Apr/May 2005  •   Fiction

The Artist

by Duncan White

"Several people in attendance that night."

We have from his records:

"Bustling ankles."

Also, his diagrams:

Diagram 1

1. Bed.
2. Armchair.
3. Table/desk
4. Chair.
5. Rug.
6. Dresser.
7. Sink.
8. Mantle.
9. Mirror.
10. Standing-lamp.

11. Radiator.
12. Vase.
13. Cut flowers.
14. Notnow

By all accounts, the party raged.

Heard to say:

"Such success should not be confined to one's room alone."


His wife and his daughters, among "a crowd of young men you would not believe."

In his personal notes:

"Those tourists!"

From the teenagers constituting his staff:

"The mess he would make"

"Almost involuntarily"

"Unsteady hands"



"Lovely smile"

A great deal said regarding his smile. Informing the body of our work. Entire categories headed:




The party raged, by his own estimation, over the course of "several nights."

Many tell of the moment a space opened in the crowd. How he would for his audience, ritually, ceremoniously, have his reflexes tested.

Subsequent commentary:

"Such a pale left leg."

"A gifted concentration."

"A relaxed air that made you wonder he ever did a thing without an audience to hand."

Also, the moment most believe objects in the room begin to go missing:

"At precisely the instant the pin-hammer made the tiniest of contacts with his bravely bared knee."

(The artist reportedly leaping to his feet.)

"What have they done with the parrot? A talking bird that does not speak! Cowards! Cowards!"

The parrot, known only to have said one word repeatedly, its name:




Until (from his notes), it suffered a series of setbacks, culminating in his being "sworn to secrecy."

His diary, kept always under a pillow, in a sock, around his neck. Now lost.

First to move: the standing lamp. The parrot, in fact a near final disappearance. The parrot, as far as he is concerned, "simply taking things too far." Attention turning to his wife, absent. Also his daughters.

His anguish:

"Must I face everything alone?"

On their return: "Eleven minutes in twenty seven years."

(The eldest daughter furnishing.)

Diagram coinciding with the moment of Notnow's mysterious removal:

Diagram 2

1. Bed.
2. Mantle.
3. Mirror.
4. Vase.
5. Cut flowers.

His generosity?

Extending to everything. Including his collection of fine Cuban cigars. The acrid smoke only adding to the intrigue.

"Could I even count the fingers on my hand? I can say nothing about things as they are now, nor as they might have been only a moment before." (The words of one well-accommodated guest.)

His hospitality?


His intentions?

"Quarrel free."

Still, his panache turns introspective:

"What is he doing?"

With a cheese-knife, carefully slicing the Roquefort, explaining:

"He is approaching the door. He is opening the door. He is entering the room. He is upon the bed. He is dreaming."

"Not so thick. It gives me pains and the most terrible gas."

"In his dreaming he is slicing Roquefort. He is feeding a crowd. He is talking. He is smarting. He is delivering his bloody finger to the sink. He is inspecting the night. He is thinking."

Time spent with his lack of substance?

"Forty-nine seconds."

In his notes:

"Things that go missing is one thing. Things that go unnoticed is quite the opposite."

The new work and its subject?

His mood is too blackened. Where is Notnow?

Some other approach:

"How are your characters?"

"They are all dead."

"And is it... their intention... to remain that way?"

"It most certainly is!"

Of a sudden:

"Did you steal my bird?"

(Or so one critic would have us believe.)

"Had there ever been a standing lamp, so sumptuous the use of ambient oil and candle light?"

"Or a parrot?"

Such provocation, we can only conclude, targeting his use of diagrams. Merely a "confessional tool for the inherently unreliable."

In which he notes his various "inhabitations":

Diagram 3

1. 11 minutes, 39 seconds: in the company of 3 who insisted I had the last mouthful.
2. 8 minutes flat: discussing seasonal plumage.
3. 23 seconds: "adjusting one's tie."
4. 26 minutes: the lessons of reflex.
5. 1 minute 33 seconds: soup.
6. An hour in demonstration: drawing squares within larger squares.
7. 3 hours, 14 minutes, 12 seconds: On the squandering of social resources and entering a higher tax-bracket.
8. 1 minute: lighting eighteen Montecristos; subsequent 2 hours: on benefits of wearing a moustache.

In the company of such a gifted conversationalist, "One easily felt quite like a shadow one's self."

In confused regret:

"The things you have," it is suggested...

To the extent of removing his shoes from his feet, holding them upside down:

"I have nothing."

In the midst of present activity, he would swear blind:

"I cannot see my wife."

"I should be so lucky," she anyways. Fixing the remaining guests coffee.

An empty pillowcase is produced, and a gathering crowd.

They hear:


And because the empty pillowcase is in fact filled with a fine, multicoloured feather. Crowding around the word, "Feather."

His feelings on the subject:

"As insubstantial as their entire disbelief." (From his diary, now lost.)

"Where is that smell coming from?"

Later and sick in bed. Envisioning one room, brightly lit, identifiably a sitting room and another, the floorboards as dark as the too-dark night outside.

Doctor's report (signed and counter-signed):

"Your emptiness and its double."

His adage:

"My emptiness?"

A message on his answer-phone, now lost:

"The plan is livelier than space. Our time ends here, where it begins. Only the greatest mysteries, in their hospitality, remain unsolved."

In his wife's parting words:

"He is in the room again. And again. And again. In fact, he is the room.

Which makes his sudden dis-accumulation all the more surprising, don't you think?"