Flowers

On Monday morning, at work, I got a call from Rupert. He sounded casual. “I’m back in town for a few days, do you want to come over later?”

That was it, he wasn’t even suggesting dinner.

“I’m busy,” I replied,

“Ok,” he said, there was an acidic tone in his voice, “are you playing games with me?”

“No,” I said, I did actually have a lot to do, the gallery was due to host some events for Fashion Week, and I was busy prepping for those. I was enjoying the buzz and starting to see some payoff in my gruelling job. The last thing I wanted to do was waste time and energy on someone like Rupert.

“Look, there’s a party at the gallery next week, I can put you on the guest list if you’re desperate to see me,” I said. Porsche-guy was hovering over me and I was late for a meeting. Rupert said nothing, maybe he wasn’t used to being spoken to sharply by a woman. I could just hear him on the end of the phone. Maybe shuffling from one foot to the other, thinking of his next move. Gina was pulling faces at me, I shrugged. She could see it was one of ‘those’ conversations.

“Look, I have to go,” I said to Rupert,

“Why are you being like this?” he asked,

“I don’t even know what you mean by that Rupert, you never call me, and now you are hassling me at work, I’m supposed to be in a meeting now, I need to go otherwise I’ll get fired.” I hung up the phone without waiting for a reply.

I had invited a Kimono maker to exhibit his work in our gallery during Fashion Week, a sort of artistic take on the business of fashion. The Kimonos were hand painted silk, showing scenes from Japanese mythology. Frightening gods, warriors, and beautiful seascapes.

Porsche-guy glanced across the photos and was genuinely impressed. He was very much the money-man behind the gallery, but occasionally a deftly orchestrated piece of artwork would raise a half smile on his cynical face. I considered this a huge triumph, reaching through to a hard philistine. Perhaps there was a tiny soul in there somewhere.

The next day a bunch of flowers arrived for me at reception. They were from Rupert. The card read, “I’m sorry you’re cross with me, I hope we can still be friends.”

They were an impressive bunch of dahlias, peonies and white roses, which I displayed on my desk as an odd trophy. Bittersweet and looming. The scent was almost sickly, but it reminded me of the wild, of overgrown gardens, grassy banks leading to rocky streams, petals like shameless bursts of colour, catching the sunlight from the wide office windows. Yellow pollen falling onto my desk, staining my papers and lingering for days.

I watched them die, slowly, in their glass tumbler of water. Their roots clipped off, the stems becoming withered and dry, the spread petals falling one by one. The morbid wilting display, unfolding and disintegrating over a fortnight, until only dry stalks remained. I crumbled the petals into a cup on my desk, and thought about scattering them somewhere, like ashes. Perhaps in Central Park, where they could decompose in the soil and return as new life next spring when the bulbs were planted by dutiful civic gardeners. Maybe my dying roses would be reborn as brash tulips, daubs of yellow and red against the green grass of the park. Maybe a passing man would pick them and give them to his sweetheart.

Rupert didn’t come to our party. Maybe he was too proud. Or maybe he was actually hurt. Who knows, and who cares? I was meeting new people who were actually taking me seriously, grown-up conversations about the meaning of art and how best to run a gallery in the modern age. I wondered if any of them knew Rupert. Would they mention him? Yes, a British art dealer, travels a lot, tall, handsome, but rather arrogant, do you know him. And I might reply, yes, I met him, briefly in New York, but I don’t remember much of him.

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The Sky and Spiders

I printed out dozens of pictures of the sky and stuck them on my apartment walls. Every shade of blue purple pink and orange. Glow after glow of light, the sun seeping through the atmosphere like a prism, tinting the sky. What I was missing was routine. I had work, trekking to the office each day. But there wasn’t a maternal meal waiting for me at home. There wasn’t a fixed bedtime. And there wasn’t an authority figure. My boss was an idiot and my father was on the end of a phone line somewhere in London. This should have been bliss, but it left me feeling listless and confused.

