The Necessary Kiss

10 Pages of Selected Extracts



Silhouetted against the autumn sunlight that flooded her luxurious apartment, this woman appeared—hell—even now I can’t find the words for how she appeared. Her fragrance hung in the air as an unspoken statement. Yes, but in a heartbeat her beauty spoke for itself. As she turned her gaze on me her infectious smile fell into my eyes, and unfortunately and wonderfully that was me.

Here was a gorgeous woman from a background I had never known, a person whom money sought out as a friend and confidante.

“You two couldn’t be more alike,” Jerry Beacham said as he introduced us, but I knew we could not have been more different. This Shelley person was at home with herself. Me? I came from a place no-one could speak of as home. A man who owned nothing but the cheap grin on his face, money crossed the street when I came by. Until it all went wrong. I was a man who looked good, but with a made up name and a made up account of himself. You probably know I am a liar and a thief. I take from the rich and give to, well let’s pass on that one. If I was like her then it had to be in a back to front kind of way.

The man making with the introductions was Jonathan Jeremiah Beacham—Jerry—an art dealer known for the smartest gallery in London. He had just walked me—Radio—across Kensington Gardens, through crisp air and over sweet smelling new mown grass, not to mention all the lovely dog shit, to meet this artist called Shelley. There was some clever idea he had.

The man stood squarely in the middle of the room going on about his big thing concerning the making of art. However, Shelley and I were too engrossed in each other to pay attention. We didn’t speak either, as if we had so much to say to one another that nothing could be said with someone else in the room.

Well, so much for business, I need to get along,” Beacham said eventually when he ran out of words only to find himself out of place. He struck me as a man who could always seem out of place. It wasn’t so much the sunlight on the shiny suit as something about how the man stood, how he filled the space his body occupied, as if he was more an actor impersonating himself than himself for real. When Shelley led him out of into the hallway I took the opportunity to look around


Hers was the kind of apartment I had visited often enough in the interests of art appreciation, though not until now as an invited guest. I was an art collector of sorts. This was a stylish home in the way in which many women can easily lead ordered lives and most men cannot. I noticed the room was neat and clean, with glossy art magazines arranged on the coffee table. There were fresh flowers standing in clean water and there was piano music playing quietly on the sound system. Even the view of the park out the window looked tastefully laid out. I examined the photographs on the dresser. Photographs of Shelley posing with that smile she showed me only moments earlier—Shelley with artists, film stars, musicians and distinguished older people whose faces looked familiar even if I didn’t know their names. It was self-evident that her social world was unlike mine. I noted the absence of wedding photographs or pictures of any eligible young man. Glancing through an open door into a bedroom, I saw tidiness with no flung-about forgotten things strewn where they fell. I concluded she lived alone.


Where I come from it’s rude to call on someone empty handed,” I said as Shelley returned to the room, “So I brought you a little something. I wonder if you’ll like it.” I took out a rolled up drawing tied with a red ribbon, a bit like the certificate of some distinguished achievement award. Shelley accepted the present cautiously and she sat on the sofa to unroll it.

Sitting across from Shelley, I looked at the Gustav Klimt painting on the wall behind her. It was a portrait of a woman dressed in gold with lips slightly parted, gazing out of the picture as though she was a connoisseur of people who liked to look at art. The light reflected on the surface of the paint so that her gold dress seemed to shimmer with its own life, like the trembling notes of the piano music in the background. Then I focussed on the woman sitting in front of the picture. Shelley was just as impressive as Beacham had said and quite as beautiful as the Klimt. Like the subject of the painting she seemed to enjoy the fall of a male gaze upon her.

“Klimt could draw like an angel,” she said examining the drawing. It’s a study for The Kiss isn’t it?”

It’s something I’ve had quite a while. I was given it in Vienna as a thank-you by one of the artist’s great-great-whatevers. I want you to have it.”

But how could you know I love the work of Klimt as much as I do?”

“I didn’t know,” I lied, having learnt the fact from Beacham, “It’s just that Klimt means so much to me. His art helps me understand myself. He makes the world worthwhile.” I thought that kind of talk should make me sound sensitive.

“Oh, your words are so true. But how much do you expect for this drawing?”

“Didn’t I say it’s a present?”

“Can I really accept this? A kiss? But we’ve only just met…”

My aim had been for a beautiful woman to be impressed with a flamboyant gift, never mind it was freshly stolen. For an instant her response tipped me off balance and it occurred to me to say, Keep the fucking drawing, and walk out. That would have been the real me. Instead of leaving I paused for an instant to assume my warmest smile,

I don’t want your money.”

She smiled effortlessly too, “But you want something. Generous men always do.”

“How would I know what I want?” I replied.


Then Shelley stood up and she poured two glasses of blood-red wine, carefully making them equal in measure, “It’s not about what you want, but what you need. And I happen to know you need something. You need help.” She held out one of the glasses, then the other, then the first again, and I took that one.

