Figure XII

July 5, 2006

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Through the steam that follows breakfast – the dire task of washing up, arranging plates on the drainer to drip alongside the slowing rain on the leaves outside the window – Nancy makes her peace with the world. The house guests have dispersed: Laura and Steve (such a quiet boy) back to their room; Ernest stumbling blind as the worm he represents to the doorstep to wait for his lift to the museum; Rupert to his van, off out into the world of wigs and ladies consumables. The voice of the radio, sombre and slow, filters through the thick, moist air in the kitchen, condenses upon the glass and falls in tiny droplets of sound about Nancy’s head. What would he make of her, standing here, doing this? What would he say if he could see the house in its current state? The back attic ceiling will need looking at after this rain, she tells herself. The French windows onto the terrace will no doubt have leaked again, turning the newspaper she has placed beneath them (to stop them flinging open in the smallest of breezes) to a soft grey mulch of lost events. But has she ever been happier than she is now? A guilty admission to be enjoying life more with these strangers, these fee–paying guests. She dries her hands on the tea towel that hangs above the sink and sets off upstairs to change. There are things to be done, she tells herself, things more important than leaks and damp paper.

Figure XI

July 4, 2006

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Up in her room she unseals it, her pulse quivering beneath her flesh. She has known that this letter would arrive, and now here it is. Beyond the unfolding of the thick A4 sheet, the unfurling of this expensive paper flower, there is only to be found quite how bad the contents are to be. She unfolds it, and there it all is:

Dear Ms. Eubank,

Following a meeting of our board of directors, it has been decided that our proposed exhibition of your work is now somewhat inappropriate. This decision was reached in light of your recent comments about The Small Gallery in the press.

Yours truly,

Henry Sitwell.

It had been such a silly thing, she thinks as she falls into the armchair upsetting two unfinished canvases onto the floor. As if in slow motion it had happened; one minute talking to friends at the private view of her friend Paul’s work, and then out of nowhere there had been this man standing at her shoulder. He was handsome, charming. She asked him what he did, but he had been somewhat vague mentioning something about the city she had thought.

He brought her a fresh glass of wine. They wandered free of the pack, discussing the exhibition. Basically it had comprised of two people’s work; Paul’s large abstract canvases of muted tonal patterns, and another man who she did not know well, who had painted these absurd figurative pieces. Strange interior scenes. Not much skill to them she had thought. The exhibition had been titled inTANDEM; a meaningless name for a meaningless exhibition. “What,” she had asked this man “are these two artists supposed to have in common? I mean, its called in tandem, but you can see who is doing all the peddling.”

The man had laughed. Anita had felt warm inside. The wine had made her witty she decided, and so she began upon a critique of the gallery’s general policy of choosing art. He laughed in all the right places; it made her feel bolder. All the time in the back of her mind she kept thinking; these people have said they will put on a show of my work… my work… no one has ever offered to do that before.

It was true. Though she knew that Paul had put in several good words for her at the gallery, and no doubt they owed him several favours during the course of staging this exhibition; nobody until then had agreed to host an exhibition of Anita Eubank’s paintings. Even though it was this funny little gallery that she didn’t much like, they were going to do this for her.

A lot of what she said to the man, he probably took out of context, but Anita could not remember much about that night the next day. It took over a month for the piece to appear in the magazine, but even after that time had passed she still recognised her words blown up as banners in the four page article: The Parochial View Of The Small Gallery. He had mentioned her by name. Why had he done that? It wasn’t as if her name carried any weight. It wasn’t even as if anyone of any importance read the magazine it was printed in. None of it mattered. But it was enough. It was more than enough.

She crumbles the letter into her fist. Paul was no longer speaking to her of course. Suddenly everyone knew who she was but for all the wrong reasons. The gallery had phoned her. It was the first she had known of the article’s existence. “We’ll be in touch by post,” was all they had said, and now here they were.

Figure X

July 3, 2006

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Letters, like a windfall of poisoned apples from a tree, cascade through the slot in the front door. The house, an anomaly amid the neat town houses of Thomas Cubitt, is tucked away from the street and from the world behind a high stucco wall topped with four sandstone spheres. The postman resents the walk down the driveway. The gardener now only rarely comes, telling Nancy that there isn’t much that can be done on the amount she pays him, and if she isn’t prepared to hire someone to do the serious work then it’s a downward spiral from here on– And so the building swathes itself in the green, darkening its days as if within a wood.

Anita tentatively rises from the table and makes her way through to the hall. There it is upon the doormat, the white oblong she has waited for all week.

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 VII

June 29, 2006

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Our story begins some time around seven on a wet Thursday morning in June. Rain beats out a steady pulse upon the windowpanes. Tealeaves infuse in the rich darkness of the pot. Nancy lays out breakfast thing in the dining room as she used to for her husband and now does for her guests, who one by one descend the staircase and enter the room.

Figure VI

June 27, 2006

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…and the once popular, 1950s entertainer Ernest Sturt-Sissons.

Figure V

June 26, 2006

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…two students…

Figure IV

June 25, 2006

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…an artist…

Figure III

June 24, 2006

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…to a travelling salesman…