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I woke in the dark, not knowing where or who I was. Even the smell of Louise next to me was as yet unfamiliar enough contribute to my confusion. I was sufficiently aware of my exhaustion to know that I’d be asleep again within seconds, but awake enough not to be sure of any of the usual anchor-points of my own identity. What was my name? Where had I come from? What language was I even thinking in?
“Hardly surprising” my first psychotherapist said when I recounted this experience to him. “You’d just spent three months living in six different places, usually for very short periods. You’d been expelled from or chosen to leave four different families. You’d had brief, emotionally intense and fractured sexual relationships with seven women, one of whom subsequently killed herself. You’d left behind your old life without having any idea what you wanted to do about a new one. In other words, all the usual points of reference against which we construct an identity were missing.”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“Also, isn’t there a passage early in Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ where something similar happens to his narrator? Your life could just have been imitating art.”
“So you know what the Turin Shroud is?” Louise said between mouthfuls of fried egg and bacon.
We were breakfasting in the greasy spoon at the end of the road where her studio was vaguely situated. Non-English readers will probably not know that a ‘greasy spoon’ is a low-rent diner or café which specialises in cheap fried food, particularly traditional British breakfasts including eggs, bacon, pork sausage, blood sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, and sliced bread all cooked in hot lard and served with a side dish of non-fried baked beans, so called because the perpetual oily atmosphere inside lends a viscous greasy patina to the house cutlery.
“It’s a bale of old cloth that’s supposed to have been the sheet they buried the crucified Christ in” I said, trying not to shovel yet another forkful of food into my mouth before I replied. I was very hungry. “Apparently it bears an imprint that the faithful think is Jesus’s face and hands.”
“Exactly. Superstitious nonsense, of course, all got up by some medieval forger for the lucrative trade in holy relics, but it’s the principle that interests me. Hence my Camden Shroud.”
I recalled her whipping off the multiply-defiled knickers she’d been wearing the previous night, impregnated with both Marielle’s and her own piss and cunt juices and my own semen, hanging them on a coat stand in the studio “for the Shroud.”
“Whereas the Turin gewgaw is only supposed to bear the magical traces of Our Lord and Saviour, thus underpinning by faith alone a thousand years of mystic patriarchal bollocks, the Camden Shroud actually will be the physical, visceral evidence of the existence of women in all our messy, odorous glory. What I’m going to do is stitch together the gusset panels of a thousand pairs of used knickers into a new, irrefutable relic of our female physicality. The religious will hate it, most men will hate it, a lot of women will hate it. It’ll be called disgusting and tasteless, corrupting of youth and an undermining of some abstract, prettified notion of ‘femininity.’ Yet what could be more feminine than the diverse, messy, smelly physical traces of the one thing that makes us actually feminine — our cunts?”
There wasn’t any arguing with that. She sounded almost like a religious preacher herself.
“My friend Helen did something similar with used tampons while she was still at art school” Louise continued, mopping up a puddle of HP sauce with her fried bread. “That fucked with a lot of people’s heads. Imagine — women leak, bleed and smell! If that ever gets out civilisation’s doomed.”
“Sir Kenneth Clark would definitely not approve” I said.
“Oh, very good. D’you want some more coffee?”
We drank two more chipped enamel mugfuls, during which time Louise managed to smoke three cigarettes in succession. Even at 8.30 in the morning she was beautifully turned out, in imitation, I had discovered, of Otto Dix’s ‘Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia Von Harden.’
As we left the café I realised no money had changed hands for our breakfast.
“My credit’s good round here” Louise said. “Which brings me to something I wanted to ask. How would you like to be immortalised in a work of art?”
“What, like a model?”
“You could say that. I think I can guarantee it’ll be more fun than lying on a couch starkers for two hours, mind. I can’t pay you any money, but as I said, my credit’s good. You could do with a decent haircut for a start. And as for those clothes you’re wearing…”
It was true about the hair. It had grown out with no more control than could be exercised as a rearguard action with my broken plastic comb. And I’d been wearing the same jeans and plaid shirt for so long I could no longer tell where I ended and they began.
“What would I have to do?”
It was still cold out, but the previous kaçak iddaa night’s snow had melted appreciably. Stallholders were setting up their offers in Camden Lock Market. They all seemed to know Louise, waving and shouting greetings to her as we passed.
