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

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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

July 13th

Another scanned page from Katy’s diary. I’m not really sure what to make of the comment about her mum (who was / is a Valium addict). Either Katy was truly trying to sort her life out and had gone anti-drugs. Or she was just being hypocritical.