Friday, November 5


a story by David Belbin

That summer, the best place in town for picking up women was the Magritte exhibition. Golden Boy used to come on Tuesday or Wednesday, when the gallery was open late. In a good week, he’d visit both days, though this meant a hurried trip to the launderette on Wednesday morning to clean his one good set of clothes: a black, button-down linen shirt and cream coloured cotton chinos. The outfit was completed by a pristine pair of white trainers, which, the rest of the time, he kept in a box.

He would arrive in the gallery during late afternoon, then float from room to room, looking for his evening’s partner. For every woman with a male escort, there was one on her own, or with another woman. Golden Boy was expert at separating friends, extracting daughters from their mothers….. even their fathers.

On leaving, the woman would often suggest going to her place, but he would insist that they went to his, which was nearby. On the way there, he would make light conversation, gently stroking her back or forearm, establishing intimacy without overt sexual contact.

If asked where they were going, he would joke that he had a cardboard box five minutes’ walk away. The joke prepared his partner for the poverty of his flat, which was little more than a four metre cube, with a window, cupboards, a fold down bed and a shower closet. Every detail of the room was white: the cupboard, the radiator, the floorboards and, especially, the bed linen.

The woman would always be the one who made the running: a kiss, perhaps, or a more carnal embrace. Next, he would suggest that they disrobe. Their bodies, he said, should be the only colour in the room. There was only one rule: she must keep her eyes open. Then they would undress each other. That done, he would put their clothes into a cupboard, unfold the bed, and begin.

The woman would reach for a part of his body, transforming their silhouette. Then she would shape them into something else, and something else again. Only if she tried to manipulate him into penetrating her would he hold back, seeming to caution patience.

When her imagination began to flag, he took charge. He would kiss every part of her face, then cover her head in one of the sheets. He would remove her arms, legs, breasts and bottom, replacing them in a different order. Then he would remove her head and place it on top of the cupboard. Finally, he would lift the sheet from her face so that she could watch as they made love.

I never saw how it ended. At some point, the blind always closed. At times I thought he’d spotted my binoculars or heard me, eavesdropping outside his shabby door. I never saw any of the women again, but that means nothing sinister. The city is a big place. Nor do I know how these evenings ended, only that they went on for hours and hours.

In the gallery, I kept thinking about him. My days were spent waiting for him to come again. One day, I hoped, he would pick me. Why hadn’t he approached me yet? The women he chose varied in age, looks, size and ethnicity. Maybe he ignored me because of my uniform. He might assume that I despised him, saw him as one of those sad, serial seducers, only satisfied by an endless supply of fresh meat. There were many such men at every exhibition I attended, but he wasn’t like them.

What Golden Boy couldn’t know was that I often followed him home, that I had rented my flat purely to be near him, that countless times, after days when he hadn’t visited the exhibition, I considered crossing the courtyard, going to him.

Why hadn’t I? Because it might have spoilt the spell. Sometimes I saw him in his cheap, everyday clothes, trudging back from the dole office or the supermarket. This was not the man I wanted to make love with.

The exhibition lasted for two and a half months. He visited it at least once a week and was never, as far as I could tell, unsuccessful. When it drew towards a close, I began to wonder what he would do afterwards. Which artist would become his next tool of seduction?

I wasn’t on duty on the final day, a Saturday, but I decided to visit, praying that he, too, would be there. It was embarrassing, turning up at work in my sheerest, bright red summer dress with my hair down. I needn’t have worried. Nobody recognised me. I paid, rather than use my pass, then walked quickly through the exhibition, trying to find him. He wasn’t there. I decided to look at the paintings one last time. I knew which he liked best - or, perhaps, the ones he thought most appropriate to seduction. His favourite was ‘The Golden Legend’ - hence my nickname for him.

Standing before ‘The Golden Legend’, I sensed his presence. This painting, from a private collection, shows several over-baked baguettes flying past a window beneath an evening sky. I don’t know what legend the title refers to.

His voice was like distant birdsong. This was how he always approached would-be lovers. He would murmur something indecipherable. The woman would look round. If she asked him to repeat what he’d said, he would apologise for disturbing her, then make a witty comment about the painting. If she didn’t turn around, or walked away, he would leave her be. If she spoke to him, then, within minutes, four times out of five, they would leave the gallery together.

When he spoke again, it was a gentle murmur, like the distant tide turning and beginning to come in. I tilted my head slightly, letting my hair fall back so that he could see my face. He gave no hint of recognition.


“The flying loaves seem to be made out of stone.”

“Not stone,” I told him. “Earth. They’re like floating landscapes.”

“I don’t know what I’ll do when this exhibition is over,” he said.

“No,” I told him. “Neither do I.”

Our eyes met. In his, I could see the white cube of his room. I wanted to leave then and there. But I knew not to. Here, in the gallery, he always made the first move.

“Tell me where to come for you.”

For a few moments, I was confused. This was not what I had hoped for.

“Where shall I wait?” he asked and, suddenly, I understood. He had known all along. He had been waiting for this moment just as much as I.

I told him where to hide. As soon as the gallery closed, I got into the security booth and disconnected the alarm system. Then I crammed myself into a cupboard, where I waited an hour and a half for the cleaners to finish. When they’d locked up, I let myself out.

He was standing exactly where I had told him to. I led him towards the gallery, where I undressed him. When I was done, he removed my dress with a sudden movement of his hand. Now we were both naked. I switched the light on and reached out for him.

As I cupped my hands around his neck to kiss him, his head came away from his body. I kissed it and both our heads fell to the wooden floor, where they rolled, tongues entwined, until they lay beneath a large landscape. There, they became one head, its two faces pressed against each other.

Next, our bodies embraced and entangled in endless permutations, each combination giving greater satisfaction than the one before. Pieces of our broken bodies flew around the room then came together in new, miraculous ways, each more beautiful, more sensual than the last.

At noon, we heard the doors open. Men were coming to take the exhibition down. We had made our decision hours before, though neither of us had spoken a word. We kissed, then scattered ourselves among the paintings on the walls, our body parts flying through frames and windows into perfect blue skies filled with cotton wool clouds.

When the men were finished, the room was empty but for two things. A sheer, red dress had spread itself, unnoticed, across the whole of the ceiling, its long, thin straps reaching to touch the top of the doorway. Draped over one of the guard’s chairs was a man’s outfit, consisting of a button down linen shirt, cream coloured cotton chinos, white, size seven trainers, and a big, black bowler hat.

© David Belbin, 2004

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