I was astonished at the way she had caught me out, the sharpness of her perception slicing to the centre of me. Yes, I had a kind of a need, though I could not have given it that name just then. I would have thought of it as a kind of itch. This need thing had something to do with her, a new kind of a feeling, somewhere the other side of wanting but a long way from having. Always I had aimed to be different from everyone I had known, right up to the moment when I met this woman with the light behind her. Now I needed to be different just like her. I was feeling a kind of challenge that wasn’t really a challenge, that was something mystifying about knowing what you don’t know.

“That’s why you’re here,” she said.


“So I can help you.”

“Help me? You think you can change my life when we’ve only just met?”

She laughed. “We have only just met! Touché. The help I’ll give you is how to paint. You don’t strike me as someone who is big into personal transformation.”

“You’re going to teach me to be different, like an artist?”

“Jerry Beacham just asked me to help you, that’s why he brought you here. That’s what he was talking about a few minutes ago, as if you were listening! He said this was Charlie Kay’s idea. For their little scheme to work for you, you need to put paint onto canvas. And it seems you need to do it convincingly.”

“But I already told Beacham I can’t paint. It isn’t a matter of wanting or not wanting. Paintings for paintings is a great idea. Neat little laundry. Except it’s impossible.”

Shelley’s face brightened, “Of course you can do it. Everyone is an artist!”

Oh yes? Sounds clever, but that can’t be even slightly true. You mean everyone is banging out paintings and poems and music all the time? I don’t think so.”

“Am I making myself clear? This is not just my own idea. The artist Joseph Beuys said everyone is creative in some way or other, potentially. I mean, he meant, everyone has the potential to be an artist in some part of their life even if not in painting. Something ordinary they can make special. Artists aren’t so different, they’re ordinary people too, it’s just they get the chances most people don’t have. The paintings you’re going to make have to be just competent enough or just clumsy enough to look credible in a stylish art gallery. They don’t have to be real art though. It comes down to the way you feel your creativity, how you understand your passion.”

Passion? I was sensitive enough to that. I had felt that weird habit of the so-called-emotions often enough. Mainly in the streets of my home town as a teenager. Nearly always after dark. The sweet-edged razor I still carried with me, and rolled between my fingers when I needed it, was my momento of passion, my only family heirloom.

Why has passion got to be creative?” I asked, “You don’t think passion could be, well, something else?”

“Like what? Give me one example. I bet you can’t.”

I once knew a man absolutely everyone said was a good-looking charmer. But absolutely everyone else said he was whack-out mental. Said he took a weird delight in hurting others. Nobody understood him.”


Couldn’t you say that everyone has potential that way too? Potentially? That the opposite is true? Destructive? Maybe that everyone could be a killer, even? Potentially?”

“I know from your eyes that you have the creative spirit, but I am interested in what you are saying. Do you really feel you have the potential to be a killer?”

“Absolutely not! I was just asking a question.”

“Have you ever killed anyone?”

“Look,” I leaned towards her, “I am innocent, totally. But I will tell you something as a matter of trust. I was a little bit violent just once. Maybe a little more often than that. In fact it was a normal everyday part of life where I was brought up, still is; in that little bit of Scotland they don’t ask the tourists to go to. We had nothing, no money, no chances, no future. No reason to hold your head up. So, what do you do in that situation? How do you deal with the world when nothing in it is yours and you have nothing to lose? I won’t claim everything I do, I did, was wonderful. I learnt to asser myself. I soon discovered that only if you get caught do you get to be the bad guy.”





Thirty feet up on the drainpipes at the back of one of Knightsbridge’s grand terraced houses, I felt good. Fresh air moved in a gentle breeze and seemed to pass through me too, clean. I was pleased with my little arrangement with Beacham. Art for art might seem just an idea, one of those things you keep in your head, but to me this seemed good all the way through my body. Two other apartments that day had yielded five paintings, an etching and two small bronzes. There were now two little paintings that Beacham had specified, waiting for me to call.

I pressed my bent screwdriver up through the gap between the sashes of the locked window and twisted it so that the curved tip could engage with the window lock. Then I levered the tool and the lock came away from the window frame as the screws pulled out from old timber. With the window open, I swung myself up and into the room. The exertion caused a sure and very familiar sense of pleasure.

Standing in the middle of the room, I turned slowly to take in the line of pictures on the apple green walls. Intuitively it felt odd. The works had not been hung aesthetically, they didn’t work together. They weren’t in chronological order either. Then I realised the pictures were hung by the alphabetic order of artists’ names from left to right, Appel; Beckmann; Chagall; and suddenly I found myself laughing out loud. In that same instant I shut up.

The silence that followed was pierced by a woman’s voice from the next room, “Hello darling, are you back already?”

