from issue #2: ‘STR82ANL’ by Clive Sinclair (excerpt III)

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[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 third of several excerpts.]

MEANWHILE, alone in their 7th floor hotel room, Zachary Siskin is beginning to pine for Ida. When the phone rings sometime after midnight he assumes—not unreasonably—that she is calling to explain her absence.

“Where are you?” he says.

“Perhaps I should tell you who I am,” a man answers, “before I tell you where I am. Hickory Waxwing at your service. Ruddy Turnstone’s right-hand man. That’s the who. The where is downstairs in the lobby. Now for the why. When he got home from the Sapsuckers’ soiree—which he said had developed into the dinner party from hell—my lord and master immediately dispatched me to guide you through Atlanta’s demimonde. ‘Leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of pleasure,’ were his instructions. I am here to carry them out to the letter. Am I to understand that your wife has not yet returned? Meet me in the bar, and we’ll wait out her coming in the company of good ol’ Jim Beam.” Hickory Waxwing adds that he is easy to spot, his hair being the colour of a Georgia peach (though not naturally so).

Sure enough Zachary Siskin spots him easily. Both men order their bourbon neat.

“Have you noticed,” says the blond-haired one, “that our names are practically homonyms? Though we don’t look much alike. And probably don’t act much alike either. What is it you do, Mr Siskin?”

“I’m a rabbi,” replies Zachary.

“Jesus,” exclaims Waxwing, “a Jewish one?”

“Most of us are,” replies Zachary.

Hickory Waxwing whistles.

“I would never have guessed,” he says. “Does it bother you to be seen with someone like me?”

“Someone like you I do not know about,” replies Zachary, “but with you I have no problem.”

“I was under the impression that your God took a dim view of Sodom and its eponymous perversion,” says Hickory.

“Fuck my God,” says Zachary Siskin, “I am a rabbi not because I believe in Him, but because I believe in man.”

“I believe in men, too,” counters Hickory, “but not to the extent that I worship them.”

“I don’t worship man, either,” says Zachary, “I simply maintain that he has the capacity to do harm, and the capacity to do good, and that it is my duty to encourage the latter proclivity.”

“Encouragement is perfect,” says Hickory, “the problem with religion over here is that it’s all about control.”

Is that what I am doing, wonders Zachary, trying to control Ida? Nevertheless he calls up to their room three times during the course of the next hour, to check if she has returned unobserved, or at least left a message to ease his worried mind.
From Hickory he learns that his wife had left the party with the Kingfishers. Although it is close to 2.00 am he phones their home. Mrs Kingfisher picks up. He makes his apologies, and is assured that Ida is fine.

“She’s with Art in his studio,” the woman adds. “Been there for a couple of hours at least. I can only assume that he persuaded your wife to sit for him after all. He can be a very persuasive man.”

Zachary downs another measure of Jim Beam (his sixth) and says to his new bosom buddy: “Okay, Hickory, let’s go turn over a stone or two.”

Waxwing does a double-take. He knows how to burn the candle at both ends, but doesn’t know how much of this knowledge he should share with a rabbi.

“What is it you’re hoping to find under them?’ he asks.

“Naked women,” replies Zachary.

“What sort?” asks Waxwing, beginning to wonder if his companion really is what he said he was.

“Not whores,” replies Zachary, “dancers.”

“You want to see a titty show?” exclaims Waxwing.

An excerpt from Clive Sinclair’s novella STR82ANL, whichappears in issue 2 of Contrappasso Magazine, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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from issue #2: ‘STR82ANL’ by Clive Sinclair (excerpt II)

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[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 second of several excerpts.]

MRS KINGFISHER SAYS “Goodnight” cheerfully enough as Ida follows Arturo’s Maglight down the garden path to his studio at its furthest end. He unlocks its door, switches on its lights, and points towards an easel at its centre, to which a canvas is secured. The first thing Ida notices is that the model is naked (save for a discreet scrap of white towelling).

“You didn’t mention anything about me having to take my clothes off,” observes Ida.

“That’s because it’s not obligatory,” replies Arturo.

“How many have kept them on?” asks Ida.

“None,” replies Arturo, “but that’s because they are determined to demonstrate that no mutilation can stop them remaining objects of desire.”

“Bollocks,” laughs Ida, “they strip because you’re a bully.”

“You are suggesting that I threaten them with my fists, or put a gun to their heads?” he asks in mock-outrage.

“Don’t be an idiot,” says Ida. “You know as well as I do that the relationship between painter and sitter is a form of wrestling. In the end one has to submit to the will of the other. Which is why—despite the entreaties of Ruddy—I have declined to accept commissions from the likes of Elton John. I fear that his very presence in my studio would force me to produce a representation, something that would be much more to his liking than mine. So I stick with sunflowers, anemones, and anonymous models. That way I can make paintings.”

“I am not blind,” says Arturo, “I know that your paintings are a thousand times better than mine, that you have true greatness in you. I can also see that you are not impressed by my work, that you think it is shit. Of course you are right. The example you are looking at is more soft-porn than portrait. My only real interest in the sitter was to show that women can have mastectomies and still have great looking breasts. But you are far too English to tell me so yourself. Perhaps that is why your paintings still fall short of their potential. Some vestige of that Englishness stays your hand at the last moment, prevents you from delivering the coup de grâce. I have the temperament, but lack your divine gift. If only I knew how to teach, I would teach you how to strike without fear, how to take without guilt.”

“You are absolutely right,” she replies, “I need to learn how to take.”

“And to give, and to give your all,” cries Arturo, “Damn it Ida, let me paint your portrait. Fuck the other women with breast cancer. Let me do it for my own enjoyment. Sit in that chair over there.”

And Ida sits, like Missy the poodle.

She watches as Arturo dismisses Breast Cancer Survivor No. 19 from the easel and replaces her with a blank canvas. How is he going to prepare it, she wonders, watching him open an earthenware jar and tip something that resembles red-brick dust on to a marble work top. Of course she identifies it immediately as Armenian Bole. Who would have thought it, she muses, he is going to prepare the canvas exactly as I would have done?

“I see we are going Dutch tonight,” she observes. “I am surprised. I had you down as a German Expressionist.”

“That is because my other sitters were flighty things, women of the air. Whereas you are an earthier creature.”

An excerpt from Clive Sinclair’s novella STR82ANL, whichappears in issue 2 of Contrappasso Magazine, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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from issue #2: ‘STR82ANL’ by Clive Sinclair (excerpt I)

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[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.”

An excerpt from Clive Sinclair’s novella STR82ANL, whichappears in issue 2 of Contrappasso Magazine, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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