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16 The New Corker

THE ARTIST (PART I OF II) Philip Saunders

Stories, like human beings, work best when they explore the un- chartered territories of oneself, the world and beyond- when they focus outward instead of inward. Indulgence, whilst often attrac- tive, soon grows rancid. Besides, no one really likes their own re- flection;

least of all Sal Kennedy...

A bad beginning for you: the cab was gone. There. Were you ex- pecting the best of times, univer- sally acknowledged? I’m no Ishmael. Stately, get your skates on: there was a young man who was once late. It was the morning of the first interview, and all journalists worth their salt would’ve told you that days like these were the real crest of suc- cess.

Under fire, Sal had stuck a

flock of memos to the window of his studio, and for a whole week he had sat up like a cooped ca- nary trying not to forget the words. But the yellow notes had blocked the light this morning, and he couldn’t afford extras like clocks with built-in alarms. These days, isolation had

grown like some terrible ivy all around him, to be observed in the passing hours and seconds after the stroke of night when he’d lie wide awake in bed, impaled with a bloodless longing for home, through noon when the blankets would start to feel like a hug of sympathy. And then he had run like the

wind to the appointed square, perspiring in the pale Irish sun. He was fit at least: heed the small graces. The clock said nine- thirty, but nothing was more pointless than being on time for an early bird. He shivered. Christ. The Editor would burst a vein when he found out he had missed a prepaid cab. Why today, of all times? What

about the plan? He had made it here for a start, one way from the east seaboard of Massachusetts on negligible money. Galway was a new world for him, no sign of a black death here (hee-hee). But he still missed the perks of being captain of the Nantucket rowing team, informal as they had been. Everyone had kept saying he

was a fool to bet his whole life on an internship- these kinds of openings attracted youngsters like bins attracted maggots. Today was the endgame of that wager. He’d been given this one chance, a close encounter with Guido Polo, the revered engineer and inventor from Venice, who had come to the island under the pretence of “getting away from it all.”

He lived out west in an old

castle in Silverlining, well be- yond the clench of civilisation. Not that it mattered- it was all

over now. As a gesture of defiance, Sal Kennedy bummed a Lucky Strike cigarette from a passing tramp and lit up, hoping this would impress a pair of tall brunettes sun- bathing on the grass. He hoped the weather they were expecting would come. As a rule, Eyre Square was most

often visited by college students and bureaucrats to have lunch and to disapprove of tourism, but there were exceptions: people like him. Four gallivanting teenagers hold- ing hurleys were passing by, on their way to the shopping centre beyond. ‘Could you lend us a ciggie pal?’ one of them shouted confidently. ‘I’m all out,’ he lied. ‘Stupid yanks,’ they retorted, run- ning out into the traffic. He gave up. Retrieving his

leather jacket from the grip of a few brave pigeons, Sal left the en- virons of Eyre Square and crossed the zebra to the busy cluster be- yond. Shortly the Editor would call with a fire. He wouldn’t bother handing in his notice before then. The sky begrudged. He kicked a stout can along the

ground, taking little notice of his streets, full of colour and people walking and shopping and spilling out of pubs behind drafts of warm air to smoke and shout into phones. He was so absorbed in his own bubble he didn’t notice an old grey convertible Volvo following him a short distance behind. For a while the Volvo trundled

along slowly, matching his slow pace, stemming the flow of traffic in the narrow street. Not com- pletely divorced from his senses, soon Sal couldn’t help but notice a grey blob in the periphery. He looked around, and straight away the car leapt off with a gassy purr through the traffic lights, turning left into a side street. He was too preoccupied to care.

‘How am I going to tell my friends?’ he said. ‘They’d say they told me so, and they’d be right.’ Being wrong and knowing it stung worse than any tragedy. A park. This was off route, but

he wasn’t in any particular rush. He meandered along the gravel in the cool shadow of a grove of eu- calyptuses, wondering what karma looked like. It felt good to breath the air of the tall trees sitting in silent decorum, and listen to the enraged seagulls converging on the roofs. Suddenly a public telephone

began to ring near the pines. For him? Suspicious Aloysius:


couldn’t be. More likely it was some nerd ringing up the park in- quiring about shutting hours. Or just a wrong number. He kept walking, and the ringing faded without cease. Outside the freshly painted gate, he encountered a lady pushing a pram of conjoined twins. He bowed his head respectfully. He reached a busy two-way

street with cherry trees along the island. Outside a small Centra, two

bin-men leapt off a big yellow carousel right in front of him as if he was invisible. Sal wondered about asking them for a job. He imagined the interview. Touch your toes, please. Hold still while I check your skull for echoes. With a pen, tap tap. You’re in, congratu- lations. He had once been told that

strange things often occurred in the approximate land of Synge and Yeats. He’d been passing a depart- ment store on the following street. Barely within earshot of the hiss- ing door, he heard the intercom re- verberating out of the inner depths of polished lino and busy clothes racks; ‘Telephone for Sal Kennedy on line 101 please.’ He was dismayed: how could

they have known? More than any- thing he wanted to be back in the silence of his room so he could think. Attracting a flurry of glances, he ran and ran across the road to the alley behind Elizabeth Cross. ‘Maybe I didn’t sleep enough last night,’ he told himself, looking for his key amid a whole menagerie of free danglers he had collected throughout the years. Upstairs, the kitchen blinds

