Artist carries something curious on the new tide
She calls herself a visual artist. It is the first thing she says – as if she is keen to affirm the label if only to herself. I’ve lucked out, I think. Cultured, passionate, enigmatic – artists make for good company if you hate small talk.
We are at a dinner party, and Christine is my only neighbour as I sit at the table’s end. There is momentum in our first exchange so I store away the artist theme until conversation flags when I can throw in a few insights.
The conversation wilts between the duck and the cinnamon ice cream so I ask: “Oils? Watercolours?”
She says, “Wood.” She is a curious creature, maybe 30s, but child-like and disconcerted, as if this dinner party is her attempt to play at grown-ups. Her coming out. She pushes her glasses over listless hair and picks at her nails.
“I’ve just given up smoking,” she says, fretfully.
I establish, over coffee, that she saunters along the banks of the Thames and collects driftwood. She came by cab this evening. I offer to drive her home.
“So does the form of the driftwood reveal the hidden story?”
She nods. She’s never thought of it that way. Or at all.
“Sounds idyllic,” I say. She tells me that three years ago she gave up her stressful job “in health management” to pursue her calling. Later she lets slip she worked in a shoe shop too.
Suddenly she says she’s weirdly hot and fans herself furiously with a table mat. “Yeesh”. She was invited by a friend who thought she should get out more. They ignore her now and as the party breaks down we head to my car.
She invites me in. She has four cats, which she inherited from her marriage which broke down three years ago. She hasn’t lived in the flat long, she says. She’s been unsettled recently. She’s better now though. Oh, and careful of the poop.
“I haven’t got my wood pieces here. But I have my bead work.”
“Like embroidery?” I say. “They encourage us to stick the beads to a piece of card.”
“OK,” I say. “Anyway, I’m allergic to cats so…”