Red-Haired Man in a Sweater by Brendan Connell

From the Private Papers of Dr. Black

(The following case was related by Professor Kaltenbach, of Bonn, Germany)

Mr. X. Eyes neuropathic. Skin creamy, grey, marked with purple blotches. Patient highly intellectual, of refined manners, though clearly afflicted with moral degeneracy. He believes himself to have been painted by Lucian Freud. When questioned about the logical ramifications of this absurd theory he becomes surly, stubbornly obstinate, revealing a lack of proper breeding in the process. He claims to be worth 1.2 million pounds sterling. Though Dr. Heuzé (Archives de l’Anthropologie bizarre, 1894, vol viii) mentions the case of a man who believed himself to be made of porcelain, I do not believe another case quite like that which I am presenting you with has yet been recorded. The following interesting document is a statement from the patient himself:

I have never been a fool and that might very well be the reason why I have always suffered so much. A fool accepts his position with a shrug of the shoulders and manages to enjoy his life all the same. A philosopher—I am not ashamed to call myself one—has no choice but to plumb the depths of his being, to dissect it like some ambitious anatomist would a corpse. How frightening then to find that the great ocean before you is nothing more than a teacup, and realize that your own personality is canvas-thin.

But is not personality something developed in childhood? A man without uncle or aunt, father or mother, brother or sister—whose past is nothing more than a palette;—where could such a man have gained a personality? A painted man, unlike one issued from a womb, is born completely matured—a maturity both stunted and pure, narrow and as disappointingly profound as some cosmic syllable muttered between yawns. The odd thing about being a painting is this: one has only one unalterable mood. A normal man is sometimes happy, sometimes sad. One day he opens his mouth like a horse and neighs in delight at some silly joke; the next his lips droop and copious liquid flows from his eyes. I on the other hand am always the same. The blasé expression you see today was there yesterday and, no matter what might happen, will be there tomorrow. I have a single emotion: melancholy boredom. Yes, this weariness you see is a constant and to calculate its numerical value would be as complicated and fruitless as calculating the atomic depth of a glass of schnapps.

I have had women fall in love with me. I don’t know why, as I am certainly not handsome. But I have never fallen in love with a woman. You can love a painting, but do not expect it to return the emotion. Whether others are in possession of a soul, I cannot say. But I am certain that I myself do not have one. A sickly ego: yes. Masterpieces after all are nothing more than an ego dressed in paints or plaster or sometimes paper—the meagre glorification of the artist’s will. Women have loved me, I suppose, in the mad hope of gaining some self-esteem. Nothing doing. I am symbolic of hopelessness and there is nothing jolly about me.

When Freud painted me, he used his brush like a weapon. The impasto was not terribly thick, but I believe if one looks closely the brush strokes can still be seen.

He gave me a distinctive physiognomy. My nose is small, somewhat snub, not altogether unlike that of a suckling pig. I have a thick neck. My chin is clefted. My lower lip is thin, my upper fat, making me appear almost beaked. And yet I am not ugly, almost handsome, in a way that only sentimentalists and libertines could understand. I am clothed drably in a grey sweater and a pair of loose, dark green corduroy trousers; but am thankful for these garments, for they protect me from being the lemon-fleshed nude I would otherwise have been.

I am not a portrait, but rather a conglomeration of many people—a sort of patched together puzzle—a real product of the studio. My eyes are those of Erasmus, my hands Pope Paul III. My body parts are lifted from great paintings of the past, and studies of obtuse modern day models—a baker, a financier, then a youth paid to strip naked and show his skin to my maker.

I don’t like to refer to myself as a work of modern art, for the only thing abstract about me is my mentality, the only thing conceptual my grim absurdity.

The incidents in my life are numerous, and probably not uninteresting from a scientific or sadistic point of view.

My first owner was an English gentleman whose name I can no longer remember. His flat stank horribly of cats, of which he had two—lounging balls of fur which for him I imagine took the place of wife, children, prostitute and lover.

I told the fellow that I found the animals vile, but he did not listen. He repulsed me, treated me like an insensible object and I sacrificed the warm comfort of his filth for the sidewalk, which my feet sought out instinctively as two orphans would a tureen of motherly love.

