- Vol. 03
- Chapter 12
Image by Werner Stuerenburg
THE PREVIEWThe stream of consciousness bombarding him, halts with the abruptness of an ill placed full stop. He is bolted awake. The same dream has troubled him for three nights in a row, but he can recall just a single fragment; one woman’s face merging with another’s. His pounding heart provides unwelcome accompaniment to the spinning and out of focus hue of yellow bedroom curtain, and gilded edge of mirror. His eyes rush across the wall to the security of the old Trilby, bought from Camden Lock years ago, hung on a nail. This hat saw him through a string of girlfriends, then the thick and thin of a failed marriage. He jumps up, still assailed by dizziness. Blinks. Thumps a fist into his thighbone. Tells himself to get a grip. The thought of that first strong, coffee steadies him. This is the start of a weekend - no 6.30 sharp alarm today. In the bathroom, he allows a prolonged first piss to expel all overnight angst. He remembers he has a ticket to that new exhibition just opened at the Portrait Gallery. His entry slot is at noon. He licks himself over with a dabbed towel. Rubs his chin, decides he can get away with the emerging stubble.
Over Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, an icy chill descends, though outside it is bright mid-summer. He hurries down a second cup of coffee, using the burst of caffeine high to rip the plastic sheath off a newly laundered blue shirt. This brown corduroy suit, which has become a second skin, could do with dry cleaning… On the tube, he reflects. Thirty years ago, there seemed the possibility of escape. Life had stretched before him- a promised land. He unfolds the gallery ticket, and plays with it between his fingers.
THE PREVIEWA cold sweat breaks on his forehead. At last, he is inside the gallery space. He studies the guide and wonders if his hasty dismissal of an audio tour might, perhaps, have been a mistake. The collection is vast, a bequest by some American oil magnet, who, before all the publicity, he’d never heard of. There are rare, ancient artefacts (do these last); ceramics; jugendstil jewellery; mostly there are paintings, priceless and never before seen in public.
Eventually, he wanders into a small side room, pulled inexplicably toward a picture with a yellow background. It seems familiar, although there is nothing in the guide. He stands in front of it. Aghast! THIS is the image that haunted his dreams; the woman with two faces! Two faces, one face. A sphinx. Everything around him bar this image shrinks away. His vision boomerangs into a blur of yellow, brown and blue, as if he himself has entered the painting. Falling through space and time. A thud. But he feels nothing. Except again the bone chill that lunged him during breakfast. This time the cold sinks deep and fast.
A girl screams. Shouts in panic, ‘Does anyone know CPR?’ The underwater voice of another. ‘Afraid he’s gone.’