I telephoned Rupert. Surprisingly, he picked up. “Did you threaten my friend Josh?” I asked him,

“Who’s Josh?” he asked. His voice slightly weak. The sign of a bad liar.

“I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” I said. Feeling good about this decisive step. I felt like I was sponging a bit of dirt out of my life.

“You’re being irrational,” he said. “I’ll call you when I get back to New York.” He hung up with a click and I threw the phone against the wall. I was angry. But I felt like I was being honest. Now he had no right to criticise me for talking to other men.

I was thinking about my cousin Tabitha. How pretty she was before she got married. And how many men were in love with her. I hoped she would get divorced. But I realised that this made me a terrible person and I tried to stop thinking about it.

I checked my emails and found I had a message from my professor, saying the first ten-thousand words of my dissertation were “tip-top” and that I would get a distinction if I carried on at this rate. I felt a lot better. But then I began to feel neurotic. Does the world really need another over-privileged English girl with a History of Art Masters Degree? Probably not. I resolved to do something “worthy” as soon as I graduated, and spent the late afternoon reading brochures about aid work in Africa. I phoned my father. “Do you know anyone in Africa?” I asked him,

“Yes,” he said hesitantly, the Yes always an implied question,

“I want to help poor children,” I said,

“Ok,” he said slowly,

I harassed him to give me the phone number of someone he knew who worked in the Foreign Office, and started typing up a CV and a letter about how I wanted to do art projects with street children.

Later that evening Lina phoned me to say that she was planning a party for fashion week and had put me and Gina on the list. I pretend to be really cool about it on the phone, like I went to fashion week parties all the time, and then jumped up and down with excitement as soon as she hung up.

I started to boil a pan of rice and broccoli for my supper, and thought about how difficult it is to break into the Arts if you’re not from a well-off background. The reason for this is that apart from studying, you also have to do lots of projects which are unpaid or expenses only. And you have to be based in a big city such as New York, where even a small apartment will set you back several hundred dollars a month.

Consequently there is a whole social class of posh-boho kids swanning around the metropolis, working on films, art projects, music. You name it. Poorer kids can break in. But it takes a lot of guts, and luck, and long hours doing shift work to fund your studies and lifestyle.

After supper I went into my bedroom, which is painted white, intending to do a Buddhist meditation. But there was a huge spider on the wall which terrified me so I killed it with some hairspray and flushed it down the toilet. I felt bad about this but I told myself that spiders survive by eating their own brothers and sisters. The are like small embodiments of evil. Maybe this is why so many people are afraid of them.

Yummy Mummies

I spent the next morning obsessing over Rupert, I didn’t want to contact him, in case he thought me clingy. But I was cross that he’d not called me for several days. I wasn’t sure if he was in Europe still. I wanted to explain that there was nothing going on between Josh and I, but I knew if I brought it up I would instantly look guilty. I don’t buy into Plato’s theory that lovers are two halves of the same person. But I do live in hope. I think there can be a ‘right person’ for everyone, and that we shouldn’t give up searching for them.

I received a letter from my cousin Tabitha who lived over in New Hampton. Tabitha, with her huge house, cherubic children and tall architect husband. Tabitha, object of endless jealousy and aspiration. –

Dear Cara, 

I am confined to this house like an animal in a zoo. No, I can walk as far as the end of the road, if I am permitted. I spend my days fetching food and drinks, cleaning, and soothing frayed tempers. I bribe them with treats and brightly coloured TV shows, with ever diminishing returns. The elder child will not dress himself unless rewarded with chocolate. 

I find myself getting fatter. Not just filling out, but my body warping. And I am in discomfort all the time. The constipation so serve it causes cystitis and an inflammation across my lower back. I am on my feet all day, but in such a small enclosure. I get neither rest nor real exercise. There is no routine to my sleeping or eating. A wad of half digested food sits somewhere in my intestine. 

They are better behaved if I find them things to do, painting, drawing, model railways, but this requires and ever-running programme of events. And I have to be on top form as a compere. The slightest chink in my mood opens a chasm of screams and tears. Like animals waiting to spot a weakness. 

