked after you” “Who?” “Frank Butter” “He’s not someone I’d want to know” “He remembers you with affection, how you used to give him meals and so on…” “That was a long time ago, best forgotten” Marianne watched a barge slip by, a little girl in blue waved at her from the stern, she waved back. A gust of wind sent a willow scurrying through the water like a paint brush. She felt good to be out of the court building. Her mother was right, she hadn’t wanted to stay there. Marianne was annoyed that Colin appeared to be getting away with this, not having to stand up and face people, be humiliated like he humiliated others. Yes he’d go to prison, or would he after all the judge was probably a man what did he know? His bullying and violence to Shirley disgusted and sickened Marianne, he deserved all he got for that. As the facts came out it was all so carefully planned and concealed. If her mother had heard all the facts it could well have killed her. From what she could work out Colin was part of a group of men who worked together to find younger and younger girls to exploit. She was sick by a hedge, she felt awful. But it left her clear headed, she decided to go back to the court, she better make sure Mum was OK, it was only fair. Colin was given six months for the assault and a two years for intercourse with a minor, both were suspended because of his previous good record and help given to the police. His name was placed on the register of sex offenders. He was referred to a centre for support and counselling. Rachel splashed treacly dark varnish onto thick paper, black chalk pastel drawing convulsing in the goo, almost disappearing. She looked hard and critically at it. “Yes” she said aloud, no-one heard because she was alone. She took up a thick brush and delicately dripped a lighter and thinner varnish in lines following heavy marks on the paper. The surface bent some more as the dry powdery surfaces absorbed the oils. She looked at herself in the long mirror, she was almost naked and splashes of the varnish had gone on her legs, she noticed that unwittingly she’d wiped her hands on her face and big black 144
Underpainting marks of pastel looked like war paint. She’d been working for six hours and lost track of time and felt hungry. She put a towelling robe on and went to the bathroom for a wash. When she’d finished the varnishes were starting to dry and soak into the heavy weight of the paper, some of the charcoal marks had dispersed making the contortions, contractions and convulsions even more marked. She was reasonably pleased with this but knew there was a lot more work to do to make this technique work for her and not for itself. She and Henry had had a long talk about taking her work in a more experimental and painterly direction, these pictures were the first steps forward. In the kitchen Rachel put the kettle on, got a bowl of salad, cheese, bread and milk out of the fridge. An over decorated thank-you card from Paulette had fallen on the floor, she picked it up and read it again. Thank you for coming. I know it couldn’t have been easy. My Dad got himself a new woman and I never came to terms with it. I want to make Dave happy and be a good wife to him, he’s been good to me. Please come any time you like to, I’d like us to be friends. Dave was so pleased you came, he hasn’t stopped talking about it. Could we meet sometime? Paulette was very pleasant and it was good to see her Dad again, but she didn’t want to meet her on her own. She didn’t know what her Dad had told her about? The rape? The circus? Prison? Then her phone rang. “Hi Rachel!” it was Lizzie. “So, you’ve got out of bed at last” “Oh I am sorry, I really did forget about it…” Rachel had made a date with Lizzie to go to an exhibition in Camden, when Rachel arrived Lizzie was still in bed. “Don’t worry, I told you. Tom and you are great for each other. You have some fun, you deserve it. Is Tom still there?” “He’s…” “Come up for air!” Rachel broke in impishly. “No! He’s gone to sort out something about this course he’s going on” “Two students together then, very cosy” “Ha, ha… I know what you think really” Lizzie said. “No. I really am happy for you. Have you heard from Ryan yet? Has he asked for his money back?” “Far from it, it keeps coming! There’s more…” “More?” “Well, he’s sold everything and gone to live in Cornwall…” “Cornwall?” 145
Underpainting “Yes… in a huge house by the sea and set up a ‘New Person’ therapy centre with Queen Bee” Rachel couldn’t think what on earth to say, “…they’re living together” “Good God” “They all shave everything and stand naked against the sea breezes, finding themselves” “A bit bloody chilly” shuddered Rachel. “Well that’s what I thought” “And what do you think? Ryan and your mother?” Rachel asked. “Well, I was a bit upset at first, I don’t know, it’s not the sort of thing that happens everyday is it?” Rachel thought about Paulette, she hadn’t said anything to anyone and wasn’t going to. “I suppose not. Why Cornwall?” “It was Queen Bee’s idea it appears, that thing she went to in California, same idea, but here. They’ve asked me to go, make ‘one with them’ as they put it…” “Bit hippyish isn’t it?” Rachel said critically. “Oh I couldn’t stand it. We’d be expected to join in wouldn’t we?” Lizzie said almost howling with delight. “Well, I suppose so. Urghhh… Have you heard from Mari lately?” “No” “Well it appears she’s going to be artist in residence at some women’s college in America and Peter’s coming to London to set up studio” Rachel said. This time Lizzie was silent for some moments. “So they’re splitting, she and Peter, have they had a row or something?” Lizzie asked. “Well I suppose it looks a bit that way. I’m not sure, you know what Henry’s like, the way he told it, it was like some episode of Dallas …” “Why didn’t she say?” “Are you OK Lizzie? I’m sorry…” “Oh, no, I wish she’d told me. Mari has been often… more of a mother, really, you know, than Queen Bee…” “Ah… I’m sorry I didn’t realise” They were silent for a few seconds. Lizzie spoke first quite businesslike. “I also rang to ask if Philip has been to see you?” “No, he’s not been here. The lads on the stairs notice most things, they’d have told me if he’d come when I wasn’t here, why?” “He left a note but hasn’t been back, I thought you must have told him where I live. I’m worried about him, if he doesn’t sort himself out soon he’ll be dead. I’ve had enough of change, I can’t take much more” Rachel heard her crying. 146
Underpainting “Oh Lizzie. Look you’ll be OK with Tom, he’s good, he’ll be good for you…” Rachel heard a knock on the door, she was expecting Fiona, an old friend from college. “Lizzie I’ve got to go, Fiona’s at the door…” “OK, can I talk later” “Course you can, bye” The phone went dead. When she opened the door Fiona stood there with a huge strawberry gateau. “Look what I got from work!”
26 1993 A grey and white figure flickered on the monitor for camera 3a. Dave zoomed in, a face and body were quite clearly defined. A teenage male, scruffy hair, short dark jacket, jeans, trainers which looked new, he noted him on the day sheet that he was not one of the regulars. The subject was standing close to one of the main doors, looking along the street. Taking notes? The subject was writing on something, Dave noted that too. He turned towards the camera and looked straight into it, almost in defiance Dave thought, then walked on. Camera 6c picked him up, he was walking towards it, he didn’t appear to have seen it and took something from his pocket, checking it. He stopped again; looked back down the street; cecked his pocket again. Dave zoomed right in but there was not enough detail to make out what it was. He stood still; his head following a black Mercedes pulling into the parking space at door 44-3, then walked away out of range. “Have you got a Philips screwdriver Mum?” Peter called from the bedroom. “I’m not sure, one of those cross things, you mean?” his mother was almost standing next to him as Peter adjusted a door which made him jump. “Sorry, yes. Your Mr. Davies has mixed slot heads and Philips screws all through, I didn’t bring mine” “I’ve got some tools in the kitchen drawer, I won a set at the club a few weeks ago, don’t know what’s in it. I’m popping out for a bit, Mrs. Thomas has some magazines for me, is that all right?” “Of course, this’ll take me half an hour or so” Peter was doing a few odd jobs. His mother had had a new carpet and the doors were sticking on it. Peter heard her leave the house, he went to the drawer and took out a yellow plastic box filled with a variety of tools for around the home. His mother’s building society book was next to it. He always asked if she was alright for money and had sent her cheques now and then but wasn’t really sure if she was telling him everything. He opened the book. 148
Underpainting She had over £38,000 in her account. He couldn’t believe it. He looked carefully through the pages, the opening balance was around £7,000 which he knew was what was left from the insurance policy on his dad after she’d paid for the bungalow. Bits went out on a regular basis, small amounts went in, remains of her pension, and sums which he could tell was money he’d given her or interest, the level stayed about the same, then three payments of £10,000 over a one year period. He wondered if these were maturing bonds that his dad had paid into, but no, he never had that sort of money, anyway she’d have said, wouldn’t she? Peter took out a scrap of paper and noted the dates. What could he say? Nothing really, it was none of his business. He wished he’d never looked and went back to work on the door, unscrewed the hinges and placed some thin card to lift the bottom hinge away from the frame a fraction. That did it. By the time his mother returned a couple of hours later he’d completed all the doors. They sat in the bay window drinking coffee, it was milky stuff that Peter didn’t really like, but at his mother’s it was always like this. “How are you getting along… Financially I mean?” he knew it was impossible to ask straight out. “Oh, I’m OK. I have to be careful, I know how much I can spend and what not to, you know? I quite often have a few pounds left at the end of the week, put it in the building society, for Christmas. Your dad was good at saving, I learnt that from him if nothing else”. They sat looking at a seagull trying to sit on the bird table designed for sparrows. “I was thinking of dad and the old days, on the estate. I did a picture for Frank Butter, it was of Meadow Way. It reminded me of that incident, you remember, when that man got killed, I was given a drawing of him by a quite famous painter recently, strange coincidence. I don’t know, funny how you remember things. I remember the police coming round, when was it, I forget?” “Oh that was years ago, some things are best forgotten” “I remember all the lads at school said Frank did it, I don’t think they ever found anyone did they?” “I really don’t remember. When is Marianne going?” Peter realised she was deliberately changing the subject, she didn’t want to talk about the past now. “After my show. You will come won’t you, the opening?” “Bradford isn’t it? It’s a long way, and I don’t really fit in, not at the opening. Can I come later, I’ll see if Mrs. Pritchard and the Captain want to go I’m sure they’d like to, would that be all right?” “Yes, I suppose so” Peter knew he was getting nowhere. The visit by the police all those years ago still bothered him, he couldn’t remember what it was he heard, and the money, probably nothing, why did it nag at him? He knew 149
