Said She Was An Artist
21 January 2002
A film of perspiration seems to have seeped from my skin during the few short strides that carried me from the uncomfortable fold-up chair to the phallic microphone that stands waiting on the cramped, bare stage and my hand roots around under my T-shirt in an attempt to assuage the itching that has just started to emanate from the damp hair along my collar bone as the anticipatory applause dies away.
She was one of those women you can't take your eyes off; it's not prettiness, she wasn't some image-conscious, pert and perky ingénue, but an allure that somehow ran deeper than that, the musk of maturity that oozed out of her with every elegant pose, every casual gesture, every unselfconscious arch of her back drawing me in. I kept on staring, I knew I shouldn't and it's not the sort of thing I normally do but even when I's sure she'd noticed me doing it I just couldn't stop myself from glancing back again and again at the bubble of space that seemed to have cleared around her as she stood there alone, leaning against the bar with self-absorbed assurance.
I don't usually go to these work functions, they always descend into such puerility, but I'd not been out for a while and I guess I was weak but I certainly don't usually dance, not without drinking a lot more than I had that night, but I wasn't really left with much choice when she glid (glided? glode?) up beside me and stretched out a hand in invitation. I could feel every pair of eyes in the room staring and mocking as I shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot, figuring arrhythmic minimalism to be better than embarrassing exuberance, opposite her easy movements but all I could think of to say, my voice croaking from trying to hold my stomach in for such a protracted length of time, was: "Do you work at the company? I don't remember seeing you before."
My gaze kept being drawn to her dress, a lustrous red tube that seemed to cling to her skin and follow every curve and bend that her body made; she must have been wearing shoes, I don't remember looking, but it was as if that dress was the only piece of material on her whole body the way it molded her. As I scampered to the bar John Kristian leered into my ear: "It's always the quiet ones, isn't it?"
The single A4 sheet stands to attention and then goes limp again in my hand but it's more of a totem anyway, I know the words by heart, and I take one last glance around the mismatched crowd huddled into the cafe's basement. It is the regulars whose faces I particularly drink in, pointed in my direction but focused elsewhere, on not missing the last tube, sneaking out to urinate, when their own turn will come. You know when your work is good: even when you've settled for average for so long, deep down you know when it feels just right and when it will just do. This is my moment; in a few minutes time they will be taking notice at last: dippy Angie Brown with her nonsense rhymes, simpering insincerely that she could never capture those dark emotions the way that I do, muscular Rutowski stating plainly that he admires my craft but I always seem to come back to the same old themes, the Woolf-Plath-Atwood tendency flocked in the corner, angular and frigid.
"An artist?" It was her initiative, I could never have been so forward, but there doesn't seem to be any of the paraphernalia one might expect in her tidily kept flat; I have flashes of elephant dung and a performance artiste, saggy and hysterical, breast-feeding a dead swan. "No, a surveyor but . . ." I stop then decide to chance my arm, "I know it sounds adolescent, but I do write poems."
Why not a rock star, she asked with a smile, what kind of dream is it to have wanted to grow up and be a poet? So I said that's just the kind of person that I am, it's not the adulation I'm after, I'm not the kind of guy that wants to bask in the attention of others, it's the poems themselves that are important.
So her work, was it more in the conceptual field of things? I ventured but she smiled again and shook her head. No concepts, she told me, no message, no interpretations, no pre-conceived agenda, no imposed meaning, she just reproduced what she saw and, standing up, she pulled her dress up over her head.
I breathe in and notice that my leg is trembling, jerky waves of oscillation running between my hip and the firmness of the floor. Trembling, I find myself eased back into a crumpled slouch as her tongue and the pleasant force of her body on mine push eagerly forwards. Suddenly I'm not sure, can I really say all this? We see each other week in, week out but still I barely know these people at all. She seems to know exactly what to do, every tweak and nip and pause a rhythm of ecstasy but I'm beginning to worry how much more she expects. I instinctively suck at my cheeks to squeeze out saliva like foam from a sponge and hear, as if from a distance, the dry crackle in my throat. She snaps apart the second popper and eases the trousers down my legs; pleasure has been replaced by fear but she has a curious smile as I lie there quivering and trembling and flaccid. I open my mouth but nothing comes out.