Swiftly, I removed the two small Dubuffets and put them in my shoulder bag. Then I returned to the window. Looking out, there were three policemen yanking a youth out of a Porsche in the lane below the window. Since that way out was no longer available, I went back across the room. Just as I reached for the door it opened and I stepped behind it to keep the initiative of surprise.

When an elegant woman came into the room my breathing paused of its own accord. It was not the surprise of my being interrupted but the surprise of her languid beauty. This was the kind of woman no man could ever take his eyes from. The kind that other women might sometimes silently resent. Without thinking, I moved out from behind the door to place one gloved hand in a firm grasp upon her throat. I said nothing.

She stiffened into immobility and I had only to push past her to leave immediately. I knew I should leave. Certain, but I did not leave. I found myself grinning into her face like a collector looking at an expensive curiosity found entirely by chance. Like that connoisseur I moved in closer to savour my find, and my good fortune. There was flawless skin. There were high cheekbones. Below the arched eyebrows, there was the moistness of the woman’s eyes and the way it caught the light, the wet surface of the spheres seeming to ripple slightly as the eyes rotated towards me. The eyes focussed on mine. Then I saw my own tiny reflection staring from the centres of her eyes. Her tears flowed and my reflection dissolved into darkness. I enjoyed the sweet scent of her breath and the warmth of her body in such close proximity.

Suddenly the woman was not just a phenomenon of nature but the embodiment of a silent decision. My reason for being in the room and the urgency of my need to leave melted away so the purpose of the moment was mine if I wanted it. It seemed suddenly self-evident I could resolve that unformed question that the presence of a beautiful woman always posed. I was now so close that when I spoke, my lips were almost touching hers, “We are so lucky to meet. I can change things. For you. And for me. I have only to hear the word please.”

Don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me,” she said meekly. “Please.”

I relished the way the Please word sprang from her lips, and that was the only word I was able to hear.

“Anything you say.”

As my mouth engaged with hers and as my tongue tasted her flesh, so my body responded, inspired by the fact of her profound physicality. I was certain of my freedom to do anything I could imagine, to become myself fully once again. Let me admit now, I was about to take this woman. Through and through. I think that at that stage of my life I was on some perverse journey of enquiry into the aesthetics of cruelty. I needed to know what was possible. What possibility felt like in its texture and its pulse, and what it meant to hold the delicate life of another in my hands, the way a child feels powerful and fearful when it first holds the life of a new-born kitten or a small bird in its hands. I have no doubt you can imagine the worst on my behalf, without me providing the details, and I depend on you for that. That is the reason you and I are here. Should you feel critical of me may I ask you not to judge me yet. Depravity cannot be understood in small portions and there may be more to come. If and when it is needed. Once you do understand this defining quality of human consciousness, in your grasp, fizzing in your blood, and recognise the potential for what you can imagine, what you can do; once you know its invigorating flavour and you can describe the taste from experience; then you may proceed to judge me, provided you do so of yourself also.

As I kissed this woman I breathed the glory of being present in the moment, centred and certain. I was where I wanted to be. As the presence of the moment expanded beyond the counting of time, I found myself breathing the woman’s perfume too. Exquisite. Informing. Then an instant of doubt came into the moment. A sense of recognition.

Without thinking, I stepped back to find myself asking, “What perfume you wearing?”

Free Expression.”

It was the same expensive brand as Shelley’s and in that realisation the pleasure of the moment shrank suddenly away. It was not this woman I needed, not even the idea of a beautiful woman she seemed to represent. I realised I wanted Shelley, and in a way very different to this. Something brighter and newer and better seemed possible because of Shelley, with Shelley, through Shelley. I knew in my gut that simply having met Shelley would change me, change everything. This change had already begun, because here was me feeling it was no longer OK to be myself. Not in the way I had been. I was changing in the way the weather changes, inevitably but not according to the forecast.

Then I recognised the simple certainty that this terrified woman could not possibly want me either, and in that moment the first of the changes I’m here to tell you about took effect. With the open prospect of free depravity before me, I chose to bring the encounter to a close.

“You don’t want me to hurt you, do you?’

She shook her head.

“You are going to stay silent until I’ve gone, aren’t you?”

She nodded.

Then I pushed her away from me and I walked out the door with a half-hearted attempt at a wry smile.

“Sorry lady. I just have to be somewhere else.”

As my hand pulled the door closed behind me, I took the broad flight of stairs three steps at a time, cursing, and I went out into the street glad to breathe clean air again and feel the breeze on my skin. I promised myself what had happened would not happen again. At the time I truly believed that could be the case.





Shelley’s studio was on the top floor. There were white painted walls and skylights the whole length of the large studio, and there was a feeling of tranquil emptiness. The former warehouse building, a tall crumbling brick edifice in a run down part of town, was going to be redeveloped, and until then artists were allowed to use it for studio spaces on a strictly temporary basis. There had been artists’ studios in this building for thirty years now.

