Doll tale 1 : The painter and his muse
18 and 19 September 2014
Henry watched with half-closed eyes as his girlfriend scurried along to bring us the chilli flakes that she had forgotten in the kitchen. He did not seem very pleased of this new shortcoming and turned towards us with an apologetic sigh saying “you know, she is not very bright. In fact like most of her people she is quite simple minded and does not have the sophistication required to set out a table properly. Strange, however, that she would not know that this has to be served with some extra chilli flakes. Not all people like to eat bland food and that stupid idiot should know better as I have told her so at least a hundred times.”
Our common friend seated next to me had started feeling the atmosphere become a tad uneasy and shifting uncomfortably told Henry that it was perfectly alright and he was fine with the food as it was.
Henry simply retorted “Fine for you then but I can’t take this food like that. I eat spicier food than her you know”. His expression softened while he said this as he was visibly self-indulging in some gratifying thoughts about himself being such a tough guy.
Somehow, I could feel the food not going down well too but not for the same reason. I felt like saying that he should maybe cook the food to his own liking so that it won’t be an issue anymore but I just sat there gazing down stonily at my food as this was the first time I was there and had been invited by our common friend.
Malee came back from the kitchen bearing the chilli flakes in a bowl that she promptly handed over to Henry who simply growled at her playfully. I was expecting her to be rather put off by his behaviour and what he said as she surely would have heard him on her way to the kitchen with the apartment being the size it was but was amazed to see her draw closer to him and sit on his lap, eyes shining brightly. He merely smacked her bottom lightly and told her “you’ve escaped this time but next time I will really smack your bottom hard if you shame me in front of guests again. I’ve told you enough times how to serve the food here in Europe. You’re not in Thailand anymore where you can just mix it all at once. This time it was only friends but next time it could be buyers so don’t make me angry again.”
My gaze lifted to meet hers, eyes shining not with love like I had imagined but with a curious mixture of defiance and sadness. She seemed to be thinking I was judging her poorly and apparently resented me for it. I attempted a smile and trying to ease the tension complimented her on her cooking to which she nodded smiling back. We then resumed eating and once finished Henry showed me around the small apartment not as much for the actual rooms as it was a small two-bedrooms although with beautifully high ceilings and an amazing old wooden floor as one could only find in the old buildings in Geneva. The tour was more meant to show me his paintings which were quite astonishingly powerful depictions of the persons immortalized in them.
Henry was a brutish heavily built tall man with a tiny forehead, very small close set eyes and long hair he left loose as befitted his artist status. His hands which were huge seemed incapable of holding a brush properly let alone using it with such maestria to produce such powerful representations of other human beings. My attention was caught by two particularly striking paintings one of which caused me some embarrassment as it represented Malee crouching naked with her private parts fully exposed. In both he had captured that particular mixture of defiance and sadness that I had seen in her face earlier and her baby face with those liquid eyes seemed to be springing out of the paintings. Both paintings were bathed in dark colours with a deep crimson being a dominant theme as in most of his paintings.
“Lovely face and body right?” he said right behind me and I turned around startled to see him so close behind me.
“Don’t worry” he said mockingly “I am not going to jump on you as you came with a friend and I anyway have my hands full with Malee. At least for now” he added provokingly.
I rewarded his stupid comment with a crisp smile thinking to myself that he must be dreaming if he thought I would in any way be interested in him considering his caveman style of handling women.
We went back to the dining cum living room which was also the main room where he received his buyers and I asked my friend whether we could leave as I was quite tired.
A week later, we were invited to one of Henry’s expositions at a local gallery and I accompanied our common friend Peter who meanwhile had become my boyfriend. The place was crowded with sophisticated and glamorous people side by side with ill-shaven and shabbily dressed artists together with a few journalists and some art critics. There seemed to be some true art lovers but most seemed to have come to be seen and enjoy the wine and delicacies being served. Everywhere there were paintings of Malee some of them very provocative and some where she dumbfounded me with the pure innocence that emanated from her face in the paintings. For the male audience, this seemed to have a very different effect than on me where I was merely considering the human aspect of things. All the men were gathered around her, eyes fixated on her body, trying to guess through the clothing the curves that were splashed all over the gallery in crimson, burgundy, green and other shades that exuded rawness and sensuality. Henry watched from a distance a smile on his lips and seemed to be enjoying the scene. A few hours later while we were all laughing and dancing to the music, Henry came up to me asking where Malee was but I had no idea and told him so. Some thirty minutes later I saw them both come back into the gallery from a side door and waved at them. Everybody was enjoying themselves immensely and Henry seemed to have sold quite a few paintings that opening night itself.
