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The Living Mirror Painting

Keith Waller

United Kingdom

Painting, Spray Paint on Canvas

Size: 40.6 W x 13.4 H x 2.4 D in

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About The Artwork

The Living Mirror Narrative story by SPIKE Cities by the sea always have stories; they encourage conjectures. Some say it is because of the light, or the fishing. Others say it has to do with too much clubbing, too much drinking. In this particular city they wondered uneasily about Paula. The sun flooded through the balcony doors as she stood by the bed, bouncing a blue beach ball. The broken picture frames would get in the way if things got lively, so she put them away in a Tesco carrier bag. She re-made the bed with fresh linen from the laundry cupboard, listening to the noise of the bulldozers on the seafront. They sent up clouds of dust as the old shops were taken down. As she closed the laundry cupboard door she glanced at her young artist friend’s unironed clothes hanging at the back: his second skin. She sighed, held the ball against her chest. She had always wanted a child of her own. She had been a dancer, a shellfish lover, a collector of accents and flowers. Then she was older. She rouged her cheeks and dyed her thinning hair purple. To those who passed by she seemed to have been there forever, vague among the candles and brightly coloured fabrics in her shop. She smoked all day, scratching an ample leg with dark fingernails while customers asked the same thing: of the green and yellow dresses, did she make them herself. Of the oil paintings she’d hung on the walls, how much. She never talked much. They weren’t aware that she was remembering. In the first month of 1956 she had been numbed by the shock of rupture. Her usually neat school skirt was twisted round her hips, one black patent leather shoe stuck on its heel in the mud. She was back in class two days later, only a little paler and a little more morose. No-one had known back then; they still didn’t know now. * Later that same year, in Dartford General Hospital, something had stirred in the laundry room. A pile of fresh linen heaved a sigh, gurgled, and stretched out a small pink fist. For a moment there was quiet. The baby was thinking. Not thinking, exactly, but imagining. Alone in all that whiteness and starch, all manner of colours and textures began to form slowly in its tiny becoming mind. It flung up its fingers and toes and in another moment sprayed a rainbow across the sheets. It yelled, triumphant, sticky, satisfied. At least for now. But no one heard; no one saw. * They all knew it was Paula, alright. At night, when they went to the little theatre and pretended to be bored. While she danced and messed about and changed costumes and masks in the blink of an eye, her knees full of crepitus, they all let on they knew it was her; the men and the women who suddenly desired her, or wanted to be her, or loathed her. They knew, too, that the blue orb that was part of the act and which followed her around the stage, floating above her head or hovering near her feet, was just clever lighting. They talked about her on the quiet: 'You’d think she’d find something better to do. At her age.’ Ashamed of her. And that old fashioned pram, always in the shadows in the wings. What did that have to do with anything? * As always with the best of babies, there was a second abandonment outside the butcher’s shop. Too many identical Silver Cross perambulators, too much on the mothers’ minds. There was a crowd, some pushing and shoving. Who knew whether blankets containing protesting babies were accidentally swapped. One woman appeared suddenly to have twins. The hospital nurse feared for her place. The laundry baby let out another cry. Another opportunity; a crossroads. Which parents would be best? Is it chance or do we choose? When it comes to babies, does anyone know the difference? It was heard this time. By the whole universe, some would say. They picked it up, the pair who thought it was theirs, or wanted it anyway. No-one disputed them. In fact, no-one would have been able to recall whether they’d been there from the start or not; or even whether the baby had always been there. They tended to it carefully, loved it, even. But it felt a terrible rage, it yelled all the time. It threw itself down the stairs, breaking things. Every night at the precise moment that their heads hit the pillow, it began to howl. Nobody says, how great to be a baby. Somewhere, the memory of that white laundry room with the blank walls remained, and the fact of being left. The doubt, the uncertainty. And the brilliance of making a mess. The baby was biding its time. It was biding its time. * One evening after the show someone thought they saw Paula down between the boats. That metallic quality to the