Shelley didn’t seem like any of the teachers I had known, for whom teaching and inflicting pain were the same thing. Her manner was gentle and encouraging, asking what kind of games I played when I was a little boy, as she placed a paint brush in my hand. She told me this was time to give that child a chance to play. I had no memory of childhood games. I had always been out looking for trouble like it was my lost friend.

After nearly an hour of spirited effort the result was a wild mess and the need to buy myself a new set of clothes. I recognised I needed a little order in how I went about this.

Shelley went on to talk about artistic methods, something about mixing spontaneity with control. Then she gave me a demonstration. She took a large unfinished abstract painting from the storage rack and laid it on the floor, picked up a brush and crouched down. The colour flowed from her brush as if with a life of its own as her arm moved in broad gestures over the canvas, each mark sitting exactly where it should be. Painting did seem easy the way she did it and I was impressed.

I noticed a snatch of amber flickering within a broad passage of blues, turquoise and soft greens in the painting before me and I thought of a sunlit boat bobbing in warm seas. Then I thought of a flash of sunlight breaking through evening trees. The two seemed equally possible. When I told her about seeing the painting in two different ways at once she was pleased. She said I was seeing it imaginatively and I should enjoy it. I should let the meaning come along later in its own time.

Then she placed her paintbrush in my hand and closed my grasp upon it. I liked the cool touch of her hands on mine as if I could feel her grace. In my turn I crouched over the canvas and sucking my lips between my teeth, I concentrated. The brush moved over the surface in a cruel parody of Shelley’s elegant brushstrokes. Not only had I got it wrong, but I had ruined her precious painting and I felt desperate.

Then she took the brush and added a few more marks that brought my daubs into harmony with the composition. The painting was saved, but my frustration remained.

As she talked about how an artist should welcome challenges I followed her words, but there was something beyond them I did not grasp. Making the hard become easy was something I knew, it was all about getting to the inside of what you are doing. Her words fitted my life in crime, theft is ninety percent intuition and ten percent sedition. But for me to make that mean something in paint was hard. As I turned in on myself I became cut off from what I was trying to do. I tried another brush mark, but the faltering of the brush made it feel like a trick was being played on me.

I threw the paintbrush to the floor.





My next lesson was in an art museum. Walking through the galleries, she told me that to paint seriously an artist must first discover what his eye likes. This was not to be what I thought I liked nor what I thought I should like, nor even what I knew was spoken of well, but that which came forward of its own accord to reward my seeing. At the time I couldn’t see the difference between what I knew and what I thought I knew, but she was telling me about what I later came to know as the personal essence of experience. Not objectivity nor subjectivity, but the sheer fact of your own experience before you ever make sense of it, the experience of experience. Or before you allow others to make sense of it for you, which would be far worse, and the normal thing for most people. It was only later that I made sense of this stuff she told me, and even now I do not always see the difference between the thing and the thing itself..

The London Museum of Contemporary Art was a beautifully ugly building that had won architectural awards for style. It was built on the site of the old derelict Battersea Power Station soon after it had collapsed. They said it fell into the River Thames, but I knew that was impossible because it was set back from the river, but like everyone else I preferred that to the reality. The tall museum was made of large plates of translucent glass and matt stainless steel so that daylight passed through the building. From the outside it seemed either solid or without substance according to the time of day and the fall of light. In the early days of winter when mists hung over the river valley that is London the LoMCA seemed invisible. From the inside there was a constant effect of pure daylight, so the exhibits seemed suspended in air. The building struck me as being like a house of cards. When I shared this perception with Shelley she said that was not just true of the museum, but of the whole art world, the world of art being much like that of banking, dependent on confidence.

So what of the 2008 crash?” I asked.

Not quite the collapse of capitalism some have suggested. But only because art held its end up. That meant the whole system could do so too. The moment art collapses then capitalism really is in deep doodoo.”

Shelley linked her arm in mine as we moved from room to room talking about the paintings. I liked the way she took pleasure in explaining the pictures with a seriousness that did not mask her enthusiasm. As she turned to face me to make a point I enjoyed breathing the air she had breathed, fragrant with the physicality of her mammalian being.

Although invariably confident in public, I was often awkward in my private dealings with women. Always such encounters had been dealings. Something gained, something given. Always a profit or a loss. With Shelley, however, a new way of being with a woman seemed possible. I wanted to find out about this thing of possibilities I had heard of, stuff spoken of in poetry and other books. Shelley’s hand remained on my arm as we walked through the museum and I waited to see how long it would remain that way.

We paused before a painting of vigorous colours. The many hues seemed to play with each other like children seeking attention in a playground, each broad gesture seeming to move to the front, only to be met by another colour that swept it back through chromatic mischief and delight so that it could come forward for attention in its turn, only to be swept away by another bright hue. Shelley commented on the interest I was showing, “You could try painting like that. It’s by Albert Irvin and is called The Vision; it’s about as unfashionable as you could get right now. The fad for art that doesn’t really exist has come to its end and you never know – this splashy kind of stuff could just be the next big thing. I love it too, just for itself.”