The party finished past midnight and as there were no trams anymore, we decided to walk until Carouge and have something to eat before we accompanied the couple back to their home nearby the hospital where we would be sleeping too for the night as we were too tired to walk all the way back to our apartment. We fell asleep fully clothed as we were exhausted before we were awoken by screams and the sound of furniture being moved around and some plates being broken. Peter and I rushed into the next room just in time to see Henry haul Malee over the window sill and then proceed to hold her by the hands yelling at her while she dangled out of the window screaming. He looked insane with his beady eyes alit with anger and his fleshy mouth twisted with rage and Malee, face chalk white, was screaming and pleading for him to pull her back into the room. Peter lunged out of the window while I held on to him fearing he would fall over and attempted to bring her back inside the room while Henry was yelling at him not to interfere as he “need[ed] to teach the tart a good lesson”. At the end, Peter was able to grab enough of Malee to haul her back into the room and we all fell on the ground panting with me going into shock.
Later, after Peter had coaxed me into having a small glass of strong alcohol as I did not normally drink, we split into two parties and I stayed with Malee in the room where Peter and I had slept while Henry and Peter stayed in the other bedroom. I could hear Henry ranting and raving and many times when he had worked himself back into a fit of anger he would attempt to come back into the room where we were sitting and abuse Malee verbally. On one of the occasions he actually entered the room, caught her by the hair and was attempting to drag her by the hair across the floor and back into his bedroom before Peter stopped him by holding him in a vice-like grip at the neck. Henry was too strong for him, however, and had soon loosened Peter’s grip and sent him reeling against the wall. Having done that, he seemed a bit appeased though and did not seem in a mood to hurt Malee again but just went back to his room where he locked himself in.
Peter came back to where we were sitting huddled and tried to calm me as I was shaking. I had never seen someone switch from such a normal behaviour to a stark raving lunatic so quickly before and definitely not within my direct acquaintances. Malee sat there crying and asking us to help her go back to Thailand. She wept and said that she had come here to earn some money as she had a family to feed back in Thailand but could not take it anymore. Henry started yelling from the other room that what she was doing here she could well do in Thailand and save herself the trouble of having to pay taxes and living in a foreign country as prostitution pays everywhere. To which she retorted with a string of sentences in her language that was pronounced colourfully enough to make us understand that it was abuse she was flinging at him. As soon as she heard the door unlocking at the other end, however, she sat quiet and still again and soon the oncoming footsteps’ noise receded and we heard the door lock again. We removed the sheet from the small bed and put it on the ground so that we could sleep all three of us together as the bed was barely enough for two people to sleep in.
Upon waking in the morning we showered and had breakfast while Malee sat there prostrate, wide-eyed, neither talking nor crying. I tried to coax her into having a shower and something to eat but she simply stared through me and at the door of Henry’s bedroom. Suddenly, the door was unlocked and Henry fully nude appeared in the doorway and I watched with disbelief as Malee sprung out of her chair and flung herself into his arms. He looked at her triumphantly and said “that’s my girl. Don’t ever make me angry again” while she beamed back at him nodding in assent. The door locked behind them and we soon could hear that they seemed to be making up very noisily. I stared at Peter torn between relief, uneasiness and fear that something could go horribly wrong again. He merely shrugged back at me and said “artists” and held his hand out to me. We walked out of the apartment and pulled the door shut softly behind us so as not to make the neighbours complain more than they probably were going to do during the day. The neighbor facing Henry’s doorstep was out and was looking at us suspiciously with inquisitive eyes. “So he did not kill her this time” she said in a grating voice. Peter smiled sweetly at her but I could see from his eyes that he did not mean it at all. “No he did not yet, you can wait for the spectacle next time, I am sure you will eventually be satisfied” he retorted coldly. She gave us both a disdainful look and went back haughtily into her apartment.
A few weeks later we heard during a chance encounter with Henry at a café that Malee had left him. I thought she had returned to Thailand but it turned out that she had eloped with one of the buyers who incidentally had been the cause of that night’s scene as Henry had caught them on the opening night of his exhibition not only kissing but also planning to spend some time together. Henry seemed heartbroken and was telling us that he could not understand why she would want to be with such a man who had no personality and was a stuck up rich man’s son and was only interested in Malee as he would be interested in any new gadget.
I looked at Henry, head in his hands, elbows resting on the table, so brutish and I had thought so insensitive but he seemed truly heart-broken so I kept my thoughts to myself and merely patted him on the back. How could he not see that she could not continue living in the conditions that he had made her live through with him. It simply escaped me that their relationship could have lasted so long as it seemed they had been together for over 3 years. How could a woman take so much abuse and still continue living with the same person. I was barely 22 then and could simply not understand it.
Henry straightened himself up, looked me in the eye and sighed saying “I lost my muse and I don’t know if I ever will be able to paint again”. He paused then added “She was so easy to live with, never complained, always did things immediately the way I wanted her to do them. I can’t be with a Swiss girl you know, they are so full of themselves so I will have to find another Thai girl or someone asian again”. I bit my lip as I felt some nasty words swarming up my throat and begging to be let out of my lips. Instead I just gave him a thin smile, waited for Peter to pay our coffees and then gave him a cold peck on his cheek before saying goodbye.
The next time I saw Henry again, he was in what I found out to be his manic mood again and he was in couple with a beautiful though tiny Japanese girl. Heartbreak long forgotten he was bustling with energy and his apartment was crammed with paintings of his new muse but that is another story…