light, quicksilver, made it impossible to be certain. But it was mumbled in the cinema and in the pub that she’d been seen riding the blue ball. Not riding it like a child might ride a space hopper, but salaciously. That was Paula all over, of course, at least at night. They laughed, unhappily. The worst of it was she’d managed to make it look like the ball really was taking off, taking her up into the air with it , and stuff coming off it. Like fish scales, or little creatures, or more likely her own waters. It was the drink talking, of course. Probably just saw the moon, right. Hallucinating. Did you know the moon is slowly drifting away from the earth, someone clever said. * The child became a scribbler, a sketcher. Pens, pencils, paints, inks, anything that would make a mark on white sheets. When he left school he moved to High Wycombe and sent drawings from there to a magazine in Oz. He got a job as a lithographer, before he even knew what that was. He liked how the prints had a hazy motherly softness sometimes, and other times they were stark and graphic. He thought a lot about marks and markers. As a young man on Swanage beach, Dorset, he drew blue waves under the word Tesco. Who cares if food is not blue? Nor are babies meant for laundry rooms, nor being left outside butcher’s shops. The supermarket owner, Sir Terry Leahy, agreed. The supermarket customers agreed. Isn’t art nourishment too. With a first class degree in the History of Art & Design you could readily ask that question. The whole enterprise was an overnight success. He was a phenomenon. Girls liked him, boys with pierced ears liked him. He found a way to smile that almost worked. But that whiteness, that blankness, was always there. Once the marketing jobs dried up he tried for work in a warehouse. Driving fork lift trucks, to begin with. Then making boxes. Then designing them. Boxes that might contain a baby or a bomb, a disappointment or a surprise. He was Packaging Design Director in St Leonards on Sea. A glamorous title for a much less glamorous wage. By now the butchers’ shops had gone; there were only supermarkets. There was no chance of leaving a child behind these days, without security noticing. An investigation, social services, paperwork. Medical reports. In this digital age everything could be pinned down, explained away, no mix ups. You only had to do the research and then be patient, waiting for the results. Seasons passed. Haiku seasons. He put marks on paper daily - or rather, digitally. Where did all this come from, all this information, all these images, how did it happen? Is it really in the genes? Is it better to have the question, or the answer. What would Andy Warhol say. He was searching, asking, wanting. Having dark thoughts sometimes. One wet evening he walked the streets until he noticed a neon light. Something compelled him to step into the little theatre. Just to get out of the cold, he told himself. The smell of peanuts in the lobby was comforting. He fidgeted in his seat in the dark, already too hot. Drums started up, and a great rush of glitter came onto the stage: a woman warbling with a wide open mouth, doing backbends and the splits, swinging on a rope. Absolutely bizarre. He heard the sniggering, couldn’t help turning his head to see if they were laughing at him. But no, it was the glittering person on stage they had a problem with. It was her name they were whispering, sneering like school bullies: ‘Paula. Poooorla.’ Where was the judge who would press the red buzzer and put her out of her misery, tell her she was awful? Although she looked as if she wouldn’t have cared, wouldn’t have stopped. She looked slightly crazed. His stomach twisted as he watched. The old fury again, louder than ever. Afterwards he went back to his bedsit and painted a horse on the floor by the window. He didn’t have a curtain, so every time a car went past the reflection of the street light bounced off its windows and ran over the horse. He slept deeply for once. The following morning the news he’d been waiting for arrived. He opened the envelope: DNA inconclusive. He sat down heavily. He needed a weapon. * That night at the show, Paula changed it. Someone in the audience jumped up and shot the blue ball, bursting it to nothing on her shoulder. They all shrieked. Paula fell backwards stagily, her arms spread out, her red and green dress billowing. They sniggered. Crimson bloomed across her face. The curtains jerked together, earlier than usual. He was there at the back of her shop the following day when a group came in and started a commotion. Did she set it all up herself, they wanted to know. Who had the gun? That shot, it wasn’t real, was it. Another trick. Could’ve killed herself. Paula looked up from her scratching, gazing past their heads, and he noticed her eyes were blue like the blue in the paintings and she had a wounded look. He saw the Tesco carrier bag at her feet. She slid it to one side with her foot, still looking at him. He pulled his sunglasses down over his eyes. The group shifted, dispersing, bored again. ‘I designed that,’ he said when they’d gone, nodding at the bag. ‘You did not,’ she said. ‘Yes I did. I’m Paul.’ He waited for her outside. He had on a black vest and a kilt, and flip flops. Everything else was in the laundry. She came out, locked the door, pulled down the shutter with some force, and turned to him. She had on a flat cap and burgundy Dr Martens with the bouncing soles. Too young for her. She looked him up and down. Who do you think you are, looking at me like that, he wanted to say. Do you have any idea who I am? They sat on the pebbled beach with a bag of chips. The moonlight made his knees white. He wrapped his kilt around them. ‘It’s cool you have your own shop,’ he said, but snarkily. ‘Working in retail is drudgery,’ she said. ‘I live for the nights.’ When he told her about the letter she said it’s not just you, no-one really knows where they come from. We’re all star dust anyway. We’re all just streams of energy and matter. ‘You’re a ridiculous person,’ he said. She stood up. She wanted to go and check the day’s takings, empty the till. She tried to give him a hug. It was only meant to be a hug. How was she meant to know what he had in his pocket. * Nobody could quite remember the day, but the shop was shut up. Now that all the stuff had gone they could see through the windows. She had left behind the paintings. Some on the floor, some still on the walls. And that ridiculous pram, right in the centre. They wondered uneasily, and mentioned it from time to time: wonder what happened to that Paula. It struck them that she might have said more, if only they had seemed as though they might listen. Now they gazed through the glass pane. Never really looked at the art before. Quite a collection. Odd that she never tried to sell any. They turned away at last, feeling a little aged, a little weary, as though they had burnt a butterfly. * There are those who know, and those who don’t. At least, that’s what they say. He’d never trusted anyone who said they didn’t; they were the ones to watch. If you observed carefully enough you could see a person’s eyes flicker as they pretended not to know, catching at a fleeting impression, an intimation of something unpleasant. He had time to think about all this, lying in her bed. ‘Going home to be looked after,’ the hospital porter had said encouragingly as he was wheeled out. Being sent there to die, more like it. He didn’t really mind any more. He was exhausted. He’d taken his crumpled clothes from the laundry cupboard and put them on before he lay down. To make him more substantial. He’d spent the best part of his life trying not to have any beliefs. It used to be a satisfaction to watch the disquiet appear on a fresh face when he told someone. At parties there was always a person keen to explain what they believed (what they meant was ‘what they knew’), no matter how ludicrous. He would nod, smiling. They would think him too to be a Catholic, a Muslim, a New Age Spiritualist. He could make himself seem that way; nondescript, a blank sheet waiting to be filled in. Eventually the person would pause, wanting an appreciative remark, then he would say lightly, matter of factly: I try not to have any beliefs. Surely they misheard. He might as well have said: I try not to murder other people’s pets. But now his deeply private uncertainty was being tested. Could he stay curious even when things got this strange? For instance, annihilation. That’s not something anyone would enjoy, he could vouch for that. No wonder there were so many sagas to avoid thinking about that. He grasped at the bedclothes, but they remained undisturbed. The light faded and another face, another body entered the room. At first he found it difficult to discern the age or the gender, though certainly there was flesh and blood. After a moment he saw it was a woman. It made sense when he thought how the room was decorated; the ferns on the window sill, the beach ball in the corner. He almost thought he remembered her. She stepped forward, pulled back the covers. She hesitated for a moment. Clearly she too was one who tried hard not to believe. She rolled herself onto him, her plump hipbones sinking into his insubstantial frame. She shivered, contracted a little. No,’ she murmured. ‘I don’t really believe in ghosts.’ He shivered too, mournfully. He sighed. He faded away.

Details & Dimensions

Painting:Spray Paint on Canvas

Original:One-of-a-kind Artwork

Size:40.6 W x 13.4 H x 2.4 D in

Shipping & Returns

Delivery Time:Typically 5-7 business days for domestic shipments, 10-14 business days for international shipments.

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