Underpainting his diary was in the car, he’d check back, he had last year’s segment still in it, see if there any corrulations. Philip could see a light was on at Lizzie’s flat, he also noted that Tom was standing in the window, he wanted to see Lizzie alone. His trainers were rubbing the back of his feet but he felt good, very clear, and he knew he needed another £100 before tomorrow to stay that way, Lizzie would have that, but Tom would insist on trying to ‘sort’ him out again, and that wasn’t on. He walked on, jumped on a bus back for town. As he sat upstairs he fingered the blade in his pocket. A man of about fifty was sitting in front of him, his heightened senses could smell alcohol, he wore a suit, had a smart soft brown leather attaché case – a case for a laptop? Looked like it. A bag of cash that’s what it was, and cash was needed, £100. Matt could get good prices for laptops. Travelling down Roseberry Avenue, the man stood up, swayed a bit, moved along the bus to get off, no one else did, Philip got up quickly just at the moment the bus stopped and got off. Philip began walking the opposite way then stopped by a garment factory job board, he pretended to look at it and in the corner of his vision could see the man was going into a passage. Philip pushed the knife up his jacket sleeve, then ran as fast as he could, knocking the man into the wall, flashing the blade in the glinting street lights, the man saw it and began to have convulsions, Philip could see him wet himself, he fell to the floor, Philip sprinted down the passage with the leather case. He kept to the maze of passages and lanes behind factories, shops and flats, then slowed to a walk on Skinner Street, jumped on another bus. The bag felt heavy on his shoulder. He could feel that the knife was still up his sleeve. The upstairs of the bus was nearly empty and he carefully dropped the knife into his jacket pocket, making sure the surveillance mirror didn’t see him. In Holborn he jumped off and onto another bus towards Waterloo. He knew the expensive bag looked out of place on his shoulder and he must get rid soon. He clicked it open, a wallet two credit cards, cash, looked about £50 could be more, an envelope with a wad of dollars in, he didn’t look too carefully, made it look as if he was looking for a piece of paper. An expensive pen, calculator, small camera. No laptop, but a good haul which should do for a couple of days, but he knew he’d smoke it all tonight. ‘Thanks mister’ he wrote on the steamed up window. “I’ve seen plenty of those lads before, and I’m sorry to say plenty of those girls too…. They’re so young…” Paulette gestured to a Chinese girl who looked about twelve, “…makes you wonder… God some men are bastards!” “You get used to them” Rachel ushered Paulette into the flat. She’d heard a bit of commotion outside and went to look, she was expecting Paulette. 150
Underpainting The ‘guards’ thought Paulette was one of the women from the refuge who sometimes came round asking awkward questions about the age of the girls, where they were from and so on. When they were sitting with cups of tea Rachel felt a bit less bothered about Paulette coming, she was very different than when she was with her Dad. But there were long silences. Rachel broke one. “What have you done with Jessi today, has Dad got her?” “No, no he’s asleep now, he’s on nights, you know, he always is. No, she’s with a friend. She’s a good girl, I think Dave likes her, but she’s not his. It’s a bit hard and he works such long hours and she wants to make noise in the day, so…” she shrugged her shoulders. “I can guess” “What makes you live here?” “Well it’s cheap and handy, the tube’s only two streets away” “But with all this, those gorillas on the stairs and the poor things here, surely…” “Actually those ‘gorillas’ make it quite safe, but I’ll move on soon, I’m saving up for a deposit on a flat, one big enough to have a studio…” “Ah yes, your pictures…” she looked at a large paper based piece on the wall, “…is that one” she stood up and looked at it carefully, closely, “…it’s you isn’t it” “Yes, I use myself as a model, come in here, have a look” Rachel was warming to Paulette. They went into the ‘studio’, Paulette stood in the middle and looked round. “They’re amazing, you know that’s how I feel sometimes…” she said pointing at a distorted figure that looked if it were screaming at nothing, “…when those guys watch you strip, most of the time you can block them out, take your clothes off, wiggle your fanny, and think of the cash. But sometimes one will catch your eye, staring, as if taking all of you, not only the surface, but grinding inside”, she shook with a shiver of fear. There was a period of silence as Paulette looked at one very graphic and disturbing picture. “These are very personal Rachel, you must have gone through some bad times” “Did Dad tell you that I was raped?” “No. He said there’d been a problem at the barracks where you used to live, that was it was it?” “Yes and another time soon after, at the children’s home, but I didn’t tell anyone. Haven’t told anyone until now” Paulette put a motherly arm round Rachel. They both cried. Another cup of tea. Another period of silence. “There’s something I haven’t told your Dad as well. I have a boy, I mean I 151
Underpainting had a boy, called him Ben, you know after the song, when I was fifteen. Mum and I kept him for a while but they took him away when I went to live with this fella, he was into all sorts of stuff, the social, they came, did me head in for a while. He was beautiful little boy. They found a home, adopted and I lost touch, at times felt glad, glad he was away at a better home, glad I had the freedom, for the best I always told myself ” “D’you miss him now?” “Yes, sometimes, I don’t know, I try not to think, but then there are birthdays, April eighteenth… Christmas that was worst, until Jess came along, the whole damn thing of happy families… a big black hole opens up. I’d love to know what he’s done, if he’s got on at school. I often, well I used to look for him, see him on the tube, one time started following boys, see where they went, if it was him. Of course he could be anywhere, always dreamt he’d gone to live in the country, a nice farming family, you know, not that they’d want a black kid”. There was a silence, Rachel wasn’t sure what to say, she’d never opened up as much to anyone and she didn’t know if she wanted to hear all this, Paulette continued, “…now with Jessica I don’t, no, no not now, that’s all stopped. A long time between them, he’d be twenty two now, a man, your age?” “A bit younger” So she’s thirty seven Rachel thought, looks good for that, kept her figure, “... would you ever try to find him? Officially I mean”. “I don’t think I’m allowed to, no..”. “...and would you mind if he found you?” “I don’t know. I sometimes think about it but there’s no use getting your hopes up is there?” “No, no not really. I remember there was a boy at college, spent the whole of one summer searching Ireland for his real mother. I think it almost broke his adopted mother’s heart, she felt not wanted, not good enough for him, then when he did she didn’t want to know, he had to leave…” “You won’t tell Dave?” “No, and please don’t tell him about the rape, I don’t want another fuss” “Right, I understand” Paulette looked at a drawing on the wall, “...you know my Dad was a model” “An artist’s model?” “So my mother said. He died when I was very young, never knew him, they’d split up by then, but he modelled for all sorts of artists, famous ones so she said, but you couldn’t believe anything my mother said. She had four kids by different fathers, I was always having to call some new face Dad, then they’d be gone”. “Have you any pictures?” “No, I don’t think mum has either. I know your Dad was joking, but would you like me to model for you?” 152
Underpainting “Well… I’m not…” “I don’t want paying… no… but I’d have to bring Jessi. It could help you and I could get out of the flat when Dave’s asleep… of course if you don’t…” “No… no… it would be great, yes, lets do it” “Don’t tell your dad, I don’t think he’d like it really. I don’t think he knows what you do really, not really his scene… but I’d love it” They made an arrangement.
27 Peter cleared a space on one of the big tables he’d brought into the studio to sort things out on. He opened an envelope delivered that morning by courier, it was from Harbin and Ffoster, his solicitor’s in London. Dear Mr. Marten, We are pleased to enclose the information you requested us to obtain, a photocopy of the Marriage Certificate of Victor Williams and Janice Roberts, I hope you find it in full order. We have also enclosed another document you may be interested in. Peter looked at a birth certificate, dated three months after the Marriage Certificate. So, he thought, not only did Vic have two wives he had two children! The writing wasn’t easy to decipher - born Hammersmith St.Mary’s, father’s profession Artist’s Assistant - mother, Barmaid. But he couldn’t make out the childs name clearly, it began with P. The letter continued. Please notify us if you wish to take this matter further. We have close links with a number of professional organisations who trace people, discreetly, and they may be able to find the present whereabouts of the people named in the certificates. With regard to the similar requests in France our office in Paris is dealing with these and will contact when they have further information. I enclose our latest invoice and can assure you... He pondered over whether any more could be found out and what use that would actually be to him. Did he want that? Had he found enough and why did he need to know about people from what now felt a very distant past? Did he really need to know more about Vic’s life or was it Vic’s death he needed to know about? Was this getting to be a bit obsessive, a bit weird, or just an excuse not to get down to real work? His phone rang. 154
Underpainting “They’ve put in an offer! What we asked for!” it was Marianne. “What we asked for?” “Yes, no quibbles, I never thought..”. “Nor did I, it’s so quick. I expected at least six months..”. “Well so did I... but there it is. Do you want to ring, or shall I?” “Oh, you do it, you did such a masterly job of showing them round” said Peter, not wanting the bother of dealing with it. “OK, have you got his number, it’s not on my phone” Peter read out the agent’s number and rang off. They were both in a state of mild shock, everything was happening so quickly. The James’ were only the second couple to look at the house. The agent had warned them not to be too hopeful of a quick sale with, as he said pointedly that thee was ‘...so much to do...’. Putting the house up for sale had followed their joint handing in of notice which had shocked staff, students and administrators alike. They had both been at the college for longer than anyone could remember, part of the fixtures. The Head of School had been quite nasty, he’d already got the new prospectus ready with a big picture of Peter teaching, he told him some of the students were specifically choosing the college to be taught by him. After it was done they had both felt a great weight had lifted. They’d also given their notice to the studio group, they were stalwarts of that as well, always paid on time, often paying over the odds so others without any cash could rent a studio. There were tears, especially for Marianne who helped so many people, been a great support, listened to problems and ideas, gave advice, seemed, as many people kept saying, a part of the fabric. If they hadn’t known before, they knew now it was time to go. The phone went again, it was Henry he was speaking from what sounded like a restaurant. Pete was fearful of questions about Constantine. “Peter, I am having lunch with John and we were discussing the show..”. “I was working on that, sorting out some drawings” he wasn’t but Henry couldn’t see. “Yes, we have started a list of who should be there. Bradford’s a bit hard for people to get to, but we should get a good turn out, especially if there’s new work on show” “There may be some, certainly no one has seen the drawings, well only Mari...”. “Does that mean you’re working on a new piece?” “I’m trying to do a portrait” “Ah, right. Portrait? Who of?” “Oh no one you’d know, more like a bringing together of bits from a persons life...”. Peter was planning off the cuff, but it sounded a good idea as he talked 155
