Paint and Clay
by Martin James Hunter
Her eyes took in everything but disclosed nothing. A porcelain doll from a more elegant time. Too delicate to exist in this world, yet miraculously preserved despite the odds. To which of course I stand in contrast.
She was unlike any other girl I had spent money on. A creative type, always lost to her own little realm. Fragile body and a mind to match – a flower that should be under a glass dome. After our first meeting I ceased to visit anyone else.
We would make love amongst her paintings and sculptures. Centred between vivid colours and abstract shapes and eyes always watching. Sometimes I would wake to the process of creation and just sit and observe in silence. The sound of brushstrokes and singing birds as the sun crept up the horizon. Exotic fish circling a bubbling tank.
She tried to leave prostitution behind once then realised her talent depended on being fucked for money. In other words – no input, no output. So it was either doing that and what she loved, or joining the rat race. Knowing what it’s like out there I didn’t blame her for the choice she made. But that doesn’t mean I was happy about it.
There were clay busts of men distributed around her mattress. Expressionless, they observed my performance. Cold sentinels forever judging. There was one in particular I didn’t like to be alone with. Its gnarled expression and eyes teeming with spite.
After a few weeks came a change in our appointments. Lovemaking became fucking which she seemed to prefer. Rabbit in the headlights when I began to lose myself, little fragile thing barely surviving under my weight. This was not however because I wished her harm. I was simply getting involved in the creative process. As a result the shades on her palette darkened, the images grew more visceral – and her income peaked. What we were doing was working.
One day I returned to find what I think was a clay reproduction of myself. A bust lost to dreadful malice whose features I only partly recognised. Never asked in case it wasn’t me and I made a fool of myself. But I was flattered anyway. I then found myself wondering who the others were. Something told me a mix of clients and lovers, if she even made a distinction between the two.
She never spoke about her life and I never asked. Didn’t know if it was appropriate considering the setting. Instead we talked about me and she listened in a way that reminded me of my mother. Never found out if this was common practise in her line of work, or if she made an exception in my case.
They say never fall in love with a prostitute and the reasons are obvious. Quickly the jealousy took root and began to spread. A thorned thing pressing into my respiratory system, leaving me fighting for breath when my imagination got carried away. I would stall it with alcohol for the night or however long it went on for. But it would always return upon awakening with twice as much hostility.
At the time I had a decent income from selling books so I tried to pay for her freedom. She refused of course. Just wanted to continue producing great art. It’s never about money for creative types, more about the process. She said my concern was adorable though, and her words left me warm. The following week she had a new fish and it was named after me.
She didn’t cost much despite her looks and clients were selected based on appearance. Sometimes she accepted the fucked up ones just to see what her brush arm would produce afterwards. Hate to say it but it was usually her best work. Dreadful sculptures that were uncomfortable to pass. Caustic eyes locked to mine when I awoke in the night.
Clients began visiting me in dreams and I wrote about them. Cold watchers in the darkness assessing my body. Tattooed behemoths and gaunt businessmen taking turns of me in orderly queues. Salivating and stuttering with breath and eyes rolling and no goodbye kiss. Once I was certain my mother was there amongst the crowd cheering and applauding and whooping with pride. Then they began taking turns of her.
Wandering the city I became convinced I recognised passersby from their corresponding busts. I would glare at them predatorily, or confront them with delusional allegations. One man conceded after I held him down and shrieked like a demented creature. A group of vigilantes then chased me through an alleyway and I barely escaped.
On a particularly difficult day she left me in her flat while visiting her sister. It took longer than expected and I grew agitated. My phonecalls went unanswered and eventually my imagination got to work. I went through my fingernails and then the flesh that held them in place.
It didn’t take long for the figures around me to get started. The ridicule and accusations and hideous laughter. They criticised my poetry, drawing assumptions from its words. Words meant for her and I alone.
The bust of myself brought up things from the past for the amusement of the others. Paragraphs from my story I had intentionally scored from memory. Figures wanting to stay home with me while the others went out. For the rest of my life, dark commands whispered from the shadows of my subconscious. Its vocabulary thick with tobacco and alcohol.
The laughter from the statues was unbearable. I pleaded with them to stop but my audience remained unforgiving. So I screamed back, challenging them. A single voice unheard under their numbers. How it must have sounded next door.
She returned to find slashed paintings and broken statues and me gone. I had torn up her mattress so she could never lie on it with another man. Scratched a vast admission of love into the west wall with a knife. Thrown oil paint across windows and surfaces and even the ceiling. Ransacked drawers and cabinets and left their contents across the floor. Torn up or burnt or taken her personal photographs. Emptied my bladder against the furthest corner from the door. Overfed her goldfish until they were buoyant and lifeless. Left the front door wide open.
I only see my mistakes now that they exist in hindsight. It is both love and insecurity that drew me to her, and love and insecurity that closed the door. I could never bring myself to return after that. Not to the flat, nor the city. As much as it pains me to say, her chapter ended there.