This trillion-faceted world will always provide a corner for a man willing to play the part of a machine. I worked as a factory hand, living in obscurity, earning just enough to pay for shelter, a few crusts of bread and an occasional piece of meat. The truth is that such occupations are the last refuge of genius—a quality which has long since fled the haunts of the rich who, in their sleek luxury, have become too lazy to form an original thought or emotion. Was not a Van Gough once found in a chicken coop?

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That manufactory in North London, that landmark of the city’s industrial heritage whose high brick walls were decorated with broken glass, had colouring as sombre as a piece by Millet. A huge chimney poured out black smoke. Workmen, mostly foreigners, Asians and Eastern Europeans, moved about with sluggish fortitude, their brows contracted, twisted in resignation—these men impaling themselves on their meaningless fates like ancient Roman soldiers on the cold spears of the Alamanni. Occasionally one of these nameless men, one of these heroes of the age of petroleum, would get sucked in by a machine, turned into a great lump of ground flesh—spat out in bloody gobs that a bow-legged janitor would collect while grumbling.

I lived according to the clock. Lunch break at twelve on the dot. Visit to the pub at exactly a quarter to seven. A jacket potato beneath a coagulation of melted cheese. The squeak of female voices. Stagger back to my little flat.

One Saturday, after letting my lips extract a pint of Old Familiar from the depths of a chilly pub, I wandered, from Regent’s Park to St. James’s, kicking a can and then a pebble and then a stick that lay in my path. I crossed over Westminister Bridge and let my feet make their way along the embankment. I gazed about me with suitable abstraction, soon however finding myself called back from reverie by the unpleasant yelping of a quite young water spaniel which my feet had decided to kick along in the same way they had the objects previously mentioned.

I scrutinized my feet and the dog, finding in their mutual revolutions a vague sense of oneness with the universe around me. The wind did not stir. The world only quivered. I knelt down, examined the animal more closely and found that it was something like a piece by George Stubbs. I put out my hand and it treated it with affection, massaging my fingertips with a tiny little pink tongue, wet and soft as the tail of a goldfish.

It was without a collar; undoubtedly without an owner. I put it in the crook of arm and took it home with me.

Though I do not dislike dogs, I cannot stand their barking—an unpleasant form of assertiveness, an inappropriate reaction to the frustration of their primary needs—and I much prefer the singing of birds. I considered having the animal de-barked, having its laryngeal tissue extracted from its throat. But what a lot of trouble, that cruel surgery of convenience! And then I recalled the words of Kant when he stated that birds do not instinctively know how to sing but learn to do so. I went to the British Library and took out the works of Conradi and Portmann as well as Witchell’s The Evolution of Bird Song, with Observations on the Influence of Heredity and Imitation.

I saw clearly the path that lay before me. I purchased recordings and visited aviaries.

First I taught Tikvah (so I named the spaniel) the one-note songs, those of the laughing gull, red-breasted nuthatch and ruffled grouse. The creature adapted himself to these so well that it was but a short time before we had advanced to the two-note calls of the prothonotary warbler, soft as the stroke of a sable brush, and then the delightful call of the whiskered tern. Finally we arrived at the three note songs: the eastern wood pee-wee, the ruby-crowned kinglet and the post-copulatory call of the winter wren, all of which Tikvah gained a remarkable proficiency in imitating.

My concern with the animal’s education however distracted me from my work and it was not long before I found myself terminated. After lavishing my supervisor with epithets in fleshy ochre and azo yellow, as offensive as they were colourful, I returned to my humble flat, my spirits, naturally low, untainted by the occurrence. But fate, like a skilled boxer, often strikes with double fists. My flat had been broken into and I had been robbed of my few meaningless possessions. The dog, Tikvah, was also missing. I celebrated the disaster with three too many aperitifs, slept poorly that night and was roused from my bed late the next morning by the pale disk of the sun groaning at my window.

Days succeeded each other, marked by threats of eviction, meals of potatoes and peas and general unpleasantness.

On one of these day I was at the Bow Road tube station, waiting for a train.