Underpainting it through and decided to continue with it when the call was finished. “Oh, Henry, before you go. You remember all that stuff you got from Devon, boxes of papers and letters and things?” “Ah, yes, it’s in the storeroom“ “Yes, can I take a look through, I’m interested, some names cropped up..”. “Fine, give Juliet a ring, she’ll sort it out. Can you come down next week?” “Should be able to, Thursday?” “Make it around eleven, we’ll have lunch” Nothing about Constantine. ‘Good’ he thought. Peter opened his diary and noted the date. It occurred to him that he hadn’t checked the dates in his mother’s bank book. He didn’t notice anything special, but he did note that a week before one payment Eva Wilson had visited him and he remembered with a shudder what Frank had said. He also remembered that she’d said she would visit his mother. Had she paid her? There’d been nothing in the papers, had Frank, no he wouldn’t be so stupid would he? Or had Frank given his mother money to keep quiet. It all sounded too silly, but his mother had been defensive when he asked her hadn’t she? He knew he must go and see Frank. He found the number and rang, Frank was out, he left a message with his secretary. “That kid’s there again” Dave said to the guard who was going off duty, who stopped and looked at the monitor, Dave zoomed the camera in towards a teenager, “New jacket, but that’s him” “Never seen him before. See you tomorrow, I’m knackered” The lad had stopped and was looking back up the road from where he’d come, Dave could tell he knew he was being watched on camera. He looked at the clock. “Shit” he said out loud, and made sure a camera was turned towards the side door waiting for them to arrive. On the other screens he could see the lad looking at doorways, ‘probably looking for a good kipping site’ he muttered. He took no more notice and saw a big black Mercedes fill one of the screens. Dave took the huge bunch of keys and his long black torch, and set off to let them in. “The car pulls up, each Thursday at 5.15, same entrance. Four weeks running. Driver gets out, helps a man out of the back into a wheelchair. From the boot the driver passes a dark leather bag to the man in the wheelchair, each time the same bag. He leaves the man in the wheelchair on the pavement as he goes inside the building for around thirty seconds, today forty eight seconds. The Driver returns and pushes the wheelchair into the building”, Philip said to himself as he stood in the shadow. He craned his neck as he couldn’t see where the driver went, if he got into a position where he could have, he’d have been 156
Underpainting seen on the cameras, he wasn’t quite sure if he wasn’t on one now. They were everywhere. He looked at his watch again and knew there was more pressing business, and slipped away and into the ocean of shoppers on Oxford Street. “Are you OK mum?” Marianne asked on the phone. “I’m all right, I’m off to see Colin take him some things”. “Has anyone been to see you?” “Who? Why should they?” “Well you know to sort out any problems, you know?” “I’ve no problems” her mother said. “We’ve sold the house”. “I suppose you’re pleased with that”. “Yes, it’s good to get things going”. “Well it was never like you were married was it?” “Mum! We’re still together, I’m only going away for a while to work, that’s all, don’t you see?” “Well I can’t see why you never got married like Colin. Normal people do”. Marianne didn’t want to say what she thought. She took a deep breath. “Have you seen anything of Shirley and the children?” she asked. “She wouldn’t dare show her face after all she said about Colin, it’s all her fault, how dare she”. “I thought she may have brought the kids around”. “No, she’s kept them to herself, too ashamed to come round here”. There was silence. “I better let you go if you’ve got to get to see Colin” “Are you visiting before you go?” her mother asked. “Of course I am, it’s not for three or four months yet”. “I should think so, most daughters look after their mothers”. “Well I will visit in the next few weeks”. “And visit Colin?” “We’ll see”. The phone went dead. ‘2698, 2698, 2698’, Philip repeated the numbers in his mind, ‘2698, 2698, 2698’. He was walking with Lizzie to her flat after she had been to a cash machine. He had to keep repeating the numbers as his memory wasn’t as good as it used to be, he knew it was the drugs, strange, he felt fit and healthy, but memory was short. “Will that be enough to cover the fees?” “Oh yes, the centre costs two hundred a week, usually it’s paid for but this 157
Underpainting week..”. “That’s OK., as long as it makes you better” ‘2698, 2698, 2698’. “Why did you leave Liverpool Road?” “It didn’t do me any good, they talked rubbish” Philip saw colours in primary modes, a red bus glowed. It was all more real. Sharper. They walked on. “You’ve got some new clothes and you’re getting thinner”, she’d never seen the leather jacket or the expensive trainers before. Lizzie noted that his hair was darker, greasy, his skin paler, with some sort of dermatitis, flaking skin on his neck, picked areas which looked sore. He used new words, new ways of saying things. Short stabbing sentences. He kept scratching his arms and had an abscess next to his ear. ‘2698, 2698, 2698, 2698’. “Where are you staying?” she asked. “It’s a special hostel, private, you know, not open to anyone, especially relatives, you know?” Philip had become a good liar, or so he thought, he was sometimes living at a house D rented, and needed at least a hundred pounds a day. Each day he’d feel sorry to wake up and knew that most of the day would be the struggle to find cash. A hundred a day was sometimes tough, today was difficult, but soon he’d have enough, perhaps enough to buy a share, become a dealer, not just a runner. They reached the flat. ‘2698, 2698, 2698’. If Tom was there it wouldn’t have worked, she’d said he wouldn’t be. He wasn’t. “Do you want a coffee?” “Yes, have you anything to eat?” Phillip asked. “Beans on toast OK?” “Fine” Lizzie went in the kitchen. He turned the TV up. She’d left her bag on a chair. Inside was a plastic wallet, cash card, credit card, travel card. £45 in cash. Philip was out of the flat in seconds, and ran hard down the road to the bank. ‘2698, 2698, 2698’ he said under his breath as he ran. Card in, 2698. £300. He pressed OK. He knew her limit was £500, she’d taken £200 out already, so he’d try again after midnight to get more. He tried the same number on the credit card, yeah, great same number! He pressed £500, and heard the delicious sound of banknotes being counted out.
Underpainting “Here’s your beans Phil” The flat was empty. The door open. “Ah well..”. Lizzie sat down and began to eat. Then she noticed her bag was open. Her cards, her money gone. She was scared, if she told the bank Philip would get in trouble, but she needed them. She’d have to think of a story, there was a number somewhere. Tell Tom, no, he’d go to the police. She sat awhile then rang the bank. “I’ve lost my cards..”. They asked some security questions and she was passed to another person. “Was your PIN number with the cards?” “No, I memorised it 26.. something, sorry” “Have you taken money out in the last hour?” “I withdrew two hundred pounds about an hour and a half ago” “Miss Watson three hundred pounds was withdrawn and your credit card shows a withdrawal of five hundred pounds” “Ah, I..”. “We must ask you to inform the police, and we will pass the information to our Fraud Department” “I really..”. “Have you any idea who did this? Is it someone you know Miss Watson? I would urge you…” “I don’t...”. She put the phone down. Her eyes were full of tears. She knew Philip was back on the stuff, probably never been off, and it was her money paying for it, which made her feel worse. She cried, was sad, was angry. The phone went, it was the bank. She told them about Philip, she felt at least if he gets arrested he may get help. She felt bad, getting her brother into trouble. When Tom got back he told her she was right, Philip needed help, if he didn’t get caught he could soon be dead. She felt a Judas. Had she kissed him, she wasn’t sure.
28 It wasn’t often they went on holiday together, so it felt good to be away for a week. Away from all the sorting out, packing boxes, explaining to people that they weren’t really parting, even though both of them knew it could well be the end, or, as both liked to think, a new beginning. Peter and Marianne were hot and tired from a long walk in Spanish sun. The grass was an oat brown, sky pure blue, not a cloud, and the only shade they could see was about another mile away. All they could hear was the low buzz of crickets and a faint sound of music and voices from a radio, even though there was no sign of a house. “How’s Malcolm doing?” “He seems OK last time I heard, signed himself out of hospital” Malcolm had had an accident high up on the hill when planting trees, he’d lain for more than twenty hours unable to stand up properly, a nerve had got trapped in the base of his spine. He was taken to hospital. As soon as he could stand he discharged himself. “Tough old bird” “Who was that you were talking to before we came over, I thought we’d miss the plane” It had been Eva Wilson. “Oh only someone who’s involved in writing about me for the Bradford show” They walked on. Peter was quite shocked when Eva had rung him, he thought she’d ended up in a block of cement. She was now writing an article on him to come out at the time of the show and had asked if she could take it even further, perhaps a monograph. They both thought it a good idea. Peter had asked about the article on Frank Butter, she explained it hadn’t gone much further, the leads had disappeared and no, it wasn’t her who had contacted his mother. They reached a small bridge. Under it’s arch a stream was almost dried up, but the mud was still damp enough to cool the air. Peter and Marianne sat on two boulders and ate bread, smoked cheese, and chorizzo. Their water was now warm but enough for the 160
Underpainting journey. “How much further?” “About three maybe four miles, only the other side of the hill, look..”. Marianne showed Peter the map. Peter was hopeless with maps but Marianne loved them and was always quick to work out exactly where she was. She tried to explain the main features he could see and where they were on the map. He couldn’t see. “They will be there won’t they?” he asked. “You know as well as I do that if Angela says she’ll be somewhere she’ll be there, don’t worry” Before they’d left Turnhill Angela had rung them, and by a coincidence their hotel was close to Ryan’s villa, where she and Ryan were going to do final preparations for their New Person Regeneration Centre. Neither Peter or Marianne were looking forward to seeing them but both were dying to get all the gossip even if neither would admit it. “What’s happened to Philip?” “Well Lizzie told me he was back down in London causing all sorts of problems for her, stole her cards and money, she had to get the police involved” “That was weeks ago, nothing new? It’s so sad, he was a nice little boy” “I always thought he was like Bill..”. “How?” “Well, weak, he was never happy with where he was, what he was doing, you know, if he was playing with a toy car he wanted to play with a train?” “Bill wasn’t like that?” Peter protested. “Oh he was... You know yourself, all those students, the silly affairs, he could only deal with little girls, not grown women, couldn’t handle them, they questioned his life too closely, women could see through the beard and fake arty look, the rough language aimed to shock. Grown women wouldn’t see him as the great hero, just a sad actor. All that drinking… weak… he didn’t have the strength to say no, even when he must have known he was killing himself, no will power, took the easy way out..”. “Dying! Easy way out..”. “Yes, it was, it was much harder to dry out, sort himself out and take responsibility, look what he left Angela, five kids and a mountain of debt! No that is weakness, death was the easy way”. “You sound like your mother” Pete said quite spitefully. “I suppose I do, but he really should have sorted himself, for those kids if not for him..”. “My mother said I was getting like my father” “Yes you are. Do we all end up like our parents?” “God I hope not” 161
