Last week Manu engaged in a strange nightbound union with Agnes and Katarina. Unsure of their relationship with one another, they somehow know that they are bound to Edouardo in some way, and that this is the thread that connects them. When Manu approaches him, the old artist reveals his plans: an art exhibition, his first in several years.
But I did not wake in that squalid apartment in Tres Cantos, oh no.
I woke in Madrid, in Bosques’s workshop, on the sofa, covered by a flimsy blanket. It was a complete tip, as though a methed-up gorilla had waded through the place. Easels were upturned, paint pots were scattered, paper was strewn across the floor, and ink and paint and colour and sketches twitched animatedly.
Cold breeze made my flesh horripilate, until I saw the source: an open window. Had I clambered in last night? Had I escaped after the bizarre encounter with Bosques’s other followers? I have no idea what the mad sex-bat Katarina had meant by “creations”. Had I even dreamed it? No matter. After crawling from the sofa only to be pounded about the brain by hammers made from the void inside old wine bottles, I decided it was better not to try to think about anything much at all.
The only thing I could just about countenance, old Em, was water. I was fucking gasping. I think I even managed to mouth the word itself before a tsunami of sand came pouring in through the open window, and started to fill up the studio with a sudden and deafening roar. Panicked, I rolled onto the floor from under the blanket. I was still naked, Em! Had I come home from Tres Cantos naked?
Before the sand engulfed me completely, I crawled like a dog, and found a bowl of water, which I lapped up with great gusto, only to find it was wine, and paint-water, and turpentine, but I drank it anyway. I vomited, but continued to lap up the precious sustenance. Do you think me a foul degenerate who can’t control my impulses, Em? Would you rather I fuck or fly?
“Manda hues! Quien es el gilipollo que…” Edouardo’s voice cut off as he came around the corner into the studio and saw me on all fours, stark bollock naked. I decided it best to stand. The sand had stopped pouring in and now lay like a fine dust across the floor, not the coarse granules I had thought. Danger over.
New danger ahead.
Bosques approached me, and I cowered like the dog I am, my little cock cold and shrivelled, not proud and ready as it had been the previous evening when it was ravaged by Katarina. But Bosques did not beat me. Instead, he put my blanket over me with his crooked fingers and hugged me.
“I bought this place from a deaf man,” he whispered into my ear. “And now it looks as though it has been kept by a blind man!”
I looked at him, curious to see if it was indeed a joke, and he was laughing, and play-punching me in the shoulder. I felt more naked in the face of frivolity than I did in the face of anger. My voice wilted. “I don’t remember what happened. I didn’t even know if I was here.”
“It is irrelevant. We are almost at a head.” He stood up and cracked his knuckles, which looked extremely painful. “Did you spend the night with Agnes?”
I frowned. What do you suppose he meant by ‘spend the night’? “We talked.”
He nodded, apparently satisfied by this. “Go, then. Get some clothes on.”
I did so, and it was as I pulled on my jeans that my compulsion to talk could be contained no longer. “Edouardo, what is going on here? Who are your friends, or followers, or whoever they are? What do they want?”
Bosques smiled gently. “My boy. You have it. Let me show you something.”
He walked through the studio, taking care to avoid treading on the artistic detritus where he could, and took me to his office. I’d been there occasionally, when we had talked not art but more contractual, business-orientated arrangements. He sat down with a sigh into the old, red, leather chair behind his artisan desk. The window behind his desk looked out upon the Madrid skyline. A dozen golden angels on chariots coasted by in static permanence. Some ghosts would always remain. Edouardo nodded towards the side wall, at the replica Goya self-portrait he had on the wall. It was Self Portrait with Doctor Arrieta.
“Emmanuel, do you think Doctor Arrieta would be known by anybody were it not be for this picture?”
I crinkled up my brow, and shook my head.
“Who was the Mona Lisa?”
“She was the subject of…” and I stopped myself, knowing where he was going. “What of it?”
