Sally Hinchin opened the door to me dressed in a white granddad shirt splashed with paint in several shades of blue. It was unbuttoned at the collarless neck and she was wearing nothing but a pair of tights underneath, and clumpy red boots similarly splashed.
You’d better come in, she said.
If this is a bad time, I said, but she’d already turned away and was walking back down the gloomy, unlit corridor towards the back of the house. She went through an open door on the left into a room from which a pale blue tinged light spilled. I closed the street door behind me and followed her.
We’re painting in here, she said.
I assumed at first that she meant painting the room, but as I entered I could see that it wasn’t that at all. Dave was in there, naked save for a pair of dark blue Y fronts. He had a pot of Cornflower Blue in his hand and was dripping paint from its rim onto a canvas that near filled the space. Pots of other blues, Royal, Prussian, Ultramarine – I learned the names later – stood open around the edge on the uncarpeted floor, paint running down their curved flanks. They had been dribbled, splashed and spilled in whorls and spirals, blobs and spatters, across the canvas on which Dave stood barefoot. His footprints in mixed shades danced on the surface.
Intelligent Blues, Sally said. She was standing by the door looking down on the canvas.
That’s what we’re going to call it, Dave said. Sally bent to pick up one of the pots.
Get yourself a can, she said. I thought at first she meant a drink, but she shook the paint pot she was holding sending a spray of pale lavender towards the edge of the canvas. There were no brushes in sight, and I realised that the canvas had been tacked to the floorboards with flat head nails all around the perimeter.
Get your kit off too, Dave said, if you don’t want to mess up your gear.
Nobody ever bought Intelligent Blues as far as I know. The last I saw of it was where it lay nailed to the floor of that room in the squat where we painted it. Later that night we talked about how many hundreds of pounds it would fetch and what we would do with the money. It lay there for weeks and we walked back and forth across it as if it were an exotic carpet.
Won’t it get damaged, I asked once, and Sally looked at me as if she didn’t understand the question. I always wanted to.. I mean, I liked Sally. Underneath all that crazy art student stuff, but I never had a clue how to approach her. Looking back I’m amazed at how long they put up with me.
Dave was a gentle soul. He smoked a lot. Lebanese Red, he called it and he smoked it in roll ups mixed with tobacco. Every time he made one, at least when I was around, he’d say, this stuff isn’t doing me any good. Stop smoking it then, I’d tell him. Stick to just the tobacco, I said once, and he laughed and said, it’s the tobacco that’s killing me. When Sally and Dave slept together it seemed to me that they were like comfort blankets for each other.
I slept with Sally only once. I’d brought wine which we drank upstairs in her bed. That was because of the cold. There was no heating in that house except one open fire in the main room where they painted and all the scrap wood had gone. Dave had gone too by then. Where? I asked. Somewhere, she told me, and I later realised it was a euphemism for prison. She said the bastards had fitted him up, though why they would go to so much trouble I could never see.
She said we’d be warmer in her room and I no idea until we got there that she meant in the actual bed.
For fuck’s sake, she said, are you going to sit and shiver in that fucking chair all night? So I climbed in with her. We were both fully dressed to begin with and sat there like two old people, drinking wine from plastic cups. She said she thought I was GAY, though that wasn’t the word we used back then.
You’d better fuck me then, she said.
I can’t remember feeling any excitement. In fact, thinking back I’m not sure how it could have happened at all, though I liked her a lot. But some sort of animal came into the room, like a shadow behind my back. I could see her eyes glittering as she looked at it over my shoulder. I could feel her hands reaching out for it behind me. She was pulling it down on top of me, crushing me between the two of them. I couldn’t breathe. It was on top of me pressing me into her, I had to stop what I was doing to fight it off.
What’s wrong? she said.
She hadn’t seen it all. She didn’t know what I was talking about. She hadn’t even sensed its presence in the room. I told her, it was huge.
What did it look like? she said.
I don’t know, I said, but it was behind me, like a shadow.
You’re fucking weird, she said.
That was the last time I saw Sally Hinchin. I never saw Dave again either. It’s the shadow animal that haunts me. Whenever I get, you know, excited, aroused, like that, I have to stop, to make sure it isn’t there, to make sure I can’t feel it in the room, at my back. I’ve never felt its presence again, never seen anyone looking up at it, their eyes glittering.
Sometimes I think it’s going to be there again, but it never is.
Story by Brindley Hallam Dennis
Illustration by Anna Martín
If you enjoyed reading Intelligent Blues, then why not read The Devil in Art