Underpainting They sat in silence, enjoying the cool before the next instalment of torture. Peter couldn’t work out why he’d let himself be talked into walking from the village rather than take a taxi or hire a car, but Marianne had looked at the map and said it would be interesting countryside, which for the first mile it had been. Now it was desolate scrubland. Philip pushed a knife up his sleeve, like he’d often done before. He didn’t want it to be seen too early. A camera panned to follow him, he stopped deliberately and pretended to tie a shoelace, the camera didn’t stop on him. His regular visits had made him invisible. Over the last few weeks he’d made sure he was seen on camera, stopping to look at things, carrying a case, dropping a box and picking it up, running, walking, reading the paper. Today everything was ready. Clear as a crystal, sharp focus. Matt had given him some good stuff, stuff that makes you fearless. There was an ice cold boiling rush through his blood as it took hold. He felt he was watching himself in a film, he knew the plan would go right. 5.13, the car arrived. A bit dustier than usual. A tall blond driver got out, walked to the back of the car, opened the boot and took out a wheelchair, opened the nearside rear door and helped a man into it. Same as last week and the week before. No problem. The man wore a dark heavy coat, that was different, but it was quite chilly today. The driver went to the boot again and took out that same soft brown leather bag. Handed it to the man in the wheelchair. Philip’s eyes zoomed in on this. It felt even more like a movie. The blond driver walked the short distance to the building, went out of sight. RIGHT! NOW! Dave was waiting just inside the entrance. Sandor had rung from the car to say that there were two boxes to lift out of the car and he’d need his help. As he opened the security locks he glimpsed someone running fast, jump at Mr. Butter and slash at him with a blade. “You little bastard!” he heard Frank Butter shout as he and his wheelchair went over on its side. The lad was running off with the brown leather bag. Frank Butter was sprawled on the pavement, blood coming from underneath him. 162
Underpainting “You look after him!” Dave shouted to Sandor, “I’ll get the little cunt!” Dave set off after the lad. He was fast. He dodged down an alleyway, through a courtyard, up some stairs, jumped on a wall then down over dustbins. Dave was about twenty yards behind, the lad knew that he was there and looked back once which slowed him for a second, it was the one with the jacket and trainers, a regular, must have been casing the place. The lad was slowing and Dave, who kept himself fit, catching up. Suddenly the lad stopped. Turned. The bag in his left hand, knife in his right. The blade glinted in the light, tarnished by Frank Butter’s blood. Dave stopped, the lad stared at him, he looked young, scared. Philip knew he couldn’t get away. Why does this stupid bastard keep following me? Why bother it’s not his money? Christ why had that man hung on to the bag? I hadn’t wanted to cut him, but what else could I do? It was all so clear until then, so why different today? Those two should have been inside. And the man. He had to slice him, he wouldn’t let go. The look of hatred he’d given him. Philip’s heart pounded, the stuff was wearing off, his head thumped. And this bloke in the uniform, twice his size, staring at him. Philip knew he had to go for it, no choice. He leapt forward, felt a sharp pain in his stomach, he felt sick, then a huge thump to his head, he saw blood, another crashing pain in his stomach, and he could hear loud thuds. He was now floating, watching a man in a blue uniform kicking him harder and harder, the rear of a hotel was sharply in focus, and he floated up and up into deep red clouds, then down a long white tube. Another sharp thud, but no pain now. There was a vast waterfall in his ears and yet so silent he heard a bird singing. “Lizzie, are you OK?” Rachel couldn’t make any sense of what was being said. “It’s Philip. He’s in hospital, dangerously ill they said..”. “Is it an overdose?” “No, no he was beaten up..”. “Beaten up?” “I don’t know, that’s what they said..”. “Do you want me to come with you... to the hospital?” “Oh would you? Tom’s away... please..”. she was unintelligible again. “I’ll come over, wait there. I won’t be long..”. “I can’t get hold of Queen Bee... they’re in Spain, I don’t know the number..”. 163
Underpainting Lizzie sounded like she was panicking. “Lizzie, I’ll be over in ten minutes, OK?” The phone was ringing as Angela, Ryan, Peter, and Marianne returned from the restaurant. Peter and Marianne had agreed to stay the night. It was a beautiful spot, overlooking a gorge full of dark green cypress and olive trees, the white houses of the village etched against them in Braque-like shapes, sea glinting in the distance. Now in the dark there were lights from windows glinting behind the trees, making the valley even darker, the top of the hills an even blacker shape than the night sky. Angela came back, her face drained of colour. “Are you OK Angie?” Ryan asked. “It’s Philip. He’s nearly been beaten to death, that was Lizzie, she’s at the hospital” Suddenly everyone was sober, concerned, ready to help. “Did she say what injuries?” “His ribs have shattered into his lungs, oh all sorts of things..”. They could see she was in shock. Marianne put her arms round her and led her to her room. Ryan rang the airport. He spoke fluent Spanish which surprised Peter. “There’s some seats on an 8.15 flight in the morning, nothing earlier” Ryan informed Peter. Ryan busied himself getting passports ready, phoning the housekeeper and organising a taxi from Heathrow. Peter felt like a spare part and stared through the glass doors at the brightly lit swimming pool thinking of when Bill had been in hospital. “We’ll have to go soon, what time do you make it Peter?” “One thirty, how long does it take?” “Three hours, maybe less” “Are you OK to drive? I don’t think I drank as much” “Oh yes, don’t worry. Look I’m sorry if this has spoilt things for you...”. “Don’t even think of it, you two get back and sort things out” “You can stay on here if you like..”. “No we’ll get back to the hotel, can you call us a taxi?” “We’ll drop you, it’s on the way..”. In half an hour they were speeding down a dark smooth road across the plain towards the coast. They were silent, staring at nothing, thinking of everything. In her sleep Rachel could hear knocking. It got louder and more intrusive. She realised it was at her door. She looked at the clock, ten forty five. She’d been up all night and had less than two hours sleep. She vowed to castrate the punter if it was one of those. She looked through the spyhole to see who it 164
Underpainting was, it was Paulette. “We hadn’t...”. “Dave, your dad, he’s been arrested” Paulette intervened. “Ohhh shit” this was all she needed.
29 1994 Peter was shown into Frank’s office. “Mr Butter will only be a couple of minutes… Can I get you a drink Mr Marten?” Peter declined. He sat down. The secretary left. Peter was surprised how unassuming the office was, he expected a grand oak desk, deep pile carpet, bookcases full of leather bound volumes, perhaps a picture of Napoleon. The room was panelled in but it was workmanlike: fake dark wood panelling, two rather old computer screens, directories and reference books, a rather shabby grey steel filing cabinet. It had as feel of a shabby car salesman. The desk was raised so frank’s wheelchair would fit. Peter wondered if he had two offices, because this was very different than the one Clare had described and he wondered where the paintings were she’d mentioned. “Peter! How nice to see you, thank you for coming” Frank said as he was pushed into the room by Sandor, who nodded to Peter in recognition, then carefully placed Frank behind the desk, and left the room. “Did they offer you a drink?” he asked. “Yes”. “I’ll ring for some tea, is that OK for you?” “Thank you”. Frank pressed a button, then looked through some papers on his desk. His secretary brought in a tray. “You look awful Frank”, Peter said, Frank smiled. “Yes… yes I know. I don’t think it is so much the attack, knocked me around a bit, that’s nearly six months ago. No… I feel drained. It’s these damned drugs they keep giving me, I seem to have to take more to take the side effects off than to stay alive. One day I’ll just stop taking the lot and see what happens!” Peter thought about asking what exactly was wrong, but didn’t. “Probably not a great idea Frank, but I can imagine it must get tiresome”. “Tiresome is not the word I’d use Peter”. They both drank some tea. 166
Underpainting “Peter, you said on the phone you were planning to work on a portrait of Vic Williams?” “I’m working on one now Frank, I have been for about five months”. “Portraits are not your usual thing”. “No, no not really, it would be hard to call this a portrait, it’s a sort of amalgam of images which together make a ‘portrait’ of the man, a bit like the landscape I produced for you…” “…And of course they are linked”. “Yes… yes Frank they are. I was given some drawings of Vic when he was a model for Raymond Miller…” “… Oh those… yes, your man Henry showed me them, wondered if I was interested in buying some, not really my type of thing, though I must say they appeared very fine…” “Ah, did he, yes he was keen to find a buyer, always likes his commission does Henry”. “I think Henry would sell his own mother for a commission”. “I think he already has” Peter said. They both chuckled knowingly. “I asked you here Peter partly because of the portrait and also to see if you would be on a group of trustees”. “Trustees?” “Yes, I’m setting up a trust for Philip, to make sure he is looked after properly, I will be donating enough to make sure he is, but with my health I don’t want that money grabbing mother of his, Angela isn’t it, to get her hands on the cash or that Ryan either… not a man to trust”. Peter was again taken aback. “Well Frank, it is most generous of you, after all he did to you, I mean…” “I know he didn’t really mean to harm me, it’s those damned drugs, they change people, he’s a decent lad really”. “I know” said Peter. “I just don’t know what came over my security guard… Phillip nearly died you know, didn’t need to go that far. You know he’ll never walk again, he’ll be lucky if he has as much movement as I do, and I can tell you Peter, my life is shit, really shit”. “Yes, I know” “No you don’t and I hope you never will do. But I can do something for him and I hope you will help. I don’t mean financially, no, just oversee things, be at the odd meeting make sure he gets what he really needs”. “I’ll try Frank, yes I will”. “Now, about this painting…” Frank poured more tea then spoke on the intercom to his secretary. “Be a good girl Sandra and bring in a bottle of malt and a couple of 167
