A week later there’s a Peter Lindbergh exhibition in the Rotterdam Kunsthal. Pictures of models - Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista. Vogue and Harper’s Bazar. She asks if he’d like to go with her. It’s one of the first mild days of the year. Early lilacs bloom. Even though the sky is grey and rainy, there’s a touch of spring in the air. When they go in, everybody looks at her. She’s wearing a short skirt and dark tights, with low boots. At the entrance a guy, pointing at her, asks if he’s a photographer.
Later he finds her standing next to a huge black and white photo, bent over, reading the label; her right foot curled behind her left. They’ve both had a glass of wine and he dares to put his arm around her, and digs his nose into her curls. She giggles. Her narrow waist is very strong. “I’ll call you the Ice Princess,” he says.
“Okay, if you like,” she answers.
Afterwards they go for a drink in the bar, they find a quiet table next to the museumshop. She’s having a Coke Light. She asks if he liked them.
“Cindy Crawford? I’ve always had kind of a…”
“The pictures, you fool,” she says, slapping his arm. She’s sucking at a pink straw, then biting it.
“I don’t know,” he says. “If everybody thinks it’s art, then I guess it is. With those cameras and those models, a dog in a hat could shoot a brilliant picture.”
“Not every dog in a hat will get the opportunity though,” she answers. Her Coke is almost empty, she’s blowing bubbles now, through the straw. Only a thick layer of brownish foam remains. When a beach is polluted the waves come in like that. He focuses on her lips. She curls her upper lip while blowing. He has never seen anybody blow like that. Worlds open up, it’s like staring into the foreplay of the Apocalypse. He expects horsemen to start showing up on the horizon. He cannot think about polluted waves any longer.
“True. And that’s precisely the crux of the whole matter. The dog only has to bark long enough, believing he’s an artist, to become one. If he’s fortunate of course, if he strikes a lucky chord here or there. If he’s picked up by the right guy. Look at Mondriaan. Modernism is business, honey.” He leans back, feeling sharp.
“You’re jealous, darling.” She puts her hand on his sleeve, as if he has to be calmed down. But he does not, for God’s sake. He cannot withdraw his arm though, he’s enjoying the weight of her hand.
“Give me some yellow, blue, and red paper along with a pair of scissors and I’ll knock together a Mondriaan or two, to hang above your bed,” he says, half sneering. He wonders where this tone has come from, it’s not his. He’s only had one glass of wine. He puts his glass to his lips. Puts it down again. It makes a thumping noise on the table.
“That would be marvellous. I fancy a Mondriaan on my bedroom wall. And you’re gorgeous when you’re jealous, sweety. No need to be though.” Now she puts her hand on his, their fingers intertwining. He tries to concentrate on the big willow tree, standing in the middle of the park, old, majestic. It fills up the floor to ceiling window almost completely. What a tree. He’s as strong as that tree. He has to. No, he is the big willow tree.
Later they’re heading to an Italian restaurant and he wonders why he called her the Ice Princess, and suddenly he knows. There is something about her, he’d call it a frosty note, her eyes say it all. They draw you in, transparent as they are, looking at them is like diving in a bowl of Blue Curaçao, you have no reference point, nothing to go by, you go under, you drown. In the car every time he shifts gear his hand almost touches hers.
“Do you like my perfume?” she asks after a while, breaking the silence.
“I don’t know,” he says.
She smiles and starts looking out of the side window.
“Can I smoke?” she asks. Fingers in her purse, bringing out a package of Marlboro.
“No, you can’t,” he says. The lighter is in her hands, a vintage Dupont with a marbled brown motif. It gives a dry click, then she inhales deeply, throwing her hair back, draping it over the headrest with her left hand.
“Fine,” she says, blowing the smoke against the sunshade, then leaning back, closing her eyes.
In the restaurant they’re talking about previous relationships. Her last one had been with a much younger boy, twenty-two, Polish, living in Wroclaw. She didn’t remember why she’d started it in the first place. A fling, nothing more.That was what it was supposed to be, anyway.
“Not that I am into boys,” she says, squeezing his upper leg, “I prefer men.” Her tone is mocking but her fingers linger. Only a couple of months previously he had been picked up by the biggest model agency in Poland; when she met him he was in Holland on a shoot organized by Vogue. The story stings him a little, and he’d like to change the subject, but at the same time he wants to know more.
She notices he’s annoyed, waves her hand. “It doesn’t matter, we were just having fun, sweety. Right place, right moment, these things happen you know. No big feelings. Just sex, nothing more than that.” A slight blush developing, setting her cheeks on fire. A girl returning home from disco, he thinks, half an hour late, caught red handed by her father and inventing an innocent lie. He would like to touch her cheek now.
The waiter passes, they order. She wants a linguine vongole but only if it’s served with grana padano. The waiter thinks they only got parmiggiano. “So you’re not sure,” she says, confusing the boy who says he’s going to ask the kitchen. “Great idea,” she says, “you go and ask the kitchen.”
“You’re quite selective as far as cheeses go,” he says. He’s picturing her having sex with a young Polish model, just for fun; meanwhile he’s thinking about times long gone, when every first Friday of the month they went to confession, leaving primary school in a drawn out row, two by two, at the corner of the street the girls classes joining in, marching on the other side, even in church the central aisle between them. Fun had been impossible in those days - let alone sex. What would catechism have said about this sex for fun thing with a Polish model? He’s watching her, she’s playing with her mobile phone, this Salomé, scrolling through Instagram, still every inch a girl, every now and then peeking towards the kitchen, unquestionably wondering why it takes that long to verify if there’s any grana padano to be found or not.
“I think they’re booking a shipment from Pisa,” she says.
The ‘fling’, would it have been regarded as a venial sin or a mortal one? Purgatory, or hell? He remembers he dreaded the prospect of Purgatory. Seven years old he had nightmares about it. “When you go to Purgatory prize yourself lucky,” sister Alicia used to say, “because sooner or later you’ll end up in heaven”. Now this seemed quite obscure to him: couldn’t they be any more precise? They could as well keep you burning for a billion years. Who decided this? Was there any possibility of an appeal? It was moral blackmail. They couldn’t do what they wanted just because you were dead.
“Is everything okay, darling?” she asks. He nods. He’s looking rather pale, she says.
(to be continued in couple of days)
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