Then we stopped in front of a painting by Egon Schiele. It was a picture of the artist masturbating. Our eyes met for a second and her hand slipped away. As she brushed past me, her hand touched me or almost touched me in a personal way, but I was unsure whether that was accidental or accidental on purpose.


When we were sitting in the cafeteria with our milky coffees she told me she had recognised that I knew more about art than I had admitted.

I wonder if you ever went to art school,” she unwrapped her biscotti slowly. “Or maybe you’re just a natural.”

` I did know more than I wanted to let on though I had not been to art school. I learnt about art by looking at pictures in books, by staring hard into those imaginary worlds for countless hours in a little room on my own, and by reading about what was what and who was who. I knew that art was difficult to understand for those who wanted it to be easy, and that ease was hard won. I had learnt what to steal through long hours of hard study when I had nothing else to do.

“Well, for some it does come easily,” she continued, “But it is possible to know everything about art and still not know what you like. Do you know what you like Radio?” Then she moved slightly in her seat, arched her back and swept her hands through her hair to gather it behind her head in a provocative gesture. “A man should know what he likes.”

As her smile warmed and widened I knew this was the chance I wanted. I told myself that she had built a bridge, all I had to do was cross it. I knew what I should say, Yes, I know what I like. Yes. That should have been easy enough for the man I then was to say. Yes. One word, Yes. A man too can say yes too. I imagined then that she would say, I know what I like too. Yes. Us two. It would take one last step across the bridge for me to say, I like you and maybe it would not even need a word to say the final affirmation. A kiss could have been possible with the one message on both our lips in the same instant without any word spoken. I sat still at the bridge with my fantasy at the front of my mind and my ineffectual smile fading as the moment for crossing silently passed.





Fashionably dressed people stood in clusters, self-consciously talking loud and laughing extravagantly. This was the private view of my first one-person exhibition at the Beacham Gallery. As guests arrived through the early evening the sound level increased and I thought of the way that birds congregate to chatter at dusk before moving to their roosts.

I stood apart for a while to observe this unfamiliar spectacle. Few of the wine-sipping guests bothered to look long at the paintings, yet I realised opinions were formed in this way, and some of these might turn out important. Then, by moving about discreetly I tried to overhear conversations. For a moment there were two bald men dressed young talking animatedly.

“Cool, that’s what I say. Paintings like these you know?”

“So very much of their time. Of course I know. Absolutely.”

“I know you know”

“Sometimes you’re just so, you know, well you know.”

“What do you mean? Do say what you really mean, totally.”

“I’m talking about the way that sometimes you can express an entire view of the world— the whole aesthetic experience—in one word.”

“What do you mean? Cool?”

“Almost but not quite. Not ‘cool!’ but ‘cool’. You said it better a minute ago, with less resonance but more nuance. You catch my drift?”

“That’s relevant and ongoing and it certainly addresses the issues. I know what you mean. And of course you know I know.”

“Yes you and I have so much synergy, or do I mean synchronicity? Or is it syntheticity? Who cares about the right word when there are so many?”

“Exactly so. We’re so much ourselves there’s only one right word.”

“You can say that again.”


“Very good, though you still said it better the first time, with a slightly higher temperature. I think you are probably at the top of your game.”

“And taking it to a whole new level.”

“Paradigm shift.”

“So in the moment.”

“Exactly so. I think you should write about art. You should appear on television.”

“Actually, I do.”

“You do?”

“Of course, but only when no-one is watching. Mainly on the late night art show when it doesn’t matter if you don’t make sense, so long as you sound contentious and slinky. I thought you might have seen me. You actor types are not above television are you?”

I think I will be if I don’t get another contract soon. The absence of a drama may soon become a crisis.”

“Me too. In fact, I did see you too, once or twice, you are on the air nearly all the time actually, it’s just I didn’t want you to feel I was impressed. You don’t mind my saying that? I didn’t want to seem uncool.”

“That’s cool.”



Then my attention passed to a distinguished looking older couple, both tall and rangey, with flowing white hair. Their apparent familiarity suggested they were famous people although I did not know their names.

“Awfully good paintings for the time of year,” the man said, “That’s what one’s told you know.”

“Everyone says that, darling,” his woman companion replied. “If there is one thing about a painting it’s colour, it just has to be, and if it’s not one thing then it’s another. You can’t have too much.”

“Too much of what darling?”

“Oh, one thing or another, anything you’d care to name actually.”

“Really? I prefer a picture with dimensions, you simply can’t have too many of those.”

“I don’t think there’s been a real genius in art since I can’t remember when.”

“Oh really, when was that?”