Underpainting glasses”. He wheeled himself away from the desk, went to a filing cabinet and took out a thick well thumbed pale red file. It looked old and had a number of labels stuck to it. Peter couldn’t make out what was written on them, Frank put it on his knee and wheeled back to the desk. Sandra came in with a tray on which were a bottle of single malt, two glasses, a jug of water and a small bucket of ice. She poured two generous measures. “Water or ice Mr Marten?” “No, straight please”. “No calls please Sandra” Frank said. She left the room. Frank lifted his glass to Peter, Peter returned the gesture and they both took a sip. “Twenty year old, Rattray Longmorn”. “Doesn’t mean a thing to me Frank, but it tastes good, very smooth”. “Ah, it’s one of the perks of being rich Peter, I shouldn’t drink really, but this stuff keeps me wanting to live”. Peter was surprised again at Frank being a connoisseur, he wondered who’d taught him, and if it was his father who also liked good whisky, but certainly couldn’t afford this which he guessed was very expensive. “I read how you are selling your businesses Frank”. “Some, I want to pull back, just keep things that interest me”. “I don’t blame you, you’ve worked hard for a long time”. “Yes and your dad was a big influence on me, taught me a lot… I learnt a lot from George about investing, what to look for. He used to show me all those column of figures in the paper, tell me which shares were going up and or down, how to look for trends, how to read the units, stocks and bonds. Sort of stuff they never teach you at school, stuff some of my overpaid staff need to know. Mind you I wasn’t much for school and I don’t think they were much for me. If only your dad had had a better education, could have been someone. Instead he skimmed off the top, don’t blame him, they really took advantage of him, they knew how much he loved the Club. I think he never quite got over being in the war, missed it… D’you remember when I first met him?” “No, not really, it felt you were always there” Peter said, sitting sat back in his chair as the whiskey soothed his spirits. Frank continued “I was twelve, you must have only been five or six. I’d been riding my bike around the Highlands, doing odd jobs for a few pennies, fetching shopping, delivering letters, walking dogs. One day I went to the Club with a message for… now who was it, Eb Driver, that was it, something about a job on at a building site, anyway, George asked me if I could deliver the minutes for the next meeting of the committee. It was no problem and George paid me well, two and six!” Frank laughed to himself, “half a crown eh, 168
Underpainting hmm. After that I did jobs almost everyday until I was as much a fixture at the Club as your dad. D’you remember when I came to your house? Pearl always fed me well, whatever you were having, my mum never cooked, she was lovely to me, Pearl. And if it wasn’t mealtime she’d do me beans on toast, with cheese melted on top, I can still taste it, thick cut white bread…” “D’you remember chasing those lads off?” Peter asked. “Saved your bacon that day and a few other days I can tell you. Anyway, I think you wanted to know about Vic, if you’re doing a portrait, you need to know, don’t you think?” Peter agreed. “Well, it was one of those days when nothing was happening, it was hot, I remember how still and hot it was. The Club had the regulars in, silent, looking into their beer glasses. They started talking about that ‘darkie’ Vic, one of them told the rest how he’d read in The News of the World that Vic had been in prison for buggering little boys. They called him a queer, a nancy boy, a bum boy. They all agreed that it wasn’t right, that they didn’t need his sort round there. Beer flowed and they went to his house and threw a brick through the window, shouted things and left …a couple of days later I was on my bike, picking up the money for the pools, when I saw you coming out of Vic’s house…” Peter looked up from his glass. “…You didn’t see me. You looked around making sure no one saw you, but not me, I knew how to be invisible. You then hurried away up Meadows Lane. At that time I didn’t know I was gay, I knew my feelings and from all I heard and knew, thought they were wrong, all those blokes at the Club what they used to joke about, well I couldn’t talk to them could I? I really didn’t know what to do. I was sure you didn’t feel like that, didn’t think anyone did. I’d quite often been to Vic’s myself, he used to do the pools and often paid me to go and pick up fags, he liked Senior Service, expensive in those days, and bottles of Whitbread IPA I remember, strange how you remember little details isn’t it. I’d get the tuppence for the empties… When I got back to the club and for some reason, I don’t know why to this day, I told George I’d seen you. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was angry… I could tell that. All night he made nasty jokes about queers and niggers. He told of what they did in them during the war, he gloated on the details, about how they cried for help, about the pain and humiliation he and his mates inflicted. He kept handing out free drinks, then started on about Vic, how they should deal with him, it was their duty as soldiers, show him they were decent people, ‘no room for pervs and niggers in this estate’ he said. By now he’d whipped them up into a frenzy, and at about ten they went off to fight the good fight. I went with them, didn’t dare do otherwise, God knows what they’d have done if they’d known what went through my mind …Unlucky for him, Vic was coming 169
Underpainting down the lane, George led the charge, Vic was tough, he broke Harry Hollis’s jaw… floored two or three of them, but he couldn’t take them all on. Soon he was down on the ground, in the mud, his face was a mass of red meat, his body limp. The rest wanted to go, but George carried on, and on, and on. Like that security man of mine. The others stood back in the darkness, watching. Then Vic stopped moving, limp he was and you could feel a chill in the air, and you must remember that smell of shit and piss, it was there for weeks. The others slowly slunk away into the night until only George and I were left… I didn’t take part, whatever everyone thought. I watched and learnt. I took George back to the Club, he was covered in blood. We had a washing machine in the back for the bar towels, one of the only ones on the estate! I washed the clothes and George went home in an old army coat. And it was while I was doing that George said I should go, it was obvious I’d be blamed, I couldn’t see it, but I knew your dad knew how things worked. He went to the Club’s safe and got out nearly five hundred quid, a fortune, almost a year’s wages for some people back then. I was fifteen and he gave me my start. After that I never went back, the coppers questioned my mother but she covered for me, I knew she would, she was used to doing that for dad... I came down to London, used the cash well, bought and sold things, in two years I’d made a few thousand! You know the sort of thing, Beatle wigs, flick knives, Italian shirts, anything going that would sell quick..”. “Those payments to Mum? Peter asked “…were they to keep her quiet?” “No… don’t know anything about any payments. If your Mum had ever asked I’d have helped out. But no nothing to do with me..”. “Oh, I just thought…” Peter said as Frank broke in again. “I talked to Pearl around that time that journalist was after a story, nothing in it. Someone got the stupid thought some business colleagues and I were going to take over the dole, if only! I’m not that rich, no we were putting together a tender to supply security staff at some of the offices, that was all. But I think I know where any money probably came from. Your dad, as I told you he used to read all the financial pages, while the others were reading about dirty vicars he studied figures, looked at the best options. I told you he was taking a percentage from the club. No-one else knew, didn’t spend it like most of them would have, probably invested it in long term bonds, yes I bet that’s what it was…” Peter thought how sad Frank looked in the gathering gloom of the office, the desk light etching out the marks of illness, and how back then in Highlands, they were good days for him, at least two people cared about him. Now he had to pay for that care, Sandor was great looking, muscles toned, did everything expected but he was a paid ‘friend-companion’. Peter believed what Frank said, it fitted, even though no-one could corroborate what he said. Then Frank continued “…I know you’ve been 170
Underpainting looking into Vic Williams’ life. So have I. There became a sort of need to know, you know exactly what I mean, especially after that painting of yours. You know of course about his wife in France and the one here, bigamy of course, but who cares now. I’ve found his wife here, they had a kid, the one in France lost hers didn’t she?” “So I understand “Peter said, even though he knew different. “The one in London, Jean I think her name was, she was a barmaid in Clapton for years, then worked as a ‘maid’ for some tarts. I think on the game herself most of the time, had a rough time, never found a steady relationship one bloke after another, ended up in Hackney General a few times. You met his French wife, I know that. Very different woman, I haven’t met her, felt it best not to… but it was why he ended up in Highlands, that’s what really fascinated me and that prison sentence for something he didn’t do. You know about the case I assume, you know he took money to take the blame”. “I met Vic’s mother, in Devon” Peter said. Frank looked surprised, “Ah…well”, then continued “… you know in those days they didn’t separate men who were in for sex crimes. Vic was regularly beaten up, screws didn’t give a toss, ex-army most of them anyway not much of a time for civil rights in those days. He had a tough time, but he was a boxer, he took it out of them in the ring, was prison champion, even fought against other prisons and forces teams. One bloke I talked to said he wanted to sign him up as a pro. Then in one bout he knocked out an opponent who died, I think they let it go on too long, but it put an end to his boxing. They moved him about a fair bit after that, stuff like that gets around, felt he could become awkward, from the old lags I’ve talked to it sounds like he went through chronic depression but in the early 60’s prisoners didn’t get depression. He ended up in Swaleville and with the little cash he had when he was released, Highlands was as far as he got. The council was duty bound to house him and gave him the dampest rottenest house on the estate, and there unluckily for him he met you. You know I didn’t miss much on that estate. Who notices a kid on a bike? Your Dad, he was so determined, so full of hatred. He used to talk about you, how you’d get on, get away, be something. He couldn’t understand why you were interested in art, ‘a pansies game’ he used to call it…” Frank stopped and laughed to himself, ironically, then carried on, “…and now look at you. One painting earns more than he did in his whole life. Did Vic ever do anything to you?” “No!” Peter said emphatically . “….I thought not. All those little bastards tormenting him, throwing things at the house, shouting… but he didn’t dare do anything, they’d have locked him up and thrown away the key. Poor bugger, he had a rough life”. Frank looked tired, exhausted. He took a sip of whiskey and coughed deeply, trying to find his breath. 171
Underpainting “Frank, are you OK? Do I need to call anyone?” “No, no. But I better get my next shots. D’you mind Peter…” Frank pressed a buzzer under his desk and Sandor entered with what looked like a small black doctors’ bag. “I’ll go Frank, and thanks”. “Yes Peter thanks for coming. I’ll phone you…” Peter looked at him quizzically. “…about the Trust”. Peter left and went to Dover Passage where Henry had some initial designs ready for the show catalogue.
