For some obscure reason The Rat Pack, as they have become generally known, are still keen to have me at their table. I feel more confident about politely declining but they insist. They don’t make me play cards, and they let me drink coffee if I want to now, but they won’t let me go. I don’t know why. Liz ignores me.
‘Can I get you anything from the bar?’ says Ray, unctuously. I don’t want yet another coffee. Actually I’d really like a beer. I say so, quietly (why am I embarrassed?) They look at each other knowingly. All I know is I feel tense the whole time. Eventually they get on with whatever game they’re playing and I can excuse myself.
I breathe deeply up on deck. The sky is definitely bluer now, and the birds are serener, blown about like kites on the buffeting wind, long forked tails streaming behind them, ducking and diving among the waves. I settle down with a book on my lap and watch for hours. The air is still very chill but I’m cosy in my sleeping bag and I look drowsily out into the distance. The lack of a horizon no longer bothers me much. Sometimes another ship like ours can be seen in the distance. I have a sense of some huge migration through the eons, across the universe, all moving in parallel towards... towards what?
‘So’ says Ray, once we’re all settled in for the evening again, ‘what sort of art do you do?’ Every time they mention it the word art seems to be italicised.
‘I don’t know. Landscapes, portraits, you know. Oils, pastels, charcoal.’
‘Have you got anything with you?’ says Solly, perhaps a little too eagerly.
‘Course he hasn’t’ says Brenda, laughing at him.
‘I have actually. I’ve been doing a lot lately. Hang on...’ and I dash off down to my cabin to fetch some pieces.
I get back and they’re all still sitting there waiting. I open the folder and let them to clear a space before I lay my pile of papers on the table. Solly immediately starts looking through them but Ray and Brenda pick up the top one, a big piece I did early on – a view of the deck with all the travellers there, rugged up on their deck chairs. There’s an empty, rather bleak expanse of sea and sky beyond, almost but not quite indistinguishable in the same chalky grey. I’d exaggerated the perspective a little, changed the angle of the deck and made the figures lean out of the frame at you. They look a little like mummies wrapped up there with just their faces showing, or patients on their way to the operating theatre, or the morgue. Some of them look out of the picture at you but there’s no expressions on their faces.
Harry says ‘Let’s have a butchers then’ and takes it from them, not very carefully. He and Liz look at it together.
‘What’s it supposed to be then?’ says Harry, handing it back to me.
‘Well, it’s the view up on deck...’
‘I can see that’ he says impatiently. ‘Why’s it all, I don’t know, skew-wiff? It’s all at the wrong angle. Here let me show you’ and he picks up a pen and a spare piece of paper and starts to explain about perspective (incorrectly as it happens). I’m furious. Why can’t they let me have this one thing? Why do they have to make out they know more than me about everything? They could have asked me what I was trying to achieve with the distortion, maybe learned something, but no.
After a minute or so trying to get all the lines to meet at the horizon he screws up the paper and I say as politely as I can ‘I do know about all that.’
‘Well why don’t you do it then? Look there’s no point doing it wrong if you know how to do it right, just to be different.’
‘Well...’ I look around at the others. They don’t seem so appalled at my modernism so I decide to try to explain. It’s disconcerting. They don’t usually listen to me much at all.
‘I chose to distort the perspective deliberately, to emphasise the weird atmosphere. I wanted to show that we were all alone out here and we didn’t know where we were going and we didn’t know what to think about it.’
‘So, why didn’t you just paint that, realistically?’ says Brenda.
‘Well...’ I try to think how to explain without riling them even more. ‘You can go and look at the “real” version any time you like. I wanted to say something else about it, to remember what it actually felt like.’
‘These birds look more like vultures...’ says Liz.
Harry looks at it a bit more, clearly a little disturbed. Pictures here have a sort of a life about them. It’s not just that the eyes follow you; the heads seem to swivel round to watch you too. I painted the thing and I still find it unnerving.
‘Oh for God’s sake put it away’ says Harry after a while, almost throwing it at me. ‘Why can’t you paint something nice?’
‘What, like kittens and flowers?’ I say.
‘Are you taking the piss?’
‘Oh leave him alone Harry’ says Brenda.
‘Well nobody’s going to want that on their wall are they?’
‘This is that punky bloke isn’t it?’ says Solly, looking at another one.
‘Yes. Damian’ I say.
‘It’s a good likeness’ says Brenda. ‘Has he seen it?’
‘He sat for me.’ Solly raises his eyebrows approvingly. Brenda shows it to Harry who looks away with disgust on his face.
‘These are quite good’ says Solly. ‘Lot of potential...’ as if he knows about such things.
‘Thank you’ I say.
‘Very... impressionistic’ he says, smiling at me as if he expects me to be impressed with his knowledge.
‘It’s more post-impressionist really’ I say ‘or maybe a bit expressionist. Have you heard of Kirchner?’
I see his enthusiasm dampen immediately. I knew I shouldn’t have corrected him as soon as I said it. I pick up my pictures and take them back to my cabin and the game resumes.
Why do I even try?
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