There were very few people there, not more than half a dozen, and one of these was a chubby little man, immaculately dressed and fondling the handle of a black umbrella. It was clear that I interested him, for he passed me and repassed me several times, casting on me a look at once embarrassed and keen, like certain dogs who wish for attention, but are afraid of being beaten.

The man continued to eye me with curiosity, and then, flourishing his umbrella like some agitated, out of practice D’Artagnan, finally approached. “Excuse me, but do you mind if I—”

“Yes?”

“Are you by any chance an, um, Lucian Freud?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “And if I were?”

“Oh, don’t think this is the curiosity of a nosey-parker. I am a professional.”

He handed me his card.

Leo Krayl

Dealer in fine Pictures

consultations and evaluations

 

“So are you evaluating me then?” I asked, lacing my words with the appropriate hint of bitterness.

“Why my friend,” he murmured, “I only wished to ascertain . . .”

“Oh yes,” I broke in. “I am a Freud. Does the fact amuse you? Do I inspire you? Do you wish to look for meaning for your undoubtedly insipid life in the dreary shades of my face?”

The man seemed to enjoy this insult, for his face brightened. He obviously considered it as a sign of intimacy and it became instantly clear to me that he was one of those types who become deeply attached to their tormentors.

“It seems rather astounding to find you here in this filthy place,” he continued. “Surely I might be able to help you.”

“Maybe I don’t want help.”

“But it is not merely about what you want,” he said eagerly. “You are a masterpiece, and as such have certain obligations. It is an injustice to have your presence hidden away, without anyone being able to appreciate you. Is it a buyer you lack? Well, I could find a hundred. —Your facial expression is delightfully underplayed!” he suddenly broke out. “Delightfully underplayed—yet mysteriously suggestive.”

“You professionals,” I sneered, “always manage to sugar-coat misery.”

He looked distraught. “I certainly have no desire to misrepresent you—but after all, you must see for yourself that art is subject to various interpretations. Sometimes the viewer has a deeper insight into the work than the artist himself, how much more so the picture. And——”

I let him distribute his words in the air as a magnolia tree might its flower petals in the month of June, indirectly aware that the former were cosmically purposeless. If I had been created a man of vigour, I might have struck him; if a man of ignorance I might have lapped up his words like a starving cat at a dish of milk. As it was I hung in the void, like an icicle, fragily cold, hangs from the eave of a lonely house in Siberia.

I had already missed my train twice. I decided not to miss it a third time.

“I must go,” I said.

“I feel nervous about leaving you here like this. I feel that I might not ever see you again.”

“I don’t guarantee that you will.”

“I have a mind to drag you home with me.”

“Don’t do that. One of us might get damaged.”

He pursed his lips together. “Yes. There is always a risk of damage. But I will not say goodbye, but simply see you again!”

A few days passed during which I drank a good deal more than usual, letting myself drift from disreputable pub to pub like a ghost from room to room in some great crumbling mansion on a hill. I swallowed little absinthes the colour of pond scum, strong glossy ales, and martinis as clear as the water of a Norwegian brook. I let myself be lashed by the laughter of young harlots. I made merry. And soon my wallet was empty of everything but that thin rectangle of card-stock paper.

I decided to call on him. After all, from a strictly physical point of view, my situation was miserable. Happiness was never an option. But the possibility of having physical comfort appealed to me.

The little man was quite delighted to see me, and rubbed his hands together with such avidity that it would not have surprised me if flames had burst forth from them. He guided me through an incongruous forest of antiques, poured me the stiffest of drinks and stuffed an enormous V-shaped cigar between my teeth, murmuring the platitudes of his profession.

His place was full of quadros, for the most part inferior stuff, though there were a few pieces of slight interest: an Emil Nolde which kept making the most awful faces; a Nitsch, a great emasculating splash of blood; an Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a woman whose face was the most repulsive shade of green and whose whispered innuendoes could not fail but to entice.

Krayl grabbed me by the sleeve and placed me in a Henry IV chair.

“Ah, you will not regret having come to see me,” he murmured. “I have clients—clients—clients who would be delighted to have an opportunity of doing you a good turn. Yes, it will be easy to find a buyer for a painting like you, one that can be smelt, touched, tasted—for people like that sort of thing you know.”