30 Marianne’s phone rang, it was a withheld number and she wasn’t sure whether to answer, however when Lorete rang from her office it often showed ‘withheld’; she knew it was only 5am in Washington, so it probably wasn’t her. She pressed the answer key and waited to hear who it was. “Marianne?” it was a woman’s voice she couldn’t place, but knew. “Yes”. “Ah, good, Marianne, it’s Clare… Clare Zetzer”. “Ah… oh yes, yes I remember Lorete Krukowska was asking about you some time ago. Did she give you my number?” “No. I got it from Peter’s phone”. “You mean my partner Peter? But how…?” “Don’t you remember me? I was a student at Knype? I graduated seven years ago... Of course! Oh I am sorry… I took my mothers’ maiden name a few years ago, you’d remember me as Clare Forester”. “Ah Clare, yes of course…”, Marianne’s voice reverted to her usual friendly tone, “Clare. Right, Clare, yes of course I remember you. How are you? It’s been such a long time… it was at Clouds wasn’t it? Mansell’s exhibition? We talked and if I remember you asked us to visit your studio. I remember, yes and we couldn’t make it, Peter had some meeting or other. Oh it’s a long time ago. And how is Matthew, he must be grown now?” “Yes he’s twenty-one, I hardly see him… he still has a room at home…” “But how did you get this number? Peter didn’t mention meeting you again. There’s been such a lot going on, he doesn’t remember people he meets, probably forgot”. “Oh, I see Peter quite often”. “Right, he’s never said” Marianne said quite slowly. “I just wanted to say, that I know you are going to live in America, and I don’t want you to be worried about Peter” There was a momentary silence. “I wish now I hadn’t rung, sorry Marianne” Clare continued, “I feel so stupid… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have rung, sorry…” “No, no Clare, don’t think that” “I just thought… it’s probably the mother in me coming out”. “I never thought of you as the motherly type Clare,” Marianne said 173
Underpainting coldly. There was a silence became embarrassingly long. “Well Clare, I’m very busy, I have a lot of things still to sort out”, and switched her phone off. She sat down in the corner of her nearly empty studio. Marianne wanted to phone Lorete but it was too early. She found some writing paper and began a letter to Peter, she knew she could ring but what could she say, after all for the past two years she’d been seeing Lorete most months and the passion certainly hadn’t subsided, in fact she felt better than she’d ever done before, certainly more confident as both a person and lover. She screwed up the paper before even getting beyond a sentence. She wondered how long it had been going on and how she hadn’t noticed, after all they lived together, not closely for ages, but isn’t the classic thing that if a man gets a new woman they change? She’d not noticed Peter getting smarter, using aftershave, looking at himself, being evasive. She went over times he didn’t come home or changed things at the last minute, there wasn’t anything obvious, perhaps there wasn’t anything in it, perhaps they were just friends or met for drinks or tea or went to exhibitions. Peter wasn’t very communicative about the people he met, he could talk for hours about some exhibition but when it came to what tie Henry was wearing he never remembered. He wouldn’t be interested in Clare, it wasn’t like him. Was it her she thought. Was this whole thing because she was so obsessive about her work, her mother? Was it the so called mid-life crisis, after all from what she remembered Clare was good looking, blonde, and only in her mid thirties. Then she thought about Lorete, who was beautiful and about the same age as Clare, so was she going through a mid-life crisis? Had they both traded each other in for younger models? The thought made her laugh as she’d never really thought along these lines, perhaps she needed to look at why Lorete wanted an older woman, a mother figure perhaps, she certainly didn’t fit that stereotype. And Peter, what did Clare want with Peter, he wasn’t particularly rich and she never thought of him as a great lover, but perhaps with Clare it was different, did she want a father figure? Or had he found out that she and Lorete were lovers, she’d sort of hinted about it, but never openly told him? Marianne knew he was upset because he’d found out about her going to America from Henry, he didn’t show it, but she could tell he was. Did Henry know more and glory in telling Peter all the gossip? She wanted to ring Lorete, but it was still too early. “Damn it!” she shouted, and her voice echoed around the almost empty studio. She thought if she loves me she should be there for me whatever time it was, and scrolled to Lorete’s number and rang. She had to ring twice, she guessed because Lorete would be asleep. Eventually she answered. “Mari… do you know what time it is? Are you alright?” 174
Underpainting “I thought you got up early?” Marianne’s voice was sharp and she immediately regretted it. “Sorry Lori, I didn’t mean…” she tried to suppress a sob. “What’s up babe?” “Oh, it’s nothing, not really”. “Is it leaving friends, is that it?” “No, no… I had a phone call, from that Clare Zetzer…” “I remember that name” Lorete intervened. “Yes, you asked me about her when we first met, about her work” “Ah yes, of course, but how…?” “Oh, she was a student at Knype, she had a different name then… That’s why I couldn’t remember her. Anyway it appears that Peter’s been seeing her …” “Ah, right”. “It’s stupid of me isn’t it, but I’m jealous”. “No, Mari, no it’s not, it’s natural. I remember seeing one of my ex lovers with a man, she’d been really nasty to me, tried to take all sorts of stuff from my apartment, and I was glad to be rid of her. But when I saw them together, so happy, I felt, well jealous, that’s the only word for it, don’t get upset Mari, it will happen, after all you and Peter have been together for what twenty five years, it’s a long time, he probably thinks the same. He does know about us doesn’t he?” “Well, I’ve never actually spelt it out, I just thought he’d realise, there didn’t…” “Mari, I think it’s best if you do spell it out, someone is bound to tell him, are you ashamed of me?” “No oh no Lorete” Marianne was panicking inside, “Oh no, there just never seemed the right time…” “Marianne, it’s nearly two years”. “I know Lorete, I know… its hard, don’t you see?” “Oh I know, look it’s very early here, let’s talk later… Think about it”, Marianne knew that she’d not be thinking about much else, “…perhaps this Clare has done us a favour”. “I suppose so Lori, but oh I wish you were here. I’ll talk to Peter after the show, he’s got some bad press, so I’ll sort it out when we’re back from Bradford”. “We’ll be together in two days time, I just want to hold you all night and not think that we only have a few days… we’ll be together as much as we want”. “Yes I know, I want that so much”. “Look I must go, I’ve sent you a contract and a letter, a very special letter. You should get them today or tomorrow”. 175
Underpainting “OK. I love you”. “I love you”. Both were silent holding on for the extra time together, then Lorete’s phone went dead. Marianne stood up and went around her studio one more time. All that was left was rubbish and she filled three black bags, tied them up and put them outside her door. She switched the lights off, locked the doors and on her way out dropped the keys into Greta’s pigeon hole. “Peter, I’ve just been overseeing the final hanging. I really wish you’d talked to me… you know I will have to talk to our legal department, it’s not what you promised, is it Peter?” It was Henry. Peter knew this conversation had to happen and was glad it was on the phone. “Well I did say Henry there would be something new, a new direction, after all…” “But Peter… no, no don’t interrupt. You have been paid, and well paid I must add to produce a series of landscapes. I know Constantine for some godforsaken reason isn’t around, but we’ve had great interest from people wanting to buy your landscapes, not a portrait of some unknown man from your past. I left you alone at your studio, because well, I trusted you to come up with the goods. Don’t you see Peter, you’ve put me… and the Gallery in a predicament… a very awkward situation… no no, let me carry on”, Peter for the third time had tried to intervene. “The board have said we may even have to sue you to be reimbursed, just a formality of course, but it doesn’t look good for any of us…” “Henry, this is the work I want to show, you can’t expect me just to work to order”. “Peter, we are dealing with a commodity now, you are known for landscapes, that is what the buyers, the gallery, and the public want from you, not some psychological delving into your past, which really is only of interest to you, don’t you see Peter? Things were going so well, well until Constantine disappeared”. Peter didn’t want to talk about Constantine and quickly ended the phone call. He was at home getting ready to go to Bradford. Henry was fussing about the central piece at his one-man show at the Woolmarket Centre, it was a portrait of Vic, made up of ten layers of fine mesh in front of a vast stretched canvas, covered with images developed from the drawings Raymond Miller had made of Vic, interweaved with symbols and images important in his life, close-ups of landscapes, streets and objects. A new departure. Lights were set up so each layer was brought to life when a sequence of colours matched those of the picture. It was unsellable to a private collector and Peter knew full 176
Underpainting well it broke their contract. However he also knew that The National Portrait Gallery were interested in it, but at nothing like the price Henry wanted to sell things. It had taken him nearly eleven months of work, ever since he and Marianne had returned from Spain. The sale of the house had fallen through, however there was a new buyer, contracts were signed, and the house was full of boxes and crates, two rooms were set aside for rubbish and a skip was waiting outside yearning to be filled. Marianne was out, the house was quiet. Peter’s voice echoed when he was on the phone and he wanted to get all the rubbish sorted out so he and Marianne could leave the house for ever at around the same time. He’d arranged to stay temporarily at Mansell’s house in Notting Hill, while he was away for six months as a sculptor in residence in Brisbane, and a van was coming to pick his things up in two days time. Peter couldn’t settle and had exhausted himself on the portrait, it was the most personal thing he’d ever done and it felt the culmination of his work and had no idea where to go (artistically) next. He sat on the floor looking at the piles of what they’d both agreed was rubbish. Long discussions, arguments and soul searching had taken place over what was rubbish and what they wanted to keep, eventually it had felt that nearly everything they had was deemed rubbish and yet there were still loads of boxes, even after Mariannes belongings had been shipped off to Wilmington. They’d begun to listen to old records they unearthed, remembering the people associated with them, read through catalogues from long forgotten exhibitions they’d been to, shared opinions on books they’d read more than twenty years before, and pictures they’d forgotten about stored in the loft. Both had realised that even though it seemed easy to part they had a shared history that would always live on. Peter’s mobile rang again, it was Marianne. “Peter, I’ll meet you up at Bradford, I’ll never get back in time for us to go together, sorry!” “That’s OK. I just had Henry ranting on the phone about the picture”. “Told you so! Did the Mail get in touch with you? It seems that the Portrait Gallery has turned down that bloody awful picture by Harold de Hague of The Queen Mother to buy yours, so be careful who you talk to! I thought Henry would have told you?” “No, they were round the gallery taking photos, and one of them was asking me about Vic, they’d found his police records from somewhere”. “Poor you, looks like it could be a bumpy ride. Is there a letter there from Lorete?” Peter flicked through the pile of unopened mail near the front door, and found a long cream envelope with US stamps on. “I think so, there’s a letter postmarked Washington. Shall I bring it?” 177
