Narcissa Ch. 02byvillanova©
I am telling you this because I have to.
I know the way stories work here. If you read lots of the stories on this site, and have already read the first part of my tale, then you'll be expecting me to tell you about all the misadventures I have had trying to escape from the half-longed-for, half-dreaded attentions of my own image. If you missed the first part, go back and read it. Now. And I mean now, or nothing I have to tell you will make any sense. And I have not enough time to do a quick recap.
Are you still here? Haven't you read it yet? Then go. Now.
Okay, you've read it? Yes? Good. On one level, at least, I wish I could tell you all about the wild and sexy romps I have had, constantly being pursued by my own image, ever in danger of being blindsided and dragged off and fucked senseless by a mirror of myself. It would make for more fun reading than what has actually happened, that's for sure. Because, dear reader, whom if I had seen you across a crowded bar I would probably have made a move on if I were drunk or confident enough, I have to tell you that I am in hell. And I can see only two ways out.
It might have worked out okay if I had been able to reconcile myself to it. But I wasn't allowed to. For one thing, I am a working artist, and as such I have to deal with galleries and administrators and publicists and journalists and all kinds of other, lesser beings. (I used to consider myself above these people. If they could only guess how much I've come to envy them. Yeah, I know, it's still fucking pathetic envying people who will never get as much exposure and glamour and praise as I do. But it doesn't count for very much when you are as trapped as I am.)
So, before I get to the event that made everything so much utterly worse, let me just tell you a little about the strategies I devised to lead something approaching a liveable life.
For a while I enjoyed it, living in a constant daze of scared but hungry sexual excitation. It was an adventure, being at the mercy of myself. A simple trip down to the shops could lead to me being forced down onto my knees in a filthy alleyway and made to tongue myself to orgasm. I had wild nights at home, when I would get high on champagne and the finest products of Colombia and ravish myself for hours. I went on secret dates with myself, ostensibly sharing a night out with my friends but secretly calculating the moment to visit the bathroom, so that I could catch myself alone and shove myself into a cubicle and have my clothes pulled off and be luxuriously tongued and fingered and made to scream. Then I would dress and rejoin my friends, flushed, sated, answering their questions about what had happened to me with nothing but a secret smile.
But there was another side to it. I sometimes didn't want every waking moment to be a potential opportunity for sex. I only had so much stamina, and my appetite was too easily satisfied by my own touch. There was no affection in it, no chance of surprise, no wonder at the contours of a new body, just the cold and sterile lust for my own body. I truly had managed to get what I wanted, and I found that what had been most important had been the wanting, not the having. My image was less complex than me; she was always insatiable, she never got tired and she didn't give a fuck what anybody else wanted or thought. I began to suffer her attentions instead of give in to them.
I was growing sick of myself.
So I started an exhausting and painstaking process of hiding from myself. I learned to fend off my reflection as much as I could. I got rid of every mirror and every picture of myself in my flat. I paid no attention to my own press. I stopped approving photos of myself. I took to wearing very powerful sunglasses, so that I would fail to notice my own reflection as much as possible. I averted my eyes like a nun when going down the escalators to department store food halls. (Have you ever noticed that nearly every food hall has a mirror facing the escalator? Is this so that food shoppers can check themselves out before flirting with each other amongst the ready meals? Believe me, I've noticed it.) When I was alone in my flat, and horny, I would take out a small hand mirror from my make-up kit and I could rely on my image emerging from it and advancing on me with lust and greed in her violet eyes. But I couldn't go to clubs or pubs anymore because of the inevitable mirror in the ladies' room. I even experimented with going to the gents, but that didn't work either – they had mirrors in there too, which came as a nasty surprise to me.
Nevertheless, there were times when I couldn't avoid being in dangerous situations. At openings and press junkets I would turn my back on the windows in case the sun went down and I started to be reflected in them. If I did have to use the toilet, I would scurry in with my eyes shut and duck into a cubicle. My friends thought I was acting even weirder than usual and I couldn't blame them, but neither could I explain to them what had happened. They would think I was insane. Perhaps I was. Correction – perhaps I am. I don't know. I just knew that I couldn't trust myself not to sink into the voluptuously sexual cruelty of my own image. I was, quite literally, a danger to myself.
Then, after several months of this, my private obsession was transformed in the space of one evening into my private tragedy.
It was the height of summer, and I was at a gallery opening in an arts centre in the middle of the city. Not one of mine, but a friend who I'd been putting off forever and who I owed so many favours to that I couldn't turn this one down. I had my usual armour of heavy shades, and I was drinking sparingly so as to keep my toilet visits down to a minimum. I knew people were remarking on my new subdued behaviour and were probably putting it down to being a reformed character, or some shit like that. I was reformed, but not out of any new maturity. It was more because, for my own protection, I had to be. I couldn't be caught being bent over a ladies' room sink, my skirt hitched up over my waist and my panties around my ankles, having my arse licked out by my own mirror image. It would, as the saying goes, lead to talk.
I was being quiet and well-behaved and polite and abstemious. The usual crowd were there, society journalists and Arts Council suits and half-pissed colleagues and corporate fuckwits, and every time one of them was introduced to me they had a look of faint shock that I wasn't falling over drunk or sneezing rocks of badly cut coke out of my nose. The new Keli was much more approachable but, I could tell, far less newsworthy. Let's not forget that I hadn't produced any new work in months, because every time I sat in front of a mirror my image would carry me off and fuck me senseless. The Dusseldorf people had long since ceased leaving uptight messages on my phone and had taken to sending me lawyers' letters.
My friend Abi, whose show this actually was, touched me on the arm and said, "Keli, have you met Chris?"
I turned around from where I had been staring at a poster for some upcoming theatre show and came face to face with – well, with her.
"Chris does publicity here," said Abi. I was face to face with a woman in her late twenties with short and rather untidy brown hair, large pale eyes and a longish nose, smiling at me, tired from a long day at work, with that obscurely unhealthy pallor of someone who spends all her time in an office. She was wearing a jacket that was tightly buttoned over a low-cut t-shirt revealing a discreet amount of cleavage, and black trousers that I could see straight away were not as designer as she hoped they were. She had a nice body, as far as I could make out, and was attractive in an uncertain, diffident, boyish kind of way; I had the impression that if she had brothers, her particular sort of good looks would make total sense in them, but in a woman they seemed a little confused and...unrealised.
"Hello," she said, and shifted from one foot to the other, and smiled in that slightly goofy way people have when they meet someone whom they've only ever heard of and are now intimidated by.
There are better ways of saying this than I can ever hope to achieve. I mean, so much has been written about this shit that somebody like me who works, or at any rate worked, in images, couldn't hope to compete. So I'll just say it. The moment I locked eyes with Chris I fell utterly and totally in love with her.
My legs felt shaky and I was suddenly aware of what a stupid pretentious tart I must have looked like, standing in the bar of the arts centre with my sunglasses on after the sun had gone down, dressed up to the nines in my vastly expensive t-shirt and jeans and boots, agonisingly conscious of the pimples I had hastily covered up with makeup, humiliated by my ratty black thatch of hair. I had only ever loved myself, and I'd loved myself so much that I'd brought my own image to life, but this was quite different. It wasn't that Chris was my personal living incarnation of sexual nirvana. That, of course, was me. It was that my heart pounded painfully in my chest and all I wanted was to be somebody who she would find worth noticing. It was like I had been given a brief glimpse of the whole course of her life, with all its pains and disappointments and frustrations, and then been told on the highest authority that if I ever wanted to justify my pathetic existence on this planet, then I should devote the rest of it to devising ways to make her happy.
I should just add, here, in case you think that the whole thing was just gooily platonic, that I also desperately wanted her to fuck her brains out. And this was especially weird, because she wasn't what I thought of as My Type.
Attentive readers will be laughing at me by now. We know by now who my type is: it's me, right? Yes. Chris was – and I have to struggle to be even close to objective about it – a perfectly attractive woman, but not the kind of insolently sexy fuckmonster I had always been attracted to before, someone like Abi, for example. But I didn't give a shit. I just loved her, from that first moment of seeing her. I felt like a door had opened, and I had quietly and devastatingly been offered a route into the infinitely frightening real world of love and responsibility. And every remaining part of me that felt even vaguely human was desperate to take it.
"Hey," I said. Fucking brilliant opening gambit.
"I'm a big fan," she said, and from the nervous and ingratiating way she said it I knew that she was bullshitting, that she didn't really like my stuff at all, and I loved that, because it meant that she wasn't some paragon of honesty that I could never live up to.
"Oh, it's mostly crap, you know," I said, doing my best to assemble some sort of smile.
"Ah no," she said, and then conversation failed her completely and she just shut up and looked uncomfortable.
"Oh, there's Cathal," said Abi. "I have to say hi. I'll be back in a sec." And she pushed off into the crowd. Chris and I were left hanging out in the wind.
For the first time in my life, I couldn't think of a single intelligent or even vaguely interesting thing to say. I stood there, dumbly twiddling with my wine glass, while Chris looked around the room, clearly searching for someone who could rescue her from the notorious psycho fuck beast before her.
"Um," I said, and when I said it I had no idea what I was about to say next. Chris turned to me politely.
"I was just wondering," I went on, sailing totally in the dark, "I mean, don't you find it hard to meet people at these things? I mean, we go to them and you always think you might meet someone really interesting and usually everyone just talks a load of bollocks. In fact, I'm doing it now so I'll shut up."
She was trying to stop a big grin from breaking out over her face. Oh God, I loved her. I wanted to take her into a corner and promise her that I would spend the rest of my life defending her from anyone who tried to hurt her. I could feel my body aching.
At this point, I did something I had taught myself not to do. I took off my sunglasses. It was already dark outside but I reckoned that if I concentrated on her, I was in no danger.
"I dunno," she said, looking around the room, "I generally find that people are nicer than you think they're gonna be..."
"Well, yeah," I said. "I find that too." She smiled at me and went back to looking around the room, probably wondering if there was someone else she shouldn't be schmoozing at that point.
"So have you worked here long?" I twittered.
"Just started," she said. "I was in Galway before."
"Oh right. The Festival?" Please, please, please, don't go away, stay here and talk to me, just let me stand near you a little bit longer...
"You know Fiona?"
"Yes," she said, obviously a little relieved that there was someone we both knew.
"She's fabulous," I said, "I love Fiona."
"She's great, yeah," she said, nodding enthusiastically. There was a bit of country in her accent, I couldn't place where.
"Are you from Galway?" Get her to talk about her, that's it, that's how you deal with real people.
"I am, yeah," she said.
"I love Galway." Shut up about yourself! Listen to her!
"Ah, it's great. But it's so touristy now. The people are great, though, still. When I first came to Dublin I was like, such a rube. I kept going, God, everybody's so mean!" She grinned and rocked back and forth on her feet. I wanted to hug her.
"You're dead right," I said. "This is a great city if you actually want to be a twenty-four hour cast-iron fucking bitch." I smiled my crooked smile, to try and say See, I'm ironic about it, that's not me, I'm not a cast-iron fucking bitch, I'm okay really.
"Well, I've learned to handle them now," she said, and there was something about her smile that said If I ever deal with you and you start acting like a cast-iron fucking bitch, you'll know that I've noticed and we'll remember this conversation. Then her face cleared and she said, "So listen, um, how's work going? Have you been busy lately?" The consummate publicist. She didn't even know me but she knew enough to address me on the subject of what I was famous for. Well, I wasn't so much famous for being a hard-working professional artist as for being a drunk and a tramp who churned out numerous images of herself as a drunk and a tramp.
Had I been busy lately. No, I actually haven't been able to get anything done cause every time I sit down to paint myself my reflection steps out of the mirror and ties me down and sits on my face. "No, not especially, I, uh, I'm at one of those funny stages really. Probably just need some peace and quiet. It's not as easy as it used to be."
"Oh." She hadn't expected an honest answer. "But I mean, it's doing really well though, isn't it?" See, I fucking knew she didn't like my work! That was what you said when you had to pay a compliment to a successful charlatan. I found that whereas normally at this point in the conversation I would feel depressed and leave her in search of a strong drink, now I had to agree with her. I didn't like my work either. I didn't want to paint me anymore. I wanted to paint her.
"Yeah, I mean it's nothing to do with me but I'm news at the moment, so it's really nice but..." I took a gulp of red wine to get more courage, and then I stared into her eyes and leaned forward.
"I'll tell you what, Chris," I said, and I was meaning every word of it, and she was looking a little startled and slightly embarrassed at how intense I'd suddenly become, "it really is a load of shit. My stuff. It's just rubbish. When you actually look at it, it's the most...wanky, fucking...narcissistic...shit. Isn't it?"
She narrowed her eyes slightly and regarded me.
"Are you testing me or something?" she said.
"No," I said fervently. "I swear to God. I'm totally serious. I've just started thinking about this, lately. I've been having a...a couple of problems and I think, in fact I know it's because my work is so fucking rubbish. I can't keep doing this, just painting myself over and over and over again, it's bullshit. I've got to start looking at other people."
Chris was thinking. I got the impression that people were edging away from us slightly. To do her credit, she didn't seem embarrassed any more but genuinely puzzled.
"But it's kind of your signature thing, isn't it," she said, "painting yourself? I mean it's like Damien Hirst has the sharks and the cows, and Tracy Emin has the bed and the tent, and Keli Caffrey only paints herself. I mean I hate to say it but it is a bit like your brand, and it's a great brand, don't get me wrong, it's a really strong identity..."
"Tell me honestly though," I said, "do you actually like my stuff?"
"Of course I do," she said, with a slightly nervous smile.
"But totally honest now," I said, "you don't actually...get anything out of it, do you?"
Bless her, she was trying to find the way to say it that wouldn't have me baying to the director for her head the following morning. How could she know that I needed for her not to like my stuff? She had no idea about the mess I was in.
"Well..." she said with infinite caution, "I suppose it is a bit narcissistic."
"It's totally fucking narcissistic, is what it is," I said grimly, and drained my wineglass. "And I have to change it. And I don't know how. See, that's brilliant, you were honest. Thank you."
We shut up for a bit. Then she lifted a hand and touched my upper arm lightly with her fingers.
I'll repeat that. She touched me.
"I just have to go to the loo," she said, "but I'd really like to continue this conversation. If you want to, I mean." She waggled her head from side to side, I find it interesting talking about your proposed changes in style and it's a bit flattering to be taken into the confidence of a famous artist like this, can we go on doing it for a few more minutes?
"Absolutely," I said, flashing my best smile. "I'm right here." You have no idea how much I need to change my whole life, and if I don't get to do it with you then it just won't be worth doing at all, so please come back because if you don't I may have to fall on my knees and scream your name until you're by my side again.
She headed off into the crowd, slipping past people, flashing her eyebrows and smiling at anyone whose gaze intersected with hers.
Abi was next to me suddenly.
"She's nice, isn't she?" she said.
"I think she's sort of cute. In a weird sort of way."
"Listen," Abi clutched my arm and smiled into my ear, "you want to come back to mine later? There are just no men here at all and it's been a long time since your tongue tasted my arse..." She discreetly squeezed my right buttock and brushed her crotch, in her tiny skirt, against my hip, and I could feel the heat off her fabulous body and I could foresee how it would be with Abi naked and face down and squealing while I tongued her from climax to climax, and...I was bored by the thought. I wanted Chris to come back.
"I think I'd better have an early night, actually," I said apologetically. Abi let go of my buttock and looked at me like I'd said something deeply offensive.
"What is this with you and early nights these days? You didn't used to be so boring. This is my night, I want to celebrate."
"Well, ask Sonia then," I said, irritated. "She's not gonna do anything with that guy, that's for sure." I waved my glass in the direction of a six-foot-tall gorgeous redhead packed into a tight Chinese dress, listening with an expression of polite boredom to some young guy rambling on about his film project. Sonia was the general manager of a successful film company. She was also the most gifted and ruthless top I had ever subbed for; she had taken me on, confident sexual conqueror that I was, and within twenty minutes I was handcuffed to her radiator sobbing for mercy while she stood over me, a whip in one hand, a butt plug in the other. She had always told me that she was interested in my girlfriends. Abi, who fancied herself a BDSM fan because she liked being called rude names, wouldn't know what hit her. Abi patted me on the arm and slinked over to Sonia, who watched her approach with the expression of a lioness about to go out on a date with an especially juicy gazelle.