That morning he woke to find that everything he'd ever seen or felt or experienced seemed ripe for the taking, and, with little delay, set about drawing and painting anything that came to mind, viewing his subject matter from various standpoints, viewpoints, angles. Delighting in extreme distortion, he whipped up interiors like the drawstrings of a canvas bag, leaving their occupants, if any, on badly-tilting floors, reaching for walls that leaned away, windows too fluid to be opened. He painted a lot of windows: rotting frames, dangling sashes, broken panes through which neighbouring gardens were merely hinted at. He recalled, in charcoal and paint, rooms of rowdy students, the jolly neighbour who turned out to be a defrocked priest, the seedy middle-aged couple who always went together to a boarding house's only bathroom and stayed in there for an age, the Italian girlfriend who squealed loudly and constantly during sex, dripping taps, stains on ceilings, cracks on walls, faded lampshades - all this and much more went into pictures made over that and the following days, with short breaks between, food breaks, bathroom breaks, sleep breaks, as a routine established itself. Hopping back and forth between the boundaries of his thirty-nine years, he referred now to an incident that had taken place a year ago, now to one from boyhood. He recalled the so-soft flannel his grandmother washed him with when he was small, sitting on the kitchen table. His grandparents appeared in several pictures, as jovial heads whose bodies trailed away to almost nothing, or fussing giants with prematurely lined faces, or keeling over into brilliant blooms, scattering insects. His father too, a gloomy figure in his cups, alone in one of those wildly lurching rooms, or rain-sodden streets, and finally his drunken face striking sparks off a live rail. In this last there was a background figure, a wide-eyed boy with theatrically-raised hands, an expression of horror tempered by an utterly calm mouth.

He made images of people he had known or seen in environments he'd thought forgotten: schoolfriends and teachers, bosses and co-workers; the Scottish waitress in a seaside hotel who had a profile straight out of classical Greece; the one-legged tramp tripped over in Piccadilly Circus one Christmas who turned out to be dead. For a time he eschewed representations of Nina, but every so often she appeared in one guise or another. She'd been so much a part of his life, for so long, that she couldn't easily be dismissed or detached from it, but now she was just another subject and as such he returned her to many of the settings they'd known together, in a range of stances, attitudes, moods. She was topless on a foreign beach; laden with sweaters during an icy winter; doubled over with one foot in a high washbasin; alarmed by a rat racing from a skirting board. He depicted the two of them together on a hillside or standing apart in the shadow of some ruin, kicking leaves along a country lane, discovering a dead sheep trapped in a wire fence in Wales, bluebottles dining out on its eyes. There was a small back kitchen in one of their early flats where she stood ironing while he lolled idly; there were baths together, and other scenes of intimacy. Tiny memories flooded back during all this: burnt meals, unwanted visitors, letters from bank managers, book club literature they couldn't resist, mail-order catalogues that they could.

Intermittently, as the days passed, he questioned his hold on reality, his sense of place and time. It was nineteen-eighty something and he was a kid again, and then it was now, and he was still a kid. Often the scenery was shaky too, in both past and present, not quite solid yet perfectly sound. But hadn't it always been thus? You turn round, half round, and something's different, but blink, and it's just right again, or at least acceptable enough to move on from. Is it like this for everyone or must you possess (or lack) a certain kind of mind? Does this inability to maintain your grip on the what, the why, the where equate to some sort of mental imbalance, or is it simply a side-effect born of solitude? Whatever it is, whatever it's ever been, should it be a cause for concern or merely a condition to be endured, indulged perhaps? He preferred the latter view; presented it to himself as an abstract conclusion and just got on with things, not exactly whistling while he worked but more at ease than before, with himself, his surroundings, all that was and quite possibly wasn't.

Along with so many other things, he depicted the house, Bleakridge, inside and out, in all the phases of its existence that he could recall or imagine. Often the phases overlapped. The house heaved and changed, crumbled, rose again, groaned with age and confusion. It might have a lean-to shed or an outside privy, there might be chickens in the yard, or an old car parked near the door, or a horse and cart. In its semi-ruined state there were nettles all across the floor, wall to wall like a great bed, a stinging bed. Windows would reflect charcoal clouds. There might be a figure in one of them, a faceless shape gazing out. Sometimes a boy would stand on the fallen door, peering in. Inside, other boys would be scribbling on the walls, or masturbating, excited by their participation in the corruption of the place. In one picture of the interior he painted a man hanging from the main beam, by the neck.

He had no idea where that came from.


A Novel

The latest work of Cambridge-based sculptor Will Tench, shortlisted for the Turner Prize, has so outraged the pastor of a Mississippi church that a million dollar contract has been offered for his life, a threat Will laughs off until the evening he and his partner Nina return home to find their dog nailed to the inside of their front door - crucified. They flee into the night, with no destination in mind, but late the following day reach a place Will knew as a boy when it was a ruin: Bleakridge, a hilltop house with a dark history that no one speaks of these days. On impulse, he rents the house for an indefinite period, but Nina hates the place, finds every corner a threat, and eventually storms out - an escape that leads Will to begin a furious series of artworks in solitary brooding Bleakridge where, now that he's alone there, past and present begin to merge.

WORDYSOD : Michael Lawrence                          

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