Underpainting “No, can you open it, it should be the final draft of the contract” Peter opened the letter, he could hear Marianne talking to someone from what he could hear she was in a café. Peter scanned through the letter and realised it was not a contract but a very personal and highly graphic letter. He folded it up and put it back in the envelope before he could take in all that was written as he knew he could become upset. This confirmed what he already realised and Marianne had indicated through actions. He saw a larger envelope with the same postmark which he opened, it was a contract. “Yes Marianne, it’s come, do you want me to read through it and mark anything up for you when I see you?” “Yes that would be good of you, it’s just a formality, but you can’t be too careful”. “There was another letter, sorry I opened it, a personal one from Lorete, sorry I thought it was the contract…” “Ah… OK Peter, well… I’ll see you at the opening…. By the way Clare phoned me”. The phone went dead before he could say anything else. He wondered what Clare had said, he knew he’d find out soon enough, and went to the kitchen to see if they’d had the sense to leave any drinks out of the packing. There was a can of Guinness, which was odd because neither of them drank that at home. He opened it and a creamy brown froth rose from the can, he looked for a glass and realised they were all packed, he poured it into a mug which still had coffee stains in the bottom. By the time Peter reached The Woolmarket the tabloids had inflated the cost of Peters work by adding two or three noughts. The cover of that day’s Daily Mail demanded whether public money should be used to buy pictures of perverts or of the best loved figure of the royal family, the Nation’s Grandmother. At the main door there was a knot of journalists and photographers, and two television crews, Peter walked past them sure they wouldn’t recognise him, when a voice shouted out “Peter what are you going to do with all that money?”, another voice, “Mr Marten, is it true you used to know that paedophile?”, the rest of the questions drowned each other out and Peter dived into the relative calm of the Gallery. A delighted Mitch Greenstreet, the Centre Director met him. “Well Peter, this is good isn’t it? We’re front page news in the nationals, and on television, did you hear me on the Today Programme? Of course…” his voice lowered and became serious, “…I had to say that the content of your show was out of our control, and we didn’t condone or promote paedophilia. But still… I knew you’d understand?” “Well…” “Of course our role is to promote contemporary art, but I feel public 178
Underpainting pressure will mean we will have to close the gallery where that portrait is hung… after the private viewing of course, except, I’ve advised my Board, for people who apply for a special pass, I mean it may become a target. My Board have specifically asked me to apologise to you, in private, but we do get public funding, and there is a local election coming up, there are a lot of councillors who oppose the grant they give us. I know you’ll understand”, but before Peter could answer he continued, “…after all you did say, or rather your agent said, it would be an exhibition of landscapes, had we known the real content our offer to hang the show may have been very different. But I must say we’ve had more interest in the work of the Wooly than for anything we’ve ever done before. I appreciate that, and it’s not all been negative”. Peter nodded to him and continued on into the gallery where hung a series of his large landscape sketches. At the end of the room were double doors and in front of them were two chrome posts with yellow and black tape hung between, and a notice on the doors reading ‘Controlled Entrance. Passes Only’. He ripped the notice off, pushed the posts away, and walked into the second Gallery. The huge portrait loomed in front of him filling the far end from floor to ceiling, dull because the lights were not illuminating it. He went to the rear and switched them on, the picture awoke, a sea of images intertwined, familiar to him because they were an integral part of his life. He stood at the far end of the Gallery for ten minutes, it felt like days. As he studied his work, his mind went through the process of each element of creation - how the paint was applied; fabrics stitched; what source material was used; how colours were mixed; what decisions were made of what to add or leave out. Images swam in front of his eyes. One minute he could see the whole, the next minute a few square inches. Vic’s calm voice echoed around his mind, his dad’s shouted, Frank’s staccatoed. For probably the first time in his creative life he was content with a finished painting. He left the room, Mitch was waiting for him. “Peter… the press, they’d like to talk to you, interview you in front of the picture. I said OK for you. Three o’clock? So they can get it out for the six o’clock news? OK?” “Tell them to fuck off Mitch, I’m sure they’ll understand”. Peter turned and returned to the portrait, he shut and locked the doors and could hear Mitch shout “Peter!? Please…” For another five minutes he stood at the doors and watched his picture. Then he walked towards it, took a Stanley knife out of his pocket and began to rip the canvas, at first methodically then as it became further and further damaged his actions were controlled but furious. Faces, arms, legs, walls, trees, houses, disintegrated under the blade. Thick layers of paint cracked and fell to the floor. When the main canvas was in shreds he pulled at the layers in front 179
Underpainting ripping them until all that was left was a pile of rags on the floor and empty wooden frames. Peter stood back from the carnage. He felt calm. He debated whether to burn it, but no, he’d made his statement. Peter turned through the doors, past his landscapes, down the stairs to his car. Four hours later Peter was sitting in bed with Clare drinking a bottle of red wine. Marianne had packed the last of her belongings, and was ready to go to America. She’d got back from Bradford the night before after having to field endless questions from friends and the press. She had been worried about Peter until he’d rung and said he was in London and OK. They’d not talked about the exhibition, or Clare, or Lorete, or why he’d done what he did. Marianne made sure for the tenth time she had her passport, work documents, and information to retrieve her belongings when she arrived in Wilmington. She knew Lorete had all of them, probably in triplicate, but she required the reassurance. Marianne heard two beeps from the taxi that had arrived ten minutes before to take her to the airport. Two bags were already in the boot, she took one last look around, over twenty years in a few glances - damp patches where she didn’t know there were any; dark shapes where pictures had hung; rooms that echoed which for years had been stuffed full of… junk? No, she thought, not junk, life. Marianne’s hand was on the front door handle when the house phone rang, she was about to pick it up as the answer-machine kicked in. She waited in case it was Peter. “Hello, I hope you can hear, I don’t know… this is Mrs. Rogers… your mother’s next door neighbour… can you still hear? Your mother is in the Infirmary, or whatever they call it nowadays, she’s had a fall… they say you should come over as she’ll need looking after. Could you ring as soon as possible? I hope you can hear this?” This stopped Marianne in her tracks. She put a finger on the phone, lifted it, then put it back down. She walked across the hallway, went out, slammed the door, pushed the keys through the letter box and got in the taxi. At four in the afternoon local time Marrianne’s plane was touching down in Atlanta, Georgia.
31 1997 Rain pattered on turning leaves. Under the umbrella of branches it was still quite dry. Bracken was turning brown, berries were blown to their fullest, and the last remnants of summer were fast disappearing. Feeling a little tired from his climb Peter stopped and leant against a pine tree. His shirt was damp but not wet. He was pleased it was beginning to rain, the radio had said there should be a wet October, it would help the oak seedling he’d planted about an hour before, which completed French Corner. The hole he’d dug with some effort had shown that the ground was still dry from a dry summer, even though it had rained most days during the past week. Water had become a bit of a problem and some of the trees he’d planted in June and July were wilting. Mist had hung onto the hills until lunch time and he couldn’t see more than half a mile even now. Under the canopy of trees it was gloomy. Peter knew his way around the hill well and that about a hundred yards further on there was a sheltered seat Malcolm had constructed from logs, where you could sit and watch the mosaic of fields change in the light. As he set off again Peter looked round and was pleased to have completed French Corner. For nearly five years nothing had happened, no questions, nothing. Some days he was on a knife edge thinking that someone surely would put two and two together. Peter continued Malcolm’s tradition of planting a tree each day, but increasingly he was having to cut back, clear, maintain; to keep the woods in good growing condition, to allow saplings space to grow and light to get to the ground below. He stopped at a densely overgrown area, took the slasher from his bag and began rhythmically to cut at the overgrown ferns and side shoots from saplings. Marianne stood on a manicured lawn at the heart of Juliet Farrow Women’s College and listened to the choir rehearsing Jean’s work to be premièred that evening in the newly built concert hall. She felt there is a sadness in the sound 181
Underpainting of a choir practising in the distance reminding her of finality, of leaving safe places, of becoming detached. The music sounded interesting rather than beautiful, but she had little in her experience of contemporary music to judge it against. Jean’s position in music at the college was similar to hers in art and they’d started at around the same time. Surrounding the lawn were white colonial style buildings, so clean they looked just decorated, dark brown brickwork sides contrasting with the stucco and wood fascias; the Stars and Stripes fluttered to one end of the lawn, with a North Carolina flag on one side and the College flag on the other. The morning sun was bright and felt warm, even though the leaves were beginning to turn golden browns, yellows and reds. As she walked, Marianne listed in her mind the students she had to see that day, pleased that she would be able to get on with her own work by mid afternoon. She had already abandoned the Monument, the idea sounded great, but the first parts of it looked laboured and more like some exhibit in a charity shop window than the work she’d envisaged, there seemed little intellectual merit to it. Now she was working on a series of pictures in greys and brick reds based on her memories of childhood streets. She was reasonably happy with them, Lorete, who visited most weekends, loved them, felt they captured the true gloomy and desolate heart of England. The College were not so happy. Marianne entered the computer suite housed in a building which always reminded her of the house in Psycho. She was still, after nearly three years, amazed at the incredible equipment and facilities available. She longed though for the students she’d left behind, the young women at Juliet Farrow were too earnest, everything had to be deep and meaningful. She often thought Bill would have been in his element. Two days earlier she’d had to sit in on a committee listening to a long rebuttal of the soccer team who’d won the State Women’s College Bowl, beating nationally ranked Duke; in celebration they had all lifted their shirts flashing their breasts for a photographer, who’d printed the picture in student newspapers all up the East Coast. That was not what young women at Juliet Farrow got up to, the principal and committee had vehemently protested! Her defence of the team was frowned upon, but forgiven because of her being English. Marianne was at the IT department to learn scanning from Veronique who seemed to live in the building, she’d never seen her anywhere else in the college and her lights were on at all hours. As she was waiting she looked at a monitor, a student was working on a document about successful ex students, Lorete’s picture had drawn her notice, but the list was incredible. Seven Senators, the second woman to enter the Senate was an ex-JF ( JF was the proper way to call the college), women running major companies, three ambassadors, university lecturers by the dozen, a bishop, three police chiefs, endless doctors, judges, lawyers and research scientists and rather oddly a murderer (success? Marianne 182
