The Red Nude

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story about two former lovers who are united, but unable to grasp one another's world's.

Submitted: November 20, 2011

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Submitted: November 20, 2011

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The Red Nude

Ron sat at the café table reading a novel he was barely interested in. It was mid morning and Clare was late. She was always late, he thought. After sipping his espresso and glancing at his watch, he shut the book and took a magazine out of his bag. It was very boring, he thought, waiting for people now that he no longer smoked. He wondered if Clare still smoked? It seemed years since he’d seen her, when she’d unexpectedly left a message on his answer phone inviting for coffee. Now he sat waiting at the Café Fernando, a non-descript suburban eatery, with two tables perched outside on the footpath shaded by umbrellas emblazoned with its name. Inside, where he sat, the espresso machine hissed throatily as the sandwich hand assembled focaccias for the office workers and compiled bacon and egg rolls for local factory workers.

The young waitress asked if he would like anything else, to which he shook his head. He watched her walk away and thought her quite attractive. He looked again at his watch and decided to wait for five more minutes. He recalled how unreliable and erratic she could be at times. When he had first introduced her to his father and Jewish stepmother, an hour and a half after the proposed time, she’d launched into an anti-Zionist tirade that would have embarrassed a skinhead. Later, when they’d lived together, other than his sister, his family had ostracised them. He had hoped that she would eventually mellow and perhaps become less capricious, but she was much the same when they separated eight years later.

He considered signalling the waitress, paying for the coffees and leaving, when he recognised her car, a white, two-door, 1969 Ford Cortina drive by. He was surprised she still drove that piece of junk. A few minutes later she entered and greeted him. Her attire hadn’t changed much either, he thought – basically dishevelled, but possibly passing for Paris-catwalk grunge. A coarse black-string poncho hung over a Day-Glo paisley skivvy, with black-and white striped tights. She looked like a cross between a psychedelic optical illusion and an optometrist’s test-card.

“Have you been waiting long?” She asked. “I got stuck in traffic…”

He was struck by the familiarity of the scene: “stuck in traffic…had to help out a friend…take my cat to the vet…”; and so on. Clare’s conversations always seemed to begin with excuses for her tardiness, he thought.

“I’m sorry,” he exclaimed, springing back to the present.

“I was just explaining how I was stuck in traffic. There was a pile-up on Victoria Road.” After a pause she added, “How have you been?”

“Pretty good – and yourself?”

“Really good. Yeah, really great.”

Clare took a seat opposite him as the waitress arrived to take her order  –  a cappuccino and a tuna salad sandwich.

“So, why did you ask me here?” Ron sprang at her wishing to waste as little time as possible. “I had no idea you knew my phone number.”

“Theona gave it to me.”

“So, you’re still in touch with my sister?”

“We see each other every now and then.” She paused and reached into her handbag for her cigarettes and offered him one.

“No thanks. I’ve given up.”

“You don’t mind if I have one do you?”

“No, but let’s go outside.”

They packed their belongings and migrated to an outside table. Clare sat and lit her cigarette, while Ron observed a couple of deros beside a bus shelter across the road drinking beer from long necks. They didn’t seem particularly old, he thought. Probably younger than he was, and the idea of drinking on the street at ten thirty in the morning appalled him. He was about to point the scene out to Clare, when he realised they would only inspire her sympathy  – Clare always sided with losers.

“The reason I asked you here,” she intimated, “was to ask if you could look after my car for a while. Do you think you could?”

“Why?  Are you going away?”

“Something like that,” she replied inexplicably. “ I’d be really grateful if you could.”

“Why don’t you ask Theona?”

“She doesn’t drive.”

“I already have a car, and frankly, I wouldn’t be seen dead driving that old thing.”

“Is that a no?”

“I have no where to park it. Why don’t you sell it for parts? You could probably get a few hundred from a collector. Or failing that, sell it for scrap.”

“But it has such sentimental value. My dad bought for me when I got my licence. I can’t get rid of it.”

“I don’t see why not. It’s bloody awful.”

“You have no soul, Ron. Do you remember when one night after a party we had sex in the back?”

“No. I have no recollection of having sex with anyone in a car. Ever! I think you might be confusing me with someone else.”

The waitress finally appeared with her food and he ordered a further espresso. He watched her as she ate, the cigarette continuing to burn in the ashtray. He thought of themselves as young students, late one night after having seen a band at the pub. Passing a public swimming pool Clare had suggested they climb the fence to get in, which eventually they did. He remembered her gliding naked through the water urging him to come in, but although it had been a beautiful warm night he’d refused, feeling too inhibited and fearing the arrival of the police. Clare had always been reckless, he thought, although her adventurous nature was what had appealed to him then.

“Where are you off to?” he asked.

“I’m not sure yet. Probably Europe.”

“Where did you get the money?”

“I haven’t got it yet. I’m trying to sell some of my art. I’m planning and exhibition soon.”

“You’ll have to sell a lot of art to get to Europe. The Euro has just increased against the Aussie. Are you sure you’ve thought it through?”

She became sullen with his negativity and tried to change the subject.