He turned on the TV on the wall, and flicked to some reality TV nonsense. “Who are they?” he asked, pointing awkwardly at the faux-celebrities with some amused disdain in his voice.
“If you do not know, then do you think a generation hence will know? No. Would you go on such a programme?”
I snorted. “I was willing to die not so long ago. I’m still not so very far from that dark place. No, I would not whore out my last days.”
“That’s because you understand that art lasts. The Mona Lisa in death is more than she ever was in life. It is sad, and it is so. What did Katarina tell you?”
“Kata…” He looked knowingly at me. “She was as cryptic as you, old man.”
At that he laughed and stood from his chair. “Good, good! I think you understand. Now, a young stag such as you may fill your evenings with wine and pussy and running naked like the wolf, but elderly statesmen such as me cannot indulge such licentiousness. I had dinner with an associate of mine, a man named Olo. He is a curator for a small gallery in the northern end of Lavapiés. I told him about you. He wants us to do a show! An exhibition! Can you imagine? But he told me, he said: ‘Edouardo, I need a centrepiece, not just sketches and potential. I need a focus, something alchemical, something that will transmute.’ We have already booked a date; it will be one month from now. If that seems quick, do not worry; my name will assure success. No, no, it is true, and I am too old for false modesties. So, afterwards, I sat last night in deepest thought in one of the cheap wine bars off Calle del Barquillo, and I thought of this centrepiece. And it came to me.”
The hammers in my skull pounded a little more, Em. My hair fell limply over my temples, and I pulled at it. It needed a wash. Christ, all of me needed washing, Em, body, soul and past. Unclean doesn’t come close. I needed a drink. “What came to you?”
“Something beautiful, Manu.”
The rest of the morning and afternoon he spent telling me, as he walked around his studio, his vision. He wants a portrait to be done. He has a vision of something beautiful. Something pure. Why he feels I’m the vessel for the creation of such a thing I don’t know. I thought I was emerging from this tailspin, Em, but it’s got its hooks in me. I don’t know why I tell you these things. You don’t care. Otherwise I wouldn’t have left you behind.
I don’t think I want to create a vision of beauty. If I did I wouldn’t spend half my time in room 67 at the Museo del Prado. Creatures who evolve underground with no light are invariably blind. And, being blind, they’ve no reason to extricate themselves from the shadow and burst forth into the light. The blind are no use in a beauty pageant. I thought Edouardo should know this. For all his age and infirmity, maybe he is not a creature of nihilism after all. Maybe he has not looked into the gaping abyss. All he sees is the future, even at his advanced age. And what I would give to have such vision! I’d give you away, Em, in a heartbeat.
Then again, I already have.
And then who would I have to talk to?
I stopped writing that last note when Bosques called a break. We have made much progress, in our collective and separate endeavours. Bosques left me with an outline of his vision, and then told me to work. To draw and to paint. For the first time, I think I understand him. This city, with the skeletal fingers of fascism grasping at the history of its every corner, informs him in a way a puny Englishman like myself can never understand, but at least I can start to understand that it does inform him. Did you know the Spanish constitution was written in 1978? I own Eric Clapton LPs older than that. For all that goes on in England, and the rest of the UK, we’re a happy-dumb race. We’ve never known the sting of oppression, not in the way that this city has, despite what those moronic communists think. I don’t think we ever will. At least, I pray we won’t.
He wants beauty, and so I drew it as best I could, capturing the ideas from my brain into my sketchbook.
My hands worked impulsively. I remembered the dark eyes of Katarina, and the hips of Agnes, poor Agnes, but in the end they did not inform my hand. In the end I drew furiously, without a thread of clothing, as if possessed. I was am a mad thing, Em. When I stepped back to regard this first attempt at creating the vision Bosques had in his head, I winced, and bent double, as if to vomit once more.
The sketch, without any doubt, looked like you.