“Oh, just fuck me. I know you can do that well enough. This time I want you to do it under the camera lens. It’ll only take twenty minutes of your time. In exchange you’ll get a lifetime of artistic kudos, and I’ll throw in an expert shearing and some new threads to replace those rags. What do you say?”
“You want me to make a porn movie with you?”
She stopped in her tracks, rounding on me as though outraged.
“Certainly not, darling. For a start, we will not be using a vulgar cine camera. For another, since when did any crappy porno limit itself to twenty minutes? This will be hailed in future as a mistresspiece of feminist art. A seminal work on your part, if you do it right. And I promise I’ll disguise you in the final print so even your other girlfriends won’t recognise you. How about it?”
As I gazed in astonishment I realised we were standing at the end of the alley where she’d pissed in the snow the previous night and asked me to remind her about it. I had no idea why. The white drift between the buildings was still in shadow and the yellow-rimmed cavity she’d made in its surface plainly visible. I reminded her about it.
“What? Oh, thank you, darling. Just an idea I wanted to run by my buddy Helen. Now, was that a yes to my indecent proposal?”
I guessed it was. She grabbed my arm and squeezed it, steering me toward a closed barber’s shop on the other side of the road. There was an intercom buzzer by the locked door, which she pressed at great length.
“What the fuck do you want?” came a deep, camp male voice eventually from the speaker.
“Open up, Ozzy! I’ve got a fresh victim for you.”
“Louise? Why am I not surprised? You’ve wrenched me from my slumbers! Let me make myself decent.”
“Impossible, you big poof. Get down here and ravish him!”
I hardly had time to be worried. In what seemed only seconds an extraordinary manifestation appeared behind the ‘We Are Closed’ sign in the glass door of the barber’s shop, an exaggerated vision in a purple paisley silk dressing gown of a six foot six black African man with red-painted fingernails, his head shaved on both sides to leave only a stiff tight-curled Mohican crest running forehead to nape.
“Hello, darlings” he said, with a faint tinge of weariness, and then to me: “Sweetie, you definitely need my attentions. Your coiffure is decidedly pre-punk.”
“Ozzy, this is my new lover and subject Joe. Joe, this is Prince Osborn Abimbola of Nigeria, the best and most outrageously gay barber in London.”
“Don’t remind me, dear” Ozzy said ruefully. “I’m cheap as well, but will those rough pasty hetero boys come to Ozzy to have their tresses corrected? Anyone would think their manhood was threatened by a big black queer with a cutthroat razor!”
“I owe Joe a haircut” Louise said. “Christ, the universe owes Joe a haircut. Can you give it to him and put it on my account?”
“Ooh, I’ll give it to him.” Ozzy winked at me and steered me by the shoulders toward his barber’s chair.
He didn’t ask me what I wanted done, which was just as well, since I had no idea. Instead, he shaved the sides and back of my head with electric clippers, then chopped the top with scissors and a straight razor so that it stuck out and up in all directions, not unlike the homemade coiffure of Joe-who’d-been-christened-Carice in Paris. He finalised the deal with a big handful of gel, and thrust the rest of the tube into the top pocket of my check shirt.
“Present” he said, and smiled at me in the wall mirror. For such a big man his features were remarkably delicate. He’d helped them along, of course, by keeping his eyebrows plucked, and although he claimed to have just been dragged from his bed he was immaculately clean shaven. He obviously took great pride in his work which, I had to admit, was amazing. I looked like a different person.
“Thanks, Ozzy” I said.
“Absolute pleasure, darling.” He squeezed my shoulders with the same delicacy as he smiled.
“I’ll pay you next time I sell something” Louise assured him as we left. “Or you could have a blowjob now?”
“From you or him?” Ozzy played up to her.
“Him I need” Louise said. “Oh, and we’ll be getting a bit sweaty in the studio later. Can we come back and use your shower?”
“Beware of the bitch, young man.” Ozzy rolled his eyes. “And if you’re going to be doing that, Madam Louise, bring your own towels.”
“Prince Ozzy?” I asked Louise once we were back on the street. The air was distinctly, invigoratingly colder against my shaved back and sides.
