The Tablet of Bliss

Manchester is not a city I would visit by choice. Like wool against my skin, the air is damp and smells of beer. ‘Whalley Range,’ a name like a public school joke, stinks of human filth: I’ve read the history. Controlled by Quakers, no pubs were allowed, which means the sinners abused their homes and look… weak, proletarian genes soaking in their sweat-drenched piss. Yes, I am a bitter man.

College Road. Second gear.

The moral is not this, but this is, nonetheless, a fact: mere foolish, inelegant pride is irrelevant beside that which threatens to zip night’s curtains over our world forever with the kind of zeal found only in the serially psychotic and which goes by name of cancer. To put it less adamantly, I needed the money.

But pride is a curious thing.

Speed bumps the size of camels, I splutter onward and to my right it looms like a metaphor. A building like this does not belong here. From behind iron gates higher than two men a spire lances this festering black sky. This building belongs in Oxford, not here.
I have read about it. They used to train priests here who died of dysentery in Africa and Asia. The university bought it from the church, and then the GMB bought it from the university and union activists learned to yell at their overlords, persuasively. And then it was sold, again.

They say he never goes out, that he drinks, smokes, snorts, spends days on the internet ogling the blue-eyed blonde he used to love, as did we all.

When he first entered our lives, my words to Malini were affected and false: ‘He’s a charlatan.’
Whatever did I ever mean by this?
Only dissimulation, fear of within. I was in love with him, you see, but only after I destroyed him did my heart speak to my brain with such clarity.
But we were all in love with him back then, and this is not a cult, this is not about red tops or the ignorance of the masses; this is essential to the soul. This is why once we had gods, and why we mourn them, from time to time.

That first night I may even have paid him a tribute, hot against my oversheet, my cancerous wife asleep in pain. I saw his face and gasped in devotion. Then in the morning I went with the others and, like an artist, feigned cynicism and anger.

The brief was as follows. In honour of the forthcoming Olympics, twelve artists would paint portraits of the same subject. They would hang for twelve months under 24-hour lighting in Trafalgar Square. We would receive £120,000 if, ‘in twelve hours or less, we succeeded in capturing the spirit of the man who so aptly captures the spirit of the Olympics.’

The time limit, of course, was necessary because they couldn’t afford him for longer. There would be three sittings, each of four hours, and all twelve artists would work concurrently with no extra sittings, no cameras. The work could be continued in private, however, so long as the final deadline was met.

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5 Responses to “The Tablet of Bliss”

  1. October 13, 2008 at 11:43 pm, smith3000 said:

    I might have to read this again a couple of times before I really get my head round it ..

    But even if I don’t know exactly what you’re saying, I like the way y0u say it:

    “Like wool against my skin, the air is damp and smells of beer.”

    And it’s certainly a new perspective on the divine David.

  2. October 16, 2008 at 12:42 am, Martin Cooper said:

    What a great story, very muscular and witty, each progression inventive and surprising. A real pleasure to read, it made me laugh out loud a couple of times, and it’s good to read something that feels subversive, but not obvious.

    The minature in the eye is a beautiful image, and a suitable encouragement for art to affect the wider world. Perfectly judged.

  3. October 17, 2008 at 5:24 pm, Judy Kendall said:

    Best thing you’ve written yet?

  4. October 29, 2008 at 6:00 pm, Rachel said:

    Very gritty and crazy. Story moved quickly.

  5. November 28, 2008 at 1:41 pm, Yvonne said:

    Story draws you in like a magician, humourous, innovative, full of smoke mystery and crazy mirrors. loved it


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