Underpainting thought to herself ) who’d once been a sea captain. But no artist. Art was a relaxation, something important to life, but not vital, part of a whole, not the summation, not like money. Some days she yearned for messy studios and messy untidy students. The young women here were mainly from good God fearing middle class families, 95% white. However, this was no ‘finishing school’, you had to have very high grades to get in. They were the pampered daughters from small southern towns that make provincial seem interesting or smart suburbs of the vast cities on the east coast. They were all beautifully dressed in that American casualness that only they can do, what hung loose and shapeless on Marianne fitted like a dream on these young women with their perfect teeth, hair and muscle structure. The most interesting students were those, despised by some, who’d gained scholarships, like Lorete had done, they usually came from poorer areas, some were even single mothers, and many had triumphed over great adversity to gain a place, a foot up the ladder. Veronique was late, she always was, usually a problem with a database. Marianne looked in her diary, Lorete was due in tomorrow, that was twelve weekends in a row, they’d talked last weekend, which was so hot, about decorating the veranda overlooking the sea, sleeping out there in summer, collecting shells and driftwood to make a mermaid’s grotto. However today, before the sun burnt through, it had started very gloomily, sea mist rolling in was a sign of a major change in the weather, but what Lorete wanted she usually got, Marianne always had to remember that she was an old JF’ian. She also noted that she must phone Peter later, it was her turn. Marianne left leaving a note to say she’d call back later. As she walked she heard a phone ringing and it was like a recurring bad dream. Her mother refused to talk to her again, or meet her when she was in the UK, she said that she hadn’t got a daughter anymore. Whenever she rang Colin answered. Peter sat on the rustic seat contemplating a job well done. He listened to the rain pattering, in the distance the sky was clearing, and he could see Clun church, which was always a good sign. There was a patch of sunlight travelling towards him, following the melodious contours of the Shropshire hills. In his bag he carried a watercolour pad and some paints, he laughed when he thought of what Henry would have said, English landscape watercolours were an anathema to him. But Peter enjoyed the fluidity, the immediacy. No-one saw them, he hadn’t even shown them to Marianne when she c visited and Clare didn’t seem interested. ‘A year ago already’, he thought, and Peter realised she hadn’t visited this year. The first time she returned she’d stayed at his home, and they’d been like a brother and sister, chatting, catching up on things, not lovers, but friends. 183
Underpainting After that visits became shorter each time, but he felt both of them enjoyed talking on the phone. Peter took out a thick piece of bread, some local cheese made on a neighbouring farm, and a bottle of water. It tasted good. He wondered how Henry was doing. He and Mark had split up, fourteen years together then a quarrel over a silly boy. Henry was now in New York, Peter wondered if Marianne had anything to do with him, he guessed not. A low flying jet pierced the silence. When he’d finished his meal Peter got the paints and pad out, put a grey blue wash on the strong rough paper, his brush stroke followed the contours, showing the beautiful handmade finish through the colour. He put it down to dry. Marianne sat in her bright airy studio, the large glass roof light framing scurrying white and grey clouds against a bright blue sky, the wind was getting up. She sat in an old arm chair with a cup of herbal tea, contemplating a newly finished grey and brick red painting, thinking over what Sherry Lee and Georgia Gail had talked about. The two students had spent an hour discussing why they’d used an image of a 12 foot high hot dog as the background to a dance piece they were creating, they couldn’t see how so obviously phallic it was, they were quite shocked at Marianne’s interpretation. They had spent considerable time telling her about the meaning of their lives and the relevance of hot dogs in their youth. Marianne had caught herself yawning and had been pleased when the phone rang and it was Lorete. Lorete had found the perfect thing for that room overlooking the beach, an old cupboard from a dry goods store, still with some of the original enamelled labels on the drawers. Only eight thousand dollars. Marianne swallowed hard at that, but Lorete could afford it, and it would make her happy. She’d explained she was able to come up early this weekend, she had to see a potential donor in Wilmington on Thursday, and would stay on. Lately she often talked about moving her office to Wilmington. Marianne was pleased she was coming, but was not sure if being together all the time was what she really wanted, but they had fun together, Lorete had arranged Marianne’s fiftieth birthday party, it had been a wonderful and magical event (Marianne was actually 51 but didn’t want to upset Lorete). Lorete could talk for hours and was genuinely interested in her pictures. It was pleasant to be wanted and to be so close to someone. But… she did miss Peter for being so diffident to her, for his smell and not being so ‘understanding’, she could shout at Peter and it didn’t seem like the end of the world. With Lorete one cross word and it had to be analysed for hours, on occasions, days. She had become to look smarter with Lorete. Peter never noticed what she’d worn or what she looked like, it hadn’t mattered. Lorete noticed everything. 184
Underpainting Marianne had lost a bit of weight, got new smarter fitted clothes, had a new hair cut, and gained more confidence. And Lorete was so Lorete! A woman with burning ambition who needed a foil. Marianne fitted that role, Laurel and Hardy she joked, but only to herself. She sat musing and then noticed the clock. “Oh damn!” it was her turn to phone Peter. She was late. Peter put his painting things away and sat watching as distant yellow light underlay deepening grey clouds. Clun church was etched in late sunlight and house lights stood out against deep grey green fields and woodland. Birds were almost silent and wind rustled drying leaves. He could see at the bottom of the hill that the timed outside light had come on, a beacon to guide him in the gathering gloom of the valley. Peter felt more content than for years, which was hard to admit to Marianne. His phone ringing pierced the air. He switched on to answer. “Hi Peter, sorry I’m late”. “You aren’t, there are no set times, not between us I hope?” “No… luckily there aren’t. Where are you?” “Up on the hill, you sound so close it’s almost as if you were standing next to me…” “It’s a new phone, Lorete got it me. You know I can hear the leaves rustling…” they were silent for a few seconds. “…I had some students in they looked at the new paintings…” “How are they going?” Peter asked. “Not bad… I think they are a bit ‘English’ for some tastes here, but they are working out. And you, how are the watercolours?” “Oh, you know, I can’t get used to not being able to cover things over, but I love adding washes, working in layers…” “Yes, I must see them one day. The piece I’ve finished is all sorts of layers of colours that mix and join together in parts, others are diffused…” “Sounds like you’re enjoying doing them…” Peter said enthusiastically. “No, I don’t think enjoying is right, perhaps needing”. “I know”. “By the way have you seen Rachel lately?” Marianne enquired. “She came up only a couple of weeks ago, I think she said something about doing some work with a theatre company…” “Well there is a two year artists placement here, you know, bit of teaching, studio, exhibition. I felt she could be just the right person, and God we need some life here, have you her number?” He looked it up on his phone and read it out to her. “What about Clare? How’s things going with her?” “Oh she came up last weekend, she’s good, we’re fine. And Lorete, how’s 185
Underpainting she?” “Fine, coming down tomorrow”. Peter had started down the hill. “Are you walking now?” “Yes, I thought I better start back, it’s getting dark. How’s things with you anyway?” “Oh you know. Lorete has all these ideas about the house, she’s a determined woman…” “But you’re OK?” “Yes, we’re OK, I’m OK. You seem concerned?” Marianne said very lightly. “Well you know, being up here makes you think…” “And you?” “Oh, I’m OK. The cottage is coming on fine, they fitted out the store room last Tuesday, it’s nearly done now”. “Bet you are glad to be out of the old caravan” Marianne intervened. “I don’t know how he lived in it for so long, you know we wanted to build him a cottage when he was alive… I think he thought it too permanent. Yes everything’s OK…” “How was Angela’s visit?” “Haven’t I spoken to you since then? Well she brought up a coach load of her ‘clients’…”. “With Ryan?” “Oh yes, Ryan was there. Well they all go in for this ritual shaving the body first, then in twos and threes search for an appropriate site, somewhere where as Angela puts it ‘the spirits of the earth are touching the spirits of the air’…” “Did you join in?” “I certainly didn’t. But you’d have loved it. Most of them were late forties to well into their seventies, all sorts of shapes…” “And then what?” Marianne giggled. “Well, she found a site, luckily the sun had broken through, I thought some of them might die of the cold! It was a clearing and they stood arms outstretched, then lay on the ground chanting…then stood again” “And you said they are going to come regularly?” “So she says, and they pay a good fee!” “Well… and we think our lives are empty” “No, mine’s not….. not now” Peter said quite quietly. “Nor’s mine, no, nor’s mine” Marianne said gently. There was silence again for a few seconds. Peter was in near darkness but he knew the way well, the wind was getting up and dark blue grey evening clouds threatened rain. He stopped and looked 186
Underpainting over to deep black hills winding away into Wales. “Have you stopped again?” “Yes… I was looking into the distance. It’s quite dark now but the sky is still a different colour to the hills, the wind’s getting up…” “It’s still quite hot here. But heavy rain will come soon”. “You get it all of a sudden don’t you?” “Yes… that’s one thing I miss…” “What?” “The seasons. Fall is beautiful, almost too beautiful, all blue sky and deep golds, but short. And spring comes and goes so quickly…” “Oh to be in England…” “I suppose it is, anyway, did Angela talk about Philip?” Marianne inquired. “No, never mentioned him” “How’s he doing at Franks’?” “Frank rang last week, still the same, it seems he can understand people and has learnt hand communications, Frank’s set up some computer system so he can type out words, he’s been very good to the lad…” “Especially after he tried to murder him” “Well yes… I think he sees something of himself at that age, what could have happened to him had he not…” the words faded away from Peter “…you know?” “I suppose so, but still…” “The trust fund’s put in all sorts of equipment for him, Frank’s money seems endless… That’s what he rang for, wants me to take an even bigger role, he’s worried about how long he’ll last”. “He’s been like that for years. Did you agree?” Marianne asked. “Oh yes, it seemed appropriate, gets me away for short periods, after months on the hill it’s good to go to London”. “Did you sort out those things in the Will?” “No, they’re still pending, so the solicitor says, he seems to be hanging about charging even more, Mum really left things a bit of a mess, I thought it was all OK, but all those little bequests and favours, half the folks are dead… it’s funny I never really think of her as gone… still think she’s sitting there in Rhos waiting for me to visit… to paint a door or move the fridge… how’s your mother?” “Still won’t speak, Colin does but I won’t speak to that creep. She’ll go on for ever, probably outlive me just to get her own back. So…” “…it’s no better?” “No, I can’t see it being either” Silence again. They realised there was not much more to say. They’d said most of this last time and the time before that. They both knew 187
Underpainting that soon one of them would be too busy to call one week and calls would go fortnightly, then monthly, then… “Well I’ve got a concert to go to, a World premier” “I will sit in front of the stove and read, I’m a bit stiff, it was hard work today” “Look after yourself ” “And you” Peter looked up at dark clouds which were breaking up a bit and continued down the hill towards the welcoming light of the cottage. Marianne switched off her phone. She walked over to the open studio window, deep black clouds were building to the north, hot afternoon sun had broken through. Some students saw her and they waved in recognition, the choir began rehearsing their shrill song in readiness for the evening’s concert. Peter sat close to the warmth of the black wood burning stove, he took up his journal, something he’d started keeping in the last two years, a suggestion of his therapist ‘think of it as a sketch book of your thoughts’ he’d told him, and wrote a quote from the end of 8½ that he’d been thinking about all day, he wasn’t sure if it was correct, but he liked it:
“Any artist worthy of his calling should make one vow: to learn how to be silent”
For more about the author and other writing and art visit Tim Digglesâ€™ blog at http://timdiggles.wordpress.com/
Underpainting is a novel about relationships, art, searching for the past and for the future. Peter and Marianne have been together for more...
Published on Jan 10, 2014
Underpainting is a novel about relationships, art, searching for the past and for the future. Peter and Marianne have been together for more...