Not Jesus Yet
By Steven Hall.
The green room is green. Like the inside of a plant. Green green green. Walls, furniture, fish tanks, fish, pinball machines and carpets; everything in the green room of my house is exactly the same shade of — oh my god, you’re so meticulous Harrison — green. It’s the next day and I’m walking with Barry down the corridor towards it.
“But I need to know something, give me something.”
“No you don’t.”
“No? No I don’t? How can you possibly think that, Harrison? How can it occur as a possibility in your head that I wouldn’t need to know –” I’m walking into the green room and Barry is close up behind me. “– what it is I’m supposed to be promoting? You do still need promoting; I hope you’re aware of that fact, Harrison. You’re not Jesus yet. Not yet you’re not.”
“Jesus,” I say the word slowly, then: “Calm down.”
“I am calm. I am the epitome of fucking serenity.” Barry puts a sweet that might be a bonbon into his mouth. “I just need a bit of support with this. Don’t go dropping this shit all over me, not after everything with that fuckhole Thomas. I’m not exactly A1 at the moment, Harrison, or haven’t you noticed?”
“There is no shit,” I say and I pour Barry a green drink from the green bar. “And even if there was any shit I don’t think any of it would be dropping all over you.” I hand him the glass and Barry sticks his nose into it.
“What the fuck is this?”
Barry tries some of it then rattles the glass from side to side with his eyebrows up at me. I don’t really know or care what this might mean.
“Look HB,” he says. “I understand what you want to do with this, honestly, I really do. Big fucking unveiling and all the press coverage with the ‘world waits with baited breath for the new Slashmodern masterpiece’ angle. I get it. I get it and I love it. But, stop me and fucking buy one, I need to know something, just something so I can field this thing.”
I sit on the edge of a barstool and hold my glass of vodka against the wood to check that both are the exact same shade of green. They are. I knew that already.
“You will see it,” I say, “when there is something to see.”
“Not yet.” I don’t move. “It’s sensitive Barry. If anyone finds out about the work before it happens then it might not happen at all. Can you understand? You’d be promoting an artwork that’d given itself a big fucking abortion.”
“Fucking shit!” Barry is on his feet and rubbing his hands through his hair and across his head and it’s a similar thing to what people do with balloons when they are trying to make them stick to the ceiling. “That’s it isn’t it? That’s it!”
“A big fucking abortion! Man, oh man, that’s fantastic. I knew you’d tell me, I knew you’d fucking crack. A fucking abortion… Jesus.”
“The work is not going to be an abortion Barry,” I say slowly. “That isn’t what I meant.”
Barry looks like the air is coming out of him from somewhere and I think maybe the pills he’s taking are not doing the same job they used to [get some better pills Barry].
“I tell you what though,” he says, rubbing his chin after a minute. “It isn’t a bad idea is it?”
I think about this. “No,” I say. “It isn’t a bad idea.”
Barry talks about abortion as art for a few more minutes and I’m sort of interested in what he’s saying and I’m thinking yeah maybe but then a nail sticks into my leg and draws blood. I bend down to look at the nail and it is bent and jutting out of the bar and a kind of iron grey, not green. My leg is bleeding and the blood is red, not green either.
“Marci,” I shout, still looking at the nail. “Can you come in here?”
Marci appears in a green apron. “Yes, Mr. Brodie?”
I straighten up and turn to face her. “Has Duchamp been in here?”
“I’m not sure…”
“Marci,” I say. “Don’t cover for him. Who else hammers nails into the bar?”
“I think Roy only left him for…”
“It’s just that…”
“Duchamp is spoiled,” I say. “Gala luncheons, the media, the critics.” I point to the grey nail, and then to the red blood on my leg. “I don’t like it when this happens.”
“Well, perhaps if you were to speak to him, Mr Brodie.”
“We agreed that I’m not going to speak to him until he apologises for what he did to Barry.” And as I say this Barry reaches up to touch the side of his face where I can still make out the faint bruise even though Barry is wearing make-up to conceal it.
“It’s nothing Harrison, honestly,” he says.
“It is,” I say, “something.”
And then there’s silence.
“Actually,” Barry jumps back up to speed like he has a kick-start, “I need to talk to you about Duchamp too, about his exhibition.”
“About…” I say, sort of listening but more staring at the grey nail and the red blood again. “Marci, can something be done about this?”
“Yes Mr. Brodie.”
I turn to Barry, “What about his exhibition? Do you not ever, I don’t know, think it’s — odd?”
“What? Odd? Look, you can’t hold him back Harrison, you really can’t. Not when he’s going to be received like this. Duchamp is on the brink of international recognition is his own right. Fucking Christ, not even I have any idea how big this will –”
“Barry,” I say. “Duchamp is a monkey.”
“But the world, Harrison, the world are going to love him and he’s going to be –”
“Monkey,” I say. “He. Is. A. Monkey.”
“Harrison, do I look to you like the kind of fuck who doesn’t know a monkey when he sees one? Of course Duchamp is a monkey. I am well aware of that fact H.B. and that’s exactly what makes him so.. so –”
“Gifted Harrison, gifted. His work, it’s so raw, so primitive. Duchamp puts people in touch with something old and primal, something that came before –” a sweep of the arm “– all this.” Barry looks at me. “Are you all right?”
“Puts people in touch with,” I say slowly, thinking out loud, but not about Duchamp. Was there, is there, more to that than just the five words? Maybe — what? A ghost of something? People in with touch puts. In with people puts touch. I swap the words around in my head quickly, chasing a fading shadow of resonance. With puts touch people in. Touch puts with people in. But — no. It’s gone. If it was ever there in the first place. There is a fly in the green room high up around the green lamp and I watch it turning lazy circles. The fly isn’t green either. I let my eyes slowly fall from the fly to Barry. “Lost it,” I say.
