The Way We Lied

Caroline gasped aloud, trying to take in all the wonderful scenes painted on the walls, the floor, the ceiling and the fireplace. “It’s amazing! What an incredible room!”
“I know,” said Mary, standing with her hands in the pockets of her loose trousers. “How will I ever be able to leave it? Sometimes I feel I may have to stay here forever as a custodian of this legacy.”
Caroline bent close to the walls to examine the urgent brush strokes more closely. “Do you know which of your aunt’s friends did these paintings?”
“Yes, it’s all documented. And my aunt took photos while it was being done.” Mary then gestured to the cupboard beside the fireplace. “Those panels were painted by my father, Alexander Grozny. You probably haven’t heard of him, but he became quite sought after in later years. He left Germany in the 1930’s. He felt he had to get out, but as you can see from the agony he expresses here in these weeping men, he always felt guilty for leaving his parents and other relatives. I don’t think he ever saw them again.”
Caroline straightened up and said, “Then his work must have great sentimental value for you, but, my goodness, this room must also be worth a fortune! Doesn’t that worry you?”
Mary shrugged. “No, it simply can’t. Some of these paintings could never leave here and besides they were painted because their creators loved being here, in these surroundings with my aunt and their friends, so this is where they belong. But if I do ever leave, I will take the works that are movable, like this bust.” She turned to gently stroke the bronze head of a woman that sat on a small table in front of the window. Its sightless eyes stared ahead and the full mouth seemed about to speak. “This is Aunt Mo. It’s great, isn’t it? Now come with me and I’ll show you where I do my work.”
Caroline followed her and as they passed from the room of colour, she too stroked the head, thinking as she did so that she could still feel the warmth of Mary’s strong fingers on the ridges of bronze hair.
Mary led the way outside to another larger outhouse, beside the one Caroline had noticed earlier. It was like a small barn but inside, instead of cows and straw, there was a concrete floor and bright strip lighting. “It’s not the most flattering light,” Mary gestured, “but it’s functional and I really need to see clearly when I’m working.”
Large drawings were pinned on the walls and in the middle of the floor was a pedestal covered in sacking. Mary drew it back carefully with both hands. “This is the piece I’ve been working on recently. I’m not totally happy with it yet, but it’s nearly there.”
A shrunken baby was suckling a wizened breast, its limbs gaunt and fragile, but its eyes were looking away from its mother as if it hoped that more nourishing sustenance would find him shortly.
It was shocking and Caroline was silent for a moment. “Gosh, it’s very, very powerful. A friend told me you did breasts, but I hadn’t realised that you created pieces like this.”
Mary drew the dampened shroud around the clay once more. “That was years ago. It was a phase. I’m interested in real people now and real issues.” She looked serious, but calm. “I can’t stand by while so much of the world’s wealth is controlled by so few. I’ve been out there. They need so little to make a great difference to their lives. It makes me feel so angry.”
She was staring so intently that Caroline knew she demanded an answer. “You’re really passionate about this, aren’t you? But do you think that your work can help to draw attention to the problems?”
“It will when this piece is auctioned in London. Should do more than just make a column inch or two. I’m expecting it to make a decent sum. You should come along.”
She moved away from the skeletal figures to a wall of drawings and photographs. “But I also sculpt conventional subjects as well. Personal and corporate commissions, that sort of thing.” With a wave of her hand she indicated a range of busts of the great and the good. Then she turned to gaze at Caroline. “And I also like to model heads of people I find attractive or interesting.” She put her hand out towards Caroline and brushed her hair away from her collar. “You’ve got a beautiful neck. I’d quite like to do you one day.”
Caroline felt the strangest shudder as Mary said these words and she knew then that she would not be able to summon the power to prevent Mary from doing anything she wanted.

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