were still shut and the flat was in darkness. There was a dead smell in the air, a metallic piquancy. He hadn’t seen his flatmate for weeks now- he didn’t even know his name. Sal wondered if he was dead. At the very least, a written account of that might have cur- tailed the damage of losing the Dr Polo gig. All he knew was that he painted

for a living; last night he had spied several of the canvases hidden be- hind the couch. Weren’t artists a waste of space anyway- they never made a dime to speak of. Yet now he had a strange compulsion to in- spect the canvases. Choosing one at random, he carefully slid it out of the shadows and laid it on the floor. It depicted a single white flower,

pushing up through harsh red dust of a distant Martian landscape. About halfway, the Aresiac redness of the plain smudged into the pale yellow horizon, further up melting into the murkiness of space, where a single constellation of stars shone with a cold, fierce clarity. In the bottom right corner was a looped signature in gold: Beacan. He should have taken the time

to get to know him, something. Long before now. He should have been more curious about the peo- ple he passed on a daily basis. Sal lit another cigarette and slid onto the couch. He was on the verge of agoraphobia when a phone rang somewhere, again. Ring, ring. Christ. Sal didn’t have a cell- they were

way out of his financial league. Frantically he tracked the sound to a pile of art books that weren’t his. Under various titles of Escher, Turner and Bacon he found it: a cheap wireless handset. How could this be possible? He didn’t have a home phone.

Gingerly he placed it on the man- telpiece and sat on the chair,

The New


watching the screen flash madly. He considered. Should he answer? He would, so be it- and he’d tell them to fuck off. ‘Hello?’ he said. ‘Is this Sal Kennedy, 24 Elizabeth Cross?’ said a faint voice. ‘Yes it is,’ he replied. ‘Thank you sir. Your taxi is wait- ing.’ Sal blinked. Dazed, he walked downstairs to

the front entrance by the road, un- sure of what to expect. Outside the sun was back, whitening the con- crete all around. There was no taxi. Instead, parked on the double-yel- low by the kerb was that old grey convertible Volvo he had seen ear- lier.

An ageless, laconic young man

with small eyes was leaning on the bonnet in the act of stowing away his phone. He was dressed strangely- boots, skinny black cor- duroys dirtied with spots of paint and a maroon pinstriped blazer with the sleeves rolled up. He was laughing. ‘You’re late!’ he said. Sal didn’t recognize him at all,

and was in no mood to be polite. ‘Who are you?’ he demanded. ‘You don’t know me?’ said the young man. ‘No.’ ‘But we live together!’ he said. ‘We’ve been flatmates for the last twelve weeks! Surely you must recognise me from somewhere.’ Now that he said it, there was an odd, mystical familiarity about that face, like a déjà-vu. ‘I’ve forgotten,’ said Sal, troubled. ‘I get single-minded when I’m working. You’re an artist, aren’t you? Beacan isn’t it?’ ‘That’s Mr Beacan to you.’ ‘Mr Beacan?’ ‘Pleased to meet you.’ ‘No I mean why Mr?’ ‘Isn’t that the polite title you use here?’ said the artist. ‘What do you mean “here”?’ ‘Never mind.’ ‘You’ve been following me today.’ ‘I was trying to offer you a lift to Silverlining, but you kept running,’ the artist said. ‘Silverlining.’ Sal was almost mys- tified. ‘How did you know I needed to get to Silverlining?’ ‘Everyone knows.’ ‘You’re crazy,’ said Sal. ‘I’ll explain it to you in the car,’

said Beacan. ‘There’s not much time!’ Sal got in. As Beacan navi-

gated the busy streets to the main road leading out of the city, music fizzing out of the radio full volume, he closely inspected the leather seats and reflected that his flatmate was indeed better off than he was.

every artist is a cannibal every poet is a thief all kill their inspiration and sing about their grief...*

Beacan turned off the radio

suddenly, and rummaged in his blazer pocket. His hand emerged holding a cell phone, blaring a gawky Beethoven ringtone. ‘It’s for you,’ he said. Sal took the cell, bewildered. ‘Hello?’ ‘Hi buddy, this is John.’ The Editor, Christ. ‘No time, but I wanted to apolo- gise for cancelling your taxi this morning. The Italian was having double thoughts about being in- terviewed. Egotistical genius types- you know what I mean. Wankers who think the sun re- volves around them. You must be home now. How are you?’ Sal could barely speak. ‘I’m on the road to Silverlining.’ He looked sidelong at Mr Bea- can. ‘With a friend.’ ‘All the better!’ the Editor said. ‘I’m impressed by your initia- tive. Do what you can Sal. Don’t worry if Dr Polo gives you the slip- that’s an indication in itself. I’ll be noting this in your refer- ence. Congratulations.’ The line died. Beside him,

Beacan grinned idly. He was dis- tracted by the scene ahead: a shoal of nimbus clouds, wander- ing like spilt ice cream across the sky over the hills. They rose like giant mounds of bleached moss, walling two sides of the valley, down along which a lone blue stream ran noisily to the sea. The fire was quenched. ‘So tell me,’ said Sal, feeling bet- ter, ‘what does everyone know?’

~to be continued~

October 26th 2010

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