“Couldn’t possibly remember, but it was such a wonderful experience, always is. Last week I met a very bright young artist who told me all about how fascinating her videos were. Completely convincing she was even though they were totally unwatchable. Couldn’t paint or draw either, of course, and you know it didn’t matter at all, seeing how much she’s the coming thing. Such a charming disposition and an exhibition coming up at Tate Thingy. That place has become so much of a cinema these days. People today just have far too much talent or none at all, rather like table manners.”

“I don’t understand these trendy young artists who don’t paint or draw or make things. Can’t see what they actually do.”

“Well you have to understand they invest all their creativity in being themselves, but with a deeper intensity of feeling than you or me, if that is possible darling. They do it for our sake you know, that’s what they say. To show us what’s missing in our own lives. Their self obsession is so self sacrificing. Or something like that. Not caring about what your work looks like is just the thing. The latest style, or is it the next one, or was that the last one? Anyway, it’s amazing what a big name you can make for yourself just for making your name. It’s all the rage darling.”


I was pleased to recognise the familiar face of my childhood friend Billy.

“Hiya gobshite!” Billy exclaimed as he shook my hand in a mock formal greeting, “Thanks for the invite, wha’ did ah do te deserve tha’ ye cun’?”

“Well, it’s a posh way of telling you to fuck off,” I replied.

“Ah don’ need no telling, ah do tha’ a’ the time pal. Guid to see you med it in pictures, shame they doan’ move though.”

I laughed.

“Ever sin we run in the Kelvingrove art gallery by mistake, remember? Med a’ the difference to you. Ah’m goan to mek it too ah’m telling you. Norrin in pictures a’ course.”

“I know you will. You and your brilliant god-awful band. Thanks for coming tonight. You’re a really good shit, and that means you can’t be beat!”

“Wha’s wi the way yure talkin pal? Lost yure accen’ hav’ye, or didye give it awa’ to the poor an’ needy?”

“Oh, I’m just keeping it behind my ear for later.” Then I noticed Beacham standing quietly to one side on his own. “Get yourself a drink Billy and I’ll see you in a minute, I got to talk to the man.”


“How do you think it’s going?’ I asked Beacham.

“Oh, this’ll do the trick nicely. It’ll enable Charlie to do his stuff. I haven’t seen him yet, have you?”

Not yet.”

That’s fine, he’ll be along. It wouldn’t do to rush.”

You’re not mixing in, I’d’ve thought you’d be out there networking”.

I already know everyone here who’s worth knowing. They all know me too. I have no need to approach anyone, they’ll come to me if they need me. That’s how this business is done.”

And do they need to?”

Mercifully not at this moment, I’m waiting for Charlie. He’s the only one who matters here tonight.”


Well, after your own good self of course, excuse me for not stating the obvious.”

Beacham changed the subject, “How do you feel about this, your big night as it were.”

“It’s wonderful, really. But don’t feel comfortable, I’m not sure how to talk to these people. It’s how I was brought up. I’m either full on or full off. I speak to someone when I got something to say. If I got nothing to say I just shut up. I suppose I have to be different from that, kind of.”

“My, you are being frank. Is this a new you? You are going to have to network or people won’t believe in you. To make the arrangement work. Without your efforts I’m afraid we can’t guarantee success.”

“But you can guarantee the paintings will sell?”

“Enough of them will. Charlie’s will. Not all, probably, you’ve made so many.”

“You’re talking real sales, or just something you can write into your accounts?”

“I don’t think my business arrangements should really be up for discussion, provided it works for you.”

“Well this is good company,” I glanced across to the beautiful woman who seemed to have materialised out of the air to become the centre of attention. I recognised her. “Isn’t she…?”

“Oh, Afrodite,” Beacham said, “I think her real name is Brenda or Glenda, or Wanda or something. You’re obviously interested, I saw that last time you met her, but I’m afraid she’s found a new man, so she won’t have time for your art, let alone your own good self.”


“She’s hitched up with the latest sensation of a jazz saxophonist, a brilliant brother from the Bronx with no charm. Ugly sod I think. I really don’t know why she’s going with him, maybe he’s giving her lessons in how to blow.”


Brilliant darling!” Shelley sashayed through the crowded gallery towards me. She seemed cheerful, sincere, and almost pleased to see me. She raised her glass of white wine to me and I raised mine to complete the silent toast.

“You look so wonderfully moody, just the part. Excellent. People are likely to think you’re an arrogant sod, which is just what you want, just don’t let them think anything else.”

“And how do I do that? Smack them in the face?”

“You have done worse.”

“I do feel a little unsure sometimes, and that’s when I have to put things right, because I’ll never let my uncertainty show. I won’t allow it, it’s not what I stand for.”

“Really? I wonder who stands for anything these days. These people tonight are all here for you and that means you have to smile a little, Radio. You know you can put on such a charming smile when it suits you.”