In the past couple of days there has been a story on the radio about a woman imprisoned for falsely accusing her husband of rape. She now maintains he did rape her, but she retracted the original statement under pressure from him. I suspect they did have a very complex relationship, as is the way in sadistic or domineering romances. 

It got me thinking about the bits of misogyny which are still latent in our society. Beliefs that women are nags, bridezillas, manipulative princesses, adulteresses. 

I’m sure there are women who do things they shouldn’t do. C— , D— , B— , K— to think of a few. But the notion that all women are to be mistrusted is a misogynist myth, spread by men bemoaning the fact that women are no longer waiting on men in the home and the workplace. My old firm still had a norm whereby women were expected to serve the coffee and do the more repetitive admin jobs. I suspect a lot of older men miss those days, and the younger generation of men…hmmmm…don’t want to generalise. 

I keep thinking about the commitment-phobic-man-child trend, again being careful not to generalise. I am writing about this because I had this issue chronically with two serious boyfriends before I was married. And many women I know well have talked about commitment-phobia in men. And more worryingly, many of my male friends openly talk about themselves as man-children, freaked out by the grown-up world. 

I wonder, is it partly a way of manipulating women. Getting sex, love, affection, companionship, food etc, but without having to commit. 

Demographically, groups have always sought to subjugate other groups, Whites enslaving Blacks, Romans enslaving Anglo-Saxons, Men enslaving Women. 

Is it like children getting away with what they can. Playing on your weaknesses (fear of being left on the shelf), and taking advantage of any generosity you show. 

I heard a rumour once about a guy. He was frustrated, bored and married. 

He went to see this hooker, for sex, but he was so stressy he couldn’t get it up. He ended whining at her about his problems for like an hour. She glanced at the clock. “Sorry, I’ve gone on at you,” he said. 

“That’s ok,” she said, “but I’ll have to charge you extra if you go over the hour.” 

They laughed. “You make me feel much better,” he said. 

I don’t know if they actually did it eventually. But I found out that the guy’s wife was a real nag. 

I really don’t know if this is true or not. It may just be another one of those dumb urban myths. 

 

Come visit me soon, 

Love Tabitha 

 

I was tempted to visit Tabitha. My boss was winding me up, and I thought it would be nice to sit in her garden for a few days writing notes for my dissertation and sipping homemade lemonade.

I hadn’t realised that Tabitha’s husband was such an oaf, he could more than afford a cleaner and a nanny to help with the children, and Tabitha was supposed to be finishing a journalism qualification she had begun before the children were born. It’s a first world problem, I suppose, but it made me angry that she was being treated this way.

As I left for work I thought about Katy. She had seemed lively and sober. I was trying hard to ignore her odd friends, and the elite ‘artistic’ world she was inhabiting, and concerntrating on the fact that for now at least, she seemed well and happy.

Image: Angry, abstract print by Connie

Valerian

I bought a copy of Sylvia Plath’s memoirs from Amazon, a huge book costing me just a couple of dollars.

It was an ex-library copy, with a clear plastic cover and the “BIO, 920, PLA” sticker still on the spine. I wondered what kind of library chucks out a book by Sylvia Plath, and what they would replace it with.

I mixed up a drink of valerian root and warm water, which I sipped. I slept like death for fourteen hours. When I woke I did not recognise my apartment. But I felt refreshed. Like a child just born. Yesterday I was feeling neurotic about something, but I can’t remember what it was. I put on some loose trousers and a vest, and jogged gently around the park. Stopping to stretch and look at some crocuses freshly emerged from the ground. The mud giving birth to these flashes of colour. Insects buzzing lazily in the heat, and lighting on the petals. I jogged past the water, ripples on the surface catching the light, and fat carp swimming beneath the surface. Stupid and happy, nibbling at the weed and crumbs of bread thrown in by tourists.

