Her studio is a place of alchemy. The room is large, the corniced ceiling high, the windows tall and the light benign. There are grand glass fronted cupboards containing the skulls of birds, rabbits, a long-horned chamois, a stuffed cockatoo, an enormous star fish, a conch, fossils, the hip bone of an ass, the jaw bone of a Scottish Blackface sheep and the skeletal head of a peacock as well as a black and white photograph of Lucien Freud shaving. She removes the peacock’s head.
She stands, lost in thought, before a large, taut, white, empty canvas fixed to a wooden stretcher mounted horizontally and supported on two, large, wooden easels. In her left hand she holds the head, in her right a sable paintbrush.
On an adjacent table there is an open sketchbook, thumb-finger-dimpled tin paint tubes, palette knives amongst cleaning rags, two wooden palettes and other painter’s clutter. She smells the air, breathing turpentine delight. She sets down the peacock’s head, picks up the sketchbook, turns the pages, and sees the word Lokrum written in pencil and remembers: that’s where we found the head.
She sees the peacocks again in her memory: noble heads, their long necks, regal, bowing, defying touch. Bright feathered fantailed eyes amidst the Lokrum dust. Their songs like babies’ screeching. Their hearts throbbing, eager male eyes bowing to lust, hot beneath the afternoon sun.
At first she remembers the sound as distant, a background to what she sees, so that all is either silent or muted as many people, parents, grandparents, families, strangers, settle beneath shading trees as children run hither and thither.
An elderly patriarch in vast blue, crotch to sternum bathers parades in bright green plastic sandals, waves an outraged finger at a small running boy, turns, trips over a flouncing peacock and tumbles with a seismic thud, setting up a cloud of swirling dust. Women rush to his aid while their men stare, sinking bottled beers. The women fuss and fume as children watch, their faces wearing nervy grins.
We are there, two lovers, him and me, arm in arm, almost dancing cheek to cheek, watching. We laugh as the women drag the patriarch to his feet where he stands tottering, white hairy chest heaving, breathless. Women’s urgent hands dust him down and guide him to a white plastic chair where he collapses – shocked.
We are seen. This is not our place. Alien. Our laughter makes us culpable. We have shown disrespect.
The staring crowd boo and hiss, fists waving, shouting threats as male peacocks chant erotic songs, cocksure that life goes on as humans curse.
She stands squeezing tubes onto her palette. Smiling, she sets the palette down, takes a tiny brush, holds it tight, and waits.
Eyes wide, bright, she outlines the shape of things to come: the lovers’ kiss, the peacocks, the patriarch, the dust, the crowd and, as ever, she wonders how best to represent their sound.
There’s always fucking sound! she shouts.
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© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.