Figure XIV

July 7, 2006

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Between heat and thunder, the progression slower than those on foot, Rupert’s van draws forward in the commuter hour cortège. Behind the dull throb of the motor, growling like an animal caged before his feet, he imagines himself with purpose amid the hurly and din of the quivering city, still waking, still falling into place.

Outside a florists, galvanised steel buckets are arranged for the display of flowers. The unfurling eyes of Westminster, a thousand metal shutters rolled skywards in this thunderous dawn of cars, and buses, and the burrowing trains beneath the pavements; it wakes him also, stirs him from his stately passage through the world.

In the back of the van sit twenty disembodied heads, twenty blank and expressionless polystyrene faces, each with perfectly coiffured, unstirring hair. He catches sight of them in the rear view mirror, the face of his mother amongst them, nodding in that way she had, that way that simply said: That’s what I thought. That’s how I expected things to turn out. Quivering with the vibrations of the engine, trembling just as it had all those years she spent in bed, balding and thinning at the cheeks, simply nodding at the wallpaper when the acknowledged silence had become too much. But he was the one who had stayed home for her. He was the one who knew when she struggled for the words:
“Da bnt… Da bnt…”

“Do you want me to find you the pink one?”

No answer. No smile even; but the slow sedate nodding would return as if equilibrium had been restored to her, and he would go to the dresser and draw her out the pink cardigan, the exact one she had been meaning, and he would help her on with it and he would tidy up her hair.

And yet that look was always there. He could see it in her dying face once all others had gone from her repertoire. That look, not of gratitude but of admission: I knew it would be you. I knew you would be the one left with me.

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Figure IX

July 1, 2006

 

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And there he stands in the doorway, six feet seven inches of grey silicone rubber. Had he known his career might come to this, perhaps he would have done things differently, but right now he just hesitates, trying to locate the position of the breakfast table from inside the suit’s bulbous head. The room is silent. With his limited vision he wonders for a moment if he hasn’t perhaps entered the sitting room by mistake. He cranes his neck backwards in order to see under the creature’s upper lip, and makes out the outline of feet in the shadows beneath the table. He shuffles towards them blindly, feeling for the point when his body will make contact with the back of his chair. Without arms a great many things have become impossible to Ernest this morning. As he reaches the table he feels some unseen figure assisting him, the shuffling of feet, a chair is pulled out for him and he is guided carefully into it, and then and only then does anyone in the room dare to speak:

“Do you want Grapefruit, Ernest?” asks Nancy from beyond the darkness.

“I think I’ll just have tea, but you will need to pass it in to me.”

He listens to the sounds around him shift. Liquid passes from one vessel into another. The dull thud of the pot being returned to the table, the clatter of a spoon, and then through the wide letterbox of the mouth an arm appears holding a cup and saucer. Tentatively, after a few minutes have passed there comes a voice:

“Ernest…?” begins Laura.

“Nematode worm.” he replies, predicting the question.

“Right.”

“Community outreach project. Bringing science alive at the natural history museum, ironically by representing living organisms by artificial rubber characters.”

“I see.”

“I might be wrong,” says Rupert after a pause, “but these worms… I expect they don’t have faces, and hair and the like in the real world.”

 

Figure VIII

June 30, 2006

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Above the coffee cups and crumpets, between the chimes of the half hour, through the hazy scent of flowers cut from the garden; conversation is exchanged. Nancy brings the teapot through from the kitchen. Rupert, the salesman, describes a consignment of ladies wigs that has just arrived at the depot;

“Beautiful styles, they are Nancy, really tip-top–”

And the artist, Anita, awaits the arrival of an envelope of bad news as she has done all the week. It is through these vignettes of life that our story shall be told. Through the snatched glimpses of incident and waiting, through the momentary struggles and unimportant meals of tea and toast; all shall be documented, recorded, reported and sketched.

“And for the first time they’ve produced the Enchantment range in bruised apricot. I’ve always said that the Enchantment was deserving of bruised apricot.”

“Do any women really still wear wigs these days?” asks Laura, one of the students.

“Wigs never go out of fashion.” Rupert replies and is about to enter into his sales patter, ready to dive into the pool of familiar rhythms and rippling cadences, its proud boasts of how another look might be achieved in a matter of minutes, and these wigs are an investment – classic styles that will never look tired… when the attention of the room is taken from him by the sudden appearance of Ernest in the doorway.

Figure III

June 24, 2006

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…to a travelling salesman…