I nodded my head and told him to do as he pleased, my only stipulation being that I wanted a private situation. I did not want to be in some museum, on public exhibition, having to watch day in and day out children picking their noses in front of me and men dressed in visors and shorts shoving their near-sighted eyes against my chest.

“Ah, of course,” he said. “I would not dream of doing you such a disservice. . . . But wait;—I know just the people for you! Only last month they were asking about a Freud. . . . A very prestigious—a very comfortable collection.”

Krayl found a place for me in the collection of one Hanspeter Liniger, of Berlin, at what advantage to himself I never learned.

The Linigers lived in a house designed by Richard Neutra, a blend of art, landscape and practical comfort decorated with a small collection of paintings of only slightly less importance than myself. There were a few pieces by Motherwell and a rather interesting, though diminutive, piece by Mr. Richard Tuttle. He had a nice assortment of lunette shaped pen and inks by Francesco Salviati, all done with a brown wash and heightened with white. In the library there was a Monet—a pond on which a few water lilies rested rather sadly.

I was treated with the utmost respect—more respect than I desired, and was allowed to dine en famille. When they had guests over, I was shown off, and became the subject of a thousand opaque remarks;—such remarks as are designed to make the speaker sound intelligent without actually having to make use of that latter resource: the theoretical frill which they haul out by the yard and throw around like confetti.

“A real comment on the fate of man in an age of social disintegration,” said one man.

“Absolutely chthonic.”

“The eerie lack of depth in the volumetrical treatment leaves one . . .”

“Dazzled.”

“Almost sea-sick.”

“But there are several independent themes at work at once here . . .”

I believe they found my acrid solemnity charming—just as certain geographical locations, Death Valley, the Sahara and such, are, for their very bareness and lack of vegetation, considered beautiful. And the rich love nothing better than to contemplate life’s ugliness from the comfortable depths of their cushions, just as ancient Egyptian pharaohs would, while eating pickled pearls and listening to the strains of the harp, watch their slaves flogged and their impertinent toadies beheaded.

But this sort of bigoted laziness appealed to me.

I lounged around the place, yawned a great deal, slithered about the liquor cabinet, emptying bottles of old Scotch and sampling odd liquors. I was a sort of mascot—a slab of dreary colour to be dragged out in front of dinner guests and pondered over in one’s leisure moments. Unfortunately the rich have many of those—leisure moments.

Mr. Liniger would often fling himself down on the couch and gaze at me from behind the huge knot of his necktie with the weary eyes of a pampered imbecile. It is amazing how many unhappy millionaires there are in the world and, if it were not for the fact that the rich deserved to be despised, I might very well feel some slight measure of pity for them. As it was, I supplied the man with an abundance of poisonous council, sought to show him the nakedness of his soul, which was like a soft, white-skinned gobbet of flesh cast in a whirlwind of glistening black thorns, twice as sharp as hypodermic needles.

He gurgled under my care, like a baby being fed pabulum.

“I always used to consider myself a happy man,” he said.

“It is always better to know the truth.”

“I suppose so . . .”

“You first have to realise how wretched you are in order to be able to weigh life’s options intelligently.”

“Life’s options? But—And—will I ever find . . . true happiness?”

“It is doubtful. You are far too dishonest with yourself. And happiness, truly speaking, is one of those things which neither exist nor does not exist, nor both exists and does not exist.”

And off he would go, to get lost in crowds of suited men, like a drop of water cast in the sea.

The wife, Sigrid was her name, would often come milling around me, with thermodynamic inference, her robust hips grazing me, her lips, like great wads of raw beef, twisting themselves into an obscene mockery of a smile. She was a dog-eared maiden addicted to Veronal, one of those women who, though they are as carnal as veal, make a pretence of being mystical. She dressed herself in loose, light materialed pastel dresses, such as are worn at séances and intimate outdoor August grills and glanced through books on theosophy, murmuring corrupted phrases of ancient wisdom with the same complacency that politicians speak of freedom and democracy while flagellating cities with million-dollar bombs and drowning third-world nations beneath the thick brown gel of poverty.

