The Tablet of Bliss

We met in a usually derelict warehouse in Leytonstone. There was plenty of champagne, which no-one touched, and twelve easels fanned around an empty space. He was exactly twelve minutes late. Most of us believed we were too good for this nonsense, and lost no time in announcing this, though others attempted to justify it (postmodernity, and so forth), but once he arrived, all that was forgotten.

The room went silent at once, like turning out a light.

Darkness settles nervously, as if it could recede at any time. I doubt even the locals know he’s here. These houses, on either side, seem ordinary enough, a mixture of middle-class and aspirational. I think there was a consensus to exclude him from the media, the modern equivalent of public stoning.

But here he is. I can hardly believe I’m looking at it…
A tiny brass plaque with a single word, archaic as a Pagan carving.


And now the gates are opening, very slowly. First gear.
I clutch at my awful heart but my alarm was false. I, at least, still have my health.

Down the gravelled entryway, alert to signs of life, I can’t see any. No lights in this house, a cross between a cathedral and a castle that feels like a tomb. I doubt it would even be possible to make a joke within these grounds; the darkness would snuff it out at once.

But there, a lamp breathes colour into the grounds. I see roses, blue-grey in the thickening dusk, and to my left a fountain. Beside the lamp is a wooden door with an iron handle. I park and lock the car. Attached to the door is a note, which I open.
K− Make yourself at home. I won’t be long. David.

When I first met him, David Robert Joseph Beckham [born in 1975 in Leytonstone] was unassuming, charming, modest, and − yes, I dare, I dare! − beautiful beyond belief. His hair had gentle highlights, less obvious than in his youth, and his eyes were little tablets of bliss, begging to be swallowed. He was dressed simply in a black V-neck sweater, Versace jeans, and loafers. None of his tattoos were on display. He seemed shy, nervous, and excited.

The lighting in that room was all natural − most of the ceiling was glass − but in here, I can’t even find a light switch. There’s an oil lamp on the kitchen table which throws a golden disc sufficient to illuminate a bottle of wine, a pair of mugs, and two wooden stools. I sit and wait.

My portrait was all about the eyes. They were slightly too large, and the rest of him was out of focus, the colours dulled. But I worked a long time on that blue. I was up all−

‘Mr Beckham.’

I have bowed: it was not my intent.

He is wearing a grey woollen overcoat, black builder’s hat, and grey jogging pants. His feet are bare. And sunglasses, thick and black. Only the voice is the same.
‘You must be K−.
‘Mr Beckham, it’s very kind of you to see me. I know my letter was a little strange.’
‘Not really.’ He laughs, less high-pitched that I remember. ‘There isn’t much I find strange anymore.’
‘Mr Beckham, would it be all right if I asked you some questions first?’
‘Anything you like.’ His face in the lamplight is smooth as slate. ‘I don’t even have electricity in here. I don’t know or care what they’re saying.’
They’re not saying anything!
‘It’s just … could you, would you describe what happened to you after the portraits were hung? When did you start to feel… different?’

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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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