What Would Aesop Say?
“Tara? Tara Bay?”
The peroxide blond in the faux fur coat startles at the sound of her name. She swings around to face him, with the glazed expression of a 17th century femme fatale who just showed up not realizing it was a masqued ball – maybe she can wing it?
Come on. Don’t try to pretend you don’t know who I am, he thinks. This is the third time this week he’s seen her, for the want of a better word, loitering, outside his house. She’ll have read the newspapers. They all have. She’s good, he’ll give her that. Those beautiful eyes, somewhere between cornflower and robin’s egg blue reveal not a spark of recognition, though they’ve softened a little at the edges, but that’s probably on account of the way the proverbial crow has done its handiwork over the years. He thought she’d have worn better than this. You never can tell.
He steps to the side into the spotlight of the streetlamp, extends his arms as if he’s going to break into "O Sole Mio." Not a glimmer.
“Look, I’m sorry but –”
“You’re kidding me. Not the Clem Wetherspoon? Clement. Everyone called you Inclement because your surname had weather in it.”
She’s grinning now. Hard not to comment on the lipstick on her teeth.
“But you’re not ginger anymore,” she says, tilting her head. Surely she knew that? He’s photographed often enough these days.
“That’s the good thing about going grey,” he says. “Anyway, the artist in me would say it was titian.”
“I wouldn’t know,” she laughs, patting her own hair. He liked her better when her hair was the colour of orange blossom honey. She pulls her coat tight around her, shifts from black stiletto to black stiletto.
“It’s cold,” he says, “Would you like to come inside for a coffee?”
“What? You live here?”
As if she doesn’t know.
“I’m not sure . . .”
“Oh, come on, Tara. For old time’s sake. It’s not like you don’t know me. We were buddies back in the day . . .”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that. But you did paint me in art class and I thought it was lovely how you captured me. You made me look good enough to hang in a gallery. I don’t think I’d ever sat still for so long.”
“Well none of the others would have done it for me. And everyone else had someone to draw. I wouldn’t have got my A Level if it wasn’t for you. So come on. I owe you a coffee at least.”
She shrugs. “I don’t know. I should really be getting on.”
“I promise I’m not an axe murderer.”
She laughs. “That’s what all axe murderers say.”
Five minutes later he can’t believe the Tara Bay is actually in his kitchen drinking coffee. She was his first crush. “Tara Bay’s a babe, isn’t she?” Tommy Collins had asked him once and he’d said nothing but blushed to the roots of his carrot top. They never let him forget it. She’s taken off her coat and is looking pretty good now, he’ll admit, though her little black dress is perhaps a little too short. Not that she hasn’t still got the legs to carry it off.
“So, you’re an artist?” she says. She’s left lip-prints on her cup, which she’s trying to wipe off with her thumb.
No leave it, it’s perfect.
“A sculptor to be precise.”
You mean you really expect me to believe you don’t know?
OK. Have it your own way, Tara, I’ll play along.
“I guess you could say that. In my own field, at least. I’m best known for my hyper-realistic figures. I’m not the only artist who works in this medium to be fair, but collectors like my modern ‘take’. "She-God," for instance, was my own Athene Parthenos. Not chryselephantine of course. I sculpted her from clay in the first instance then replaced it with a mixture of fiberglass, silicone and resin. And she stands at 15 feet rather than 40. Instead of Nike in her palm, she has an exact replica of the iPhone 8 and I replaced the aegis with a Louis Vuitton tote. Rather than the head of Medusa on her breastplate I gave her the head of a man – Man himself, if you like – I fashioned him on Brad Pitt with a touch of George Clooney. She sold for just over one million. An anonymous buyer. Last I heard she was on her way to Hollywood.”
She looks bewildered. He opens up his laptop, shows her some of the press releases.
“And you live here? It’s not exactly the best part of town.”
“It has a great basement where I keep all my materials. And the light in my studio is just perfect.”
“Can I see?”
Oh yes, you’re getting your feet right under the table, aren’t you, Tara Bay? You think I’m going to fall for your little game.
He leads her up to the studio on the third floor. The curtains are open and the light of the full moon spills across the laminate floor. On his workbench, the maquette he will begin working on at dawn is waiting to be cut from a new block of clay. He wanders over to it, lifts the edge of the polythene cover and inhales deeply, filling his lungs with the sweet, earthy promise of not-yet-curves. Tara Bay watches him intently then strolls over to the female armature in the corner, running her hand over the wiry hips. “It looks like a Shogun warrior,” she enthuses.
This is perfect.
“Nightcap?” he says at her shoulder. She nods.
I can’t believe this. I’m asking Tara Bay if she’d like a nightcap and she said yes.
He patters downstairs to the kitchen. She won’t be able to resist.
Two glasses and a bottle of his best brandy in his hands, he nudges the studio door open with his foot, at the exact moment Tara Bay, silhouetted by the moonlight, leans in to smell the clay, then a little closer, as if to put her lips to the cool, clammy perfection of it, before she reaches out to the unbirthed form, just about where the waist will be.
as if to paint
the Chapel fresco
her finger placed
just so, breathing life
into the clay
from her own dark chaos
now dances on the wind
with feet of light
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” he yells.
She jumps back, rubbing her hands together like she’s Lady Macbeth.
“I didn’t mean – ”
“You hang around on the street outside my house, then you think you can come up here and act like you know nothing about who I am and how I’ve made a name for myself – ”
“I had no idea you lived here!” she says, running down the stairs to the kitchen, grabbing her coat from the chair, “and I wish I’d never found out! You’re weird, Clem Wetherspoon, just weird, same as you always were!”
“And you’re nothing but a gold-digger, Tara Bay, just like I knew you would be!”
“You know nothing about me,” she almost sobs, “Or my life!”
He slams the door behind her, peers through the letterbox and watches her clip-clop clip-clop down the path, into the street, into the night.
He can see it already. For the garden, perhaps. Not for sale. Not at first. Something not unlike Picasso’s moon-white nude. A Marie-Thérèse of his own.
He stands by the studio window, sipping his brandy and looks out towards the corner where he first saw her three nights ago. Five hundred metres away a prostitute has just started to work her patch.
He pulls the curtains shut. The clay is waiting.