“How’s your job? Are you still freelancing?”

“Yes. It’s good. I’m trying to finish reading a book I’m supposed to review. A fictionalised historical thriller about the Sacco-Venzetti case.”

“Sounds interesting. What’s it called?”

Niccolo and Bart. But I don’t like the style. Too overblown and sentimental, and I don’t think most readers know anything about the case, nor care about the execution of a couple of early twentieth century Italian-American Anarchists.”

“Here! here! When do you have to have it finished?”

“No rush. I’ll read the rest tonight and write the review in the morning. I have to go to a film premiere this afternoon. Film reviews are easier to write, usually. Which reminds me, I’d better be going soon. I promised to meet someone before the film. Sorry I couldn’t have been more help to you. I suppose you’d like me to pay the bill?”

“If you don’t mind. I hate to invite you out and then make you pay, but you seem a little more cashed up at the moment.”

That’s what he loved about Clare. She’d abandon any principle, whether political, or in this case her semblance of independence and self-sufficiency, for expedience. He paid at the cash register and walked out to say goodbye. She looked a little downhearted, but he was in no mood to extend sympathy. They shook hands unemotionally and parted.

 

* * *

A few weeks later a message on the machine from his sister informed him of a going-away party for Clare next Saturday, in a warehouse on the edge of the CBD, in which Clare was exhibiting her art. He wondered why Clare hadn’t phoned him herself? He sat at his desk tapping away at the keyboard when he looked at his diary, discovering that he was meant to be going out to dinner with Heidi that night. He picked up the phone and rang her.

“Heidi, its Ron here. 9.30 a.m. Wednesday 14th of May. I wondered if after dinner on Saturday you’d like to go to a party my sister is holding? Give me a call. Ciao.”

Looking at a picture on the wall his concentration lapsed into the past. He recalled the time when Care’s car wasn’t going and she’d persuaded him to go hitchhiking north to a so-called rainforest. They’d embarked without any plans and few provisions. They quickly ran out of dry clothes, argued ferociously as they wandered through the tranquil forest, eventually getting a lift into the nearest town on the tray of a ute, which they had to share with an old cattle dog. They withdrew some money from the Post Office just before it closed and headed for the pub for some wine and steak dinners. He had suggested they keep some of the money in reserve and get a cheap room at the pub, but after making some enquiries she told him she’d found somewhere for them to stay.

The money went on a flagon of red wine, a pack of cigarettes and she’d even managed to score some pot. They arrived at Doug’s place with a few of the characters from the public bar, where Ron had been forced to listen to a bunch of yokels singing along to Cold Chisel, while she rolled joints and drank wine. By one in the morning he’d fallen asleep on the couch. Three hours later she was shaking him awake telling him they had to flee.

He’d left his jacket behind, shivering in his T-shirt he’d wanted to turn back for it, but she was adamant that they should not. Apparently Doug had told her the condition for staying there was that she slept with him and she’d refused. She’d tried to wake Ron, but the wine and dope had made waking him impossible.

“So you just left me there with a pervert?”

“I came back for you when I thought it was safe.”

“He could’ve killed me.”

“I know.”

They tried to sleep rough in a bus shelter on the edge of town, huddled together to keep warm, but the insects were ferocious. Finally they made their way to a main road and got a lift with a petrochemical worker. By noon they were back at home enjoying the luxuries of hot running water, a kitchen with food in the cupboards, a television and a bed to sleep in. He didn’t speak to her for a quite some time after that.

 

* * *

Having consumed a nourishing and delicious meal at an Indian Restaurant, Ron and Heidi walked a few blocks to the apparent location of the party. Finally they heard the drone of music emanating from somewhere. They went down a dark alley and found some rather dodgy stairs leading to the party. It was about ten thirty p.m., so only a dedicated coterie of Clare’s friends had arrived. Theona rushed towards them and greeted them.

“So glad you could make it, Ron. So, you must be Heidi?” She gushed looking at his young companion.

“Yes. And you must be Theona, Ron’s sister.” Heidi replied.

“Clare’s in the next room doing some last minute adjustments to her work. She’s hoping to sell some of it to finance her trip away.”

“Is she still planning her great escape?” Ron interjected facetiously. “Is she hoping to raise enough to get her to London or New York?”

“No, I think she’ll be moving north somewhere. She’s going to sell and give away everything and just take off in her car.” Theona replied.

“I thought she was putting it in storage?”

“No, she’s going for good she reckons.”

Clare finally emerged from the adjoining room and greeted the small crowd, telling them her work was ready to be viewed. At the entrance a table was lined with glasses and Theona began filling them with white and then red wine. Guests walked over to receive a drink before entering to scrutinize her “exhibition”. Ron waited some time, first seating himself on a couch while Heidi was led away by Theona to enjoy the spectacle. Clare approached him with a glass in each of her hands, offering him the choice of Shiraz or Riesling. He chose the red, and she seated herself beside him.

“I’m glad you came.” She purred. “You should go in and have a look. There might be something you’d like to buy.”