Sigrid would parade herself naked before me and, when her husband was not at home, you can be sure her advances were anything but subtle. On occasion, from shear boredom, I complied with her wishes, making myself ill with the over-ripe, let us say rotten, fruit of her passion which combined, farcically, the pungent aroma of the sewer with the music of a thick-tongued heathen being flayed alive.

Somewhere in that tangle of limbs which resembled the capering of some eight-legged insect crushed by a boot heel, a flower was born. Its stem curved dizzyingly upward, its petals, the colour of lamp black, gave out a stench like rotting flesh. Its pistils, uncompromisingly sharp, were as ready to strike as the fangs of an agitated viper.

“I want to have your child,” she murmured in the depths of the night.

“But you have had one . . . with your legitimate spouse.”

“Oh . . . oh . . . !”

Indeed, some nineteen years previous, a worm had already crawled out of the Pandora’s box of her womb.

Their son was an anaemic-looking individual with shoulder-length black hair which he kept parted in the middle and an outstretched, extremely thin nose which barely seemed to suffice to supply his meagre brain with oxygen. One could have eaten soup from the hollows of his cheeks and, when he opened his mouth, his long front teeth, attached to purplish gums, reminded one unpleasantly of the bits of fat around a piece of raw sirloin. That he had no friends was not surprising, for he was a thoroughly repulsive creature who did nothing all day but warm the couch with his meagre bottom, occasionally float to the piano to let his wiredrawn fingers slither over the keys like so many blind earth-worms.

He would often come and moon around me, the lonely disks of his eyes suffused with petrified amberish tears.

“While other lads are off sniffing glue, gambling away their father’s money, and visiting hookers, what are you doing? You seem, like a clam, to be incapable of both good and evil. I would call you a vegetable, but even carrots grow.”

“I play the piano.”

“My dear boy, you do it with such utter passivity that it would be more apt to say the piano plays you. Your music manages to be both radically annoying and infinitely boring,—a rare accomplishment indeed!”

“But what should I do?”

“Get drunk,” I said, stirring the whisky in my glass with my little finger.

“But alcohol usually makes me vomit.”

“Another irony.”

“If I could fall in love,” he said shyly.

“As you are clearly incapable of feeling lust, the ability to love is as far away from you as the planet Neptune.”

“Oh!”

I lighted a cigarette.

“Yes, you might tour the entire solar system and still not find a woman unambitious enough to fall in love with you—the most misshaped of human satellites—a mere lump of coal floating in space. Essentially you are the equivalent of a mould. As far as human-beings go, you are a nullity. If there was a war in progress, I would suggest you go and become cannon-fodder. As it is . . .” I paused significantly.

“As it is?” the young man gurgled.

“As it is, you might as well just go and kill yourself,” I said, picking a bit of tobacco from my tongue. “You can be quite sure the world will go on just the same without you. After all, you have no friends, your parents are certainly not fond of you. For my part, I can honestly say it would cause me no other emotion than the slightest tinge of relief;—for truly these little philosophical conversations of ours are on the tedious side!”

“But what if I want to live?” he murmured. I saw an amberish globule lodged on the tip of his lower left eyelid.

“Want to live? Why you know very well that you don’t want to live! If you wanted to live, you would be living right now instead of clinging to the rug like a mollusc. If you want to come bumbling in here begging for advice, the least you could do is be courteous enough to take it!”

His bottom lip quivered pitifully, like a half crushed caterpillar, and then he began to gnaw on it as if he wanted to put it out of its misery.

With spasmodic movements, idiot inspiration, he bounced towards the liquor cabinet, a few words dripping from his mouth like slobber:

“Drink . . . man . . . hopefully . . .”

His fingers, wilted weeds, wrapped themselves around a bottle of Château Lascombes—vintage of ’34 I believe. He discovered the cork-screw and tried to open it, but managed in doing so to drive the majority of the cork inside the bottle.

“We . . . drink . . .”

“No thank you. That wine soaked cork is all yours.”

I went to the liquor cabinet and refreshed my whisky. When I turned around he was gone, as was the wine bottle.