I was about half way through writing my dissertation. A pretentious esoteric piece on mark-making as a mystic practice. An overblown way of saying that many people do art because they like how the brush feels in their hand, and the splodgy texture of the paint on the canvas.

I called my supervisor. “Is it ok if I change my dissertation?” I said, “I want to write about a friend of mine who’s gone awol,”

“What’s that got to do with The History of Art?”

“It’s an existential piece,”

“Does your friend see herself as an existential artist?”

“No, but that makes her self expression all the more authentic,”

“We’ll talk about it,” said my supervisor. I took this to mean no Cara, you cannot write your History of Art dissertation on your screwed up friend with whom you have developed an unhealthy obsession. 

I love biros, I love writing with biros because they have a tiny ball-bearing in the nib which rolls across the page as you write. I sat at my desk for an hour writing everything I knew about Katy’s life, trying to find patterns and sense. I found pain, chaos and confusion.

The next morning I got an email from Katy.

Hi Cara.

Hope you are ok. 

Sorry for not replying. Been busy. 

Do you want to go for a drink tomorrow??

Love Katy

A week later: A Holiday in the Hamptons

I sat on the swing seat with Lina’s brother Josh. A plump boy with sandy coloured hair who worked on the trading floor of a big bank. I slipped off my shoes so I could feel the grass. “Why do girls paint their toenails?” asked Josh, looking at the lurid green polish, splodged onto my toenails earlier that evening,

“Self expression I suppose,” I replied. We could hear the others inside, the hum of voices from the kitchen.

“Do you think they’re talking about us?” he said,

I laughed. “Who cares,” I replied, “everyone here is a gossip, it’s like a disease.”

He put his arm round me and I didn’t stop him. He wasn’t attractive, but he wasn’t repulsive either. It just felt nice to have that weight resting on my shoulders. It had grown dark and the garden looked like a mass of shadows. Ominous trees loomed at the edge of the garden. “What do boys want?” I asked Josh,

“To be adored by girls,” he replied.

Boys are brought up to believe they are a small idol, and the need to be worshipped only grows as they become older. Mothers raise their sons to believe they are little princes, and then are surprised when their daughters’ hearts are broken.

I felt calm with Josh. The motion of the swing back and forth lulled me into an almost sleep, I wasn’t curious about what was being said indoors. Poison. That’s all it was. “Do you care what anyone thinks of you?” I asked Josh,

“No,” he replied. “They’re fools, the lot of them.”

“Im worried about Katy,” I said.

“She has to find her own way,” said Josh, “you can’t be her keeper.”

We fell asleep rocking slowly on the swing.

A couple of days later Josh called me at work. “I just had a call from a guy called Rupert, told me to stay away from you,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was upset or not.

I didn’t really know what to say. “I’m sorry,” I said eventually, “I don’t really know where that’s come from.”

“I didn’t know you had a boyfriend,” said Josh,

“No, neither did I,” I said.

He laughed.

“Rupert sees me occasionally and never answers his phone,” I explained.

“Why do you see him?” asked Josh,

“Because I’m an idiot,” I replied.

Catharsis

I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. Lina was right about us drinking too much. There is a lot of free wine in the art world and it’s easy to slip into semi-alcoholism. Not to mention the middle class vice of drinking wine because your boss stresses you out. “We should drink juice more often,” I said to Lina as she woke. She smiled. “I’m going to dump Paul,” she said, “wish me luck.”

I couldn’t help feeling that I might have forced her decision. I’d used my evil mind powers to break up their reltionship. What if he was the one. Just a bit slow to commit…

She reached for her phone. “Paul, where are you today, we should meet for lunch,”

I could only hear a mumble of what Paul was saying,

“LA, when did you go to LA?” asked Lina,

There was an awkward pause. I could see Lina getting angry.

“I don’t think this is working,” she said,

“No, I don’t want to talk when you get back, because I never know when that will be,”

“I guess,”

I could hear him still shouting on the other end. She snapped the phone shut. Connie who had been woken by the row put her arms round Lina. “It’s for the best,” she said.

