A Life Drawn Freehand
Thsi is Chapter One of my new novel, A Life Drawn Freehand (teaser synopsis at the end)
She sat with a cigarette between her lips, drawing hard like she was sucking the life out of it. But it wasn’t working. Her face was grey, and her lips were grey, and her black hair was matte in the moonlight. She flipped me the pack. I took one and lit up. We sat in silence, gulping smoke into our lungs, and I realised the glowing buds of our cigarettes were the only living things on the boat.
“I’m not cold,” I said.
“You think fucked up thoughts,” she replied, throwing her roach into the river. We listened together for the fizz and then she said, “I guess tonight just forgot to go cold.”
“I don’t want to go back inside.”
“No reason why we should.”
I handed her the last of my smoke. She pulled on it fiercely and I watched the light, doubled in her eyes. It went down into her, deep where her soul should have been, and came back empty.
The cigarette died and there was another fizz on the water. I put my finger tips to her skin, just to the side of her mouth. I felt the depth of the lines and marvelled how the grey-blue twilight made everything shallow. I reached the corner of a crow’s foot and felt her eye twitch. She’d thought it the exact same time as me.
“Let’s go ashore and build a fire,” I said.
We foraged the banks for brush, and when we’d stripped them bare we took an axe to the cabin where the bodies lay. She stood and smoked and watched me chop, and I stood and smoked and watched her carry, and in no time there was a pyre on the bank big enough to take two bodies.
The beginnings of a breeze came off the water and we let it flick their hair while we poured brandy and raised our plastic beakers to them. Then we carried the bodies ashore, one at a time, dangling each between us like a rolled up rug. We laid her body on his and bedded them in scrub.
“L’Chaim!” she said.
“Salut!” I said, and we threw our beakers into the wood, dowsed the brush with the dregs of brandy, tossed in a match and bathed in the flames until they faded to nothing.
Without speaking, we undressed.
We rolled and bit and scratched and screamed and rubbed ashes in our wounds and on our skin.
As our bodies twitched to stillness she took my face in her hands, pulled so hard my cheekbone hurt, and kissed a salt-sweet grainy kiss that lasted till the sun skulked back over the river, and the only sound was the morning’s fingers burning the surface from the water.
We lay there in the early sunlight drawing pictures on each others’ bodies of the things we couldn’t say, in paint made from ashes, tears and come. And when we’d finished the stories of our lives and theirs, we smoked Marlboros till the sun struck noon, and the glowing buds of our cigarettes were the only living things for miles and miles and miles.
When her son Simon dies on a gap year in Egypt, 53 year-old art teacher Ella Hart decides to give her childhood dream of artistic success, sacrificed for her family, a last roll of the dice. She soon falls in with Solange, an alcoholic ex-model, singer, and punk who persuades Ella to give away literally everything she does for a year.
As Ella’s work and lifestyle begin to win her the attention she has always craved, she embarks on deperate affair with her 16 year-old student, Matthew. Initially excited by Ella’s life in the public gaze, it’s not long before Matthew wants her to himself. As Ella starts to question whether her art or her lifestyle have earned her the world’s attention, Matthew reveals his trump card in the bid to possess her: he offers to take her on a boat trip through the Mediterranean and up the Nile to the place where Simon died. But when Ella insists that Solange come too, it becomes clear only one of them will return.
Told through the eyes of Jack, the disaffected chronicler of Ella’s project, A Life Drawn Freehand examines everything today’s society understands by the word free, dissecting the boundaries between career and vocation, love and jealousy, public and private, art and life; and owes debts to works as disparate as the films Three Colours:Blue and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the novels Sophie’s Choice and Love in the Time of Cholera, and the confessional art of Tracey Emin.
But most of all it’s a love story.