“What?” asks Barry, bringing his eyebrows together.
I rub my eyes to clear my brain.
“Sorry,” I say.
“Duchamp,” says Barry. “Forthcoming exhibition,” says Barry. “Get with the program,” says Barry.
“Okay,” I say. “Right. Duchamp likes to hammer nails into things. Just that.”
With people in puts touch. People with puts touch in.
People touch — fuck. “Forget it,” I say. “It’s gone.”
“Okay, look. The monkey is going to make it big so…” I get up on Barry’s ‘so’ and head out of the room and Barry grabs his glass and follows me. “Alright alright, Jesus, we can discuss the monkey later. We still have a two month window with NYC, so, providing he’s being productive –”
“Duchamp is being productive,” I say, walking. “I’m excited by his new direction. I think he’s moving into etching.”
“You know what?” Barry’s voice from behind. “That doesn’t suit you. Sarcasm I mean. People expect more.”
“You know, people.”
“Right,” I say. “Good,” I say.
“So,” says Barry, I still can’t see him because he’s behind me. “Are you going to tell me about your Slashmodernism Prize entry or not, because, let me tell you, if you’re thinking –”
The corridor leads from the green room to the purple room, which contains amongst other things, two big sofas separated by a glass table, all perfectly purple.
Mcaffery had a glass table by the artist Image Incomatsou which was really a Japanese man on all fours balancing the sheet of glass on his back all day. You have to keep buying the work, Mcaffery’s agent said once, probably to Barry, it’s never really yours. But Mcaffery’s agent sold the table anyway, because it would always spill Mcaffery’s drinks and nobody else’s and so to teach it a lesson Mcaffery was going to put a four gallon fish tank on it and also some heavy books.
Barry is still talking about the importance of him getting an angle — “Why would you fucking shut me out on this, Harrison?” — and I really can’t be arsed to go through the whole thing with him again because he won’t listen so I just drop onto one of the sofas, drain my glass of green vodka and go to top up with purple liquid from a handy decanter.
“Want some?” I ask, and I’m waving the decanter at Barry and cutting him off midway through the necessity of advanced and targeted networking.
“What? What is it?”
I sniff my glass and it’s not a bad question.
“Marci.” She appears in seconds, wearing a purple apron. “Marci. What is this?”
“It’s whisky Mr. Brodie.”
“Whisky,” I say to Barry. “It’s whisky.”
“Right,” Barry thinks. “Yeah, why not?”
I pour Barry a drink and start with questions, probably to keep him distracted from the Slashmodernism Prize.
“Barry, am I interested in environmental issues?”
Barry takes a sip of his scotch and thinks. “No,” he says. “Environmental issues are exactly what you and other young men of your generation should be interested in and therefore you generate more heat if you are not interested in them. Why?” he asks. “Are you interested in them?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Do I have a girlfriend at the moment?”
“Official or unofficial?”
Every two weeks the TV channel Exploration 7 shows a cheap documentary about how if you’re standing at the other end of the universe with a big telescope you can actually see the American Civil War. And there’s another one they show late at night about how tiny particles in laboratories do unlikely things depending on how scientists with beards look at them or sometimes worry them with expensive tools. Watching this kind of TV and knowing Barry both make answering questions like do you have a girlfriend difficult.
“It’s possible,” Barry says after a minute.
I take a long sip of my purple scotch then start swirling the liquid around the walls of the glass.
“Have I got over Miranda’s death yet?”
Barry puts his drink down onto the table as though he’s thinking about this, but Barry does a lot of things as though he’s thinking about them.
“Well, yes and no,” he says. “You still miss her a great deal but you have decided to move on and get on with things because that’s what she would have wanted. You don’t like to talk about her death or the last few months of her life anymore. Why? Officially, because you find it too difficult and unofficially and more fucking importantly we’ve done the angle and there is nothing more to be gained in having you continually connected to eating disorders and all that depressing teen body angst bullshit.”
“Right,” I say and I’m nodding, “got it. How long was I ‘in mourning’ or whatever?”
“Well,” Barry says, “you’ll like this. We tell people that you were ‘deeply troubled’ — we don’t say mourning, Harrison — for six months after Miranda’s death and everyone buys it up now, but — and this is the good bit — we had some good luck with news and sports fixtures and that toddler was abducted if you remember, so we only had to take you out of circulation for two and a half months and in the meantime everyone lost track and so when the papers came back to us we passed it off like it was forever. After a while we’ll be able to say it was fucking years before you got yourself back on track again because people don’t remember this kind of shit and it’ll be a great angle for your past.” Barry looks very pleased with himself. “Just tell me. How good am I HB?”
“You’re the best Barry,” I tell him. “So, do I get emotional about it publicly? Like every so often or anything?”
“Hmmm,” says Barry. “Maybe,” says Barry. “That’s a tricky one,” says Barry.
I look down into my glass and I see the reflection of my own eye looking back up at me, a purple oval and lens staring through liquid rings of movement. I blink and it blinks and it seems no more or less alien than anything else at the moment. I have the word Normality printed in dark grey on dark grey card pinned up in my office and the word is completely invisible.
“Decide and get back to me,” I say, then looking up: “What do I think of the big corporations? What do I think of Core Enterprises and the others?”
“That’s straightforward,” Barry says. “You’ll love every last one of them if they’ll fucking pay.”
I say “that would make sense,” but I’m distracted because maybe that ghost of something, that meaning or whatever is here again, summoned up by — I don’t know what this time, but anyway, as soon as I notice it, it’s gone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven Hall‘s ‘Stories for a Phone Book’ appears in the British Council’s New Writing 13 anthology. His first novel The Raw Shark Texts will be published by Canongate.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, May 21st, 2005.