Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Art Thief by Polly Tuckett

The Art Thief
by Polly Tuckett

It was in the station bar. His moustache like asparagus tips, reminded me of a whiskered cat who used to stop by. Quite old, forty even, but with a definite chin and splendid black eyes. But it wasn't me he was looking at.

Michelle introduced herself, 'and this is Betty.'

He barely shook my hand.

I folded myself into his sportscar's shelf of a backseat. I was the kid, carsick, resentful. Speeding through a warren of green-shuttered backstreets, we veered off the coastal road, down a sandy path, the scent of pine like a homecoming. The ocean bashed the rocks below.

His villa was exquisite, worth an entrance fee. Next day we took a picnic along with us. Low waves slapped the sides of the boat. The hull was a windless suntrap. There was Michelle, stretched out on the lifejacket bench. Nobody navigated. He crouched, muttering homemade poetry, stroking her liquid hair. He warmed coconut-oil between his palms. His hand trembled over her breast, undecided. The odd proprietorial gestures of men. Jealousy made me a feminist, yet a morbid thrill stole through me all the same.

They became lovers although Michelle already had one who enjoyed the torture of details. She wrote him pornographic letters.

Although they shared the strange intimacy of sleep, limbs muddled in sweat and sheets, she still called him Mister Lister. He gave her clothes, jewels - adored her with his gaze. The close atmosphere of their sex made me nauseous. I had to come up for air. His love for Michelle was the single failing that made him loveable. That plus I liked to picture myself the lady of the house.

'I'm leaving' said Michelle, 'it's boring.'

Guilt made her flippant, self-righteous.

Across the tracks, our elongated shadows appeared closer than we were. The train came. He tipped her back in a ridiculous tango pose.

'Don't go! Stay and be my wife.'

She struggled free. He waved from the platform, shoulders shrugged in private misery.
I lounged around in his boxers, spying from the balcony. There he was on the wet margin of sand, skimming stones. I smoked his cigarettes, rifled through his affairs. In a hatbox a stack of incriminating papers - love letters, Christies catalogues, architectural plans for a mansion. I found a strange toolbox and confronted him:

'You're an art thief. Marry me and I'll tell no one.'

I reminded him of Michelle's indiscretion, in case his thoughts turned bloody.
Opening the toolbox, out came the flim. 'Gibbert' he said, roistering it about in the natch-lock. 'Badshanks,' next, extracted from its fitted spindle-niche. 'And this here's a dathe', quingeing open the mekbars with a practised flick of the wrist.

Down to the cellar. A fine spot for murder; the ceiling low and arched like a bunker. Nodules of depressive yellow light headed each painting. Under glass the fragment of a Rigaverio sketch, the detail on the foot enhanced by the age of the parchment, webbed fissures over painted veins. Art objects in Perspex cases. A priceless Mazio turd emerging from an upturned can. A series of Reutensbergs in fawns and beige. The collection was magnificent. I said so.

'Such excellent taste. I'd be honoured if you'd be my apprentice.'

Author bio:

Polly Tuckett is a writer for adults and children. She has been listed for the Bridport and Fish prizes and has had work published in Samizdat magazine. She has recently been signed to United Agents on the strength of her first novel for teenagers, which she is currently in the process of editing. Along with her colleague, Tara Gould, Polly runs 'Short Fuse,' a popular short fiction showcase, which pre-selects all read work in order to ensure its quality. Short Fuse is devoted to promoting the short story form and to providing an equal platform to established writers and to talented newcomers. Short Fuse regularly attracts large audiences and has a growing reputation as a cult live lit event. It is currently hosted in two UK towns - Brighton and Leicester.

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