Spontaneously my face broke into a winning grin. “I know. I have to find a new way. For the new me.”

Shelley smiled despite herself, “Very good. Very good indeed.”

We stood together for a few moments, taking in the view of the opening party.

Good zoo,” I said.

“Look at that one,” Shelley whispered stifling her laughter.

“What, the old bald guy with rings round his eyes and rings piercing every other part of his face? He used to be a rock star, but I’ve forgotten his name.”

So has his record label.” She glanced back over her shoulder. “No, I mean the old woman with two pairs of spectacles. She didn’t know which to use and she almost used both at the same time. I’m sure she’s as blind as a bat even with specs.”

“Yeah, she’s good.”

“But the best thing is that she has a brilliant reputation as a visionary poet. She sees things you and I don’t, so I’ve been told. Things like what her poetry is about.”

Shelley introduced me to a number of people.

“I’d like you to meet Anthony.” Anthony seemed gently diffident. “This is Nicholas.” Nicholas seemed aloof behind his fashionable spectacles. ”Radio, meet Jack”. Jack seemed sparky and expensively badly dressed.

As I walked away I felt someone grasp my elbow and I turned round to find myself face to face with Charlie Kay.


“What are you like?” Charlie declared cheerfully, embracing me in a powerful bear hug, “I’ve missed you!”

“You what?”

“It’s good to see you. I’ve been hearing so much about you, but I’ve missed your company, speaking as one rogue to another.

“You’ve…. You’ve missed me?”

“How long has it been now?”

“Ever since that day you dropped me off outside the Beacham Gallery and told me to go in without telling me why. Where have you been all this time? What’s wrong that you never return my calls?”

“That wasn’t what I most wanted. It’s just that I needed life to be easy for once.

“You mean it wasn’t your idea?”

“It’s not what it seems. You’ve been getting your money I believe, that’s the main idea.” Kay’s smile was disarming, “I do have my reasons but don’t think bad of me. I needed time to myself as it were. You’ve been working hard at the painting thing I hear. I gather you’ve taken it rather more seriously than anyone had reckoned. Been finding out about yourself, that kind of thing?”

“I certainly have. You once told me you don’t like things that come easy, and I’m glad I learnt that from you. This art thing has just become something I got to do. Not just for the money, though I need the money, as I’m sure you know. There’s something more in this painting thing and I have to sort it out.”

“Well, I’m dying to see your latest paintings and to hear what you have to say about them. Can you talk about your work? Not all painters can.”

“I can talk. But it’s not like talking about historical art I already know about. Talking these paintings is difficult, even if they are my own stuff.”

Because they’re your own more like. That’s how it is when you’re going into something new. Is that really what you’re doing Radio? Discovering things?”

Looking at your own work is so strange,” I continued, “when you have no books to refer to, and when the only theory is what you have in your own head. I mean, when you stand in the middle of yourself it’s difficult to step back for a good view.”

“I thought you always stood back from yourself. It’s one of the things that makes you distinctive. Sounds like things are changing. Besides, I think every good artist experiences what you’ve just been talking about. It’s the difference between the artist and the ordinary person. Artists are very special you know, sensitive. They’re just one in a million.”

“So you don’t agree that everyone has the potential?”

“Certainly do! But dull parents, obedience, shitty schooling and the sparkling world of money soon put paid to that. It’s just as well, if you ask me. Just think, if everyone fulfilled their potential there’d be no art market would there? No capitalism without benchmark values. We’d be up to our arses in art I tell you. All of it valuable and none of it with a price. But that isn’t the point, is it? The point is, are these paintings good enough for me to buy more than one without looking foolish?”

“That’s for you to say. But you’re going to do it anyway, aren’t you?”

“Alright. But I need to know how your work is theorised before I can be seen to buy anything. It’s not like I’m buying privately any more. Take me around. Tell me what I’m looking at here.”

“The problem here,” I said turning to the nearest painting, “was in resolving the relations of the strength of the marks and the strength of the colour, the idea of the painting and the painting itself. It all comes down to understanding the image against previous encounters with images, the way that the object in art is so much the object of attention, the way we become ourselves, you know.”

“Go easy. No-one actually talks like that!”

“Take this other one for example. When I was making it, both mark and colour seemed to fight for attention when what I really wanted was the two to harmonise. I mean, it’s a sort of game. Look at this passage here,” I said pointing, “Just when I’d got the brush to lay down the paint without the brush mark intervening, the colour would go dead, resulting in an exaggerated mark with no meaning. But then I found a way round that by putting the brightest colours down first and then the greys and other neutrals over them. They sit happier together. Like ideas hanging in mid air waiting for someone to think them.”

“Very good,” said Kay. “Total bollocks of course, but I have heard worse from serious painters. Your words come from someone who has lived with paint and fought back. You want to know what I think? These paintings?”


