Art Pact 148


I make monsters out of the leftover parts while Angela rants on about her friend above me. The underside of her workbench is dotted with stalactites of gum hurriedly hidden in order to present a professional aspect to a client and then forgotten. The wood is unvarnished and dull, except in two shiny protrusions that extend from the edge where Angela sits, the ghostly shadows of her thighs where they press when she has her chair too high. That happens only on stressful days, of which there must have been many I would guess. I recognise it as the inverse phenomenon to one I have seen frequently at home - getting undressed for bed my sister takes off her skirt or trousers to reveal pressed lines on the front of her legs, a hand's length below her hips.

Now, though, she is complaining about Serena to her other friend Elizabeth. Elizabeth stands in the door, as far away from the bodies as she can be without leaving. Elizabeth is a perfume counter girl, and I do not know what she looks like, not really. Her shoes are heels, but the heavy comfortable heels of someone who must stand up all day enticing women to come closer so that she can subtly criticise their pores under the guise of friendship and fellow womanly feeling. For a similar reason her ankles, unlike the rest of her, are thick with muscle. I can see no higher than that from my vantage point, although by certain shifts of weight I can tell that she is leaning against the door frame, and at one point in the conversation she lifts the right foot out of its shoe and folds it up closer to her body, presumably to rub it.

"She doesn't understand," Angela says, kicking a filing cabinet draw closed with her own right foot. "She's got Guilliam, they've been together for so long she's forgotten what it's all like."

I suspect that Serena does understand. I look at the pieces before me - the tail of a cat, two legs from a Chihuahua dog, and a budgerigar whose owner left it here two weeks ago and has not returned since, nor is she answering the phone calls that Angela makes to her at the insistence of her boss. The parts are of comically different sizes, but I stitch them together anyway. I cut off the budgie's wings and scrape them out with my knife to form the attachment point for the dog's legs, then pluck out the tail feathers (I would have liked to put the cat's tail elsewhere, to give it a new purpose, but there is only so much room on a bird to work with).

"Guilliam's taking her to Paris," Elizabeth drawls. "I should ask Richard to take me to Paris. He took me to Calais once. He said what's the difference? It's all France, isn't it?"

"Typical Richard," Angela reluctantly agrees.

"I asked him, do you really think there's no difference between the most romantic city in the world and some dreary port full of high-per-mar-shay?"--she stretches out the word until it is almost unrecognisable--"I told him, Calais is somewhere you go with school to buy french sweets, it's not somewhere you take your future wife."

"Yes."

Angela is bored of Elizabeth, I know this because she talks to herself at night, in the big bed across the room from my own smaller one. She and Elizabeth have been friends for years, almost as long as she and Serena, but in that time their jobs and interests have made them drift apart. The separation is certain now, although it has been growing glacially slow, so that neither of them recognise the source of their discomfort with each other. But it is obvious in the room at the moment, I can even see it from my vantage point. Elizabeth is shallow, that is what Angela thinks. Her job is shallow, her relationship with the safe but tedious Richard is shallow. On the other side of the coin, Elizabeth is repulsed by the morbidity of Angela's profession. She might as well be a gravedigger or a doctor in a morgue as far as Elizabeth is concerned. Elizabeth's world rewards a very strict definition of femininity, and stuffing dead animals is not included in the list of womanly pursuits.

"You should come out with us," Elizabeth says. "Get your glad-rags on, come out on the pull. Just you and me and Richard. Get yourself a decent man, forget all about whats-his-name. Make Serena jealous  of you,  you know? Best cure for the green-eyed monster is to pass it on to someone else."

I have cleaned up the left leg and the corresponding joint on the budgie enough to fix them together, but realise with some irritation that I did not bring any packing material down here. I could try snaking a hand up to grab it from Angela's desk, but I do not know whether Elizabeth knows I am here, and although she is unlikely to turn Angela in to her boss there is always the chance that the sudden appearance of a hand from beneath Angela's workspace might startle her.

"I don't know. I'm not sure that - I mean..."

Is it as obvious to Angela that Elizabeth really doesn't understand her problem, I wonder? Perhaps I do not understand, because from what I have overheard it sounds to me as though Serena's take on the whole issue, the one that Angela has just spent ten minutes deriding, is spot on. Perhaps what my sister is unwilling to admit to herself is just that - that in fact Serena understands perfectly well the situation Angela is in with Alexander, but that if Angela accepts that she must also accept that there is something in Serena's advice. My sister is afraid to act, and the action that Serena has mapped out for her is doubly terrifying to her, because it would put her on the back foot for once.

At that moment my sister lifts her current project off her desk and places it on the floor, forgetting that I am down here. The dog's face is not fixed yet, and it stares at me with hideous blank eye sockets. I shriek involuntarily.

"What the hell was that?" Elizabeth asks.

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