[In addition to a career-spanning Clive Sinclair interview, issue #2 of Contrappasso features STR82ANL, a never-before-published novella by the British author. Here is the first of several excerpts.]
“HERE COMES ART,” says Mrs Kingfisher, as her helmetless husband roars down the Sapsuckers’ private driveway on his green-and-cream Harley Bobber. “Now we can eat.”
The others continue to stand on the lawn, lazily sipping white zinfandel from flutes, which glow in their hands like electric light bulbs. Only the English couple, Zachary and Ida Siskin, regard the new arrival with curiosity, as he leaps from his bike and embraces his wife like a sailor home from the sea.
“Do you know him?” asks Zachary Siskin.
“By reputation alone,” says his wife. “He’s a mediocre painter. Worse even than me.”
“Mr & Mrs Sapsucker would beg to differ,” Zachary replies, “at least on the self-assessment.”
Dedicated collectors of his wife’s work, they have volunteered to host a dinner in her honour, though the true Master of Ceremonies is Ruddy Turnstone, proprietor of the Turnstone Gallery, where Ida Siskin’s new show has just been hung (hence her presence in Atlanta).
Mr Sapsucker is a pain-relief specialist, and his wife a psychiatrist. Both are obviously successful, since they inhabit a mansion on West Paces Ferry Road, but neither is a good advertisement for their particular skill. Mr Sapsucker looks like a man with a bad toothache, while Mrs Sapsucker comes over as a crazy woman. Who else but a crazy woman would think of dressing like Ophelia saved from drowning, with various fresh flowers pinned to her dress, and magnolias in her hair?
One of the live-in maids comes running from the house to whisper something in her ear, whereupon Mrs Sapsucker beckons her guests to follow her into the house. She offers a brief tour, the purpose of which is to show off the five Siskins the Sapsuckers already own. Being keen to make it an even half-dozen Ruddy Turnstone has brought along a self-portrait from the new exhibit. He hangs it above the mantelpiece in the dining room (replacing an amateur effort by Mrs Sapsucker herself) so that all can admire it in situ while the meal is consumed. Hired help serve the expectant diners with cold soup. Pacific Rim Gewurztraminer (chilled to the bone) is poured.
Arturo Kingfisher, who also shows at the Turnstone Gallery, examines Ida Siskin’s portrait with a professional eye. She paints herself as though she were the child of darkness and shadow, he thinks, and what has emerged is dishonestly presented. Her lips are pursed, her features pinched. Something essential has been held back, deliberately secreted in the darkness and the shadow. She looks like… I know… she looks like a chatelaine. The chatelaine of her own psyche, the jailer of improper and improbable desires. He takes a candid look at the original. For God’s sake, he thinks, the woman is the double of Simone Signoret. If I were Mr Siskin I should make haste to pick that lock, lest someone beats me to it. He dips his spoon in the white soup. It tastes of custard and vanilla, and is an unpleasant reminder of the Zupa Nic or ‘Nothing Soup’ of his detested homeland. He hears his wife asking Zachary Siskin about the flight from London.
“Entirely predictable,” the Englishman replies, “even the dream I had was the sort of dream you’d expect to have at 30000 feet above sea level. It went like this. I entered a row of ruined terraced houses turned into a Theatre of the Grotesque, and showed my ticket to an usherette, who wordlessly tore off the stub and led me up innumerable flights of steps. Reaching the top at last she switched on her torch. Its beam penetrated the darkness, and I saw that my seat was not in a row of velvet-covered push-downs, but on a narrow ledge attached to the building’s back wall. Facing the bricks I shuffled along the plank, which was made of varnished wood. Not unlike a bookshelf, it occurred to me in the dream. I rotated anti-clockwise on my heels, and lowered myself cautiously, until my backside was resting on something solid, though my feet were dangling over the void. I could just make out my wife, far below in the stalls. She was obviously trying to tell me something, but I could neither hear nor lip-read over such a distance. By now I was not alone on the ledge. A young woman was sitting to my left. For the longest while nothing passed between us. Finally I said, ‘Remind me not to stand up…’ At which point a stewardess shook my shoulder, said something about clear air turbulence, and ordered me to fasten my seat belt.”