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

Dying inside

 This is an excerpt from Katy’s diary, written around that time. It sheds some light on the situation between her an her “boyfriend” Fraser. She was always very cagey about him:

 

June 30th

I can feel things dying between Fraser and me. I need to get out. He is so controlling he is driving me mad. He calls me everyday to come over. I have to go round and see him. He wants sex, and if I say no he goes into a rage, saying I take advantage of him. So I have sex with him, it doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t feel like it used to, so I try to switch off until he finishes. Afterwards I say shall we get some food, and he says how are you going to do that, you have no money and you can’t cook. I need to get a new boyfriend. He throws thirty dollars at me and says get yourself some food on your way home, I’m not hungry. So I leave and pick up Japanese food on the way back home. But I don’t feel like eating it so I leave it on the countertop. I hate this flat. It isn’t my home. It’s Fraser’s flat. His spare flat. Who even needs to own two flats in Manhattan. So I call TJ. He comes over with some pills and we have sex on my sofa after taking some strong Valiums which he got from across the border. Would Fraser mind that I am having sex with TJ? I don’t think he would care. 

How’s your mum? Asked TJ. She’s still in the mental home. It’s sweet of you to remember. I said. 

I had an auntie once who was mad. He said. We went out on the balcony and smoked. I want to send her some flowers, I said, but I don’t have any cash. TJ pressed $100 into my hand. Call me any time you need anything, he said. 

The next morning I went to the florists, I felt woozy. I thought about asking the lady in there if there are any jobs going, but I knew they would probably pay about $4 an hour, and I was behind on my Uni work. I had an essay to finish, and I needed to be on set almost every day for the next month. I sent a big bunch of lilies to my mum. Then I called Nosey Erica our old next door neighbour, to see if there was any news. She said your mum is safe. What did she mean by safe? She was still on heavy medication, but was allowed to walk around town with her social worker. Erica had spotted them in Starbucks. How did she look? Thin. Said Erica. Just Thin. 

I googled my dad. There were just some news stories about his disappearance. Saying that he had defrauded his clients and run off. This isn’t true. What happened wasn’t his fault. The market turned against him, and he lost his money as well as theirs. Everyone forgets this. He lost everything. No wonder he needs to hide. He has no money, and everyone is chasing him. Maybe he has changed his name. It hurts to think about it. I look in my bag for Valiums but I can’t find them. I must have left them at home. I go to work on the set and try not to think about it all. 

Film is the only good thing in my life right now. I am collecting shells and lanterns for a grotto I need to make. And I went to MAC today with the makeup artists to pick out colours. 

 

My mother used to say that behind every car-crash of a woman, there is a deeply unpleasant man. I used to disagree with her on this, saying that women should shape their own destinies, and not blame men for their problems. She would say, “that’s all very well Cara, but you have a nice, generous father, and no-one has ever locked you in a Cambodian rape-camp.”

Then she would go back to smoking her roll-up and reading Simone de Beauvoir.

 

Lina

Lina was a good friend of ours. She came from a moderately wealthy if dysfunctional New York family, and she seemed to know everyone. Gina and I often had lunch with her, she worked nearby and always had good gossip.

Lina was seeing this guy called Paul. They had a fairly good relationship on a day to day basis, but of course Lina was not allowed to mention words such as: relationship, commitment, future, girlfriend, boyfriend, family, children. Obviously the word marriage was not permitted in his presence, even in relation to other people.

Like most women, Lina was on the pill. She had sex with Paul about four times a week at his apartment, when he could fit it around work. He was a club promoter. He spent a lot of time around pretty girls, but as far as I know he wasn’t sleeping with anyone other than Lina.

I heard about this conversation because Lina recounted it to me when we went to lunch. She was en-route to buy a pregnancy test:

Lina said to Paul, “I’m late for my period.” She was quiet and withdrawn, the words barely making it out of her mouth.

“What do you mean?” demanded Paul,

“Normally I would have got it by now, and it’s not come. I don’t feel ill. But normally I’m quite regular.”

“This is ridiculous, what are you trying to say. I thought you were on the pill.”

“I am,” said Lina defensively. “All I said was, I should have got my period by now, but I’m late.”

“I can’t deal with this right now,” said Paul, grabbing his things, and leaving for work. His breakfast unfinished on the countertop.

