Reveil, Boulevard de Clichy – Anders Zorn, 1899
Drunk on Pernod, lost to opium and thoroughly fatigued, gifting smoke rings to ungrateful stars, contemplating an interlude with an immodest, exiled Geisha touting for business somewhere along the Boulevard de Clichy, she found me; saved me. Slapped my wrists, gave me the evil eye, even had the cheek to make mention that a hot bath might lessen both my stupor and body odour, adding, “This will never do, will it? You’re an Englishman abroad, letting the side down,” before frogmarching me off to the sanctuary of the bare lightbulb, blindside of The Eiffel Tower, meagre loft she called home. Little did I know then, that so soon I would claim her as my own.
Submerged in a claw foot bathtub, clad in just the Homburg I insisted stayed in situ, she in a tatty claret dressing gown possibly of silk, perched precariously on a creaky old wooden stall, a threatening, jumbo honeycomb sponge in hand, we shared a single chipped mug of piss weak, unsugared tea. Apropos nothing, she told me of a much extolled painter, by all accounts a rake of some notoriety, who was insistent she maintain eye contact while he arrested her flawless image, a thing she said she would never countenance. Put bluntly, her reaction, “Such contact creates pornography not art for it belittles the muse, betrays her flesh. The female form, Sir, is art. The sitter’s inner self is irrelevant insofar as you are concerned. To attempt otherwise is to insult all women.” With that said, she dressed, threw half the hard currency he had previously handed her at his feet, kept the balance, slammed shut the door behind her. Smart lady. A looker to boot.
Three days and nights glued together within her loft, eventually as exhausted as the crumbling mattress, we only succumbed to the horror of daylight when lust’s savage hunger gave way to a pressing need for nourishment; a hunt for ripe Mimolette and a baguette to share or die of starvation.
Even now, these chilly times of gold plated homeless leaves, she is still known by the tag I christened her with back when, ‘Shortarse’, although occasionally, deviating from the norm I might call her, ‘Titch’, not that she is that short, more that I am taller than she. Either way, it amuses her; never fails to induce a smile. That is all that the ever mattered.
She has been my eyes since the dawning of perception, keeping me off the straight and narrow cliché. In times when self-doubt passes arbitrary judgment, sentencing me to the eccentric persecution that is belief, she reminds me that prayer is a hedonistic thing born of either guilt’s own guilt or absurd hope and that we only ever bother to call the name ‘God’ aloud when la petite mort is realized, that, in essence, I should just cease whinging and get on with loving and living, for that is all we possess.