“The way they’re almost figurative but not at all on second glance, and their sense of atmosphere?”

“Uh huh?”

“It seems they’re almost pictures of people but not quite. Not in the way you’re used to seeing the figure. It’s like the people you’ve painted don’t exist any more and these paintings are their ghosts. You’re making the absence of reality into a reality itself.”

“That’s a bad thing?”


“So you don’t like my fucking paintings?”

“You were always one to jump to the worst possible conclusion, Radio. I think you have made quite an achievement. Well done.”

“Thank you Charlie. Some of the time I felt I was getting nowhere and I had to fight for it.

“Still a fighter Radio? I would think so. Always.”

“What do you think?” And Shelley’s been such a help. Was she your idea or Jerry’s?”

“Oh Shelley’s very much her own idea I think you’ll find. She’s better for you than you think, but I hope you don’t actually believe all that stuff you were talking. The real thing can’t be put into words like that.”

“You been keeping your distance. That’s what this scheme is all about, isn’t it? We were friends, or almost friends, and you started behaving as if you didn’t know me or something.”

“No, I do know you Radio. Too well. That was the point really, wasn’t it?”

“So you’re not the kind of friend I thought?”

“Is that what you think? Is that really what you think? I’d be so disappointed.”

I had always wanted to be friends with Kay but it had never worked that way. I leant over to whisper in his ear. “You disappoint me too Charlie Kay. You got a bright little scheme going here. Or at least Beacham has. There’s only one thing though.”


“The money. You may not want my company any more but you still need to pay me. Beacham owes me. You still owe me. And if we’re just not friends then I want my money, I won’t ask a second time.”

“Utterly fascinating!” Kay said as he scrutinised the surface of one of the paintings, as if I had not spoken.

As I walked across the room for another glass of wine I heard Kay calling out,

“Jerry, can you spare me a moment?”


I found myself in Shelley’s company again and she introduced me to more people she wanted me to meet. I smiled and joked with Shelley’s friends as if I actually liked them. I was the centre of attention and people behaved as if they really li8ked me too. This was a good game.

Shortly, I was approached by the uncomfortably dressed Jack Lautre to whom I had been introduced earlier. He was wearing an expensively creased suit over a limp shirt, and his long hair was a sticky mess. There was a three day stubble across his face. He had spent a lot of money to look this bad.

“Hey Radio Wave, how does it feel to be Charlie Kay’s latest darling, like?” I mean, selling out your complete exhibition on the opening night. It’s quite an honour you know. It happens once in a while, it’s happened with Charlie Kay before too, he likes to buy someone out and make something of them. For fun I believe, why else would you imagine?”

“I have no idea why he’d want to buy my paintings. Unless he likes them. How many did you say he bought?”

“Oh, all of them. You’re someone to watch now. And I’m going to keep watching you, you rising star you. I wish I could be a sell out too!”

Something told me I should reach out to the man, to hurt him, but instead I grinned, leaning against the wall, all laconic.

“Well, I haven’t seen the colour of his money yet.”

“I’ll speak to you when you have. Professionally. I’d like to know how it feels to be an outsider on the inside, got rich you know, kind of; how you find that kind of thing. I reckon we could run a story on that. In the Sunday review section. With one or two good photographs. How Mr Charlie Kay influences the art market. Everyone knows that he does, but the question is exactly how. Few people will say anything because they don’t want to annoy him. He has a reputation for dumping people too you know,”

I knew Kay well enough.

I remembered having burnt paintings for Kay when the man had fallen out with an artist.

You may think this is just a whim,” Kay had said, “but I see it as my personal creativity. I can make fire, like an artist, and I can make smoke just as well.” I remembered Kay’s pleasure as he and I had watched the subtle smoke colours of burning canvas and oil paint diffusing into the low lying mist of a quiet twilight. Kay and I had drawn on large Havana cigars and blown the pure blue smoke out into the wafting greys amid the tones of a declining day. We had leisurely watched the cool blues and warm browns elide and fuse with the growing darkness. “As atmospheric as a Whistler Nocturne,” Kay had said, “and just as expensive.”

However, I did not like talking about Kay openly, certainly not to this man who seemed too close to what was going on already. .

Suddenly Kay cut in. “So you two have met!” he stated the obvious as if in surprise. “You’re not going to write about Radio, Jack?” he asked.

“I rather think so.”

Oh, I’m not sure that’s quite the idea,” Kay replied. “Why don’t I introduce you to Belstein instead, he doesn’t usually give interviews but I could arrange one for you. It would be his first in four years.”

“Oh yes,” Lautre replied sycophantically. “I’d love to write about him. Him and Radio. Charlie Kay’s twin darlings.”

“Radio too? Well I’d rather you didn’t but…. He is unique I can tell you that at least.”

“You’ll tell me next he’s the most important artist since the war.”

“I tell you now he is the war.”