“I can’t stay too long,” he said. Sipping some wine he added, “This is pretty bloody awful. What is it?”

“Cask Shiraz. Did you expect Grange Hermitage?”

“No. It doesn’t matter. Theona tells me you’re taking off for good in your old car.”

“That’s right. I’m hoping to raise enough to pay off some debts and be able to start again somewhere else.”

“I can’t really imagine you in the bush, Clare.”

“I was thinking more of Darwin. Somewhere hot and steamy, anyway. I’m hoping to teach art up there.”

“But you don’t have any teaching qualifications.”

“No. That’s true, but there must be something I can do.”

Sometime later Theona and Heidi returned clasping glasses, behaving like life-long companions. Heidi seemed very exited and animated, insisting that Ron go in and view the work, which eventually he did, rather reluctantly. Clare’s art had never been his cup of tea: the bones of a dead rat super-glued to a piece of Perspex and spray painted silver, or something along those lines, he presumed.

Upon entering he was struck by the contrast of his presumption and reality. Four half-decent landscapes on the wall to his left, four abstracts on the right, some rather interesting portraits on the wall either side of the door, and on the adjacent wall hung four full-length imprints of a female nude in various colours. He passed the landscapes and glanced fleetingly at them, to study the large canvasses. The impressions of her breasts, thighs and pubic hair on the surfaces disturbed and aroused him simultaneously. Suddenly, feeling ill at ease, he turned and walked out without looking at the remaining works.

“Are you alright, Ron?” Heidi enquired.

“Fine! I’m fine. Why?”

“You just look a little jittery, that’s all.”

“I’m just a bit tired. I’ve working pretty hard this week and I have to get up early and interview some poet in the morning. Would you like to go home soon?”

“How bizarre, a poet who gets up early. I thought we could stay for the bands. The Axemen are going to play later, and there’s a rumour that the Albert Camus Experience are going to turn up. They’re really hot.”

“Are they?” He replied naively. “I’ve never heard of either of them.”

“Really? Were there any pictures you’d like to buy?”

“Not really. I don’t have the money to spend on art, and besides, I don’t have anywhere to hang it.”

“I’ve put my name down for the red nude. I think it’s the best of the four. Clare showed me where some pubic hair is matted in with the oils. Imagine!”

“I’d rather not, thank you. How much is she asking for it?”

“A thousand dollars.”

“That much? For pressing her paint smeared body against a canvas. That’s outrageous!”

“I think it’ll be an investment.”

“Well, you stay for the bands. I’m going back to my place. Will you be coming over afterwards?”

“No. I think I’ll go back to my place. It’s closer and I haven’t checked the mail for a couple of days.”

Ron kissed her and said goodbye to his sister. He waved to Clare while she was preoccupied with an elderly art critic dressed in shabby tweeds and a slightly ridiculous beret. She signalled to Ron as though she wished to speak to him, but he made his way briskly to the door and descended the treacherous stairs.

The streets in that part of town were quiet and eerily empty, unlike the rather cosmopolitan and more affluent area in which he now resided. He looked behind him several times for a taxi that never materialised, until he finally reached a main road just as a bus was coming. The other passengers embarking appeared to be late middle-aged theatregoers returning home after a performance of the type of light musical he detested but had never seen. He alighted, walked to his building, took the lift up to his apartment and activated the answer phone upon entering.

Jay Lucas, the poet he was supposed to meet the next day, had called to reschedule their interview for the afternoon. Ron went into the kitchen to make some coffee and sat in front of the television browsing through Lucas’s volume of poems, fetchingly entitled The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice. He opened it at random and glanced at a poem called Friendship, that contained the lines:

 

“Can’t we still be friends?”

“There’s no point in being your friend.

I still want to fuck you.”

 

He shut it and staring at the late-night televisual drivel before him, despairing at the thought of contemporary creativity.

 

* * *

Several months elapsed and Heidi, who’d recently moved in, was helping him clear up after a dinner party they’d held for his father, stepmother and sister. Ron felt pleased that Heidi had got on so well with his family, especially his stepmother who was fascinated to hear about Heidi’s experience on a Kibbutz.

“I’ve never been to Israel,” she had confessed to Heidi.

“You really should go. It’s a fascinating place – I’d really like to go back one day.”

The painting Heidi had bought from Clare was now mounted in his lounge room, which Theona drew attention to. Ron tried to brush it off, attempting to conceal his palpable discomfort. His parents didn’t comment directly, but their disdain was obvious. Other than that, the evening had been pleasant, and the couple were now seated before the television discussing events that confronted them, as if their analysis contributed in some way to the outcome.

The late-evening news came on and Ron got up to prepare for bed. Heidi shouted to him, urging him to return and see a news item. It was footage of a car wreck, relating to a report on the suspicious death of an artist in the nation’s far north. It was Clare’s car, he thought. He and Heidi stared at the screen for some time before the full impact of Clare’s death set in.

He looked once more at the painting before turning to Heidi and remarking emotionlessly, “You were right. That painting was a good investment.”

 

THE END


© Copyright 2017 Craig Davison. All rights reserved.

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