Lina called me later that day. I was sitting in my office trying to prepare a catalogue for an upcoming exhibition.

“It’s ok,” said Lina, “false alarm.” I was so relieved for her. Not that Lina wouldn’t make a great mum, or that there is anything wrong with people having kids.

“That’s great,” I said,

“I spoke to the doctor,” said Lina, “she said that if you’re very stressed, or tired, or lose a bit of weight, it’s not unusual to skip a period.”

“I didn’t know that,” I said. “What are you going to do about Paul?” I asked, before I could stop the words from tumbling out of my mouth.

“What do you mean?” said Lina,

“Nothing,” I said, trying to backtrack.

“I have to go,” said Lina.

We hung up and I tried to concentrate on my work.

Image: Baby, by Connie

A drink, and a late phone call

So, I went for my one drink. It was difficult not to like The Model. She was the single most harmless human being I had ever met; once I had trained myself to not stare at her, skin taught over hip and cheekbones, wisps of baby hair falling across her face. Her nails were still rouged from her last shoot, but other than this she wore no make up. Her face slightly glossy from a layer of Nivea cream. Probably bought from a dime-store. She sat, angular before me, an elbow jutting as she sipped a Mojito. “How’s work?” I asked her. This is usually a safe question. “Fine, I did a shoot for Banana Republic, and I have an audition for Gap tomorrow.” She nodded as she spoke, her head looked too heavy for her neck, which was really slender, even for a model.

“Cool,” I said. She was really young, and had travelled a long way alone. I was genuinely pleased for her.

“But my agency want me to loose ten pounds,” she said.

“Why?”

“I have a good face for runway, but I’d be too big for the sample sizes,”

I baulked, visibly. “You’re so not fat,” I said. In the way you would to a slightly plump friend you’re trying to reassure.

“I know, but the samples are so small. My waist needs to be like, 22 inches.”

“What is it now?”

“Twenty-four.”

“That’s tiny,” I said, trying to imagine how all the organs would fit inside that space.

“But it’s my career,” she said. “I can’t not do it.”

That night I called Gina. It must have been about three am. “I’m really worried about The Model,” I said, “I think she has anorexia,”

“Duh, that’s like, her job,” said Gina,

“Don’t be mean,”

“Sorry, jeez what time is it?”

“I saw her today and she said she was going to lose ten pounds,” I said,

“What!! That would make her like, minus three pounds, or something. Where the hell is she going to lose it from?” said Gina, trying to picture The Model’s body, minus ten pounds.

“What did you say to her?” asked Gina.

“I said – you’re not fat, but she wants to go ahead anyway,”

“Trouble is,” said Gina, “if she wants to work in New York, she has to do what they tell her, otherwise she’ll be shipped back to Ohio.”

Image: Fashion Sketch, by Connie

A Jigsaw

I was trying to piece together Katy’s life, without asking her too directly what she was up to. I was glad Annalika’s exhibition was over. I watched from my desk as workmen carefully wrapped the 8ft by 6ft pornographic prints. Too embarrassed even to make a lewd comment, there was something reverent in the way the worked. Placing each piece in a crate, and labelling it with a number. Sticking a “this way up” sticker, with a huge arrow. This amused me because half the pictures showed Annalika hanging upside-down in various poses.

I knew Katy was friends with several people on the indie-film circuit, so I called up a few of them. Katy had been spotted at several events, mainly with Fraser. She was still working hard on the film, and had attended a workshop run by Patricia Field. Her so-called friends from the film circuit sounded too blase when speaking of her. She was fun, and moderately talented as a film stylist. Did any of them really care about her? I doubt it. Wannabe scenes are difficult for friendships, aspiring film-makers, aspiring fashion designers, aspiring actors. Everyone is chasing after the same few opportunities, so it’s not exactly a crucible for perfect platonic friendship.

Porsche-guy asked me if I would meet up with The Model. Apparently she was lonely, and he was too busy to see her. “I’m busy,” I said. “Please,” he begged, “I’ve been a bit of a shit, leading her on, and now she’s got really clingy.”

“Is she your girlfriend?” I asked,

“God-knows, she stays over quite a lot, but really, I’m way too old for her, and we have nothing to talk about, she’s from Ohio.”

I felt sorry for her. “One drink,” I said, “tell her to meet me at Hollywould’s, five thirty.”

Image: Eye, print by Connie