“I was abused,” she said, regarding me flatly before turning back and giving me a chance to get a good look around. I made a clicking noise with my mouth. The office was a fucking mess and the air was thick with a sweet and sour stench. We’d have to hire a carpet cleaner.
I was completely out of my depth, I have to admit, but then nobody ever said it was going to be easy. Apart from Enrique who said it was going to be easy. She just continued to paint. She was using tomato sauce and brown sauce and salad cream. Her brush was a stick of celery. When she asked me if Enrique had sent me in I had, in an attempt to dodge the question, made the mistake of telling this woman that things probably weren’t as bad as she thought they were. Turned out they were actually pretty bad. Ah well.
There was still a chance she might be one of those people that make up stories about being abused, for attention, I’d seen something about that on the telly. She looked the type.
“I er… we’ve all got our problems,” I said. She snorted. I tried to think of a serious problem I had. My sore achilles? The Land Rover’s exhaust pipe? Those wouldn’t fly with this miserable chick. I had 99 problems but being abused wasn’t one. “You’ve got to face these things, you know, head on?” I was happy with the way that sounded. “Don’t lock yourself away in here, then the bastards have won.” I really liked the way that sounded, it sounded completely like I knew what I was on about. “Fucking bastards.” Maybe I wasn’t out of my depth? She chuckled her frightening chuckle again and continued to paint. “Talk about it,” I said.
“Talk about it?!” She said turning to me. I didn’t like what I saw in her eyes and so I picked up some empty yoghurt pots from the floor and stacked them on Enrique’s desk. “Okay, I’ll talk about it.” Uh-oh. She was nodding madly and licking her lips.
“Not to me!” I said before she could unload. “A health professional. They’re paid to listen.”
She snorted. “Just like the others,” she said turning back to her painting.
“No, on my life, it’s just we’ve got a big meeting this afternoon, and we’re going to need the office. So you can’t be here. I’m sorry. Shit timing, eh?” This was a big fat lie, we don’t have meetings and Enrique had simply entrusted me to remove this woman who had started living in his office because she was horrible and I had, somewhat gung-holy, accepted the challenge. “You could come back tomorrow or something?” I said as getting her out was the priority, keeping her out should be a lot easier.
“Hey Jaime, people, dey don’t like chu, right?” Enrique had said to me just after I arrived.
“Dey, how you say? Dey… recoil from you to go away? Be easy for you.”
“Well…” I’d replied defensively.
“Get her out, man, please!”
She squirted salad cream onto a saucer and ran the celery around in it. The celery wasn’t going to last much longer.
“That’s a good picture,” I told the woman. “I mean, I’m no art critic!” Bit of self-deprecation there, I’m actually a brilliant critic of absolutely everything, food, art, cars, you name it, “but I know what I like,” I said. I also know what women like, they like compliments. “That should be hanging in a gallery.” I closed my eyes for the duration of three standard blinks when I realised I’d said the word ‘hanging’. “It’s breathtaking.”
“You like it then?”
“I really do. I really do. Brutal. And honest. Brutally honest, that’s what it’s saying to me.”
“Well, thanks,” she said and although she didn’t sound totally convinced for the first time in a while she didn’t sound on the verge of tears or on the brink of a screaming fit. “I do find expressing myself through art is a…” She literally grasped at the air with her free hand for the word.
“Yes, a release,” she agreed flicking her celery at me. I blinked away the sauce. The woman stood and looked at her work of art and then to me. “This is about betrayal,” she said.
“No shit!” I laughed, she narrowed her eyes and I stopped laughing. “No, I totally get that. No shit, that’s what I was going to say. You can see it.”
“You can?” She asked, surprised, wary. She’d been hurt before.
“For sure, the colours, it’s like you painted the ultimate betrayal, a brutal penetration in neopolitan ice-cream, the colours of summer, but instead of it being sweet and innocent, like ice-cream should be, the materials you’ve used just spins that around on its head, literally, like that character there has been spun around… is that you?” The woman nodded. “The sour smell adds to it, the materials you’ve used are wow. Just wow.” I looked at the large pink penis, the man who owned it had no face. “It just takes your expectations, crumples them up and drop kicks them into a bin. It’s powerful.” We both stared at the fucking mess she’d smeared onto the back of a promotional poster from the front window. If you were planning on looking in our window and seeing how much a four pack of Stella Artois would set you back you can forget about it. That info has gone.
“You’re surprising,” the woman said to me looking at me briefly.
“You’re surprising,” I lied. She wasn’t, not at all. I’d fully expect a depressed woman to wallow in her depression and create terrible dirty art and smell bad. Like that famous one. “So you think when you’re finished you can give us our office back? Don’t have to go now but we need it for this afternoon?” I didn’t want to rush her. She was as unstable as that damp dynamite Mr T had carried up that ladder.
“Yeah, sure,” she said and I smiled warmly. Schizo, I thought. Enrique was going to think I was great.
With a wink I left her to it and went to brag to Enrique about how great I am at getting rid of women. I nodded and strutted over to him in time with an inaudible beat. “She. Is. Outta here.”
“Yeah, she go. Soon, she’s just finishing a picture. Fucking hell, it’s horrible.”
“She coco-maloco,” he said. There was no arguing with that. After an hour I began to doubt she was leaving and I feared we might have to resort to plan B, Paula going in there and dragging her out by her hair but while I was goading Paula to get her fired up the woman did come out.
“You off then?” I asked. Of course she was, she was fully dressed and had her bag.
She nodded. “Thanks,” she said. It looked like she’d been crying or laughing. Or sneezing. Enrique gave her a thumbs up but she only had eyes for me.
“Anytime,” I said. “Just not when we’ve got a big meeting.” We all laughed at that, perhaps too much.
“I left you a present,” She said silencing me. My first thought was she’d pooed on Enrique’s desk but then I remembered the painting. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
“Oh no, you’ve got to have it. It’s too good. You should… you should sell it!”
“I’d really like you to-“
“No, you take it. I just couldn’t.”
“Well thanks.” She said. She went and got her art and walked out the door. It was windy and the card the picture was smeared on kept catching the wind and flicking up like it wanted away from her. I didn’t blame it. Trying to keep hold of the picture she had spun it around, revealing it in all its gory glory.
“Hey, dats me!” Said Enrique. I looked at him, he nodded. I high-fived Enrique.