Later that evening he was discovered floating in the Monet, as green as the water-lilies around him. We fished him out and he threw up on a 16th century Armenian Kazak rug.

“I tried to . . . drown myself. . . . But . . . wouldn’t sink.”

“The cork,” I murmured, gazing meditatively at his pale face in its pool of vomit, the latter studded with a few undigested Veronal tablets.

This incident naturally livened things up a bit, and I believe that young man did well to follow my advice—though the results, due to the weakness of his mental facilities, were nothing more than a rather absurd fiasco. His inept attempt at suicide impressed his parents far more than it did myself; and their offspring, their coward, threw all the blame for his action on myself.

Liniger stormed through the house, howling out invectives to his concubine.

“This painting is cruel! We must get rid of it!”

“But you can’t Hans!”

“Can’t be damned! It has made a cuckold of me, almost killed my son. Under the auction hammer it goes!”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Come now my dear lady, do you think I am so blind as not to see the paint chips between the sheets? Do you think that I am not aware of the aroma you take on—like that of a dirty sheep—whenever you are in its presence?”

The man’s fire was impressive. I was on the verge of admiring his spirit; and if it were not for the fact that he was an utter fool, I might have applauded.

Singrid of course saw where her interest lay. Whatever prohibited sympathies she might have entertained for me, she was not about to stick her neck out for a lost cause, to sacrifice the security of her matrimony for the grudging caresses of a scrap of paint-clotted canvas.

And so, with rather remarkable haste, I was removed, sent back to England. I lounged about a warehouse for a while and then, at precisely eleven o’clock in the morning of a particularly hot day in July, was put to auction by Messrs. Sotheby & Co. at their large galleries, 34 & 35, New Bond Street, W.1.

I felt like something of a celebrity on the auctioneer’s platform as I gazed over the lake of silent craniums before me. The bidding, at first slow, picked up its pace. The sobriety of the conductor of this public sale’s Oxford accent began to show hints of agitation, which soon enough he crushed with his mallet. I was purchased by a consortium of Japanese businessmen for a large sum and crated off to Tokyo, where I was managed with the most delicate attention. Small, subtle hands sheathed in white cotton gloves escorted me, placed me in the board room of an office building—the apex of a mountain of glass amongst a bizarre menagerie of similar constructions.

My patrons would come in, bowing stiffly to each other, wearing identical dark-grey suits and commence fencing with words whose meaning I did not understand, but whose deadly sharpness was obvious. They treated me with rigorous cordiality, but more with that which befitted a large investment than a great work of art. Though on occasion these gentlemen went out, enjoyed nights on the town compounded of steak-house suppers, karaoke bars and upper-class brothels, never once did they invite me to join them. They were obviously afraid that I would be damaged.

I spent my time looking out over the Tokyo landscape, the cliff-like buildings rising up on all sides, in the distance the harbour with ferries slowly gliding over its glassy surface. The melancholy and stiff luxury of my surroundings made me feel like a grey cloud hanging over an orchard in heavy bloom.

The office secretary, a Miss Kiyonaga, would sometimes come in and dust me. Her neck was the brilliant white of freshly fallen snow and her hair fell against its nape like the wing of a raven. In a soft voice reminiscent of an October wind stripping the last leaves off a cherry tree she would speak of her sorrows. She was the mistress of one of the chairmen who was married with five children. She loved him desperately, but the fragrant blossom of her emotion was always kept in check by his vigorous loyalty to social mores and his spite for the very looseness in her which he enjoyed.

“You should break with him,” I said.

“I can’t, no more than you can change the colour of your face.”

“So our situations are similar.”

“Yes. We could run away together.”

“And what would we do?”

“I would work for you—try very hard to make you happy.”

“That is impossible.”

“Yes, in this floating world . . .”

One day I was taken and put, with a few other paintings in the company’s collection, in a small museum in Sekino. Though, as I have previously stated, I despise that sort of thing, it was better that it was done in Japan than elsewhere, for in that country the people stood humbly before me, whispering to one another in the most reverential undertones as if they stood before the image of some dragon god, bringer of wind and rain.

