We settle on three times a week. He comes ostensibly for an hour on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, after his law lectures and tutorials have finished for the day, but always stays longer than the allotted time. He draws and sketches under my guidance for the hour then we talk and sometimes share a meal, some wine. While he draws I am a stern master, I am relentless in bringing his art out of him. I think I frighten him somewhat, and reflect that he would be even more frightened if he knew of the powers of my own secret Art. But he need not fear me. I could never hurt him, never touch a hair on his head except in tenderness.
I have not painted any more ‘future’ paintings since we met. I have not seen the need. I want our actual relationship to be free of this, to follow its own path, or so I believe at first.
He is a lively conversationalist. He is very intelligent, and this is true beyond all bias I may be permitted by my love. He is very proficient in his legal studies. He hopes to be admitted early to the Bar and from there to have a colourful and celebrated career in the law. His grandfather was a Queens Counsel, anything less would seem like failure. But he also wishes to explore his creativity, so he comes to me. I encourage him, it draws us closer.
– Do you think I suffer from hubris Paul, to want both the law and also art?
– I think one must have ambitions, and the loftier the better. In your case, I think you can have both. Beautiful boy, do you not know people such as yourself are the darlings of the gods?
I am allowed florid language because I am an artist and a celebrated one.
– Whatever do you mean?
– Physical beauty is its own ticket. You know this, do not deny it. Never be dishonest with me, I will see through it and it will hurt your art. You know this to be true.
He stops his sketching and looks at me with his incredible eyes. On our better acquaintance I know now his eyes to be large and a very pale grey in colour. I have never seen eyes like them. They are calm, like a storm covered sea before the tumult, or perhaps like the first dawning of the morning after the deluge, before the sun can paint the sky.
– I know that people tend to..indulge me because of how I look..but not always..not always
– Come now, what has been denied you?
– More than you might suppose…I cannot have everything I want..sometimes what I want most seems..impossible..completely and utterly unobtainable..
He looks away, a deep regret in his eyes. He is speaking of someone or something specific. Hope flares in my heart. Did he speak of me? Does he see his mentor as so far above him that he cannot be reached? It is too soon to test this, too soon, but hope makes us willfully blind. Or perhaps it destroys our critical faculties, our sense of examination. I settle quickly and desperately on the interpretation that he is speaking cryptically of me and do not entertain for one conscious second that he could speak of anyone else.
In my apartment, in our private world of art, there is no-one else. It is unthinkable.
– Perhaps even what you do not expect can be yours
I suggest. He looks at me doubtfully, but hopeful.
– Do you think so? Do you always get what you want Paul?
I am bitter for a moment, and aware he has mis-understood me. He is everything I am not, so he will have what he desires far more easily. It seems cruel and heartless to compare as he seeks to do.
He seems genuinely surprised. He has stopped drawing entirely now and is just looking at me, eager for some other kind of knowledge. I realize he is innocent to the harm he has done and may continue to do. It is not his fault. He does not know. How could he know my experience? How could any other, for that matter, and particularly one so different?
– Richard, the world is not as kind to me as it might be to you.
– But you are famous, celebrated..
– Yes, that came to me in time, but when I was your age, my life was far more circumscribed. I was eternally aware of my own ugliness, to the same degree I think that you are innocent of your beauty…
– You’re not ugly Paul
I shut my eyes. I couldn’t bear to look at him and his ill-judged generosity.
– No, Paul, you’re not..why would you think that?
I opened my eyes. I couldn’t speak. I shook my head at him, warning him to stop. But his hand reached out and touched me! Touched me! And there, there..oh, for the love of god..there on my harelip..a tender, gentle touch, unafraid, almost in wonder.
– Is this why you think that? This little thing?
– This little thing as you call it is not little to me..it is a disfigurement
– You can hardly see it Paul..they did a good job on it
– You see it Richard!
I am trying to warn him to stop. I cannot bear it, his kindness, and the slow, creeping realisation that perhaps it is not kindness at all, perhaps he really believes it..perhaps I am not ugly to him. It is too much. Everything I have hoped and dreamed of but schooled myself to never, ever expect. Ongoing pain is easy compared to this – you get used to it, you adapt. The hope of..acceptance..is far harder. I do not think I can cope with that. I am close to tears.
– I see it, but it’s not that much..it’s almost..charming..Paul..your face is..beautiful in its own way
– Don’t patronize me
– Oh God, I’m not..I would never!
He is genuinely distressed. He stands up and walks away, looking out the window behind him, as though he believes he has lost the right to look at me.
– Paul, please..
He says finally, still not daring to turn to look at me.
– I am earnest..you are not ugly..not in the least..you are distinguished, your form echoes your art and your soul..I don’t think..I really don’t think..an ugly man could paint as you do
With this he turns to me, but I see this only in my peripheral vision, for I have turned away myself, to hide the tears in my eyes.
– You know so little
I say, derisive, self-defensive.
He says, his low, sonorous voice like a siren call to me across the room.
– But what I know, I know is true
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved