tagExhibitionist & VoyeurJoyce Slater: New Paintings

Joyce Slater: New Paintings

bycupbearer©

This is a story about how being stripped naked in public was the best thing that ever happened to me.

It concerns me and another person who is now dead, so I have nothing to lose by telling it, except maybe inviting your curiosity, or sympathy, or disgust. It happened some years ago, when I was eighteen.

I certainly wasn't having any sex. I knew that girls were fascinating but I hadn't the faintest idea of what to do with my fascination. I was shy and had few friends. If I glimpsed a picture of a naked woman in a magazine (this was when newspapers were starting to print excited news stories about a cool new thing called "email"), I would wait until nobody seemed to be interested in the magazine anymore and then I would squirrel it away so that

I could look at the picture myself in secret. Even then, without anything else to go on, it was only by trial and error that I discovered how to masturbate.

I worked hard at school, kept my head down and my hobby was art. I did competent watercolours of the view from my bedroom window. I was a very well-behaved boy. And so it was when my family decided to go on summer holidays to Spain, and I didn't want to sit around on a beach for a month, when I asked my parents if I had to go and if I couldn't just stay at home and mind the cat, thus saving us money for a cattery, my parents -- who knew I wasn't going to start having mad parties and trashing the house -- eventually agreed.

I knew that it was going to be the greatest four weeks of my life. My mother and I worked out a budget and she left me some money for food and anything else that might need paying for. I was going to have a month of lovely privacy. Just me, the cat and my collection of pictures of naked women. I was going to crack this sex thing.

Well, I sort of did. But not for the reasons I expected. The reason was our neighbour, Joyce Slater.

Okay, now this is not one of those boy-seduced-by-hot-married-woman stories -- not really, anyway. Joyce Slater was not a bored thirtysomething with an eye on the kid next door. She was a twice-divorced painter who was the other side of sixty, and rather eccentric. She had a good reputation as an artist; she mainly painted figures, often focusing on herself but also notable portraits of writers. She gave interviews in which she talked about her frequent depressions. She was striking to look at: she had an untidy shock of white hair, very pink skin that suggested she was possibly part-albino, and narrow eyes that reinforced the impression; however, when she opened them wide, they were bright blue. She tended to dress as though she were still in her thirties, which would have been back in the late 50s or 60s; she wore jeans, men's shirts over sleeveless t-shirts and floppy-brimmed hats with lots of costume jewellery. She rode a bicycle to and from the shops, but in general she kept herself to herself and we seldom saw her. From time to time she had long, noisy parties that spilled into her back garden and went late into the night. But lately, there had been few parties.

As I waved my family goodbye on the morning of that bright Saturday in July, I didn't know it, but Mrs Slater was about to enter my life in a big way.

The taxi peeled off in the direction of the airport, and I went back into the house. I was in my dressing gown and was still munching my toast. It was quite early. I figured I'd spend the morning naked and maybe have a few fantasies, and see what happened. I was so innocent, I believed that just thinking about sex was basically the same as having it.

After breakfast was over I showered, then wrapped a towel around my waist and went into the living room.

It was a gorgeous sunny morning. It was warm in the house and our garden, which was a nice secluded spot, was filled with light. There was a tall hedge separating us from our neighbours, and I estimated that it would be very difficult to look in -- maybe not absolutely impossible, but very difficult.

The "not absolutely impossible" factor was what made me do what I did next.

I selected a book from the shelf and went into the kitchen, which had a door directly out into the back garden. Then, I took off my towel and walked nude into the garden, lay down on my belly in the hot sun, and began to read.

This was an act of exceptional daring for me. I couldn't really concentrate on the book, to begin with. I was half-looking around to see if there really weren't any windows that overlooked me, so that none of our neighbours would see the Kennedy boy brazenly sunbathing naked. I couldn't see any windows from where I was lying, which was a relief but which was also faintly disappointing. I had had the idea that Sophie White, the tall and immensely poised redhead who lived on the other side of us, might have been feasting on the sight of me and then might knock on my door later in the evening: Oh, hi, Sandy, I was, um, just wondering if you were busy...

No such luck. Sophie White was probably off at the mall with her family. She had never even looked at me and probably never would.

I tried to concentrate on the book. It was a history of Dada and gradually I became absorbed in it. So absorbed that I failed to notice that the sun clouded over. I greeted the cool breeze as refreshing, and I only looked up when the first drops of rain fell on the book.

Too late. It was a summer storm, and it came as quickly as I've ever seen one. I closed the book and stood up, and already it was starting to rain hard. I turned and headed for the back door. My little naked interlude was clearly over.

Or so I thought, until a sudden gust of wind blew the back door shut.

I froze, and stood staring at the door in uncomprehending disbelief. For reasons I've never understood, our back door opened outwards. My dad had always planned to get a new one, but we never got around to it. The result was that you had to be careful going outside on a windy day, because it was possible for the back door to blow shut, and if you didn't have a key then you couldn't get back in again. For this reason, every member of the family carried a set of house keys in his or her pockets.

Mine were in the pocket of my trousers, which were lying on a chair upstairs in my bedroom.

It was starting to rain hard. I was naked and trapped outside. I felt a rising sense of panic, and looked around for an alternative way in. My bedroom window was slightly open, but I couldn't reach up to the first floor.

That was when it dawned on me that I simply had no option but to ask someone for help.

As soon as it became clear that that's what I had to do, my sense of panic subsided and was replaced with a mounting sense of crippling embarrassment. I was completely naked outside my house at eleven in the morning, and I had to knock on a neighbour"s door for assistance. There was no way out of this. Somebody was going to see me looking like this.

I huddled under the eaves as much as I could, shoving the book on a windowsill, and hugged myself to keep warm. There was no way I was going to the White house and risk Sophie seeing me like this. Crossing the road was too risky. The only option was to get next door and ask Mrs Slater if she'd help.

Dripping and shivering, I went around the side of the house and passed down the lane that had a high wooden fence separating her garden from ours. I peeked out in front to see that nobody was about, and then I hopped over the lower stone wall between our front gardens and ran to her front door. Like ours, it was partly enclosed by a porch.

I rang the doorbell and then huddled in a corner of the porch, hugging my knees to my chest to make myself as small as possible.

Nothing happened. Was she not up? It must be nearly midday. These artist types, I said to myself, and rang it again.

Still nothing happened. I got up and rang it for ten seconds.

After a long pause, I heard a bolt being slid back and then the door opened slightly on a chain, at an angle that she couldn't see me.

"What is it?" said a tired voice.

"Mrs Slater?" I said as innocently as I could.

"Who's there?" she said. "Where are you?"

"It's me," I said, trying to keep my voice normal. "Sandy from next door."

"I can't see you," she complained. "Where are you?"

"It's a little bit embarrassing," I said. "I've been locked out of my house."

There was a pause. Finally she muttered "Oh," and the door closed, the chain was slid back and then it opened. She put her head outside, peering around, looking like she'd been sleeping -- and then she glanced left and saw me and jumped with a startled "Oh my god!"

"I'm really sorry," I said, feeling my whole body go crimson with embarrassment. I was still crouched with my arms folded in my lap, but it was obvious that I was stark naked.

She had her hand to her mouth in shock. For a minute I thought she was going to scream.

Then her eyes crinkled and her shoulders shook and she bent double with silent laughter. At the same time, she gracefully stepped aside and gestured to me to hurry inside. Holding my hands cupped over my groin, I gratefully did so.

As soon as I was inside her hall, she shut the door and passed a hand over her face.

"Ohhh, you poor dear," she said with vast amusement. "This must be hideously embarrassing for you."

"It is a bit," I muttered, smiling weakly at her as I stood in her hall before her, a naked eighteen-year-old boy in front of the fully dressed sixty-year-old woman. She was wearing some kind of dramatic robe over what appeared to be a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and pajama trousers.

"Never mind," she said. "I've seen everything, darling. You can borrow something of mine. I'm bound to have something not too girly. Come on."

She led me upstairs. I couldn't help noticing that since she'd seen me, her weariness and querulousness seemed to have evaporated and there was a definite spring in her step. Her house was a bit of a mess, to tell the truth -- not dirty, just overstuffed with things. There were paintings and drawings everywhere, many of them of her, and a lot of them, as I couldn't help noticing, of her with no clothes on. And not her as a sexy younger woman, either -- her as a middle-aged and increasingly elderly woman, with sagging breasts and floppy skin at the neck and lines in her skin. She led me into a room that seemed to be just full of clothes -- they were all over the furniture. A few minutes rummaging produced a towel, a check shirt and a pair of jeans, which she handed to me with a twinkly smile, and then she said "I'll give you some privacy. All I ask is that you come down to the kitchen and have a cup of coffee and you can tell me what happened. Okay?"

"Okay," I said, smiling weakly, disarmed by her calmly amused manner and total lack of any hint of negative judgment.

I dried myself off and put on the shirt and jeans, which were too wide at the waist for me, but I found a belt that helped me to keep them up. Then I padded down the stairs, attracted by the smell of fresh coffee.

I found the kitchen. She was sitting at a small table by the back door. There was coffee and orange juice on the table, and I smelled toast. The rain was still beating down outside.

"Have you had breakfast?" she said.

"Yes," I said, a bit puzzled. "It's half eleven."

"Oh," she said and laughed. "God, you must think me a terrible slob to be getting up so late."

"No," I said and nervously sat down. She poured me some coffee and I thanked her and sipped it.

She lit a cigarette, had a sip of her own coffee and eyed me for a moment.

"Darling," she started, and then paused. "-So sorry, my love, I didn't catch your name?"

"Sandy," I said.

"Sandy," she said and nodded. "Sandy Kennedy. That's right. Joyce Slater. Pleased to meet you."

She held out her hand and I shook it. I could feel myself blushing.

"Sandy," she went on, "I have to say it, just to get it over with, but now that I've seen you naked, that's probably the most embarrassing thing that will ever happen to you in your life. So from now on, you really have very little to worry about."

She grinned at me. I couldn't help it but grinned back, and then we both laughed. I immediately felt more relaxed.

"That's very true," I admitted.

"So!" she said, her eyes gleaming. "Tell me what happened."

"Well," I said, "my family's gone on holiday--"

"What, without you?" she said, indignant.

"I wanted to stay behind," I said. "I don't like the beach. And they trust me not to mess up

the place or get drunk or anything, so they let me."

"Oh," she said.

"And...um, I thought it might be nice to have a bit of a sunbathe, so I took off my clothes and went outside, and then the rain started, and it blew the back door shut. So I couldn't get in."

She hooted with laughter and slapped her thigh.

"Perfect!" she exclaimed. "It's just too Ben Travers. Or no, since you had to ring the doorbell of the crazy old lady next door, it's Orton. Pure Orton."

"I don't know who they are," I admitted.

"Playwrights," she said, puffing on her cigarette. "Very funny ones. Well, lucky for you I wasn't away with the fairies. I was dozing, actually. I'm glad to have been of help. The question now is, how are you going to get back in?"

"Well, if you have a ladder or something, I can get in my bedroom window."

"Oh, fine. Yes, I've got something in the garage that should do. Well..."

We sat for a moment in silence. I found her curiously peaceful company.

"So is that something you do often? Naked sunbathing?"

"Not before now, no," I said, smiling and blushing.

"And never again, I should imagine. I used to do it all the time in the dim and distant past.

Back when I was young and desirable. In fact, hang about. Fair's fair. I'll show you something."

She got up and went into another room, and came back a moment later with a sheaf of black and white snapshots. She searched through them and then said "Ah yes. There we are," and handed one to me.

I looked at it. It was a young blonde woman lying on her belly on a towel, on a beach, reading a book. She was naked. I felt my eyes widen. Her body was very beautiful. It was only when I looked at her face, half-hidden by a bell of hair, and recognised the long sharp nose and narrow eyes, that I realised it was Mrs Slater as a young woman.

"Is that you?" I said.

"Yes," she said, puffing her cigarette thoughtfully. "Back when I was an art student. I was about twenty, in Cyprus. We all used to get our kit off at a moment's notice. I just thought you should see it, so we're all square."

I handed it back to her. She looked at it fondly, then sighed and put it on the table with the others but face up, so that it was lying there between us.

"Yes, I wasn't bad-looking then. Time does terrible things to you, Sandy. You wouldn't think it's the same person."

"I would," I said truthfully.

"Really?" she said. She looked startled.

"Yeah," I said. "I can tell it's you."

"You haven't seen what I look like now," she said, and stubbed her cigarette out. "Anyway. I'm sure you want to get back to your morning."

I hesitated, unsure whether or not she was asking me to go. She looked at the table, looking rather deflated. I suddenly had the impression that she was glad of my company. And the prospect of going back to the empty house with just a cat and some pictures ripped out of magazines, when I could hear about the exciting life of a bohemian artist, seemed boring.

"I'm not doing anything in particular," I said. "I mean, if you're busy--"

She looked up, brightening.

"No, I'm not, as it happens. Well, if you don't mind hanging around with a crazy old lady for a bit...I could actually use the company, to be honest."

"I'd like that," I said. She grinned again, and once more her whole body seemed to become more youthful and lighter. She poured us more coffee and squinted at the sky.

"It looks like the rain's not going away. Look, do you know what's awful? You've grown up in that house for, what, how old are you?"

"I'm eighteen," I said.

She nodded. "Eighteen years, and I don't know anything about you. Tell me about yourself. And if you're still interested, I'll tell you about all my terrible behaviour as a crazy bohemian. Does that sound fun?"

"Yeah," I said.

And for the next couple of hours, we talked. I told her about what my parents did for a living, and how my dad was okay but really he just wanted me to join him in the property business, and how my sister was only interested in boys, and how I liked reading.

"What do you like reading about?" she said.

"Art, actually," I said.

Her face lit up and she beamed.

"You like art? Wonderful. I sometimes think that the young people today aren't interested in anything except music and drugs but then I remember that I don't know any young people. Well, a few grand-nieces and -nephews here and there. What kind of art?"

We talked about the post-impressionists, who were my favourite, and she brought out books about Rembrandt and Tintoretto and Freud and talked about them. I was dazzled. I had always thought that Mrs Slater was, as she said herself, basically a crazy old lady who painted a bit, but she seemed to have the entire history of art at her fingertips. We looked at pictures and she talked about her time in art college and her two marriages, one of which had been disastrous and the other of which had ended reasonably amicably. She had no children, obviously.

As the morning became afternoon, she cooked us a frozen pizza and we ate it with our fingers.

Then the rain stopped, and the sun came out, and I realised that it was mid-afternoon and that I'd probably better check on the cat. We went into her garden and retrieved the ladder from her garage, and then we took it back into mine and I balanced it against the wall and climbed up as she stood at the bottom, telling me worriedly to be careful. But I got in through my bedroom window without much difficulty, and quickly changed out of her clothes and back into my own pants, t-shirt and jeans. Then I went downstairs and opened the back door.

"There you are," she said cheerfully. "Well, it's been really nice talking to you, Sandy. I should probably try to get a bit of work done."

"Okay," I said, and handed back her clothes with a blush. "Thanks for the coffee. I had a really nice time."

"Well, if you get bored," she said, "you know where I am. It's nice having someone to talk to."

"I'd like that," I said, smiling.

"Tell you what," she said, "if you want to come over, ring me." She took out a pen from her pocket, grasped my hand in her slender fingers and scribbled her number on the back of it.

"If I don't answer after six rings, I'm working. Okay?"

"Okay," I said. "Thanks very much. I'd really like to. I hope I wasn't too annoying, getting you out of bed and all."

"Not at all," she said airily. "If only I could get woken up every morning by a gorgeous naked boy."

I laughed and I felt myself blushing once again. She grinned.

"I mean it," she said, pointing a finger at me. "Do give me a ring. You can't spend the whole month rattling around that house on your own."

And with that, she gave me a cheery wave, popped on a pair of large sunglasses, turned and went back around the house to her own.

I shut the back door and stood for a while, thinking. Then I smiled to myself and went off to feed the cat.

***

After that, I did call her. The first time was two days later, just after I'd had lunch. She didn't answer. I tried again that evening, but there was still no reply.

I decided that she hadn't really meant it, but the following evening at around six I experimentally called again, and this time the phone was picked up.

"Hello?" came her perky voice.

"Hello," I said. "It's Sandy. From next door."

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