I fed off their whispers, their muffled speech, as an overly pampered dog might goose liver.

Human beings have a tendency to offer up their admiration to the most unfitting subjects. That I inspired these people with sadness, disgust and fear, I have no doubt—but they cherished these emotions, inhaling the misery that pervaded my person as if it were some exquisite perfume, scenting their sleeves with it like apricot blossoms. And yet their admiration was not folly, for I fully comprehend it, and consider myself one of the finest paintings ever painted in England—which is understandably a bit of an odd statement, something akin to saying ‘the largest lake in the Sahara’ or something of the sort, considering that the entire history of England has only produced two great painters: Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud—and the latter, my creator, was after all born in Germany.

In any case, the inhabitants of the city, as well as others who travelled from distances, admired the chill of my incongruity for several weeks. And then, during the night, I was stolen, rolled into a sheaf and tucked under the arm of an able thief. When I awoke the next morning, I found myself surrounded by a group of shirtless men, their arms and chests heavily tattooed. Later I found out they were, the Black Flowers, a sub-gang of the notorious Kabuki-mono.

“You will stay under our protection until you are told otherwise,” a man with a great u-shaped mouth told me. “If you disobey this injunction, I will be obliged to cut you to bits.”

There was a certain charm in being abducted by the yakuza and, as I afterwards found out, the whole scheme had been instigated by the very businessmen who bought me in the first place. For, realising that they could never resell me for the exorbitant sum which they had paid, and finding themselves in financial difficulties, they decided to have me stolen and thereby collect on the insurance.

For a number of weeks I was kept locked up in a room decorated with nothing but tatami mats, my chief amusement being to play cho ka han ka with my jailors while drinking a steady stream of saké. The life however was not unpleasant. I ate ayu, caught in the traditional manner by trained cormorants, and composed allusive verses with a ball-point pen on the walls of my chamber. This is called adapting oneself to circumstances. One steps slowly when there is no place to arrive. One needs leisure to properly appreciate the tedium of being.

The hours passed like a mountain stream in springtime.

Days disappeared like dust before the wind.

And it was with some regret that, after several weeks of this existence, I received the news that I was to be set at liberty. I was slapped on the back, joked with, blindfolded, and taken for a ride in a comfortable vehicle.

After driving around for several hours, the car stopped. I was gently pushed out the door. I felt my hand grasped. The blindfold was removed. A large black car sped away into the night, leaving me standing, a solitary figure against a backdrop of deserted docklands. I pushed my hands in my pockets and felt a wad of yen—money I had won at dice. I looked over the water, which expanded before me like the endless pulsating skin of some universal deity. Somewhere out there, over oceans, on the other side of Asia, was Europe, the land of spiritless vice and jagged etiquette where a population sedated by faux democracy and cheap manufactured goods, babbling about history while they treat that watchword as a toilet, chain themselves together in that self-imposed slavery called capitalism. That was where I belonged; just as a maggot belongs in a dog’s corpse.

I was in no way tempted to throw myself at the feet of the authorities. I had had enough of living off the crumbs of the rich. I purchased an airline ticket and went back—to England. The small stock of money I had was soon dissipated in dissolute behaviour and I was once again forced to live by my wits—a commodity which the going rate is far less than that of any precious metal and can, in truth, often be bought for less than petrol.

I rented a room from an elderly French woman with an unpleasant relish for sentimental conversation and a large orange cat. The room was extraordinarily narrow; the cat monstrously fat. I seem to have come full circle, for the aroma of earlier times found me again and the creature clawed at my trousers with as little respect for art as an aborigine for the flavour of a white truffle.

At night Miss Baisieux (such was the woman’s name) would cook over-sauced meats and open inexpensive bottles of Beaujolais, treating me with a motherly care that bordered on the incestuous. She told me about her numerous love affairs—with Sardinian fishermen, disconsolate priests, fetishists and Middle-Eastern royalty. In the over-heated atmosphere of her confessions the heavy French cooking churned in my stomach; the cat rubbed against my leg; I felt like vomiting—but washed down the sensation with another glass of wine. Then I would make my way to my room, lay down on the child-sized mattress provided for me and let my thoughts stumble over the vanity of human existence, nations sinking, festal bacchanal blazes red like quinacridone rose, as my mind soon became invaded by dreams of black paintings, like those of Francisco Goya y Lucientes. From the depths of my subconscious poured visions of strange Sabbaths, in Vandyke brown, done in broad, surreal strokes; cackling music flowed over me like a cold, rippling stream, as I merged with the void.