“So he says, darling. I can’t imagine many Nigerian kings relishing their sons actually being queens, and he’s got plenty of moolah, so I think we can assume he’s telling the truth, kaçak bahis or a version of it. I think he’s rather taken with you. Here we are!”
Behind a large market stall displaying an array of spectacular painted T-shirts and 1950s embroidered neckties there were two rails of vintage suits, jackets, dresses and skirts, and between them a pair of pale, skinny, androgynous aliens in black leather.
“Hello the twins!” Louise greeted them. “This is my new muse Joe. Joe, the Terrible Twins, Molly and Vaughn!”
Gradually it dawned on me that these two clones were of different sexes, in their late teens or early twenties if they were indeed human, their faces delicate triangles..
“Joe what?” said one with a vaguely feminine timbre in her voice.
“Exeter” I said. “Like the city in Devon.” I immediately felt foolish.
“Joe X” the male half of the mirror image said. “That’s fucking cool.”
“Right, you two. As you can see, Joe is in urgent need of some new threads. Ozzy’s cured his bad hair disease. I’m counting on you to style him like the winner he is, whatever he might think. On my tab. Go!”
Molly looked at Vaughn, or possibly the other way around. They both had peroxide blond hair like Joe-or-Carice, both more or less shoulder length and artfully ragged. They had smoky blue eyes, straight noses, pale lips. I could just about distinguish Vaughan’s Adam’s apple as they exchanged a few whispered words. It was obvious they were deeply in love.
Without saying anything else, the male twin, Vaughn, went to the middle of one of the rails and took down a grey two-piece suit with bright red pinstripes, which he laid over the T-shirts and the ties on his table for me to inspect. The style was 1950s, jacket shoulders broad, double vented, lapels fairly narrow and trousers baggy, tapering to turned up cuffs.
“Go on” Louise said, indicating the jacket.
I put it on. It hung well below my bum and halfway down my thighs, and felt like there was room for another man slightly thinner than me inside. But the arms were exactly the right length.
The female twin, Molly, picked up the trousers and brought them round to the front of the stall, holding them against me for length.
“Get your strides off” Louise said “And try these on. Your future credibility depends on it.”
Molly helped me off with my jeans, in the middle of the street, brushing several times against my crotch as she did so. It was still very cold. Nobody passing took the slightest bit of notice.
She steered my cock down the right trouser leg and zipped me up. Vaughan wheeled a full length mirror round the stall and onto the pavement in front of me.
“Fucking hell!” was all I could say. With the new, ultra-modern hairstyle and the ancient suit I looked like the product of some strange warp in time, the me of the parallel universe which had given rise also to Louise, Ozzy, the Twins and, now I came to think of it, Scylla and Joe in Paris. I wanted not to like it, on the grounds that I’d always considered myself aesthetically serious and thus oblivious to the vanities of fashion. But I was also beginning to realise that Art (with or without the capital letter) doesn’t, can’t, exist only on gallery walls or the projection screens of tiny self-regarding cinemas.
“These shoes” said Louise, who had found her way to the other side of the stall and was holding out a pair of shiny black winklepickers with a kind of swirly brogue pattern cut into the leather.
They were a perfect fit. I gave in. I loved my new look.
“Put his old rags in a bag, and for God’s sake let’s choose some acceptable shirts. In that old check number he still looks like an escaped lumberjack.”
Two painted T-shirts in the style of Jackson Pollock (“Paul Simonon originals” Molly assured Louise), an embroidered cowboy shirt and a pair of wide silk 50s ties later we left, again with no money having passed between us. I was conscious of Vaughn and Molly’s eyes following me down the street. When I turned to wave goodbye they were in animated conversation about something. Somehow I knew it was me.
“They are the most incestuous couple I’ve ever encountered” Louise said “Yet they’ve never shagged each other. I’ve had both of them, and the other one always insisted on watching, but chez les Enfants Terribles no bodily fluids were exchanged. Seems a terrible waste.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
Louise explained the studio cameras to me.
“There are six Pentax SLRs with various lenses focused at different angles on the sofa in the studio. They’re each wired up so that their motordrives will be triggered randomly over a total period of twenty minutes. The idea is to produce a sequence, or a number of sequences, of photographs of the same point from different angles, distances, and subjects over that period. These will be developed into high-quality slide transparencies which I will edit into a narrative that both develops and repeats, presents and questions, illegal bahis the subject matter, using repetition, juxtaposition, and contrast. The finished work should question subjective notions of desire, sexuality, and power.”