“I know,” said Lina, and began to cry. “I really miss him,” she said. Which was stupid because she’d only just dumped him. But then again, he had been absent for much of their relationship. I think she was lonelier than she had let on. “I feel sick,” she said, curling up in a foetal position on the bed.

We spent the morning at a female-only yoga class. I could see tears running down Lina’s cheeks as she moved. I was thinking about the Celtic hero Guleesh. Selflessly brave. His gruff exterior hiding a pure, warm heart. Born long before male-neurosis, long before the wheels of industry began to turn, long before The Man, The Man who turned everything, including love, into a commodity to be bought and sold, perhaps before war itself was even invented. Born in a primordial time. A template.

Often, girls have no voice. Guleesh’s beloved was a girl cursed mute by the fairies. After carrying her to safety, he tested on himself the dangerous Elixir of Speech, before giving it to her as a cure.

The next day Paul sent Lina flowers, for the first time ever.

Seeking Arrangements

A few days later, Lina and I went to the MAC makeup store. She was doing some publicity with them, so she got lots of freebies. They had a beautiful creamy foundation, like liquid skin in a pot. Since I moved to the city my face has been a mass of blotches and pustules. I am forever on a mission to find cover-up and cream and face-masks.

“Try this Cara,” said Lina, handing me a pot the exact shade of my skin,

The assistant bustled over to me, and lifting my face to the light, began to paint my face in sweeping strokes with a big soft brush. A pale oval, smooth and radiant. “We use this in all out shoots,” said Lina, “the camera loves it.”

It was five o’clock. We walked to Connie’s, picking up food and juice on the way. “We need to detox,” said Lina. “You Brits drink like fishes, you are a bad influence on me.”

We sat at Connie’s watching YouTube videos of Brandon Wade being interviewed on different tv shows. Wade runs a couple of dating websites where rich men can meet pretty girls.

“He’s oddly likeable,” said Lina,

“Yes, kind of harmless and geeky,” I said,

Connie was annoyed. “He’s an e-pimp,” she said.

There was an openness about Wade’s operation, and the way he spoke. In several of the interviews he was directly accused of encouraging prostitution. He calmly denies this, explaining that they are romantic relationships rather than just sexual encounters.

“The trouble is,” said Lina, “that the couples agree in advance an allowance for the woman,”

“That’s what married couples used to do – housekeeping money,” I said.

“Marriage is just another form of prostitution,” said Connie, “a way of being owned by a man.”

I could tell she was angry with me for not being angry. “Brandon Wade is an insidious bastard,” she said, “the government should be working on closing the pay gap, not legalising prostitution.” She was almost spitting as she said this.

“Don’t patronise me,” I said, trying to stay calm. I love Connie, but sometimes her intensity is hard to be around. “It’s not that simple,” I said, thinking about some of the girls I’d known who had married rich men. “There are a lot of guys out there who’ve done well in business, and want some TLC from a trophy wife, and there are a lot of girls out there who are pretty, but lack the aggression to do well in business. For some people that sort of relationship can work. If no one feels they are being exploited, leave them to it I say.” This sounded flawed as I was saying it, but I felt Connie was wrong to view the world in such black and white terms.

Lina looked uncomfortable. “Yasmin said she saw Katy at the gym,” she ventured, by way of changing the subject.

“Bollocks,” said Connie, “Katy can’t afford to go to the same gym as Yasmin.”

“I think we should stop talking about Katy,” I said. More because I was bored with the gossip about her than out of respect.

Connie made us hot chocolate, and we curled up on her bed listening to The Doors. “I’m sorry I shouted at you,” she said. “I just get so cross about men.”

“Me too,” said Lina. “It isn’t working with Paul.”

“That’s because he’s a horrible vain man who doesn’t deserve you,” I said, knowing that Lina might be hurt, but in the long run, it was kindest to just say it.

Connie fell asleep, curled up like a child. She’d left all her piercings in, but she looked vulnerable.

Image: Girl by Connie