It was late one morning at Primrose Hill. I stood and looked over the city, which lay smoking before me like some infernal battleground—a place where the conquered outnumber the conquerors by more than a thousand to one. A child came up and began to play in front of me with his mum. I turned and walked down. . . . There was a bench. I sat and lighted a cigarette.

I could hear a ruby-crowned kinglet call nearby—a series of whistles, short clear notes, and a rapid warbling of agitated mixed notes. At first I thought nothing of it, but then it occurred to me that London was hardly the habitat of that little bird whose range is confined almost exclusively to the pine forests of the Americas.

I looked up, expecting to catch sight of a fugitive from some nearby aviary, but was amazed to see a dog perched in the branch of a tree. It was Tikvah. I called his name. He leaped down and licked my hand and I, a being without mother, father or family, welcomed him with what tepid warmth was at my disposal.

I took him home with me. Miss Baisieux was hardly pleased with the new housemate.

“The room is for a single man,” she said.

“I am a single man.”

“No pets my friend.”

“But you have a cat.”

“Precisely. This dog of yours puts him in jeopardy. . . . Come, dinner is served.”

I walked into the dining room and was met by a plate of pâté de lapin with cornichons. Morbidly I went about my task as a soldier shoulders his rifle and advances into the hail of enemy fire. She prattled away, her foot occasionally, in all innocence, drifting over to mine. My eyes examined, beneath the thick layer of iridescent make-up spread over her face, trembling folds of skin reminiscent of the rugged untamed scenery of Australia or North America—vast canyons and desolate wastes.

A faint but pleasant piping came from the other room where Tikvah rested.

“Un oiseau!”

“A dog madame, a dog.”

By the time the cheese was served I felt thoroughly nauseous. . . . Miss Baisieux chattered away. Tikvah no longer whistled. . . . The cat came in and rubbed against my leg. I pushed it away; looked down. It had a bloody bit of fur in its mouth.

I rose from table . . . stalked solemnly into the living room.

The dog’s bones, to which red flesh still clung, lay scattered on the floor. My lips pressed tightly together, I pondered the scene, then, with a shrug of my shoulders went to bed. Undoubtedly the cat had had a better supper than I.

In this bizarre serial of past, present and future I have haunted all the most depressing corners of Europe: small German towns where people’s lips hang down to their knees, the industrial quarters of Northern Italian cities where the sky is blotted out by atrocious architecture and spirals of grey smoke. I am attracted by dark alleys where the smell of urine is so strong that it can be seen and neighbourhoods where the women’s voices sound like the shrieks of the damned.

A few crumpled up bills, filthy as used hygienic paper, suffice for my maintenance—and such documents can be earned easily, in a hundred different clandestine or perceptible ways. How many odd jobs I have had! A taxidermists assistant, a part-time procurer, a waiter at a Hungarian restaurant, a vendor of smut! Currently I am employed part-time by the post office. It is a night job. From 11 pm until 3 in the morning I sort mail.

I am what you would call a forgotten masterpiece. People pass me by without realising my true worth—and if I allude to it myself they think me bombastic, crazy. I am perfectly aware that I drink far too much and a cigarette, like a smoking icicle, eternally hangs from my mouth. I am a man with a canvas heart—a man painted with a certain amount of impatience, cast on the world by the brutal hand of genius and now doomed to wander its dirty boulevards like a rather blasé ghost.

But so be it. It is depressing, but the world after all is nothing more than a voluminous void, smeared on with a palette knife—a strange, grey, voluminous void. Others, as they grow old, find their skin gradually begin to web with wrinkles. I on the other hand find some of my paint cracking. I am gradually becoming endowed with a slight patina—a slight changing of hue—a patina of nausea and profound ennui.

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