“I thought you wanted to film me fucking you?”
“Fucking me, yes. But if I wanted to film, I wouldn’t be using stills cameras. Film is a deceptive medium. It purports to reproduce continuity, even though it’s actually only frame by frame photography. It pretends that processes are inevitable, simply because there appear to be no gaps between actions. But there are. Everything we do is accompanied by the making of moment by moment decisions. Every move we make is the result of a contingent calculation about what might work for us, achieve pleasure, avoid pain or obligation, gain what we see as advantage. Stills photography can capture those moments, then link them in the untidy subsequent edit of calculated juxtaposition, accentuation, physical confirmation. I don’t trust film. Stills editing is at least honest in its artifice, while not being able to deny the genuine origin of each frame’s content.”
Louise being philosophical didn’t feel quite right somehow, though I had to admit I knew what she meant. My emotional reactions to the last three months’ sexual experiences, each a discrete incident with its own mechanism and significance, made me realise there was no simple way even to think about these, far less represent them.
“Just stay within a foot of the sofa, and we should be all right. Now, get your kit off.”
She began to peel her own clothes away, carefully hanging them on the coatstand which still bore Marielle’s contribution to The Shroud. I followed suite. Although we’d fucked fairly decisively on the Dover train the previous night, I’d never seen Louise totally naked — I’d still been asleep when she got up that morning to prepare herself for our breakfast expedition. As the rigid seams and architectural casing of her retro clothing released her body all of her seemed to become softer and less harshly delineated. Her breasts, still plump, round and punctuated by those enormous nipples, had just started to sag a bit. Her stomach and thighs were white, set off by the very dark thick trimmed bush above her cunt, whose lips opened gently like a grey-pink orchid. As I’d noticed when she sat on me and pissed over my cock in the train toilet, close up her face was more open and gentler than the sardonic mask she wore for the world.
“You still haven’t told me what you want me to do to you” I said, dropping my shorts to release a springloaded cock.
“Whatever you want. That’s the whole idea. I will be completely passive. Your job is to shove that great prong, and your tongue, and your fingers, as far and as hard as possible into all of my holes in turn. Your sole concern should be to get yourself off. I will be just the provider of those holes. You are to fuck, lick and finger me for exactly nineteen minutes, then an alarm will go off and you will have one further minute to make yourself cum on me. On, not in. This is a performance of your lusts, and your ejaculation should be an aggressive act. If you can get yourself to spunk in my face, that’d be the best outcome. I won’t help you, though. This is all about your own orgasm. I’m just a means to that end.”
“I thought you said this was a feminist artwork? Doesn’t sound very feminist just to let yourself be used by some bloke without even responding.”
“Darling, leave that up to me. It’s my concept, and believe me, it will be a feminist piece when it’s finished. You just do what you’re told. Now, before we start, I need a piss.”
“I’ll watch” I said. “Get myself properly turned on before I violate you.”
“That’s the idea” she said.
Partitioned off from the sleeping area was a narrow space with a large ceramic Belfast sink bolted to the wall. I assumed it was where Louise cleaned her art instruments, but it also doubled as a source of water for the kettle and as a place to piss.
She perched herself on the edge.
“Wait” I said, kneeling in front of her. “Open your cunt.”
She smiled, leaned back, and parted her thighs wide, separating her labia with the tips of her fingers and pushing out the shiny pink interior. Her clit winked out from beneath its cowl. Her urethra twitched.
“Piss in my mouth” I said, feeling my engorged cock growing even harder.
“Yes sir. But keep your hands away from your prick. That’s for me and me only until the last minute.”
A thin stream of clear fluid arced from the little hole, steaming in the cold, splashing onto my tongue. I desperately wanted to masturbate as I tasted her.
I swallowed quickly as her piss continued to build up volume and pressure and hosed across my face and down my chest. I opened my mouth again and gulped her down. Coffee, cigarettes, something like vinegar. She began absently caressing her clit, lubricating it from her stream of urine. I wanted very badly to cum, but stuck to my side of the bargain.
By the time she’d finished both I and the floor were soaked, and my cock felt like the Eiffel Tower.
“Good!” Louise said, slapping it. “Let’s go.”
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