After a few moments, after they made love, she thought about it again and she whispered to him, knowing after what they’d said together, before they fucked, that he knew; and that if they hadn’t talked about it then they wouldn’t have fucked, because it had been the spark. She whispered: ‘I’d like to touch that painting.’
But she could tell he wasn’t listening – something about the way he answered too quickly, and maybe about the way he was touching her, too slowly now as if his heart had gone out of it, one hand tracing circles on her back as if he was holding a book in the other. He didn’t care and he didn’t understand. There was no book, she knew that, but where was he?
‘And I will burn you,’ she said, kicking out. ‘You don’t read when you’re fucking me.’ He yelped like a creature that would be – she was too angry to think properly: sub-puppy and hurled herself out of bed. ‘I can be a volcano.’
‘What do you mean, reading?’ She looked back at him, silly little man with his pale skin, beard and flaps of skin under his arms.
‘You’re fatter, more stupid than you’ll ever know,’ she told him, heading to the bathroom, pulling the sheet from the bed and wrapping it around her like a toga.
‘Claire, I think –’
‘You don’t think.’
But his calling after her was only like smoke. Only like smoke, and not from a cigarette, but from some kind of a damp squib. She slid the little bolt on the bathroom door, ran a bath and stood in front of the sink, gripping it, wishing she could tear at it. The floor, under the soft lawn thing feeling of the bath mat, was tough. Hard enough to stamp on when, five minutes later, he came knocking.
‘George, fuck off.’
‘Claire -’ STAMP STAMP STAMP. He was quiet. Three stamps was as much as it took for there to be absolute, complete silence. Silence in which she remembered a fire she’d once lit in a field. How old was she? She couldn’t remember, perhaps twenty. But she remembered the passion she’d given beforehand, although she couldn’t remember his name. He was German and he said she was incendiary when she disagreed with him. She lit a fire outside the fuck-tent and panicked as it poured outwards into the field, licking at the corn stalks as though it would never end. She stamped it out while the German emerged from the tent and stood breathless, gazing at his face. ‘Judas,’ she said. He looked like Caravaggio’s Judas. Judas kissing Christ – he had kissed her. He stared at her feet and pointed.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Are you looking for blood-holes?’
Her shoes smouldered but she couldn’t feel anything. She kicked them off, turned her back and walked barefoot to the autobahn in her shorts and her Nik Fiend, Alien Sex Fiend, t-shirt, aged twenty and knowing far more then, she thought than she did now.
She stared into the mirror. ‘I will touch that painting.’ The Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, she wanted to touch it, now.
She sat in the café opposite the gallery in her trainers, her blue jeans and an unremarkable T-shirt. It was plain white with a round neck and loose enough to hide her curves. Nothing would draw attention to her. If she was going to touch the painting nobody should want to touch her. No makeup, her hair in a bunch. Boyish, she looked, if anything. She’d checked it out in the hall mirror: that morning there was nothing that would draw the eye.
She would touch that painting. There, she imagined it, walking past the ticket desk, down a corridor, up some stairs, statues on all sides, and along an avenue of bronze and wooden limbs, lips, fingers. Nothing to be touched.
Did the cleaners know what they were able to do? What they were allowed to do? To touch a work of art. She sipped her coffee and pictured the entrance to the room where she needed to go. Beyond it she imagined the white walls, the high ceiling where nobody much looked, the guard sitting watching, the thermostatic controls, and the light wooden floor. Smooth as a mirror, all grain. Maybe you could have a floor that reflected the ceiling, like a lake, she wondered, staring into the glass of water beside her coffee cup.
At the far end of that room, the one she now held in her gorgeous mind’s eye was the painting. She would touch it. She would kiss it. She would run her hand across the whole length and the height of it before the guard could shift an inch. She wouldn’t hurt it. She wouldn’t take it; but she’d get her hands on it – she’d get her face on it. Touch it, she would.
Tom Tomaszewski works as a psychotherapist specialising in addiction at a private clinic, Charter, in central London. He was born in 1966 and grew up in South London, spending large amounts of time in the Scottish Highlands. His father, a printing engineer, came from a family of dissenting Polish patriots. His aunt died in Auschwitz and his grandfather was regularly prosecuted for an anti-Prussian column he wrote: Polish Fire. His mother, a nurse who worked with the Romany population of St Mary Cray in Bromley, introduced him to books and music alongside medicine and psychology, all of which continue to interest him. His novel The Eleventh Letter (forthcoming from Dodo Ink) is a story about desire, ghosts and trying to change the past.